IN LAST NOVEMBER’S ELECTIONS, native Hawaiian Alika Atay won a seat on the Maui County Council, channeling three powerful spirits into his upstart political campaign. His victory was a huge win for people everywhere who are battling for good food, clean water, environmental justice, and democracy. All of that was at stake when Atay–an organic farmer and leader of a grassroots group named Aina (Earth) Protectors United–dared to challenge mighty Monsanto and its political lackeys who’ve treated the island like its private plantation for decades. He led a slate of populist reformers against the council’s entrenched majority of corporate puppets. As investigative reporter Jonathan Greenberg wrote, the council had arrogantly and autocratically been turning the natural lushness of Maui into “the world’s epicenter for GMO testing.” Greenberg reported that Monsanto and other pesticide giants have installed hundreds of test sites on Maui that are “regularly sprayed by massive quantities of dozens of types of pesticides (sometimes in combinations never before tried) on experimental GMO [seeds] to see what survives.”
In 2014, the people of Maui had rebelled by passing a ballot initiative to shut down GMO testing. Victory! But, no. Nine days after the vote, Monsanto lawyers held a secret meeting with Maui County’s lawyer and a federal judge, and the fix was in. The next day the judge decreed that “at the request of the parties, the court hereby enters an injunction, prohibiting the enforcement of the [people’s initiative].” But with November’s volcanic political shock to the island’s GMO establishment, Atay and his hearty band of reformers have now entered their own “injunction” by taking four of the county’s governing seats and coming close in the other five. Democracy has intruded into Maui’s Council.
The three spirits that Atay channeled were (1) Bernie Sanders-style, people-powered grassroots organizing and social media communication; (2) the tenacity of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Lakota Sioux rebelling against corporate profiteers who endanger natural resources. (As Atay put it, “We all have a responsibility to stand up for future generations. We live on an island and must protect our sacred water; and our only source of drinkable water”); and (3) his own internal strength, derived from native Hawaiian traditions of community and ancestral relationships.
Out of some 46,000 votes cast, Atay won by 808, meaning every phone call and email supporting his grassroots campaign mattered.