Signs Held High
Bernie Bicoy held her sign high in the afternoon heat at the April 16 event. It reads hoe imua, or “paddle together.” “We need to support each other to benefit the economic future,” Bicoy said. She was having fun in the sun, “It reminds me of the peaceful demonstrations of the 1960’s.”
Ranch and Monsanto employees team up in a show of solidarity.
By Brandon Roberts
Horns were honking as 80 Molokai Ranch and Monsanto employees proudly waved their mana`o, holding signs street side at Kulana O`iwi. They are hoping the “Rally for Change” event will get across a positive message, as well as create hope for change.
Many in the event are directly affected by the Molokai Ranch shutdown, which cut around 120 jobs in March.
“This is peaceful, and we want to be heard with what we want for our island,” rallier Linda DeMello said, displaying her message that we are all human.
“This is what family is all about. I am here to support the children and grandchildren,” said Janice Pele, a Maunaloa kupuna. She is keiki o ka `aina, a mother of 12 and grandmother to many more. She said she supports Molokai Ranch’s Master Plan to develop La`au Point.
Auny Maile Pidot is the po`o (head) of the Maunaloa kupuna, and has been there most her life. She has lived through the coming and going of the pineapple plantations, the Kaluakoi Sheraton Resort, and multiple Molokai Ranch owners.
“I have seen hard times,” she said. “I want to be here for the employees, we are all ohana.” Aunty Pidot did more than just talk, as she participating in the La`au planning process. “La`au and the Plan can be done and still be culturally preserving and respectful.”
“Everybody should work together and not fight off the big companies, but find solutions,” said Maka, a Monsanto employee. “We cannot be Hawaiians fighting Hawaiians.” He cheered as cars went by saying he is here to “show support for the sisters and brothers.”
Coupled with solidarity is an underlying nervousness amongst the Monsanto participants, a fear that the “activists” have their sights on Monsanto. “We are standing up before it happens to us,” said one Monsanto employee.
“If we lose Monsanto, we lose millions of dollars in revenue to this island,” Maka said. “We have got to have jobs. We are the foundation for these companies.”
Monsanto is now the largest private corporation on Molokai, employing around 100 full-time and 50 seasonal workers. The bio-tech company is not without controversy; growing hundreds of acres of genetically-engineered corn on the island, which has many concerned.
In a recent meeting with Monsanto Molokai general manger Ray Foster and community affairs manager Paul Koehler, the two stated they did not see an impact from the Ranch closure to their 99 year land lease with the Ranch. They also said they were not pursuing land acquisitions from the Ranch.
“We have no current plans for expansion, but it is not out of the question,” said Foster.
Monsanto currently leases 1,800 acres from Molokai Ranch, with only 400 of those acres planted, and the rest used as a buffer-zone between plantings. They are currently updating their drying facility, a project which should be finalized in May.
According to annual reports, Monsanto spends around $8 million a year on Molokai, and $144 million State-wide. Across the islands, they have 4,820 acres and employ over 2,000.