It was a sight to behold. Champions of self-determination from around the world gathered on Guam last week to share knowledge, experience and ideas with our island leaders and activists about ways decolonization efforts in their heritage homelands have evolved and are being implemented. Outstanding public speakers comprising the roster of presenters informed, challenged, and advocated for their respective causes. Collectively, they made complex terms and political concepts more accessible to non-experts and explained what decolonization is and is not. Their oratory made the Decolonization Conference memorable and meaningful.
To want to end colonization is not to be anti-American. In fact, America’s founding fathers championed the right of any people with a homeland, language and culture of their own to be more than a pawn of a powerful country. All peoples should have the power to determine their own fate. The United Nations declaration on non-self-governing territories has outlined a political status formula for self-determination to include statehood, some negotiated form of free association with an administering power or independence. Each option has pros and cons. All are in alignment with the United Nation’s Human Rights Platform, which the United States has agreed to honor.
Nonetheless, after five hundred years of colonization and military occupation under different world powers, many descendants of Guam’s first people find it difficult to imagine why or how to change the status quo. Many others who have settled on Guam and now consider it home have the added challenge of learning how to support the indigenous people of Guam, CHamorus, as they seek self-determination and decolonization.
It will take many persuasive speakers to inform, inspire, motivate, and engage people of every political philosophy to support CHamoru self-determination. Their voices must stir and engage listeners to understand why colonization violates democratic values. Lawyers must do their part. Educators too. Artists, musicians, poets, bloggers and writers, filmmakers, religious leaders, the media and public officials of all sorts are indispensable to the quest. But we must also develop a new generation of speakers, who are grounded in history, well-informed, prepared and willing to confront power with truth. Those who have perfected the art of public oratory must prepare these young leaders to stand, speak and deliver.
In an award-winning presentation against anti-Semitism at a conference in Toronto, Cora Usurelu declared, “Speech is a miracle. Every single time you utter a word over one hundred muscles in your face, neck and chest are hard at work moving together in perfect synchronization, putting in the effort that makes speech so effortless.” She marveled at how much this miracle could be used to promote unity, health and prosperity and warned that it could also be misused to promote hatred, bigotry, stereotypes and destruction. Speech should be used for liberation not domination.
As part of their education, all students in Guam should be encouraged to develop their oratorical skills. Many might be persuaded to walk in the steps of a great speaker they admire, overcome their fears, learn the necessary skills and ultimately excel on stage as persuasive advocates of ways to better the human condition. Certainly, the cause of decolonization will need them.
For two days last week, Guam hosted representatives from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Samoa, Hawaii, Australia, Palau, the Northern Marianas and other destinations. Participants listened to authors, educators, dignitaries and legal advocates including diverse voices from our Island. The speeches were instructive and entertaining. Better yet, they were passionate, inclusive and politically meaningful. Both Thomas Jefferson and Maga’låhi as Hurao would have been proud. The governor, lieutenant governor, Commission on Decolonization members, student volunteers, attendees, and the media helped to put decolonization on center stage. I look forward to future generations of outstanding speakers keeping it there until CHamoru self-determination is actualized.