Council woman Margaret Wille continues her battle to restrict further GMO activity on the Big Island. She withdrew her first bill, #79, so as to bring a cleaner version to the council. On September 4, we were once again in discussion, this time on her new bill, #113 as well as a competing bill #109 by Brenda Ford. By “we” I mean the public, as we’ve been given yet another chance to provide our feedback.
This is the first issue on which I’ve provided testimony, both in July and now in September. By first issue, I mean ever. I’ve held strong opinions on many matters in the past. In fact, most of my opinions are strong ones. But something about the environment in Hawaii motivates me to act. Perhaps it’s the accessibility of my government officials. I see them everywhere, I talk with them, I email them and they email back. Perhaps it’s that I have more time to get involved with issues that move me. Perhaps I’ve finally figured out it’s my kuleana, my civic duty to do so.
But something else is going on. I have a growing realization that the mountain is speaking to me. Mauna Kea fills the horizon on my drives to and from Waimea every day for school chauffeur duty. It’s so vast that I can’t take it for granted as background. It not only dominates the view, but intrudes on my thoughts, especially as we debate the GMO issue. It’s a giant shield volcano whose gradual slope invites ranching and farming, and I see people interacting with it and nearby Kohala all the time. This is the ‘āina in this region.
Margaret talks about the intent of her bill being focused on the land. While activists see the benefit of the bill extending to consumers, her focus is protecting agriculture. This island is rural. Many people farm, ranch, raise animals and garden. The people who don’t are often only one or two generations away from those who did – the plantation workers harvesting sugarcane, the Paniolos moving cattle, the Native Hawaiians cultivating taro. Even we newcomers rely on the bounty of the land, often from our own backyards. This legislation is not just civic duty. It’s personal.
It was easy to see that in the testimony of the public on this day. I wanted to go to Hilo to join the sign-waving rally and to speak in person. But many people who came to Hilo in July missed having their say because the crowd was large and the council ran out of time, even with late sessions. So once again I went to Waimea to the videoconferencing facility there, where I was sure I’d have the opportunity to speak.
I knew the council would hear scientific facts and emotional testimony related to outcomes of passing or not passing the bills. Many of the women in Hilo and Kona spoke earnestly about protecting their children. That, of course, is personal. Statements like:
• “Food is for people. GMO is for profit.”
• “Get out of my DNA, get out of my genetic code…I want the best for my family and the only thing that’s best for us is organic.”
• “We’ve been thrown out of the Garden of Eden once for messing with the tree of life. Let’s not muck it up again.”
I chose to bring the council’s attention to the implications of this legislation for them as elected officials, by again focusing on the will of the people. An earlier pro-GMO speaker had chastised the council for taking up the two bills, saying that the people are growing tired of them focusing so much attention on this topic. I started with, “The public is not growing tired of this topic. We are galvanized by this issue. In past testimony we have overwhelmingly supported the anti-GMO legislation…I urge you to follow the will of the people and pass some legislation that restricts GMOs. My preference is that we not exempt the GMO corn grown by the dairy on the Hamakua Coast. But please pass something. Thank you.” It was short and to the point, but looking back, a little too head-based.
For the first hour of this day, my fellow testifiers here in Waimea were all men, farmers and ranchers, speaking from their hearts about protecting the land, their land on the slopes of Mauna Kea and Kohala. All of them wanted restrictions on GMOs. These sincere men in their work clothing and boots unabashedly showed their strong connection to the ‘āina, you might say love. One man at another site said, “There can be no coexistence (with GMO). Co-existence is contamination. There’s dust on Mauna Kea from China, so you can’t say GMO pollen will only travel 500 feet.” These men nodded sagely.
Just recently I heard an old-time Paniolo speak about the land, and especially, the mountain. “She’s our protector. When the big storms (hurricanes) come to the island and reach her, the winds shift and the storms go away…This is a sacred place; you get a good feeling when you’re out there…We betta start taking care of her. We must respect the land.”
This old cowboy and these ranchers and farmers who testified gave me a different view of the GMO issue, a personal view based on the land. They weren’t just doing their civic duty. To them, with their hard fought wisdom, this issue meant far more. I’m beginning to get it. Yes, the mountain is speaking to me.
(For background on the Big Island’s anti-GMO legislation, see these other posts on this blog: The bounty of the Big Island, endangered; The will of the people; Does all GMO = predatory farming?; and It’s my kuleana to act…again and WOO-HOO…I think.)
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