“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” — Thomas Jefferson
On the Big Island of Hawaii there’s a host of super people confronting injustice but few with the tenacity, determination, sheer guts and work ethic of Shannon Rudolph. If you live in Hawaii and want to know what current legislative bills impact justice or the environment and require testimony just go to Shannon’s Facebook page. Maintaining the list regularly is tiring and tedious work but is the righteous assignment this selfless eco activist has chosen for herself.
It was a good day for me when we first met in 1990 (she introduced me to my new girlfriend) and we’ve remained friends ever since. I first got to know Shannon socially at celebrations, parties and at our annual juggling festivals where her smile and laughter fitted in perfectly with our clowns. As she became more active politically on the Big Island, we started discussing hot local topics and our campaigns were often aligned. Over many years Shannon amassed a huge email list of people who she notifies about when and how to testify on critical national/state/county issues. With the increasing need for government oversight she recently told me her labour of love has become harder and harder to keep up. “Add a pandemic, endless yard work, shack maintenance, and aging… I’m just doing my best to put out information on the most egregious assaults on the commons.” Fortunately she’s kept her sense of humour and has motivated others, “kids are finally stepping up to howl with me!”
After she initially added me to her e-mail list I soon realised how hard she was working for social change. She handed me bumper sticker opposing plans for a space port in Ka’u and I discovered it was a campaign she had helped organise – and they won. From that victory there was no turning back. From an old coffee shack in the hills above Kona town Shannon spends endless hours researching and writing to support her social activism. Her knowledge and the range of issues she has been involved in over three decades is extensive and before she testifies in person she does her homework, is well informed and prepared.
Regarding the thirty metre telescope planned for Mauna Kea she has attended protests and meetings and testified saying, “Disrespect to Hawaiians must end. Mauna Kea belongs to them, not the university and not the state. I hope you will start listening. Sacred places are an integral part of the human condition and experience. The phenomenon of sacred places is ancient, cross-cultural and universal and they merit special respect. The desecration of a sacred place is dehumanizing for those who believe it to be sacred, and also for those who desecrate it.”
She helped organise a successful major campaign in 2012 to repeal the State Public Land Development Corporation or at least limit their powers. They were attempting to invest tax dollars in private, select companies that could go belly up and have taxpayers stuck with the bill plus clean up costs. Shannon provided passionate testimony once again, “So much is wrong with the PLDC, with so little public oversight and neighbor islanders shut out of the process – exempting select private companies from many zoning, cultural, land use, public access, environmental, county charter, CDP’s, and building code laws; the PLDC may be a costly travesty to every family in Hawaii. They want to sell off public land to make up DLNR shortfalls and lease 23,000 acres at Pohakuloa for about a penny a year to toxic polluters, which will eventually cost us billions to clean up. Congress and Wall Street gangsters have devastated the world economy and the PLDC hyenas will strip what’s left of the meat off our bones.”
Shannon has been a part of a major and long term campaign regarding environmental abuses at the U.S. Army Pohakuloa Training Area. She wrote, “Living downwind of the base my community and myself are extremely worried about airborne depleted uranium being stirred up by Strykers, other vehicles, and training activities on our mountain. I am very angry that the Army repeatedly lied to state officials and the people of Hawaii, telling us they never used depleted uranium here. I was present at Pohakuloa when residents had radiation monitors turned on; counts per minute remained at or below normal levels for an hour and a half… until a big gust of wind came up off of the training range. I witnessed the the monitors zoom up well above background levels. It was very alarming for all of the 300 people present that day and continues. I am worried for troops, workers on the new highway, state park workers, and others who frequent this contaminated area and for those living downwind. According to Hawaii Public Health cancer maps, the entire Kona Coast, to Naalehu, has the highest cancer rate in the state. We have no polluting industry here that would account for this. Kona Hospital nurses say there has been an alarming increase in cancers, thyroid problems, and diabetes downwind of Pohakuloa; residents are angry and afraid. The sane and prudent thing to do is for the Army to be absolutely straight with the public and cease ALL activity at any Hawaiian training range contaminated with depleted uranium, and this should apply to any U.S. training range, anywhere. The Army should start following Army regulations regarding clean up and medical care of the people harmed, here and abroad. Some scientists say there is no way to clean up depleted uranium so I don’t know what you intend to do about that; hopefully you don’t ignore it and just hope it will just go away.”
This campaign succeeded. By 2005, the Army reported 874 contaminated sites in Hawaii making the military the number one polluter in Hawaii state. Shannon appealed to reason, “The very people we pay to protect us have become our greatest nightmare. Shut down all contaminated training ranges now; do your duty to protect the land and people you have harmed, and clean up this toxic mess you have made. This mode of ‘business as usual’for our military must end; it is not sustainable for the people or the planet. Please do your job and save us all; be heroes, clean up your act.”
She’s successfully helped campaigns to protect local beaches, support pro-choice, elect Bernie Sanders, repeal the PLDC, fight GMO’s, forbid poisonous spraying and opposed the building of a hotel at Kona airport saying, “There are already plenty of hotels just a ten minute drive away. People in Kona fought long and hard for the conservation land surrounding this airport and their wishes should be respected”
She also helped exposed unfair voting regulations whereby at Hawai’i Primary Election voters had to choose a party and can ONLY vote for people in that party? If voters crossed party lines their ballot was considered spoiled and thrown out. She regularly notifies residents of locations to register and to vote. By 2013 and 2014 when the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance was attempting to pass progressive bills in the State legislature Shannon was a powerful ally, providing testimony herself and motivating many others to do the same. We almost won that one but politics got in the way as it often does.
Over the years Shannons smile, humour and huge personality has won her the respect and friendship of politicians, native Hawaiians, local residents, kids, jugglers and even a few birds.
After my deportation in 2017 she wrote, “My heart was breaking for you guys. Thirty years of memories, the anger, the unfairness of the random deportations, the politics, the cruelty – your lives and ohana torn to shreds by psychopaths – and we’re powerless to do anything about it.” This may be the sad truth but it never stops Shannon speaking out attempting to prevent injustice wherever she sees it. The Big Island, Hawaii State and the world feels like a much better place knowing there are spirited renegade eco warriors like Shannon. Mahalo nui loa my friend!