A change in the programmed entertainment at Saturday’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gala left a few world leaders surprised, though most seemed not to notice that anything was amiss.
During the gala dinner, renowned Hawaiian slack key guitarist Makana, who performed at the White House in 2009, opened his suit jacket to reveal a self-styled “Occupy with Aloha” T-shirt.
Then, instead of playing the scheduled and reknowned Hawaiian style slack key guitar background music, he repeatedly played his protest ballad released earlier that day.
Entitled “We Are the Many,” the song includes lines such as “The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw…. And until they are purged, we won’t withdraw,” and ends with the refrain: “We’ll occupy the streets, we’ll occupy the courts, we’ll occupy the offices of you, till you do the bidding of the many, not the few.”
President Obama, President Hu Jintao of China, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada were within earshot of the song.
“At first, I was worried about playing ‘We Are The Many,’” said Makana. “But I found it odd that I was afraid to sing a song I’d written, especially since I’d written it with these people in mind.”
The summit’gala was the summit’s most secure event. Held inside the Hale Koa hotel, a 72-acre facility owned and controlled by the US Defense Department, the dinner’s site was fortified with an additional three miles of fencing constructed solely for the APEC summit.
Makana was surprised that no one objected to him playing the overtly critical song or cut him off. “I just kept doing different versions,” he said. “I must’ve repeated ‘the bidding of the many, not the few’ at least 50 times, like a mantra. It was surreal and sobering.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which has taken root in cities worldwide, inspires Makana’s new song.
Last Saturday, eight protesters were arrested when they refused to leave the Occupy Honolulu encampment at Thomas Square Park.
APEC was held in Honolulu, which is Obama’s birthplace, but is also located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a location that is, according to some, the most isolated piece of land on earth.
After facing large-scale protests in South Korea, Australia, Peru, and Japan, the annual summit was moved to Honolulu, passing up San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In a bitter twist, the multi-million dollar security plans backfired when a local Hawaiian man was shot and killed by a 27-year-old DC-based state department agent, who had arrived to provide security.
Makana’s action was assisted by the Yes Lab and Occupy the Boardroom. In recent weeks, Occupy protesters have been showing up at corporate events, headquarters and even on the doorsteps of those in power.
“Makana really raised the bar by delivering the Occupy message inside what is probably the most secure place on the planet right now,” said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Lab.
Makana said: “My uncle taught me to feel out the audience and play what my heart tells me to. That’s what I did tonight.”
Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Earth Island Journal, Environment News Service, Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times, The Progressive, The Nation, and Salon.com.