A Weekly Roundup of Politics: Protest Edition — Puerto Rico, Mauna Kea, and the Whitney Museum

07.26.2019 Arts & Culture
Ann Lewis
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Update on Puerto Rico 

After months of protests, Puerto Rico’s embattled Governor resigned early Thursday morning. Facing severe backlash after several public missteps, Ricardo Rosselló finally stepped down after last week’s massive 100,000 person protest where people took to the streets and waterways (some of which even showed up near the Governor’s mansion in kayaks and on horseback).

Still reeling from economic challenges stemming from Hurricane Maria, which caused an estimated $90 billion in damage, Puerto Rico’s citizens have also become unhappy with the Federal Control Board appointed by the White House that implemented several austerity measures such as reduced pensions, vacation for government employees, and reductions in government subsidies for the island’s largest public university. 

By Monday protests had swelled to an estimated 500,000 people, and yet it still took Rosselló four days to resign. While this is the first step to getting Puerto Rico back on track, it will take months, if not years, to get the island back on its feet.

Artists Pulling Out of the Whitney Museum

In a similar show of people power, the vice-chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s board of trustees also stepped down Thursday after several artists pulled their work out of the museum’s biennial in protest. Warren Kanders, who owns multiple weapon manufacturing companies which have been tied to the turmoil at the southern border, was the subject of a nine week protest at the museum organized by Decolonize This Place which partnered with several other protest organizations. Kanders owns Safariland (which manufactures tear gas, riot gear, police batons, and other law enforcement products) and co-owns a company called Sierra Bullets which has been linked to multiple Palestinian deaths. He and his wife have donated over $10 million to the museum. 

A letter was submitted to the board before the biennial by over 100 employees of the museum including one of the biennial curators, Rujecko Hickley, to confront the news broke by Hyperallergic about Kanders’ violent source of income. Many artists within the biennial became uncomfortable and last week four artists (Nicholas Galanin, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, and Nicole Eisenman) publicly requested that their work be removed from the show, with four others soon following. 

Mauna Kea is Protesting for Peace

Currently hundreds of native protestors are blocking roads leading up to the highest point of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in Hawaii. The peak of Mauna Kea is considered to be the most sacred place throughout the Pacific region soaring over six miles above sea level and serving as home to a burial ground for the community’s most revered. The protests began several weeks ago at the base of the dormant volcano as construction for a massive 30-meter telescope is set to commence. (The Native Hawaiian community has been battling the construction of telescopes on this land since 2009.) 

Over 2,000 protesters have set up a camp called Pu’uhonua o Pu’u Huluhulu and have brought in portable toilets, offered free schooling, and are determined not to allow the construction to begin. Last week 33 elders were arrested at the base of the mountain while blocking the only road to the summit. 

These protests, as well as the ones in Puerto Rico, are challenging the corrupt colonial rule of the United States government. As corporate interests, fraud, and theft are the old and new norm, it seems people all over the country are standing up and demanding our government do better. Like those in Hong Kong, we are seeing that significant protests that apply pressure to government officials are effective in forcing the powerful to step down or change their policies. Perhaps the children locked in cages along our southern border would appreciate protests of this nature as well? 

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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