To the people of the CNMI:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”-The Declaration of Independence
These are words that every American should know and understand. As Americans, we love to take pride in being able to say that we are a part of the United States. We take advantage of our political relationship with the United States in numerous ways, the most common one being our acceptance of federal funds intended to improve the livelihood of our people and the services that are available to us in the CNMI. But as Americans, how many of us actually truly understand the words in the document that birthed our parent nation? How many of us actually understand that the government only gets away with whatever WE, the governed, allow them to get away with? These words at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence speak more truth for the CNMI than any of our career politicians will ever be willing to speak. Indeed, all experience has shown that our people are more willing to suffer for as long as we can take it, instead of making things right by ridding ourselves of these cancerous things that we have gotten used to through the years. When will enough be enough? When will we decide, as the people of the CNMI, that we are no longer willing to suffer at the hands of our elected officials? When will we stop putting all the blame on the government, and realize that we are to blame as well, for allowing such things to go on for all these years? We are not as powerless as we think we are, though I'm sure the government would love to have us continue to believe that.
Going back to the Declaration of Independence, one of the most notable sentences is the following: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Haven't we had a long enough train of abuses and usurpations in the short history of the CNMI so far? Let's take a little look at just a few of the recent abuses and usurpations we've had to experience already: our elected officials and their friends go on junket trips on a regular basis and enjoy a lavish lifestyle while away from the CNMI, they have considered allowing Japanese tsunami debris to be dumped on Pagan, our governor offered to lease some of our islands to China, he ordered the release of a federal prisoner because he needed a massage, our deputy commissioner of DPS and his cops aided our AG's escape from the CNMI, our attorney general doesn't follow election laws, he approves unethical contracts, and runs away from court summons and bench warrants. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything that our government has done that we have just allowed to happen! All of these things have happened, and yet we still remain silent, just accepting these occurrences as the usual state of affairs in the CNMI. This begs the question, WHY?
We take pride in knowing that the CNMI is different from any other member of the American family; however, we are very much alike in terms of the mindset our people have. We have had in place in the CNMI a culture of unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Whenever someone asks the tough questions that need to be asked, they are met with some variant of “That's just the way it is, it's never gonna change.” In our culture, to question such things is viewed by the older generation as a disrespectful act. “Show some respect,” they tell us. What they fail to understand is that respect is a two-way street. If you want the younger generations to respect you, you had first better show that you respect them by doing everything in your power to ensure that the CNMI that they grow up in is not the CNMI that we have today. Do we really expect our younger generations to respect us if the Commonwealth that they grow up in is as messed up, if not messier, than our Commonwealth of today? Don't you think they will instead grow up with scorn in their hearts, knowing that we allowed the CNMI to end up that way; that we knew it was happening, but did nothing to put a stop to it all? There is already evidence of this happening today, as more and more high school graduates vow to never return to the islands when they leave for college. As the Native American saying goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors: we borrow it from our children.”
We have an obligation to our children and to all future generations in the CNMI to do everything in our power to ensure that they live in the best environment possible. It is this obligation, coupled with my general desire for a better life for all people, that is at the heart of all my social justice and political activism. It is this obligation that, whenever I feel like all hope is lost, reminds me that I must continue with my efforts no matter how futile they may seem at times. I don't want my children, when I end up having them, to have to go through all of this turmoil, or to grow up thinking that corruption is acceptable or just business as usual. I don't want to be a parent who has to decide between standing up for what is right or staying silent so I can keep putting food on the table. I don't want to have to explain to my children when they ask me why the CNMI is so messed up, that my generation and the generation before mine saw what was happening but did nothing to correct the problem because we were too busy caring about ourselves instead of trying to help the CNMI prosper as a whole. I don't want my children to feel like the only option for moving forward in life is to move away from the CNMI and never return. I don't want my children to live in a CNMI where a large portion of people live with the government's foot on their necks and are afraid to call public officials out because they could lose their job. No, that's not the kind of CNMI that I want my children to grow up in.
The CNMI that I want my children to grow up in is a CNMI that thrives off of multiple (successful) industries, not just tourism. I want my children to grow up in a CNMI in which everyone is treated as equals and everyone has an equal opportunity for success. In my children's CNMI, education is a top priority and the curriculum and programs set for the Public School System are some of the best in the Pacific. I want the CNMI to be a place where laws are upheld and enforced regardless of who is breaking them, by the time my children come into this world. I want my children to live in a CNMI where it's not who you know, but what you know that lands you the job. I want the CNMI of my children to be a place where voters are well informed when it comes to the politicians, their platforms, and political/voting history; where people vote for who they believe is the best choice for the CNMI, instead of voting by party lines or strictly by family lines. The CNMI that I want for my children is a CNMI where the elected officials truly represent those who vote for them and are completely open with their constituents about what they are doing in regards to their office. Lastly, I want my children to grow up in a CNMI where everyone works together for the continued success of the Commonwealth as a whole, as well as the success of all its inhabitants.
