I laughed every single day of the Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat. It may seem natural since all 20 of us work in pretty much the same field, care a lot about the same things, hail from pretty much the same geographic location and live in similar communities, and we were, after all, at a retreat: A place away from home to gain some perspective and hopefully go home recharged and ready to take on the next challenge. I enjoyed every minute of it.
I hate to admit that my job is not always fun. There were a number of times last year when I was ready to quit. To be honest, there were a number of times I wanted to move.
I'm coming to the realization now that there is no need to dwell on those days as the islands are now near unanimous in their support for the monument. In fact, as evidenced by recent press statements by Governor Benigno Fitial, Speaker Arnold Palacios, Senate President Pete Reyes, Representative Stanley Torres, Dr. John Joyner, Secretary Dela Cruz and Jack Ogomoro, there is now a tug of war going on to determine who was the strongest supporter of the monument and who should get the most recognition for their contributions!
So, in the spirit of moving past those days that doubled the amount of gray hair on my head, I offer some of the lighter moments from the campaign in this second installment of Monument Flasbacks.
In August 2007, long before Pew offered me a position and made the decision to promote the idea of a monument in the Marianas, I set up a meeting between Jay Nelson, Representative Cinta Kaipat (who was still in office at the time), Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Ike Dela Cruz, and Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor Ray Mafnas. I forgot how long the meeting was, but it ended with Ray Mafnas telling Jay Nelson that the Fitial Administration would be happy to work with Pew Environment Group.
As we were walking out the door, Ray turned to Jay and said something to the effect of, "One thing I can say about Angelo is that he is effective. I wouldn't want to be on the opposite side of an issue with him. I know he'd win."
That meeting convinced Pew to go ahead with the campaign and Ray single handedly convinced them to hire me.
John Gourley was sent by the Division of Fish & Wildlife to spy on the MINA three-year strategic planning session. I've written about this before on my blog. Gourley took his own version of meeting minutes and sent them to Sylvan Igisomar who then sent them on to the governor. A copy of those two letters ended up in my hands and I was drawn to the part where Gourley wrote, "Angelo has excellent grassroots organization skills (and website, blogs, etc.) and I am sure they will be put in use if these public forums are allowed, especially if he is hired by Pew to manage the project."
On April 16, 2008, a WESPAC staffer in Hawaii, Joshua DeMello, wrote to a staffer at the CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife with the warning, "Here's a heads up. Guys in DC are already talking Marianas trench monument. Sounds like its a done deal and the president is waiting to sign it."
That email sent our local government into a frenzy and within days (on Earth Day in fact), our legislature passed the first of three anti-monument resolutions. Three independent sources in the Senate told me it was written by WESPAC. It was a brilliant move by WESPAC and it nearly killed the monument.
Thus was born the phrase, "done deal," which along with, "no brainer," was something I would hear every single day for the next nine months.
On September 29, 2008, I, along with Dr. John Joyner of CNMI Coastal Resources Managment, briefed Bishop Camacho and all of his priests on the monument concept. I was allowed to speak first; Joyner went second.
During his speech Joyner called me a social entrepreneur in a very derogatory fashion. I had never heard of a social entrepreneur, so I went back to the office and looked it up.
A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.
What the hell? Did he realize he was complimenting me?
On January 16 of this year, I went to pay a visit to Delegate Sablan in his office in Washington, DC. As I was walking down the hallway towards his office on the fourth floor of the Canon Building, who should pass by me other than WESPAC Executive Director Kitty Simonds.
Inside his office, Greg told me that part of his discussion with Kitty had been about me.
"She thinks you're handsome," he told me.
So Kitty Simonds thinks I'm hot. It doesn't get much better than that.