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Occupy Wall Street, Maui-Style

Maui’s “99 Percent Movement” participants voice issues from healthcare, foreclosures and food insecurity to GMOs. “We don’t want them to use our backyard as their personal Petri dish.”

January 5, 2012
Mira Allen , The Maui Weekly

Rain-laden clouds gathered in 'Iao Valley and the evening breeze took a dip in temperature as a stream of Maui residents trickled onto the front lawn of the University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC).

By 5:30 p.m., on what has become a Wednesday evening routine on the campus, 15 people had gathered on Dec. 28 in a loose circle for the General Assembly meeting of "Occupy Wall Street Maui."

Occupy Wall Street Maui-style might be defined by the following: While elsewhere, "Occupy" protestors are weathering subzero temperatures and violent attacks by police officers in the middle of the night, on Maui, UHMC's security guard stopped by to unlock the bathrooms for the group to use during the meeting.

Article Photos

“Occupy Wall Street Maui” protesters of varying ages, backgrounds and professions gathered at University of Hawai‘i Maui College on Wednesday, Dec. 28, handing out and reading fliers printed with what was called the “Occupy Together Declaration.” The document, which includes 23 points describing grievances ranging from workers’ rights to money in politics to student loans, is one of many that have been put forth as the official indictment of what has been commonly called “the 1 percent.”

"I've been hearing about this 'Occupy' movement for a while now," said Alana Kapuni of Kihei. "I'm just here to learn more." She said she drove to Kahului from her landscaping job in Kihei to see what she could do to help.

Foster Ampong was elected to facilitate the group that evening, which was comprised of varying ages, backgrounds and professions. The common thread between them: "The Occupy Movement."

A round of introductions revealed landscapers, retailers, students and "strictly human beings" from their late 20s to late 60s in attendance. They had little more in common than the desire to stay informed about the progression of "Occupy," a movement that has caught the attention and participation of people on every continent on the planet (including Antarctica). Fliers printed with what was called the "Occupy Together Declaration" were handed around and read aloud. The document, which includes 23 points describing grievances ranging from workers' rights to money in politics to student loans, is one of many that have been put forth as the official indictment of what has been commonly called "the 1 percent."

The Occupy Wall Street movement first brought its feet to the pavement of New York City's financial district on Sept. 17, 2011. The rallying cry was put forth by a Canadian anti-consumerism magazine called, "Adbusters," which claims to have modeled the movement after the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising (the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak) and Spanish acampadas (the 2011 Spanish protests demanding a radical change in Spanish politics).

In the three months since, "Occupy" encampments have appeared and disappeared in cities all over the U.S. and abroad with varying messages and demands. Opponents have criticized the movement's ambiguous goals.

The broad basis of mobilization is commonly believed to be the dissatisfaction of the populace with banking bailouts that led to record profits and the perceived unscrupulous actions of politicians. Occupiers have united under "the 99 Percent Movement" banner.

A new Pew Research Center poll found that when asked directly about the belief that sparked the 99 Percent Movement--that the rich have too much power and influence in this country--Americans of all political stripes largely agree.

Opponents of the "Occupiers" assert many arguments--some more poignant than others. But the model of 99 percent vs. 1 percent is commonly perceived as a fallacy. According to U.K.'s "Guardian," "the world's leading liberal voice," the U.S. is the second most voracious consumer of energy on the planet (China surpassed the U.S. in 2009). When the comparison between haves and the have-nots is extended beyond U.S. borders, banking regulations cease to be as relevant as the base survival issues faced by many developing countries, such as access to clean water.

Still, according to the Pew Research Center poll conducted on Dec. 6, 2011, 44 percent of Americans support the 99 Percent Movement and 35 percent oppose it.

The General Assembly on Maui got underway as Ampong ran through a series of hand signals to be used during the meeting to enable testifiers to speak in an orderly fashion. First on deck were Netra Halperin and Keoki Medeiros, who head the direct action committee for housing foreclosures in the state.

Their plea for the need of a letter-writing campaign received loud murmurs of agreement from the assembly. Other topics covered were healthcare, food insecurity, privacy rights and genetically modified organisms (GMO), including mentions of Monsanto on Maui, which sells "seeds, traits developed by biotechnology and crop protection chemicals," according to the company's Website.

But the biggest uphill battle the group has faced thus far is the seemingly elusive permitting process for what they hope will be a two-week occupation of the Monsanto plant in Kihei in mid-January. In an effort to avoid clashes with the local police, they have approached the Department of Transportation (DOT) to acquire the proper paperwork to camp near Monsato's headquarters on Pi'ilani Highway.

"Monsanto has their fingers in everything and they control our food supply," said Brady Townsend, a member of the committee charged with organizing the event. "We don't want them to use our backyard as their personal Petri dish."

But the group said it has been given conflicting information regarding the permitting process necessary to lawfully occupy the Monsanto location.

"One person at the DOT gave us a form and told us we needed to have liability insurance," said Townsend, adding that the insurance will probably cost "a few hundred dollars."

A DOT official who declined to be identified later told the Maui Weekly that the department does not issue permits for events of the stated nature.

"I told the police we would be down there regardless of whether we can obtain a permit or not," said Townsend. But, he said, "We plan to do so with aloha."



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