On a rainy Friday evening a few days ago, 17 people gathered for two hours in a meeting room at the Campus Center on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Their mission: to gather their thoughts about what ails Hawai‘i –and then articulate what needs to be done to address some of the most pressing issues facing the people who live here.
Piʻilani Akina was still getting over the shock of what she has seen since returning to the islands after a few years spent living in Aotearoa, as the Maori called what we now know as New Zealand. She expressed great outrage at the misery she sees playing out in the number of houseless people living on the sidewalks of Honolulu, and in the level of disrepair and neglect and obvious need in the community. “Why aren’t they rising up?” she asked. “People are expressing their frustration in cities around the world. Why are we keeping quiet?”
This group, however, was there because they have no intention of keeping quiet. They were there because Young Progressives Demanding Action Hawaii had organized a workshop “Writing for Impact” to help them make their voices heard. One by one, each laid out the issues that mattered to them most: from women’s autonomy over their bodies (Alani Bagcal from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii) to visitation conditions for families with loved ones who are incarcerated (Jordan Smith ), to criminal justice and sentencing reform (Destiny Brown), to houselessness (Lena Mochimaru and Ryan Catalani) to money in politics (Albert Lanier), to healthcare for all (Rachelle Robley). Others like Foo Pham and Dawn Kubota were particularly concerned about the urgent need for affordable housing.
Civil engineer Foo Pham also drew attention to what he called the lack of “transportation equity,” better understood as the need for effective public transportation to serve everyone. Dylan Armstrong‘s comments picked up where Foo Pham left off on the need for improved, thoughtful urban planning. He also spoke poignantly about his own experience of having been given up for adoption, and the resulting separation from his Native American roots. That personal experience has made him determined to help end the tricking and coercing of Marshallese women into giving up their babies for adoption, a practice that has recently been highlighted in the media.
Several in the group, including Amanda Ehe, Adrian Tam, Dawn Kubota and Randy Ching, said they wanted to keep fighting for a living wage. University of Hawai‘i sophomore Jun Shin has been more politically and civically engaged than many of his peers. This 2019 Kuleana Academy graduate is also very energized by the struggle for a living wage and the many recent battles to protect the land and the waters on which we depend for life on these islands. Sharing his concern for these same issues is his fellow participant in the 2019 Kuleana Academy, Charessa Fryc, who is interested in efforts to advance the use of renewable energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Boomers, help–or get out of the way!
It was good to have Randy Ching in this class to join me in some self-flagellation for all the damage we boomers have inflicted on the planet. We are leaving a mess for others, like the ones who chose to attend this writing workshop, to clean up. We are truly sorry, and we both said so. That admission was met with kindness.
Jun Shin thanked boomers who stand in solidarity with the Young Progressives. Randy Ching understands the importance of galvanizing young voters. That is why he plans a voter registration drive aimed at young people early in the New Year. Look out for it. And point people to it. Planning for better people to reverse our mistakes and getting out of their way as they go at it is the least we boomers can do.
It’s Vote By Mail in 2020. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) would make it better.
Everyone in the group understood that no matter what issue most interested them, advancing that issue depended on the most basic instrument of democracy: access to voting. Hawai‘i moves entirely to Vote By Mail (VBM) in 2020, a fact that is not yet fully understood by the general public.
So help spread the word. Let people know that they won’t be able to go to their usual polling places. Encourage them to check their voter registration at https://olvr.hawaii.gov They need to be sure their ballots will be mailed to the right address.
For good measure, they should also let their legislators know that enacting Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) will save individuals and the state time and money. It will improve access to voting for communities that have typically found it hard to vote because of the struggle of getting to a polling station during working hours, or because they live in rural communities, far from the urban centers. Vote By Mail and Automatic Voter Registration will help Young Progressives get more people engaged in addressing the issues they care about.
We have been subjected to a spectacle of political spinelessness and lack of moral courage at the highest levels of government in this country. Being close to the energy of the Young Progressives Demanding Action makes one believe that tomorrow will be better. That goodness and decency and integrity will indeed prevail.
Because the next generation does know better. Because they are braver and kinder and smarter. Because they are our best hope of saving our burning planet. And boomers should listen to them, help in any way possible, or get out of their way. Meanwhile, look out for what the folks mentioned here have to say in the weeks ahead. I was honored to work with them on how to get their ideas across, and offer their views in Letters to the Editor and Opinion pieces in all kinds of media across the islands.
I just know that their letters and OpEds will make the kind of news that is fit to print.