The protest on Mauna Kea has apparently escalated into a direct confrontation.
Protestors against the Thirty Meter Telescope, which was scheduled to begin construction last week, have been camping out on the mountain since last Tuesday. During that time, it’s been a quiet standoff; one protestor told the Chronicle last night that when he began videoing on Tuesday, construction work stopped, and since then had not resumed. But today apparently workers tried to resume their work and sporadic videos from the mountain appear to show protestors forming a blockade line and police confronting them.
If so, that marks a dramatic ratcheting up of the conflict.
According Lanakila Mangauil, the first roadblock that occurred as not put up by the protestors. He said that when he first came up the mountain on Tuesday, the road to the summit was blocked, so he walked up to the building site. passing tractor-trailers on their way down that had apparently delivered heavy construction equipment to the summit. But when he began videoing the work crews, he said, work ceased: As soon as my camera came out, they simply stopped working and packed up and left. That was still only maybe around eleven or noon.”
Since then, he said, small groups have maintained a vigil on the road,sign-waving but allowing vehicles to pass and chatting with those who wanted to talk.
‘Sometimes they stop and roll down their windows, and if so we’ll come up to them, but if not, we’ll just let them by,” he said. The number of participants–“protectors,” they call themselves, as opposed to “protesters,” was relatively small, said Mangauil: “a handful of people at a time, but hundreds of people have come through.”
“Sleeping overnight there were about five of us. During the day there were about a dozen to twenty people,” said Leina’ala Sleightholm, another participant. She noted that not just Hawaiians, but people of other ancestry had come up to support the protection of the mountain. “I think it’s a beautiful thing to see all our people gathered together with aloha for our mauna.”
Both Mangauil and Sleightholm said they wanted to see the telescope stopped–“I don’t even want the foundation to be put down. Just to stop it completely as it is now,” said Sleightholm. But they emphasized education. Aside from the sacredness of the mountain to Hawaiians, Mangauil noted “The misuse and dishonesty of our government and how they have pushed this project around without obeying the laws.’ The project, he maintained, was in blatant violation of eight criteria that were supposed to be observed for any activity in a conservation area. “Any second grader could look at those criteria and what’s going on and see that they do not match up,” he said. He also noted that when he he first arrived on the mountain, construction work was taking place even though the site’s archeologist was “resting in her vehicle. When the archeologist isn’t on site, he maintained, work was supposed to stop.
Supporters maintain that the 18-story-tall telescope will be the largest and most advanced in the world. But construction has already begun in Chile on the European Extremely Large Telescope, whose light collecting surface will be 39 meters wide.