ADB in Hawaii:
Exposed and Opposed

Revolutionary Worker #1104, May 27, 2001, posted at

The Asian Development Bank recently held its annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawai'i, from May 9-11. A broad range of forces held demonstrations, teach-ins, film showings and other events to expose how the ADB provides loans to countries of the Asia-Pacific region in order to deepen and intensify imperialist penetration and control. (See RW #1102 and #1103). The RW received the following correspondence from a reader in Hawai'i about people's resistance to the ADB:

As I drove to Magic Island to the May 9 protest against the Asian Development Bank, the history of Hawai'i kept flooding through my brain. Here we are, on the most isolated spot of land on the entire planet, once again facing imperialists intent on plunder and domination. More than 200 years ago, the ships of England, France, the U.S., and Germany sailed into these islands to steal the wealth of the lands. More than 100 years ago the U.S. overthrew the government of Hawai'i in order to establish a military command center capable of enforcing U.S. domination over the entire Pacific region. For 100 years the U.S. military has confiscated lands for its exclusive use, bombed entire islands and valleys into oblivion, and dumped its chemical and biological wastes into harbors and landfills. The U.S. has used these islands as a control center from which to carry out murderous wars against the peoples of other countries of the world -- Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and many more. And now Hawai'i is facing yet another imperialist assault: the attempt to turn Hawai'i into a "Geneva of the Pacific," -- a safe place for the U.S. to host meetings of such hated imperialist institutions as the Asian Development Bank, APEC, the WTO, and the World Bank.

As I drove by the Honolulu Convention Center, only blocks away from where the protest was to begin, the meeting of the Asian Development Bank was already underway. Men in business suits were scurrying into the building, protected by the largest force of security personnel amassed in Hawai'i since World War 2. Lines and lines of security. Police in aloha shirts with plastic orchid leis. Security in safari hats, aloha print vests and rubber slippers that reminded me of pictures of British colonial armies in Africa. Lines of uniformed police with bikes. Rubber rafts filled with police hunkered down under bridges. Helicopters overhead. And on either side of the protest site the police displaying their latest riot-gear, with the National Guard (both land and air) standing by.

Hawai'i was chosen for this ADB meeting because of its isolation, its huge repressive apparatus--which includes the military--and because there hasn't been a huge movement of resistance here. The question that kept popping into my head was whether today would be the day when that all that could begin to change.

"There will be no protests in Hawai'i"

The May 2001 annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank was originally scheduled to be held in Seattle, but after the 1999 Seattle protests against the WTO, the U.S. Justice Department and the Asian Development Bank went looking for a new meeting site. They chose Honolulu. Hawai'i's leaders promised the ADB that there would be no protests. Meanwhile, businesses were told that ADB conventioneers would inject millions of dollars into Hawai'i's failing economy.

The ADB meeting was billed as "just the first of its kind" that the state hoped to lure to the islands, with the promise that such meetings of international financial institutions represented a whole "new market." There wasn't a whisper of possible protest, and the politicians and media did everything they could to conceal any criticism of the ADB's policies and projects.

At the same time a handful of activists --who knew that the ADB is yet another tool for the imperialists to suck the blood out of the peoples in the poorest nations in Asia and the Pacific--began to educate themselves about the actual workings of this for-profit multilateral development bank. At first, attempts to take information about the ADB out into the community were discouraging. People in Hawai'i are not only isolated geographically, but have been isolated from the growing international anti-globalization movement. Many community activists work on local issues, consciously distancing themselves from resistance movements developing elsewhere--and especially on the U.S. continent. Furthermore, some people were influenced by disinformation about the anti-WTO protests in Seattle--that it was just a few disaffected white youth who randomly smashed windows of small businesses.

Nonetheless, by December a loose network of individuals and organizations that included environmentalists, revolutionary communists, pacifists, and youth, were working on an anti-ADB campaign. Speakers were brought from Asia and the continental U.S. to speak. Printed materials were distributed at coffee houses, schools and churches, and videos were shown. People began becoming more aware of the real nature of imperialist globalization.

