This article originally appeared as a letter in Revolution
The City of Honolulu, Hawai`i, is bracing for the 2011 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit, which is scheduled to meet here from November 7-13. The 7-day meeting will culminate with a CEO Summit from November 10-12 and a Leaders’ Summit from November 10-13. The CEO Summit will include CEOs representing hundreds of corporations, including Walmart, Microsoft, Freeport Copper, Dow, Boeing, and Chevron.
The Leaders’ Summit will include government leaders from the 21 member countries, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton from the U.S., President Hu Jintao of China, and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia.
Leading up to and during APEC, a variety of events and actions in opposition to APEC are also being planned. Art exhibits, workshops and talks are being held leading up to the conference, and an alternative conference with a full slate of speakers and workshops will be held from November 9-11 (Moananui2011.org). World Can’t Wait-Hawai`i has taken the lead in organizing a staging area from November 10-12 at Old Stadium Park (Isenberg and King), and marches, banner drops, sign-holding, drum groups and art happenings are being planned.
The 2011 APEC meeting is taking place against the backdrop of 1) continuing instability and crisis in the world economy, 2) a situation in which East Asia in particular represents one of the few regions of dynamic economic growth in the world, and 3) a time when China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest capitalist economy, and is asserting its strategic interests in the world, and economically challenging the United States.
APEC has 21 member countries and has been historically dominated by the United States. Using code words like "free trade," "deregulation," and "liberalization," APEC’s policies pry open the economies of its member countries to foreign investment and control, and give imperialist powers and transnational corporations the "right" to take out whatever resources they want. Deregulation of industries, environmental laws, and labor laws enables corporations to move more freely between countries, chasing the regions where profits are the highest, and privatization opens up government-owned and/or government-controlled lands and companies to private ownership and control. The major economic powers, particularly the U.S., Japan, and China, use APEC to advance their geo-economic agendas.
As a result of policies established by APEC, small-scale, sustainable and indigenous agriculture has been destroyed; huge silver and copper mines in Papua New Guinea have displaced entire villages and created enormous regions that are uninhabitable due to air and water pollution; and subsistence agriculture has been greatly undermined in the poorest countries, forcing people to migrate to cities where they are caught in a never-ending cycle of either unemployment or work in slave-like conditions. Environmental restrictions have been lifted, allowing uncontrolled plunder of natural resources. APEC policies of deregulation and privatization have accelerated the destruction of the environment. (See accompanying article, "What APEC Is and Why People Should Protest Against It")
In 1999 huge protests disrupted the 2000 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, and this was a time of protests all over the world against imperialist globalization. After this, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which facilitates imperialist economic development in Asia, announced it was moving its May 2001 meeting from Seattle to Honolulu, Hawai`i—where it would be much more difficult for protesters to mount significant opposition. To prepare for the ADB meeting in 2001, Hawai`i mounted a concerted campaign of repression including special training for 1800 officers, the purchase of special equipment to deal with protesters, and a whole set of repressive rules and ordinances aimed at limiting the freedom to protest (which remain today). In spite of this concerted campaign of intimidation, more than 500 people marched to protest the ADB meeting.
In the wake of the ADB meeting, Hawai`i’s governor issued an open invitation to the WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and APEC to hold future meetings in Hawai`i. APEC, which has been confronted by protest wherever it has gone, accepted the invitation and announced it would hold its November 2011 Summit in Honolulu.
Hawai`i is now working at a fever pitch to roll out the red carpet to welcome 20,000 government leaders, dignitaries and the CEOs from some of the most hated corporations on the planet. Hotels are being upgraded. Public sidewalks and streets in Waikiki are being repaved. Sand is being dredged up from the bottom of the ocean to expand beaches fronting the hotels, and 205 palm trees are being removed from less visible locations on other islands, shipped to Honolulu, and replanted along the corridor from the airport, along with two miles of grass. As Lt. Gov. Schatz said, "First impressions are everything." At the same time, security measures are being taken to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation should anyone dare protest.
