Thinking far Beyond the Summit of Mauna Kea

September 17, 2019


Courtesy of Elijah Lee

Elijah Lee expresses his opinions on TMT.

The situation atop Mauna Kea is quite the scene. In many ways, it is a beacon of firm solidarity and an invocation of our Constitutional right to peacefully assemble. In many ways, it is a symbol of hope for progress and innovation, a place of discovery and understanding. There’s a lot that this location can mean to us and a lot of perspectives that can offer us a fresh outlook on the years-old conflict.

We see the protesters, the Hawaiian flags flown upside down, the hand-symbols, the community of “protectors” atop the Mauna. We see supporters, we see our officials, we see our community becoming vocal on both sides. We see these tangible manifestations of what has become, especially in the past weeks, a very contentious and deeply emotional situation. We see the opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope citing past mismanagement of existing telescopes on Mauna Kea as a harbinger of what will happen should the TMT be constructed. We hear about environmental concerns and cultural significance. Certainly, the intense commitment to organization and respectfulness within the protests against the TMT is something that deserves great respect and amazement. On the other hand, proponents explain the advantages that the TMT offers to our communities. Not only innovation and discovery, but jobs and money will be invested into our state. The generosity of the project in creating scholarships and opportunities has also been an admirable effort. We realize much of what lies in the arguments of each side, regardless of where we may stand personally.

However, there is much more underlying this tense and critical conflict. Within our community, it may be one group versus another, but it illustrates more than just disagreement within our state. It illustrates the agenda of a vocal minority versus the authority of the state. No matter how passionate, how visible, how sincere, and how impressive the protests may be, the Thirty Meter Telescope has undergone substantial scrutiny, considerations, and proper processes and has, through it all, been approved and permitted to be constructed. Legally and technically, this project has earned the right to be started and completed. That means that this debate isn’t about public opinion so much as it is about authority. It’s about whether the permission granted to this project will be upheld by the authority of the state or will bend to the authority of a vocal and demonstrative minority. It represents the legitimacy of our state government competing against the convictions of those protesting on Mauna Kea.

I urge Governor Ige to realize what he has at stake, for I’m sure the “protectors” of the Mauna surely realize what victory will mean for them. They may not be pursuing such ends, for the intentions of the Mauna Kea protests seem sincere, but I suspect that they realize the significance that this battle represents and the repercussions it will enable. It will mean control of our state, veto power that even the governor himself may not possess in the same capacity. It will mean that all decisions made lawfully in this state could be subject to the approval of those currently protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope. It will mean the same opportunity granted to non-Hawaiian groups. Potentially, groups with less sincere intentions and less admirable efforts. It will be the end of the state’s authority. It will quite clearly display the inability of this state’s leaders to uphold the law and order in our community and create a new hierarchy of power. It will mean an abdication of our laws and of our systems in favor of beliefs that may be genuine but lack accountability to procedures and processes that keep our state safe and lawful.

I believe in peaceful protests, which these certainly are. I believe in the rights of people to assemble and be outspoken about their values, steadfast in their convictions. I support the right to oppose and disagree with this project. However, I do not support the right for people to obstruct this project. I do not support the right of people to prevent this project that has been approved.

I ask the governor and the public, where does it end?

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