by Elif C. Beall, H.A.P.A. Acting Executive Director

The only thing that will open the seed cone of a Sequoia tree is the heat of fire. So the Sequoia grows taller than any other tree in the forest in order to attract lightning and start a fire. The heat opens their seed cones, and the fire clears the earth for seed germination. Mature trees can withstand the lightening strike and the heat of the fire. Some Sequoias are known to be the oldest living things on earth (over 2,500 years old).

Many people in Hawaiʻi feel that rising activism across the Hawaiʻi islands has attracted some lightening of its own -- the opposition of billion dollar multi-national chemical companies that use Hawai‘i as “ground zero” for the research and experimentation of pesticides and the seeds that are genetically modified to withstand greater amounts of those pesticides.

In response to laws being passed in 3 of Hawaiʻi's 4 counties which regulate pesticide use and/or genetically engineered crops, these international corporations and their allies: 1) spent record-breaking amounts of money to influence Hawai'i's elections, 2) tried to pass the "Hawaiʻi Monsanto Protection Act" in the 2014 state legislative session which would prevent local regulations like those passed in Kaua'i, Maui, and Hawai'i counties; and 3) have sued local governments across the state to block those laws.

However, with each wave of industry tactics, the movement in Hawaiʻi to protect the public health and safety from known (and unknown dangers) of agrochemical research has only grown stronger and broader. Like the giant Sequoia trees, the lightening directed at activists and the growing movement has lit fires that are freeing open seeds and preparing the soil. A few examples:

  • When Monsanto, Dow and industry interests spent unprecedented $Millions to defeat the Maui ballot GMO Moratorium, citizen activists rose up to cause the "Maui miracle" and show that grass roots efforts can win over big spending by $$Billion corporate interests.

  • When industry allies tried to pass the "Hawaiʻi Monsanto Protection Act" in 2014 which would have overturned the hard-won regulations in Kaua'i and Hawai'i counties, a new wave of engagement in the state legislative process was born, with many people from neighbor islands submitting testimony on state-level Bills for the first time, and large crowds filling senate hearing rooms with only a day's notice.

  • Elected officials that championed these issues, such as Elle Cochran on Maui, Margaret Willie on Hawaiʻi Island, and Gary Hooser on Kauaʻi, all drew heavy fire from well-funded opponents -- but all three were re-elected, and inspired a whole movement of young, first-time candidates willing to take on entrenched incumbents.

Of course, it hasn’t all been “wins” and “victories”. Some would say that "it's hard not to be discouraged" when magistrate courts invalidate laws that thousands of people marched in support of, laws that residents slept outside county buildings so they could testify in support of -- laws that thousands of residents (including doctors, nurses, teachers, concerned parents, and labor leaders) supported. Some say it's hopeless when grassroots efforts must face the massive resources and political influence of billion dollar corporations.

Yet, we know different. The victories of grassroots democracy in Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi counties have shown us that passion and a deep desire to protect what we love can be more powerful than corporate dollars.

We know that with every lightning bolt and every fire the industry can throw at us, the seeds of awareness and community empowerment are being released, spreading and taking root. And we will continue to grow tall and strong.

Please join us and many other community groups gathering at the State Capitol on Opening Day of the Legislature, Wednesday, January 21st at 11:30am. Join H.A.P.A. in spreading the seeds of change.