"APEC is the linchpin for our future"
According to a local tourism official, "APEC will be a linchpin for our future. It creates excitement and provides a vehicle to solidify future international conferences in Hawai`i. Everyone is starting to feel more optimistic."
The local media is hyping APEC as a vehicle to promote Hawai`i as a high-end tourist destination. Visions of 2,000 members of the international media beaming images of palm trees and white sand beaches around the world have the tourism authorities, hotels, and shop owners salivating. Small businesses are vying for space at an APEC trade fair showcasing Hawai`i -based companies in hopes that their business will be chosen to expand into the global market. High schools are organizing simulation conferences, with students jumping into roles as senior officials from participating countries. Cash prizes are being offered to high school students in an essay contest on "sustainability," and college students will be rewarded with cash and Apple products for submitting videos on "what APEC means to them." Huge billboards have sprung up on the University of Hawai`i campus, and the president of the University is on the host committee. One thousand two hundred volunteers are being lined up to greet delegates at the airport with flower leis and to give directions. In an effort to create the illusion of promoting "sustainability," local organic restaurants are being invited to cater, and indigenous Hawaiian artists are being paid for creating artistic pieces to decorate the walls of the Summit venue.
All of this is happening when austerity measures are hitting Hawai`i’s people hard. Small businesses are being shuttered. Last year state employees (including teachers) were furloughed every other Friday, and this year they were forced to accept lower salaries and cuts to their benefits. Social services to children and seniors have been drastically cut, and low-income residents are being forced to move from "affordable housing" because they can no longer afford the rents. Fees for school lunches and city bus services have been increased, causing many children to go hungry or miss school altogether. Unions are being busted, including the state teachers union, whose rights to collective bargaining were overridden by Hawai`i’s "liberal" governor. Funding for environmental protection, including the monitoring of alien species (animals/plants brought into the state from the outside), has all but disappeared. The infrastructure is so broken that in many parts of Honolulu, the stench rising from broken sewer pipes causes people to gag, and potholes in streets bring traffic to a crawl. Consequently, the exorbitant amount of money and resources being spent to host APEC elicits a schizophrenic response from most people, who are disgusted that taxes are being spent to host the most rich and powerful but hope that the meeting will strengthen Hawai`i’s economic future.
Police State Paradise
While the state is preparing to greet APEC delegates with leis and hula, it is creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation should anyone dare to protest. The City and County of Honolulu alone have budgeted $45 million for security, including $18.3 million for the police, and it was recently disclosed that the Honolulu Police Department has purchased an arsenal of "non-lethal" weapons and 25,000 additional pepper spray projectiles, 18,000 units of bean bag ammunition, 3,000 Taser cartridges, and hundreds of smoke grenades. More than 5,500 Army and National Guard troops are being trained to assist the Honolulu police. Hospitals are making plans to be on "lock-down," although it is as yet unclear what measures would be taken if they were. Eight million dollars is being spent by the Fire Department to purchase "special devices, multi-agency communications, decontamination, hazardous incident management," etc. Surveillance cameras are being installed along the streets and roadways APEC delegates are expected to use. Public sidewalks in Waikiki have been torn up and replaced with exotic plants, and sidewalks in front of hotels and Waikiki businesses have been privatized. As a result, areas which appear to be "public" are actually off-limits to demonstrators. Reactionary talk show programs and on-line newspapers are spreading lies and rumors, and are targeting activist groups and individuals by name.
The security measures being taken to "ensure the safety" of the delegates is mind-boggling. The air over the entire island of O`ahu, where the city of Honolulu is located, is restricted. Scheduled commercial airlines are allowed to take off and land, but all private aircraft (including planes, helicopters, hang gliders, and parachutes) are banned. More than half of Honolulu’s huge boat harbor has been designated a "restricted area," and boat traffic will be banned. The Ala Wai Canal, which runs along one side of Waikiki, will be patrolled by heavily armed security forces in boats. A huge expanse of ocean near the venues that extends 2,000 yards from land has been designated a "security zone" and will be off-limits to swimmers, surfers and boaters. Beaches in the same area will be closed. Access to the five venues hosting the Summit will be closed, and 10-foot high chain link fences, covered with black tarp, will be set up far beyond the sites. Hawai`i’s world-famous international hula competition has been kicked out of its venue fully two miles from the Summit venue to make way for security staging. Three of Honolulu’s largest public parks will be largely closed; many of Waikiki’s roadways will be closed, and parking will be severely restricted. New and restrictive plans are being disclosed almost daily, and increasing numbers of people are beginning to question whether hosting APEC is really "worth the trouble."
