Jim Albertini – Hawaii Activist

“War is the most unsustainable thing that human beings do, and we do it a lot. If you look underneath the surface, you’ll find that without our current, exploitative, growth-imperative global economy, war would be obsolete. We must end this madness.”

Among the many activists who live on the Big Island of Hawaii Jim’s reputation and experience is incomparable. This longtime warrior for social justice and peace has earned the respect of every other activist and many politicians. He’s participated in most, if not all, of the wide range of social actions that have taken place in Hawaii over the last forty years. Jim is an avid believer in Gandhian principles and with great humility he has also tirelessly organised innumerable campaigns, protests and direct actions including:

Nuclear Free Pacific! Restore the Hawaii Nation!
End U.S. Terrorism!
Military Clean-Up NOT Build Up!
Stop all the Wars!  End all Occupations! No Geothermal! GMO free Hawaii! Protect Sacred sites!

I first met Jim in 1984 when I participated as ‘Uncle Sam’ in a nuclear free pacific protest he organised. I watched as he jumped into the sea attempting a human blockade of the U.S.S. Ouellette, a nuclear-armed guided missile destroyer, when it entered Hilo Bay. He believed that the military should honour the County of Hawaii nuclear free ordinance but as a result of his deep conviction for this he served time in federal prison. Three years later we collaborated on a fundraiser for a nuclear free pacific with members of our Hawaiian Vaudeville Festival presenting a sold out show at the Hilo University Theatre. We’ve been friends ever since and I consider him to be one of the Big Island’s hero’s.

Jim was born and raised in the small coal-mining town of Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania. Both his immigrant grandfathers worked in the mines and one died there in an accident. As a child of the nuclear age one of his earliest recollections from the 1950’s was his whole town being blacked out at night for air raid drills. Even at that tender age he realised war didn’t make any sense.

He went to daily mass as an altar boy and choir boy, attended a small parish school from kindergarten through high school, and graduated from a Catholic university.  While there he was impacted by the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and Pope John XXIII’s encyclical called Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). It was the first time he heard nonviolence expressed as a way of hope for a world on the brink of being consumed by nuclear holocaust violence.

When the Vietnam War kicked in he decided he’d make a stand and filed for conscientious objector status. For Jim war was in direct conflict with the New Testament and the biblical command to love your enemies. On Veterans Day 1968, with two other teachers, he picketed his local draft board and discovered how controversial dissent can be. In the process he lost friends but made other friends and gained clarity regarding his real values in life, war and peace, and where he stood on nonviolence and violence. He chose to move from dissent to resistance, willing to risk imprisonment and to make peace and justice his primary concern and way of life.

It was a teaching job in Hawaii’s Catholic schools that lured him to the islands in 1970.  As director of Catholic Action near the UH Manoa campus Jim and organisation members took the message of peace, justice and a nuclear free Hawaii into elementary, high school and university classrooms and also into the streets. Hawai’i was the command center and deployment area for the Vietnam war and it felt very close especially with the ear shattering roar of the jets from the Kaneohe Marine base on their way to practice bombing the island of Kaho’olawe.

In early 1972, after years of ineffective appeals to Congress and nonviolent dissent, he participated in direct action pouring his own blood on top secret files at Hickam Base, the Pacific headquarters of the U.S. Air Force. For this he was fired from his teaching job and imprisoned. It was not unexpected but part of the price for acting upon one’s beliefs. Since then he’s been self-employed, living simply and moving deeper into serving others. It’s been a life on the edge without wages or salary and with frequent periods spent in jail and prison for taking nonviolent stands for justice and peace. 

An early island experience that moved Jim deeply was his involvement with farmers being evicted from Kalama Valley on O’ahu to make way for golf courses in 1971. Thirty-
two people were arrested on their rooftops in this pivotal and potent Hawaiian land struggle. Jim saw how important it is to be rooted to the land in the struggle for justice and peace and began planting kalo (taro) as a personal discipline and connection to the aina (land).

He’s been a lifelong avid researcher and with a group of friends co-authored ‘The Dark Side of Paradise: Hawaii in a Nuclear World’ which details the extent of U.S. military presence in the islands. The 1980 book noted that since Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778, Hawaii has been a target for colonisation by outside interests. Originally exploited for its sandalwood and whales the colonisers then found sugar and pineapples to have a more stable and profitable future. But Pearl Harbour became recognised as the biggest asset and the U.S. government was determined to grab it and began it’s present occupation in 1893.

After being subjected to pseudo statehood Hawaii has become the most densely militarised state in the U.S. with the highest percentage of land controlled for military purposes. The home of aloha has been transformed into the U.S. nuclear war command center covering more than 60% of the earth’s surface. The Hawaiian islands have more than 100 military installations for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines including major bases with more than 3,000 nuclear weapons. 

While Hawaii has increasingly become the playground of the world’s super rich, natives and descendants of immigrants have been forced into subservient, minimum wage jobs. They live in poverty and homelessness and are often displaced from the land of their birth. In his pursuit of justice for all people Jim works alongside numerous groups and activists.

