Author, lawyer, and activist Julian Aguon, a native of the island of Guam, will deliver the 41st Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture—Felled by Beauty: Guam and the End of American Empire. The date is Sunday, October 24th at 3PM EDT New York City, 9PM CEST Amsterdam, 5AM ChST Guam. The free event will be held virtually. Register here.
In UN parlance Guam is a non-self-governing territory–a colony. Thirty percent of the island is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense. Heavy militarization has impacted the natural ecosystem causing irreversible damage and loss of species. The indigenous Chamorro people seek sovereignty over their land and their future.
Julian Aguon is a leading figure in this call for sovereignty. And it is in a different voice than we have heard before. A new, young spirit is at work in this activism–an activism characterized by beauty and grace.
Aguon’s new book The Properties of Perpetual Light captures this new spirit of opposition. It is a book of poems, letters to family, graduation addresses, and childhood memories. Through these writings, the reader is introduced to the wonder of Guam and its people. Through them we grieve at the loss to culture, to ecosystem, to lives, to the dignity of its inhabitants. Through them we join in the call for sovereignty for the island.
In her brilliant interview with Julian Aguon in the March 2021 issue of Teen Vogue titled “Guam’s Militarization by the U.S. Is Also a Story of Indigenous Resistance”, Sarah Souli reflects on this approach to activism:
After all, when the world’s biggest superpower has set up shop in your backyard, what is the right thing to say? A vignette about fishing or a poem about a flower offers a valid act of resistance.
She goes on to ask Aguon:
“I was struck by how poetically you write. It seemed almost like this radical insistence to write with such grace and beauty in the face of political abuse. How is beauty integral to activism, and how can we take these lessons and apply them in our everyday life?”
Aguon speaks to the scope of the problem facing the Chamorro people of the island and how it requires a different kind of response:
We’re not talking about tiny tweaks to the system, which is a failed system; we’re talking about fundamental shifts in paradigms. We’re talking about an entirely different worldview rooted in respect for the earth and each other. It’s just so real here, but it’s also a blessing when that conversation is no longer abstract, because you don’t get confused, you don’t lose clarity. We are better at diagnosing the problems. We are the ones who are living closest to the earth. We have this role to play and we’re playing it as best we can. Yeah, it’s burdensome and takes a toll, but I think that’s why beauty is so important. I think that’s why community is so important. Beauty and community and attentiveness to small things will save us.
All this is not to say that Aguon is ignoring old tried and true methods of resistance. A trained lawyer, his Blue Ocean Law is a progressive law firm that works at the intersection of Indigenous rights and environmental justice. Earlier this year working on behalf of Prutehi Litekyan, an activist indigenous women’s group, Blue Ocean secured a joint allegation letter against the US occupation of Guam signed by three of the UN’s Special Rapporteurs—namely, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights.
But Aguon explains the additional approach to resistance represented in The Properties of Perpetual Light in the Teen Vogue interview:
There are two kinds of information: There’s information that merely informs; and there’s information that uplifts, that moves, that compels.
I just know that we’ve had enough facts, [and] that’s not going to change anything; we need to move people’s hearts. We need to change minds and we need to do it in a way that’s, I don’t know, radically loving!
Please join us to hear from Julian Aguon at the 41st Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture. Naomi Klein will introduce our speaker. Following the talk Aguon’s friend and colleague, Lisa Linda Natividad will share her experiences in response. Jodie Evans will host the event and facilitate the conversation between these friends.
To support Julian Aguon’s work, donations can be made to Progressive International.