I think it's time for each of us to ask ourselves if this is really the CNMI that we want to leave for our kids. If the answer is no, then I say it's time to start changing our ways now. We must overcome our fears and take a stand against the corruption of our government! It's not exactly a secret that a revolution is needed in the CNMI, and with everything that has been going on lately, it's pretty obvious that now is as good a time as ever to finally have one. There is a Global Day of Protest coming up on the 15th of September; maybe we can finally shed a positive light on the CNMI globally by participating in this Global Day of Protest and finally letting all our frustrations out. We can finally show the world that “We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore!” The “AG Escape” scandal should have been an eye-opener for everyone in the CNMI. Have we really let ourselves slide for so long that when our corrupt attorney general tries to escape from a court summons by fleeing the island, he is assisted by our own police, who also harass a member of the media who tries to cover the story? Have we really gotten so used to all this corruption and abuse of power, that even upon hearing about this scandal, we still cannot manage to rise up as a community and say enough is enough? Have we really been so abused by our own government that we do not speak out against the injustices that it carries out against other people?
The foreign workers are just as much a part of our local community as any of us U.S. citizens are. They have been here for many years, some even decades, contributing to the community in many ways. Despite the many struggles that they have had to face over the years, whether it be horrible living and/or working conditions, wage issues, forced labor, or any of the other things they've had to endure during their stay, they still continue to live and work in the CNMI to this day. These people came to our islands with no intent of staying here for so long, but after their first year of employment, they had liked the CNMI enough to be willing to stay longer. They have contributed to our islands in ways that many of us take for granted today: they built the infrastructure, they staff the tourism and hotel industries, they operate the taxis that transport the tourists, they fix our cars, they raise our children while we go off to work, and they account for a large percent of the private sector. They have done all of this and stayed in the CNMI all this time because they want to be there. They are now deeply rooted in the community, and many of them have children who went to school with your children. It is obvious that these people love these islands as much as we do, and truly wish to stay. Despite all of that, the U.S. government just wants to kick them out, and the CNMI government wants them to stay, but remain as second-class citizens for the entire duration of their stay. Voiceless people can't complain, right?
The foreign workers are seeing through it all and are finally starting to decide that they will no longer accept being a second-class citizen forever. They are opposed to the extension of the Transitional Worker Program, which only prolongs their status as second-class citizens in the CNMI. They are instead urging the U.S. government to grant them permanent residency status so that they will finally have a pathway to citizenship. Some of you say that if they are granted improved immigration status, they'll just pack their bags and leave the CNMI. I doubt that this would be the case, considering how deeply rooted these people are in the CNMI. They have been around for so long, and many of them are your friends. They desire to be permanent residents because they want to continue to live in the CNMI, but they are tired of their stay depending on how willing they are to accept abuse and injustice. Is it so wrong for them to ask for that? Wasn't it Jesus who said “Love your neighbor as yourself?” Are we not a predominantly Christian community? Why are we not supporting our friends and neighbors in their fight for their right to stay in the CNMI as proper citizens? Have they not been living and working in the CNMI long enough to be considered as permanent residents? How would you want them to act, if the roles were reversed? Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it best: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” In the spirit of the religion and the God that most of us profess our never-ending faith to, should we not join them in solidarity, and ask that our elected officials in the CNMI fully support their cause?
The CNMI is a diverse community, a melting pot of the Pacific, and everyone is just trying to survive, resident and nonresident alike. However, no one can survive in the current environment of the CNMI, with all of the corruption and shady deals in the government that we all allow to continue. To my parents' generation: are you guys happy with the way the CNMI turned out? Are you OK with the CNMI that your kids grew up in? To my generation: many of you are starting to have kids now; are you OK with your children growing up in a CNMI like this? Unless we all come together and rise up to crush the status quo before it's too late, the CNMI will never change-not in our generation, at least-and that's a very scary thought. I don't know about you all, but I don't want my kids to have to put up with the kind of government abuse I've had to put up with. Please stand up, all of you, and tell this government that you're mad as hell, and you're not going to take this any more! Some of you will say, “I have a family to support, and bills to pay! I can't do it!” It's exactly because you have a family to support, that you should all rise up as a community and put an end to government corruption and abuse. We are all residents of the CNMI, regardless of our citizenship, and we all want to see this place prosper.
How can we bring about a prosperous CNMI? The first step is being able to admit that we have a problem, and the next step is taking corrective action to solve that problem. Our residents need to be able to speak up about issues that they are concerned with. We need to be able to come together and work toward solutions to these problems, instead of just staying silent or just criticizing the government and playing the blame game. I propose that we utilize a direct action approach to our problems by organizing a general assembly on a weekly basis, where residents can meet up, discuss the issues, propose solutions, vote on those proposals, and then carry them out. The general assembly model is what the Indignados in Spain and the worldwide Occupy movement have been using to successfully mobilize the citizens into action. It's easy to learn, and easy to use. This is participatory democracy at its finest, because everyone is encouraged to participate and all voices are heard on a level playing field. Using this model, we can discuss, as a community, what kind of changes we desire in the CNMI, and we can formulate and carry out plans to bring about those changes. We can build a CNMI that really is a paradise in the Pacific, one that we all helped to create together, instead of this nightmare that the politicians and businesses created for us.
I have said all that I could, and I hope that there are at least a few people who agree. I hope I see the rise of the general assembly in the CNMI someday, and I hope I start seeing changes being brought about by the concerned residents of the CNMI. Change is going to be a long process for us, especially after all these years of the status quo prevailing in our Islands, but it is important that we start now, if we truly want our children to live in a better and brighter CNMI. Change is possible, but not unless you believe it is. Let's stop being slaves to the status quo. Another CNMI is possible. Let's make it happen, people of the CNMI. In closing, I would like to quote Paul Laurence Dunbar's “Sympathy:”
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-I know why the caged bird sings!
Start singing, CNMI. We have been silent for far too long. To see the cage is to leave it.