Thousands of Kauaians — doctors, environmentalists, farmers, parents and concerned citizens from all walks of life — poured into the streets of Lihue in a sea of red Sunday to participate in what organizers are calling the largest march in the island’s history.
The message — at least for this event — was unified, loud and clear.
“Pass the bill!” the crowd, mostly dressed in red shirts, chanted as they walked from Vidinha Stadium to the lawn fronting the Historic County Building in Lihue.
“Mana March,” as it was called, brought together those in support of County Bill 2491, introduced in June by Kauai County Council members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum.
If passed, 2491 would require Kauai’s largest agricultural companies to disclose the use of pesticides and genetically modified crops, establish pesticide-free buffer zones around public areas, and temporarily halt the expansion of genetically modified crop fields.
“They got to be deaf, dumb and blind not to hear what the people want on this island,” organizer Dustin Barca told the crowd from the steps of the county building, drawing a loud roar.
Barca said GMO is the most important issue Kauai has ever faced, and that everyone who turned out Sunday did so for the same reason — “our future.”
“We’re going to make ‘em hear us around the world,” he said.
Following a pule around 11:30 a.m., the crowd, waving anti-GMO signs and banners, hit the pavement for the one-mile walk to the county building. Once there, they formed a circle around the building and council chambers, where the final vote on Bill 2491 will eventually be cast.
Event organizer Fern Rosenstiel said the 4,000-plus marchers stand united for their right to know.
“We stand united against four of the largest chemical companies in the world that do not want to tell us what they do here,” she said. “They do not want to tell us what chemicals they spray, what genetically modified crops they experiment with, and that is unacceptable.”
On Kauai, 22 restricted use pesticides — about 18 tons of them — are sprayed annually by the five commercial agricultural companies, according to information obtained by Hooser. Those companies include biotech giants Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF, as well as Kauai Coffee.
Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said Kauai is the leader in the movement against the GMO industry, and that the rest of the state is watching and taking notes.
“Whatever you guys do today, and what you’re doing right now, is going to have an impact not only in Hawaii, not only in the United States, but throughout the whole world,” he said.
Ritte said giving up Sunday to march — and sweat — in the heat is worth it because that’s what it takes to influence government leaders.
“You are going to win,” he said. “There is no stopping Kauai.”
Hooser said he didn’t know what to expect, but that he was happy with the turnout.
“They could be at the beach, they could be watching sports on TV,” he said. “But they’re choosing to spend their day supporting a cause that’s important to them.”
Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran, who has been working on legislation that would require GMO foods to be labeled, said she came to show her support.
“I commend Kauai for always standing up and making a big impact,” she said.
Hoku Cabebe, of Wainiha, marched with her family because she is concerned about the industry’s chemical use.
“What this bill does is it makes our community aware and alert,” she said. “We want people to know what’s going on.”
Nate Dickinson, of Waimea Valley, said one of the main reasons he came Sunday is his son, who has suffered from unexplainable seizures since birth.
“This right to know bill is so important, especially for my family,” he said. “The thing you have to ask yourself is when these guys say everything they’re doing is safe, then why can’t they tell us what’s going on?”
Bryce Boeder, also of Waimea Valley, said the bill, disclosure and buffer zones are all common sense.
“My opinion, why they don’t want disclosure is because they’re aware of what these pesticides do,” he said.
Dr. Lee Evslin, a pediatrician and retired CEO of Wilcox Memorial Hospital, said there is a growing amount of knowledge about the dangers of pesticides, especially for children.
“I think it’s a very important step,” he said. “It’s focusing on the issue and it’s doing things that are specifically supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I think it’s the beginning of a dialogue on this subject.”
Guy Hanohano Naehu, a close friend of Ritte’s, said it was impressive to see so much mana (or power) standing together.
“Obviously, every single one of you here knows what aloha aina means, and that makes my heart happy,” he said. “From Hilo to Hanalei, and everything in between, we’re all in this together.”
Sunday, although a success, is not the end of the battle, according to Ritte.
“You guys are going to have to participate in making sure that these politicians, if they don’t follow your lead, you guys are going to have to get them out of office,” he said.
Today, the council’s Economic Development Committee meets to discuss Bill 2491 and potentially introduce amendments. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the Historic County Building in Lihue.
• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.