Last night, I decided to listen in on a roundtable discussion regarding the SEIS at the first in a series of public discussions regarding the revised military build up for Guam. This “roundtable discussion” was scheduled to include presentations from Ritidian land owners and various local groups, including:
We Are Guahan
Our Islands Are Sacred
Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice
National Association of Social Workers, Guam Chapter
Social Work Student Alliance
I Nasion Chamoru
Admittedly, I did not want to go. I’ve been to public meetings regarding the build up before and have almost always left frustrated or insulted. When it comes to discussions about our home and people, I can’t help but become emotionally invested. I have a bad habit of letting it drain me. I think about it non-stop. I dream about. I spend my days walking in a haze of concern for our island. I try to remind myself to keep a delicate balance, but it is something I struggle with. It’s hard to sit there and participate in the illusion of public dialogue, when in your heart, you know that most of what is happening around you is an empty formality. Over time, I’ve become pessimistic and hardened, uninspired by local leaders who say one thing in a private discussion and another while standing behind the microphone. I also become frustrated with speakers who may share the same perspectives as me, but who have a habit of packaging and delivering their messages in ways that are counter-productive, unsupported, very negative and divisive, or damaging to progress.
I shared my feelings with some other mothers, mothers who have also been active in various ways within discussions surrounding the build-up. We decided that as discouraging as these gatherings can be, it’s important to go, to stay informed, and to contribute to the discussion where we can. And so, after work, we did what we could to secure childcare (NOT EASY, people!) and made it a point to be there. Not all of us could stay through the whole thing. Two mothers had to drag their little ones with them, but they were there. Even I had to leave a little early. There are bedtimes, children to feed, and families to take care of. So, we stayed and listened for as much as we could. The thought of handing down even less to my Chamoru child bothers me. The thought of handing down an island even more stressed and under funded worries me. I would like my son to be able to make a life in his home if he so chooses. I’ll do what I can to preserve that option for him.
I learned that the revised build-up plans, in some ways, are an improvement. There will be less people and they will be sent here over a longer course of time. However, there is still much to be worried about regarding land use, funding our infrastructure, and providing adequate social services to our community. Most of the comments provided by the various groups at the table voiced concern and lots of disappointment toward Madeline Bordallo, our congressional rep who recently introduced a bill in Washington to restrict public access to Ritidian, a popular (and still controversial) wildlife refuge filled with ancient artifacts, pre-contact cave dwellings, burial sites, and one of the most pristine strands of beaches on island.
Ritidian is one of the few untouched, undeveloped areas that locals are still granted access to on island. The bill, known as the Guam Military Training and Readiness Act of 2014, allows the Navy to establish a surface danger zone over the refuge. It was introduced without public notice, even our legislature was unaware of it. The bill will further restrict local access to the popular sacred area. Naturally, many on island are upset with this, as the military already has a significant footprint on Guam. Some members of the legislature tried to press the groups to identify an area that a firing range would be “okay” on. A few legislators seemed annoyed that after redirecting attention from Pagat, there was still uproar over the eyeing of Ritidian. What seemed to perplex some of them most was the way a few of the presenters clarified that NONE of the alternatives was acceptable; they simply did not want any more ranges on our island. Saying “no” is just not something our local leaders are used to doing when it comes to military plans. It seemed as if many of them didn’t know how to view our island outside of the context of US Department of Defense. I was particularly interested in an exchange between Senator Chris Duenas and Victoria Leon Guerrero, a rep from Our Islands Are Sacred.
After explaining she did not support the build up and did not want a firing range on any of the islands, he asked her a question about where there was space for “defense” on island, implying that the island needs more protection than we have because we’re in danger. Like many his age, Duenas associates the presence of the military and more ranges on Guam with the island’s safety, overlooking that Guam is made a bigger target for international attacks when we have a larger US presence here. (This is something the military has admitted themselves in their plans.) Leon Guerrero responded by asking him why we need protection, giving him an opportunity to reconsider his question. He seemed a bit stumped. She went on to remind him that we need protection from attacks that are only motivated by the presence of US military on island. She clarified that the presence of more military on island did not make her feel “safer,” because we’re only ever threatened because of the way the US positions itself here. More military on Guam may make America feel safer, but does it make Guam feel safer? Not really. The audience shared a laugh at Duenas’ expense, but I wondered if any of the legislators were able to really hear what Leon Guerrero and others at the table were saying. They haven’t always proven to be good listeners in the past.
I’m looking forward to hearing more of the discussion, which will continue at public meetings throughout the island. If you’re interested in listening or even better…participating, here is the information:
* Saturday, May 17, 2014, open house from 1:00 to 3:00pm and public hearing from 3:00 to 5:00pm at Okkodo High School.
* Monday, May 19, 2014, open house from 5:00 to 7:00 pm and public hearing from 7:00 to 9:00pm at Father Duenas Memorial School Phoenix Center.
* Tuesday, May 20, 2014, open house from 5:00 to 7:00pm and public hearing from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Naval base Gymnasium in Santa Rita (I don’t know if you need an ID card to get in there though.)