The state responded to the anti-ADB campaign by taking off their velvet gloves and launching a massive campaign of fear and intimidation. The City of Honolulu attempted to pass the "ADB package"-- four new laws against protest. The media re-ran pictures of the same Starbuck's window getting smashed in Seattle ad nauseum. Repeated footage of police anti-protest training showed police in riot gear shooting protesters with rubber bullets. City workers were advised that their cars had been marked by anti-ADB activists, who were preparing to target them during the ADB meetings. Hotel workers were told to have their families drop them off at side doors because the "gang with black hoods" had arrived from the mainland. State Department of Health workers were denied leave from work because of "threats of bioterrorism." Classes at a school near the Honolulu Zoo were cancelled because of a rumor that demonstrators planned to release the animals. Stories that activists had packed the heads of puppets with rocks and molotov cocktails spread. Hospitals set up "decontamination units." Court calendars were cancelled to prepare for mass arrests. The City announced that it was spending up to $7.5 million for security and that they had purchased $620,000 worth of the latest in riot gear. As the date for the ADB meeting approached, the state announced they were shipping in reinforcements to their already bloated security forces: 50 more FBI agents to add to their 100 Hawaii agents, 25 anti-riot specialists such as anti-riot dog-team trainers, the "Ruby Ridge ATF team," Secret Service agents, U.S. Justice Department agents, and the like.

People stood up to the State's campaign of fear in many ways. A National Lawyers Guild chapter pulled together a team of lawyers to assist the protesters. Doctors and nurses formed medical teams. A group of pastors held a press conference. Many people became activists overnight--distributing leaflets, putting up posters, and talking to influential members of the community. A newly formed Food Not Bombs chapter provided food at every event. Critical Mass called for a bike ride in support of the anti-ADB campaign. People Against Imperialist Globalization sponsored teach-ins and film-showings on campus. Refuse & Resist! was everywhere--holding street demonstrations and sign-holdings, making banners and puppets, postering and leafletting. Revolution Books became a center of information.

On the way to the protest, I reflected on all of this--on how much we'd already accomplished--and how today could really be decisive in building an even broader movement of resistance in Hawai'i.

People trickled into the park slowly. Many sat under trees some distance away, still making up their minds about whether to join. But they came. Labor, youth, native Hawaiian groups, international visitors from different countries in Asia and the Pacific, revolutionary communists, religious leaders, university professors, artists and musicians. They came with brilliant banners, drums, pu's, and puppets. Fear began to dissipate and a festive but determined atmosphere took over the park. When about 800 people had assembled, the march moved toward the Convention Center, greeted along the way by kanaka maoli, who, as the First People of Hawai'i, welcomed the protesters to the streets of Honolulu with traditional protocol. As the march moved on they took their places at the head of the protest. By the time the march reached the Convention Center the crowd had swelled to about 1500 people.

At the Convention Center an international group of people from countries effected by the ADB initiated a call for ADB's President Chino to come out and accept a petition from their people. They had made the same call in Chiang Mai, Thailand a year ago but Chino had refused to come out and accept it, so they traveled all the way to Hawai'i to repeat their demand. Finally Chino, flanked by lines of police, came out of the Convention Center and accepted the petition. A courageous woman from Thailand reached out as if to shake Chino's hand and simply refused to let go until members of the delegation had read the entire petition to Chino aloud and demanded a response. Predictably, he said he'd "consider it carefully." While no one really expected that Chino would bow to the demands of the petition, the international delegation considered Chino's "symbolic submission" a victory. After an hour of chants against the ADB at the Convention Center, the march continued through central Waikiki to end at Kapiolani Park for a four-hour rally. Spirits were high. It was the largest and most diverse protest anyone could remember. It's success marked a high point in a week of resistance.

Learning about Imperialist Globalization

The entire week of May 4-11 was intense. It began with a two-day forum on how globalization affects indigenous people, and concluded with a forum on the role of the military in globalization. It was a massive educational campaign on the effects of imperialist globalization on the poor in today's world, especially those living in Asia and the Pacific. Community activists from countries effected by the ADB testified at tribunals. Participants learned first-hand what "export crops," "free trade," "free markets," "restructuring," and "privatization" mean to the poor. Anti-globalization scholars and activists debated representatives of the ADB, time after time exposing the duplicity and lies of the Bank. The International Forum on Globalization held a conference on the effects of globalization on indigenous people and the poor which highlighted the growing anti-globalization movement. For people of Hawai'i, most of whom have never given a second thought to globalization, all this was eye-opening. For activists and revolutionaries, who have not been exposed to the contending lines within the anti-globalization movement, it was a time of challenging debate and discussion.

