Recently, on the program Democracy Now, host Amy Goodman and celebrity Leftist intellectual Cornel West made fun of Hawaiian claims to continued independence:
AMY GOODMAN: It might make many Hawaiian separatists happy to believe that Hawaii isn’t a part of the United States.
CORNEL WEST: That’s true. That’s true.
West has gained attention of late as a critic of Barack Obama, saying that the African-American left expecting in him John Coltrane, but got Kenny G. If the sovereignty movement canʻt depend on the left, on whose support can we depend? This predicament is the result of the unusual relationship between Hawaiians, their historical circumstance, the left, the right, and the relation of each to law and power. Thanks mainly to Noam Chomsky, the left has a strange relationship with international law in particular. After decades of sarcastic remarks about how world powers, especially the US, should follow international treaties and convenants, but do not, the left is left with a jaded attitude towards the very concept of international law, which, in many ways, is anathema to American exceptionalism. In a kind of provincialism, the right simply refuses to acknowledge any authority in international law, as if the world consisted solely of Hollywood, Wall Street, a few Main Streets, the Rust belt and the Bible belt. Their authority lies in power, its projection, and the rightness of their religion and values.
The Hawaiian cause treads a delicate course between these views, taking the rights-based approach of the left and the realism (i.e., the idea that states are the primary actors on the world stage) of the right. The independence wing of sovereignty rejects the jaded view of the left on international law and the provincialism of the right – on the latter point, much of the movement is about rethinking Hawaiians’ place in the world by changing vocabulary (deoccupy vs. decolonize, seized lands vs. ceded lands, etc.). Add the well-meaning support of Native Americans, helping us to “untangle” the complex web of Hawaiian sovereignty, and the situation becomes even more convoluted (an exception is Mohawk radio host John Kane, who gets it).
This predicament simply means that Hawaiians do not fall easily into ready-made categories, not even “native” ones, and that the need to educate a broader public is implicated. This is no easy task, but one that requires media-savvy and a well-scripted message. Iʻll be working on this message over then next few months.