Buildings stand for something –good and bad–that we cannot always put into words.
As the legislative session draws to a close here in Hawai’i, it is worth asking what the State Capitol, watched over by Queen Liliʻuokalani and Fr. Damien, stands for.
Will what emerges from the 2019 legislative session be policies that put people before corporations? Will the beloved, principled Queen who put her people before her throne, or the saint who gave his life caring for the sick who had been shunned lend their blessing to what emerges from the legislative chambers of today? The spirit of these two exemplars of good government and love of one’s neighbor hovers over those banging gavels, making speeches and casting votes on the floor, as much as those watching from the gallery, and those chanting for justice from the rotunda.
Will our lawmakers respond to the spirit of what Queen Liliʻuokalani and Father Damien represent, or will they succumb to the pressure of contributors to their last campaign– lest they not be there for the next?
The fight over water rights and REITS has pitted Alexander & Baldwin against the community in ways that have been made clear through the rallies outside the company’s headquarters, and the efforts of advocates from the neighbor islands who flew to Honolulu to be present at the State Capitol at crucial points in this legislative session. Watched by a packed gallery of grassroots activists and advocates, Senator Russell Ruderman recently invoked the words of Spike Lee, reminding his fellow senators of the need to “do the right thing.” Grassroots activism has helped.
But the community is still wondering if lawmakers will come through with a living wage. Time is running out—not just for this legislative session—but for the families reduced to living on the sidewalks of a city that depends on enticing people to what is touted as “paradise.” We are now the paradise of makeshift tarp-roofed “villages” where families—the old, the young, the wheel-chair bound, and those who are working two jobs at minimum wage– barely subsist. The state knows that $21,000 a year does not cover the cost of rent, food and essentials for a single person in this high cost state.
Businesspeople like me know this too. What are we going to do about it?
I volunteer once a week at the Catholic Worker House on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Kalihi. It’s an education. We hand out food bags, take in or return laundry, accept or return phones that need to be charged or have been charged, and pass on mail that arrives at this oasis for the needy, run by lay Franciscans. There is always a little conversation with each person as they sign in. One conversation remains indelible. As he signed for his bag of food, this man in his forties or fifties, said calmly, “I want to die.” He just kept repeating: “I want to die,” even as he politely accepted the bag of food items. I have not seen him on subsequent visits. Each week I hope he will come by again.
As we look towards sine die on May 2, we, the people of Hawaii, should ask lawmakers what they plan to do about all those for whom life has reached the point of desperation. All those who cannot pay for their own food and shelter, even after a full day’s labor. Both Queen Liliʻuokalani and Fr. Damien put the lives and dignity of people first. Our lawmakers should respect their legacy by enacting a living wage this year.
The State Capitol should stand for something that lights a fire within us.
(First published on Civil Beat, April 19, 2019. Mahalo to CB for permission to use the pictures of Fr. Damien and Queen Liliʻuokalani)
CALL TO ACTION: If you are a resident of Hawai’i, in addition to calling YOUR Senator and Representative,
please also call the following who are members of the conference committee for SB789.
Let them know you want them to pass a $15 minimum wage bill this year for ALL workers.
REPRESENTATIVES Johanson (586-9470); Luke (586-6200), Cullen (586-8490) and Matsumoto (586-9490)
SENATORS Taniguchi (586-6460), Keith-Agaran (586-7344), and Fevella (586-6360)