As I went to the various events, I was constantly amazed. People came from every walk of life. Everyone was talking with each other. As I went to the various events, I was constantly amazed. People came from every walk of life. Everyone was talking with each other. Visitors from the Cordillera People's Movement in the Philippines connected the struggles of indigenous people there with kanaka maoli struggles here. Visitors from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia talked about how, for the peoples of their regions, Hawai'i is synonymous with bombs. Veteran activists were talking politics with youth. Pacifists were debating with communists. People who hadn't seen each other for decades were reconnecting.

Revolution Books had a book table at almost every meeting, and many copies of the RCP's new Draft Programme were sold. I spoke with many of the international visitors, who were especially interested in the question of making revolution in an imperialist country. One confided that he was following the people's war in Nepal very closely, and that he hoped that the People's War in Nepal would draw more people in Asia to a truly revolutionary pole. Another person from the Philippines recalled when Maoist economist Raymond Lotta visited the Philippines and how after this people used "The Shanghai Textbook" (Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism). Another international visitor made arrangements to have A World to Win (the journal inspired by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement) sent to a library in her community. Some got Mao posters to take back to their countries.

One of the best scenes on the streets during the ADB meetings was the "Revolution Truck." Covered on one side with a beautiful banner that read, "Smash Imperialist Globalization! We Are Human Beings. We Demand a Better World. We Will Not Accept Slavery in Any Form!" and covered on the other side with: "Capitalism is the Problem! Revolution is the Solution! Support People's Wars Around the World!", the truck made its way through Honolulu's city center, tourist area, and neighborhoods throughout the week. Over a sound system, youth called out to people to join the protests. One youth, catching sight of the truck, said to me: "That's what I like about the Communists! They aren't scared to say what they believe!" A visitor from Asia remarked at a press conference that just seeing the truck, right in the middle of the whole repressive atmosphere in Honolulu, gave him hope.

The final event of the week was a forum on "The Role of the Military in Globalization." Activists from Hawai'i gave moving talks exposing the military occupation of Hawai'i. Bal Pinguel, an anti-U.S. base activist from the Philippines who is now in exile in the U.S., ripped the mask from the "benevolent" face of imperialism, and exposed the iron fist of the military that enforces poverty and repression around the world. And Jeff Paterson--who was a U.S. Marine based in Hawai'i and the first GI to resist and refuse orders to go to the Gulf War--also took the podium. He talked about what he learned as a U.S. Marine based in Okinawa, the Philippines, and Korea. He unfolded how his experiences as a pawn for U.S. imperialism clashed with what he learned from revolutionaries, community activists, and kanaka maoli in Hawai'i. He talked about how this led him to refuse to fight for U.S. imperialism and instead fight on the side of the people of the world.

Just the Beginning

As the week ended, activists and others were all trying to figure out just what we had accomplished. Many recalled how in the beginning a lot of people responded, "Who is the ADB, and why should we care?" And people felt that one of the main victories was that as a result of the campaign, a lot of people have gained a whole new awareness of the crimes of imperialist globalization. Many indigenous rights activists said that learning about how globalization is affecting indigenous people of Asia and the Pacific has strengthened their commitment to join their struggle for indigenous rights in Hawai'i with the struggles of indigenous people elsewhere.

Everyone I spoke with agreed on one thing: the anti-ADB campaign had been a big success. Never again would the state be able to promise there would be "no protest in Hawai'i." New links have been forged. New activists have stepped forward. And now, in this strategic outpost of U.S. imperialism, there is the potential for a new, broad movement of resistance.

While at first it had seemed impossible to organize a big demonstration to the ADB because people would not be able to come by car from other places, this weakness was turned into a strength. With the exception of about 60 international visitors, those involved in the educational events and protests were from Hawai'i--and will now be here to organize greater and ongoing resistance.

There is now new debate among the ruling class in Hawai'i over whether to host such meetings in the future. The government's response to the anti-ADB protests exposed a very ugly side of Hawai'i that cuts against the state's tourist posters of paradise. No matter how hard they tried to mask their police as "ambassadors of aloha" by putting them in aloha shirts and leis, they were not able to hide the state's repressive apparatus. No matter how much they talked about how the conventioneers would spend, nothing could hide the fact that the state ended up spending far more on the ADB conference than it could ever hope to bring in. And most importantly, the state knows that next time they invite such a group they won't be able to promise "no protests"--and could face even more determined resistance.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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