After receiving a donation of land Jim moved to the Big Island in 1981 and founded the Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-violent Education and Action. It’s a spiritual community dedicated to peace and a world built on a foundation of justice. The sustainable living community grows a wide variety of organic fruits and vegetables to share freely, often through the regional food bank emergency pantry. Volunteers and residents work cooperatively learning useful skills and seeking a deeper understanding of non-violence as a way of life through aloha ‘aina (love for the land). Local and international peacemakers often visit Malu ‘Aina for reflection, discussion, and action-planning on problems facing Hawaii and the world. Having dedicated himself to managing and caring for the centre for over forty years Jim is inviting others to share and take over responsibility to ensure it will continue serving as a grassroots justice and peace center for future generations.

Malu ‘Aina has served as a base for the Big Island Rainforest Action Group (BIRAG), a group that has worked in solidarity with the Pele Defense Fund. In the struggle to stop
geothermal development in Hawai’i, BIRAG recognises that justice for Native Hawaiians and environmental concerns are strongly connected. Many years of struggle over geothermal energy have resulted in hundreds of arrests for nonviolent direct action. One of the largest arrest actions in Hawai’i’s history was an effort to save the Wao Kele O Puna rain forest from destruction for geothermal energy production. Being arrested myself in that protest gave me a personal taste of what Jim has experienced over and over – and it very nearly got me deported!

The label ‘activist’ is inseparable from Jim’s name whenever it appears in the media but he is recognised as a man of great integrity and mostly treated courteously.  He continues to be an effective educator invited to give talks in schools, on campuses and to church groups.  Topics vary but a good example is a recent one titled ‘Sowing the Seeds of Peace – Hiroshima, Fukushima, and the Global Crisis of Violence  –Where do we go from here?’ 

More recently Jim’s researched the use of depleted uranium at the Pohakuloa Military Training Area on the Big Island. His appeal has reached thousands and continues today, “We ask that you stand in solidarity with us on Moku O Keawe in resistance to major U.S. military expansion at the 133,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area, and now helicopter assault training on our sacred mountains –Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We want an end to U.S. occupation in Hawaii and the restoration of the Hawaii nation.  We want the U.S. to stop bombing Hawaii and clean up its opala (mess).  We want to put an end to U.S. desecration and contamination of all sacred cultural sites.  We don’t want the U.S. military training anywhere to do to others what it has already done to Hawaii: overthrow and occupy its government and nation, desecrate its sacred sites, and contaminate its air, land, water, people, plants, and animals with military toxins.”

In 2001 Jim contributed to the book ‘Hawaii Journeys in Non-violence’ which contains reflections on ways out of the political, military, economic, social and cultural violence that plagues our times. As a fitting acknowledgement of his lifetime contributions, Pax Christi, a national Catholic Peace organization, named Jim as its Teacher of Peace for 2010 and in 2012 the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii presented Jim and Malu ‘Aina with their award for encouraging non-violent civic participation.

Symptomatic of Jim’s consistency and persistence is the Friday afternoon peace vigil at Hilo’s federal building which has continued for more than 1000 weeks. He started the vigil on September 12, 2001 to urge ‘restraint not vengeance’ sensing there would be a lashing out in retaliation for the deaths on that awful day. He wasn’t wrong. The U.S. lashed out and attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan, killing, injuring and displacing more than 37 million people and causing widespread destruction. As he says, “No wonder the U.S. empire is considered the greatest threat to world peace on the planet.”

Each week a new peace leaflet is prepared for distribution via the internet and paper copies are handed out at the vigil with at least 250,000 leaflets handed out to passing motorists. Despite being a very low key event with people greeted with “Aloha” and thanked for taking a leaflet Jim was still threatened by the police with ‘Jaywalking.’ How sick and ironic that peace activists are menaced for just stepping off the curb to offer peace leaflets to drivers of cars stopped at a traffic light while casual ‘Jaywalkers’ are ignored.

It’s not a just or fair world and as Jim laments, “Meanwhile, the U.S. is waging war and special ops in numerous countries killing and injuring millions, and now with Ukraine is threatening nuclear war. In this climate of repression and war it’s becoming more difficult to even hand out a leaflet of dissent.”

Back home at Malu ’Aina the work continues and support is always appreciated: volunteers are needed more than ever for planting, weeding, harvesting, carpentry, painting and other projects.  Donations are tax deductible and can be sent to the Center for Non-violent Education & Action at P.O. Box 489 Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760 or given online at the website.  www.malu-aina.org 

As a man of great principles Jim has graciously dedicated his life to serving others while humbly articulating, “My greatest hope is that perhaps I have helped a few others along the way to deepen their own commitments for peace and justice, to live more by faith and less by the fear of consequences for acting with faith. To inspire others as we have been inspired is perhaps the greatest gift to pass along.”

Mahalo Jim – this world is a better place thanks to your renegade presence.

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

3 thoughts on “Jim Albertini – Hawaii Activist

  1. Wow. What a story. Jim Albertini is certainly dedicated to his causes. Not sure I’ve ever met anybody as activist as Jim. Thanks for posting.

    Like

  2. Jim is a man of immense integrity and humility. It is always an honor to walk by his side. His work and dream for peace and justice is a beacon of hope in our times.
    His life is heroic and deserves our deepest respect and appreciation.

    Like

  3. Beautiful! We are honored and inspired to hear Jim’s story…and to know there is hope for us all. Thank you.

    Like

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