Throughout all of the preparation, the single issue getting the most attention is "What are we going to do with the homeless?" Thousands of homeless people live in tents on Honolulu’s sidewalks, under hedges, on benches, and in beach parks. Shopping carts piled high with belongings form sidewalk parades, as their owners move from trash can to trash can to search for food and cans to recycle. Hundreds are in Waikiki and the area surrounding the convention center, and there is a relentless debate being fomented over "what to do with THEM." Should they be removed to an isolated area en masse? Should a special tent be set up? Governor Abercrombie has a 90-day plan, whose first step is a new regulation prohibiting the feeding of the homeless in the parks. Honolulu’s Mayor Carlisle likened the homeless to "rats" who had to be removed. The heartlessness of the attacks against the homeless has rightly outraged many people, but this has not prevented the massive sweeps against the homeless that are currently happening and are sure to increase.
In spite of a daily barrage of media hype about APEC in Hawai`i’s media, one question is seldom heard. "What is APEC, and what is APEC’s effect on the world’s people and its environment?" When asked, many just shrug their shoulders and say they don’t know. Some say they’ve heard it’s "just a bunch of rich guys who get together in order to vacation in luxury." Others say they don’t care, as long as it’s good for Hawai`i’s economy. But all of this is beginning to change because a very a small minority has been trying to dig into deeper questions about the effects of globalization, and are ferreting out facts about APEC’s agenda and finding ways to expose it.
Revolution Books has hosted four well-attended forums on APEC’s policies. Hundreds of copies of Raymond Lotta’s recent talk at Occupy Wall Street ("Are Corporations Corrupting the System…or is the Problem the System of Capitalism") have been reproduced, as well as his longer analysis of the world financial crisis ("Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry," in Revolution #136). Posters of Bob Avakian’s quotes from BAsics, and ads for "What Is Capitalism"—an excerpt from the film of his talk Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About (accessible online at youtube.com/revolutiontalk and revolutiontalk.net)—have been posted broadly. The store has also expanded its selection of books on globalization and is becoming a real center for discussion and debate over the future.
A sharp but friendly debate is being waged about the future: Is the problem capitalism/imperialism, and is it going to take revolution to begin to build a better world? Or is the problem that corporations have taken over the government, and we need a combination of government laws to "control the corporations," along with more "personal responsibility"? What’s clear is that many are disgusted with capitalism as it is, and are much more open to ideas of socialism than in the past, even while having a knee-jerk reaction against communism. It is in this conversation that the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) plays a powerful role, as we challenge people to compare THIS with the horrors of the capitalist-imperialist world we live in.
World Can’t Wait-Hawa`i is also playing a key organizing role. They have distributed thousands of pamphlets about APEC, have done PSAs calling on people to protest, which are running on community television stations, and have organized an anti-APEC festival at the University of Hawai`i campus. It has secured a permit for an organizing center in a public park during the 3-day Summit, and is uniting with other organizations around plans to hold protests.
"Eating in Public" has collected more than 1,000 used T-shirts, screened them with anti-APEC slogans, and distributed them free. A group of artists are holding anti-APEC workshops at a popular downtown nightclub, and an art show is being set up at a downtown studio. An advertised visit by the Yes Men is creating a buzz, and new plans are springing up seemingly out of nowhere. Sovereignty activists and academics, along with the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), are planning an "Alternative APEC" conference focusing on their vision for the future. A new website (apecsucks.com) carries news of the latest plans and actions.
