The Critical Classroom – “Beyond Obstruction: Blockades as Productive Reorientations”

Sasha Davis, Environmental Studies, Geography and Sustainability, Keene State College

Protest education center on the shore of Henoko, Okinawa, in 2014

My central purpose for writing the article “Beyond Obstruction: Blockades as Productive Reorientations” is to get people to think more about the alternative worlds that blockade protests try to create, as well the political currents that come together to create them. I believe that successful protest movements focus more on what they wish to produce and less on what they resist. In short, many protest movements use blockades to try to replace settler state or corporate power instead of “resisting” or fleeing from it. In this way blockades do not just try to obstruct a given space, but to connect it to different, larger circulations that can nourish more egalitarian, inclusive, and sustainable ways of life.

While this article does grapple with some complicated concepts from political theory, the three case studies I discuss serve to ground the discussion so that it is more accessible to researchers, activists, and students (both undergraduate and graduate) who are interested in political geography, social movement strategies, and radical social change. My hope is that this article will get people to think about their own activism not so much as resistance against a dominating state or corporate power, but as something which supplants oppressive social relations by producing better ones.

Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu blockade camp on Hawai‘i Island in 2019

The resources below can be used to more fully investigate the activist movements I discuss in this article, and to explore the theoretical perspectives which emphasize the productive power and interconnectivity of activist movements.

This website highlights the struggles over the development of Maunakea in Hawai‘i and the restoration of Indigenous social and environmental relations.
Henoko Blue is a group that conducts kayak protests in Oura Bay, Henoko, Okinawa. On their webpage they discuss how they protect the sea spaces where the US military is attempting to construct a new base.
Julian Aguon is an Indigenous human rights lawyer and writer from Guåhan (Guam). His activism and writings center on life in the Western Pacific and the ways that people who live in the region contest the imperial designs of foreign powers.
The Value of Hawaiʻi 3: Hulihia, the Turning is edited by Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Craig Howes, Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, and Aiko Yamashiro (Univerisity of Hawai‘i Press, 2020). The book features dozens of contributors who share their visions for a decolonial and sustainable future for Hawai‘i in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In my book, Islands and Oceans: Reimagining Sovereignty and Social Change (University of Georgia Press, 2020), I more fully dive into some of the theoretical points I make in the article “Beyond Obstruction”. I also discuss more details about the US-China rivalry in the Pacific and the way it is contested within the region. Furthermore, the book also gets into more detail about just how anti-militarization / anti-imperial social movements organize together across the globe.