Ciara Kahahane, self-described "Maui-girl," and an Honors student at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa, invoked this Hawaiian phrase, "Oʻahu maka ʻewaʻewa," in a recent essay tracing her understanding of civic engagement and issue advocacy. She explained that it translates as "Oʻahu of the averted eyes," an ancient saying, which originated in the tale of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele and is meant to reproach Oʻahu residents for their indifference to others.
The phrase comes to mind as Honolulu protesters wonder about the indifference of the local media to their continuing protests against U.S. funding of the Israeli assault on Gaza. The first four protests were held on consecutive Tuesday afternoons at the corner of Atkinson and Ala Moana Boulevard. One included a march from the State Capitol. The demonstrations attracted more than a 100 people each time. Passers-by honked their support while a few gave the thumbs down sign.
But where were the reporters? Where were the cameras? Award-winning University of Hawai'i, Mānoa student film-maker, Erin Lau captured the march on film and footage was provided to all the main news outlets. Not one used it.
The fifth protest was on Mānoa campus, outside Kennedy Theater when Secretary John Kerry arrived to speak at the East West Center on August 13. Honolulu media were informed and could not have missed noticing the crowd with their large posters, signs and speeches. But they averted their eyes. This lack of attentiveness raises questions about our priorities and our willingness to stand in solidarity with others who are paying a very high price in their struggle for freedom. Why does the local media not consider the acts of solidarity with Gaza by dozens of Honolulu residents worthy of its ink or its cameras?
Reflecting on the indifference of the media, a key mover behind the protests, Dr. Cynthia Franklin asked: "How do we connect these dots?: Reporters who are what P. Sainath calls 'stenographers to the powerful' and the $3b in US aid to Israel?"
Ali Musleh, a Palestinian Political Science Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii, who has participated in every Honolulu demonstration of solidarity with Gaza, found this cartoon that captures some of the dynamics -and politics--or what gets coverage and what does not.
"I struggle to understand why when protesting Israeli crimes in Palestine the media finds it ok to turn their backs and tell themselves "don't shoot," he says.
The last few weeks have been filled with news of the trial of FBI agent Deedy for the killing of Kollin Elderts, the fatal shooting of a suspected car thief by Honolulu police and police brutality in Ferguson. In the context of all these events, Dr. Franklin also asked, "How do we connect these dots?: The militarization of the police in Ferguson and Honolulu that result in the shootings of young men of color and Palestinians in Gaza whose lives are considered expendable?"
Iris Murdoch once said that "paying attention is itself a moral act."
Those who tried to pay attention to the slaughter in Gaza through their protests in Honolulu wonder what to make of the inattention of the local media. What does it say about the lens through which our local media views the lives of those without power, confined to small spaces, under the weight of overwhelming military force, unable to escape, bombarded many times over in their homes, even in UN shelters? Attacked and killed even when they wave white flags, say they are unarmed or try to take refuge in so-called shelters? What does it say about us as a community when we go about our business as usual?
How complicit are we in accepting this level of militarization and brutality as understandable, maybe even required, to maintain the status quo?
Sometimes just staying polite makes us complicit in allowing the steady incorporation of deadly violence as a tool of power and community policing. Politeness in the face of what is outrageous helps make the outrageous seem "normal." I confess to complicity through politeness in a recent interaction. A few days ago, as we made a hard but safe landing after a long flight, the middle-aged American sitting next to me with whom I had not had any conversation, broke his silence to comment on the hard landing. He said we should be thankful we were safe. He followed this up with comments about keeping the peace in Ferguson, his regret about the fact that a young man had lost his life, and the need to preserve law and order. "I always carry my Glock with me as I travel around the country," he said. "Never can tell what you might encounter. And if you carry a gun, I always say you should be prepared to shoot to kill. That's what our police are trained to do. That's what they have to do. That's what I would do."
I pushed back. But not enough. Not nearly enough. I stayed polite.