ACLU-Hawai`i has been playing an important role in the mix and is training protest monitors, disseminating information on the right to protest, is making public records requests of the city demanding disclosure of police preparations, and protecting the rights of the homeless. According to Dan Gluck, attorney with ACLU, "We’re very concerned that if HPD believes it’s in for a war, then officers will be hostile to all members of the public, even those who seek to peacefully exercise their First Amendment Rights." Consequently, the ACLU has been monitoring the police and state closely, and has been waging a media campaign encouraging people not to give up their right to protest in response to the atmosphere of intimidation being created.
The sudden emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement has infused new energy into all of this, and there’s a growing "Occupy APEC" spirit. The involvement of young people, newly interested in activism, is creating a freshness to the movement that we haven’t seen in decades. The connection is being made: APEC is the 1%.
In only a month, the shift in attitudes toward APEC is palpable. People are hungry for information and are grabbing up leaflets. Many who had volunteered to help at APEC or had contracted for services with APEC are questioning their decisions.
All this is not being lost on the police, who are openly boasting of monitoring organizing meetings and actions. Many are new to protest, and have not personally witnessed police brutality against protesters, so they don’t recognize such illegal blatant violations. Police regularly approach activists and greet them by name, asking them for private personal information and about upcoming plans. Consequently, it is relatively easy for the police to gather information on protesters. A new "Civil Affairs" police unit sporting aloha shirts is passing out calling cards to protesters which promise to "protect First Amendment Rights to Protest" and are stamped with "2011 APEC USA."
Images of police brutality beamed from New York, Minneapolis, or Philadelphia have long seemed remote, and we often hear people say "at least we don’t have THOSE kinds of protesters here," blaming the protesters rather than the police. Consequently, when police show up at organizing meetings and openly listen in on planning meetings, few people object. When the police announce that the surveillance cameras will be used to identify protesters, few voices of concern are raised. When security forces boast that they are closely monitoring "outside protesters" who might arrive in Hawai`i, too many people accept it.
One of the real challenges is to change this situation, and it’s beginning to happen. As the Occupy movement is growing on Hawai`i, people are more closely identifying with protesters in the Occupy movement who are coming under police attack. As the federal government and the Honolulu Police Department issue joint statements disclosing the latest repressive measures being implemented to quash protest, the real role of the police is becoming clearer to some people.
But there is a crucial need to bring out to people the whole history of the political police in the U.S. in the targeting of movements of resistance and revolutionary forces, and how political repression has been greatly expanded and intensified since 9/11. Revolutionaries must take the lead in setting standards on the question of the political police. As the Revolution article "Don’t Talk" pointed out, "Part of building a culture of defiance and resistance, based on mass movements of people, is refusing to allow the government to either intimidate or bamboozle people into giving up resistance, and refusing in any way to enter into complicity with such intimidation and repression. The authorities are not interested in the truth; they are not out to seek justice. They have an agenda—using the legal system (as well as illegal means) to repress serious movements of resistance of all kinds. As bitter experience has shown, not only will they outright murder revolutionaries (as they did with Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was gunned down as he slept in his bed), but they will spin a web of lies and fabricated evidence in order to use the courts to frame and railroad those whom they want to silence. When facing agents of government repression (here we are talking about the local police and prosecutors, state or federal law enforcement or various government agencies), the principle of ‘Don’t Talk’ is an important legal principle which is crucial in fighting to protect the various movements of resistance and of revolution from government repression."
On October 17 the first APEC forum on Climate Change was held at the University of Hawai`i and was met by a small group of protesters. Significantly, among the first signs picked up by college students were "Capitalism Sucks! We Need a Revolution" and "Capitalism IS the Crisis!" As APEC 2011 draws closer, many people are becoming newly conscious of the horrors of capitalism/imperialism and are debating what it’s going to take to realize a better future. Huge questions are being thrown up, the system itself is being questioned, and momentum for a spirited protest during the APEC Summit is growing. Such protest is absolutely necessary—and must become a reality in the coming weeks. We here in the "belly of the beast," in the most criminal imperialist country on the planet, have a special responsibility to step up and struggle against the moves of the U.S. and all those who will be at this summit to strengthen their domination, exploitation and oppression of the people of the world and the further destruction of the environment.