Dr. King, Hawaii, nonviolence and economics

I was thinking about the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination today, and recalled the photos of King and others wearing leis at the Selma to Montgomery Freedom March in 1965. And I found this story that says Rev. Abraham Akaka was the one who arranged for the leis.

And I found this photo and caption in this piece on different approaches to civil disobedience.

"During part of the famous Selma to Montgomery Freedom March in 1965, Martin Luther King and fellow civil rights leaders wore the Hawaiian necklace of flowers—the lei—to symbolize their peaceful intentions."

King wore an explicitly Hawaiian symbol to convey peaceful intentions. We sometimes take it for granted here, but Hawaii truly is a symbol of peace.

Hawaii was recognized as a neutral country. The queen yielded to avoid bloodshed. Despite having their government overthrown and their country occupied and having suffered systematic removal from their lands and suppression of their culture over generations, the Hawaiian people have not resorted to violence for political ends, despite a vigorous desire to restore the effective sovereignty of their country.

At the same time, in their struggle Hawaiians could more consciously study the methods of nonviolent resistance employed by King to apply to their own situation. It takes different forms here organically, and it is a different culture, but there are a lot of ways Hawaiians could probably apply pressure to change certain situations if they were more intentionally organized around methods of nonviolent resistance.

Of course King's greatest inspiration in nonviolence was Gandhi, whose situation was actually much more parallel to Hawaii's, with the goal of ending the occupation of a country rather than achieving civil rights within a country. As Prof. Boyle said in 1993:
It might be that you would be able to obtain recognition quickly. And especially if you pursue this process in accordance with principles of peaceful, non-violent struggle. And I submit that's the most effective technique you have today. And if you doubt me, you should read Gandhi's book, Satyagraha, Non-Violent Civil Resistance. It's about 300 pages long. And it explains how Gandhi threw the mighty British Empire out of India without using force. People power, what we call it today. And I submit that the Native Hawaiian people would be able to do the same thing, moving in this direction and adopting the techniques of peaceful, non-violent action, which is what Gandhi called for.

Also note that a key component of King's methods related to economics, and in fact that was why he was in Memphis this day 40 years ago, was in solidarity with a sanitation workers strike. We all have seen the end of his last speech, "I have been to the mountaintop," but he also said in that speech: "Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal." And he talks about the collective power of the African-American population and urges boycotts of certain companies.

And Gandhi said: "Economic equality is the master key to non-violent independence."

So one possible example in Hawaii that has a certain parallel: banks. Hawaiian assets on both a personal level and an institutional level (OHA, Kamehameha Schools) are held by a few banking institutions, despite the fact that those institutions (e.g. First Hawaiian Bank) at least in the not too distant past were systemically discriminating against Hawaiians in their lending practices. This is something that is on a much larger scale than just consumer boycotts and takes a real collective effort to pull off starting a Hawaiian bank, but it is along the same lines of thinking as an aspect of civil resistance. Just one example.

Listen to Hapa's "Pride (In the Name of Love)"

Posted: Fri - April 4, 2008 at 09:43 PM    
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Published On: Apr 05, 2008 07:54 AM
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