I loved the public meeting last night on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument proposal. I loved that so many people showed up. (I estimated about 300; Angelo reports 360). I loved that both "sides" were adequately represented; I think orange shirts definitely outnumbered nay-sayers (about 2 to 1), and would also note that some supporters of the monument proposal were not in orange.
I loved that the community that came was fairly diverse--lots of Chamorros, Carolinians and mainland Americans, and some Chinese, Filippino, and other community members. I loved that the age demographics included everyone from manhoben to manamko.
Yesterday was a hot, humid day (to answer Mike Tripp), so it was fortunate that the Hibiscus Hall at Fiesta resort was sufficiently air-conditioned. The initial presentation by high-ranking U.S. government officials was marred by the Fiesta Resort's ridiculous sound system that kept piping in karaoke from somewhere else. I was sitting toward the back and had difficulty hearing all that was said, and had difficulty reading the screen where the print size of the text displayed was just a bit small for my poor vision.
What I did hear echoed what I'd already learned: the proposal is a work-in-progress; the U.S. feels that the central and western Pacific have not gotten sufficient attention and need greater focus; the coral structures in the waters of the Marianas and especially at the northernmost islands are amazingly healthy and valuable for study; the bio-diversity of our waters is rich and worth protecting; the geological features are unique in the world; the U.S. is looking for input and suggestions and would welcome the CNMI's involvement.
We then broke up into groups of approximately 10 to 12 people. Although the federal officials said they would circulate around the room, they never got to our group. Other groups attracted lots more attention as those without chairs moved around to join in the discussions. In our group, we went around to each person and kept writing comments on a flip-chart, everyone having a chance to say what they wanted until no one had any more comments to add. Although most of our group were in favor of the monument, we did have dissent. All comments got written on the flip chart, without debate, without hard-feelings.
What I found most interesting in the group I was in is that at times I agreed with the "dissent"--e.g. the President has a lot of power and can do what he wants without CNMI's input and that seems unfair. At another point, the "dissent" seemed to agree with the proponents--e.g. that we need federal assistance/money to protect the northern waters and accomplish our CNMI Constitution's promise.
We also had an interesting group in that some had been to the islands--one a research scientist, another for pleasure and sport--but most had not. The discussions were fairly free-flowing, with people in groups circulating to other groups, some people leaving early, others arriving late.
Our flip-chart sheets were turned in to the federal officials and we closed up our discussion about 7:15 PM. I spent the next 15 minutes chatting with Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the U.S. Department of Interior. He was impressed at how engaged our youth are in environmental issues and said he wished they could engage with kids in New York City and other places who seemed disconnected from environmental awareness.
I also "fraternized with the enemy" meaning I chatted with people wearing buttons that had the red circle/bar "No" sign over the words Monument. Some are people I know and like. I had the feeling we wouldn't convince each other of anything, except that it was nice to see each other again.
I think this meeting was one of the most successful community involvement meetings I've ever been to. Unlike the federalization march and meetings, where an overwhelming "for" group dominated and the "anti" group was pretty-much not invited, and unlike the debate on the Saipan casino initiative, where the whole point was to "debate," this meeting had the express purpose of letting everyone have a voice and have a say and have everyone listen, too.
It was uplifting. It could help us find common ground.
Thanks to the U.S. federal officials who initiated this wonderful forum. Thanks to the CNMI officials who helped make it happen. Thanks to all members of the community who came out and shared their views.
Just a great WOW!
(Now someone loan me some photos to add to this blog post. I was too busy to take any.)