Community members in Hawaii protesting against the construction of a massive telescope on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano of great spiritual significance in Hawaiian culture. Large groups of demonstrators blocked the road to the summit, leading to a number of elders, known as kūpuna—some of whom are as old as 80—being forcibly removed, or even arrested.
Hollywood actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (who grew up in Honolulu) has lent his voice to the cause, joining protestors in Hawaii and bringing the issue to the attention of his 151 million Instagram followers, reiterating just how grave a blow it would be to the local community if the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project were to go ahead on their sacred land.
"At the heart of any matter, is where the truth lies," Johnson wrote on Instagram. "Truth is, these people - our people - are the backbone and spirit of Hawaii and our culture. They are willing to die here to protect this very sacred land we stand on. This is not about stopping the progress of science. I’ll always be an advocate for science advancement, but not at the expense of human beings who are hurting. When we lead with empathy, we make progress thru humanity. I remain optimistic our leaders will do right by the people. Because in the end, that’s really the only thing that matters - people."
Johnson also appeared on local news station Hawaii News Now to speak about the need for respectful dialogue. "When things escalate to an emotional level, that is a sign that something needs to be done," he said. "This is a very steadfast culture... they are peaceful, but they are so powerful, and no-one's going anywhere. So I'm optimistic that something positive is going to come out of this."
Actor Jason Momoa, who hails from Honolulu, also took to social media to express his solidarity with the protestors, and praised Johnson for using his platform to raise awareness.
Construction of the telescope on Mauna Kea has been fiercely debated for over a decade, with the Hawaiian Supreme Court finally ruling in 2018 that the project would go ahead. However, project manager Gary Sanders said in 2017 that the site could be moved if building on the mountain proved too much of an issue: "If we keep on encountering obstacles to placing it [TMT] on Hawaii we would be very happy to build it in the Canaries. With the TMT on La Palma we could do marvelous astronomy."
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