HILO — Approximately 100 people gathered along Kanoelehua Avenue Thursday afternoon to show support for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, while hundreds more drivers gave appreciative honks in agreement.
The sign-waving crowd was the third such rally at Kanoelehua Avenue in support of the controversial project, and drew a comparable number of supporters to the last one, which took place July 25.
“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” said Jason Chu, a post-doctoral fellow with Gemini Observatory. “We want to show [Gov. David] Ige and [Mayor Harry] Kim that we are 100 percent behind them in supporting the law.”
Chu, whose wife Laurie Chu organized both the July 25 and Thursday’s rallies, said the previous rally was a morale booster for TMT supporters who may feel as though their position is unpopular.
“I’m not without sympathy for the sovereignty movement, and how the Hawaiian people have been treated,” said Hilo resident Sylvia Dahlby. “I do believe [Maunakea] is a holy place, a sacred place. It’s a portal to the universe.”
On the mountain, Dahlby said, nations from all around the world work together in peace to better humanity’s understanding of the universe.
“It’s the most noble project we can be a part of,” Dahlby said.
Alyssa Grace, a Gemini outreach assistant, said she knows friends and family who support the construction of the telescope, but have received aggressive, sometimes threatening backlash online for voicing that support.
“We want people to not be afraid of saying what they believe,” Grace said.
That said, Hilo resident Theresa De Mello said the majority of people she interacts with also support the project, even if they aren’t vocal about it. And even those who disagree with her — including her granddaughter — remain respectful and friendly with her.
But even if the majority of Hawaii residents do support the TMT project, the turnout on Thursday was a fraction of the typical daily attendance of the protest opposing the project at Maunakea Access Road, which has continued uninterrupted for an entire month and regularly sees over a thousand participants.
“Other than reasons like people having to work, you have to remember that there’s fewer people here because it’s supporting the law,” Jason Chu said. “It’s like holding a rally saying ‘let’s enforce the speed limit.’ Not a lot of people are going to come to that.”
Grace said similar rallies will continue in the future, possibly on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
“But even without the rallies, there are other ways to show support,” Grace said, mentioning social media groups and other astronomy events.
“Even if we’re not here, telescopes like TMT will be a benefit to the community, even if they won’t necessarily benefit me directly,” Jason Chu said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.