First published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser 8/24/2022. Republished here with permission.
Our democracy is in crisis.
No, not just on the continent. The crisis is here in Hawai‘i: more than half a million registered voters did not feel motivated to mark their ballots, stick it into a postage-paid envelope, and drop it in the mail. Yet at least one pundit called it a “pretty normal election.” Wow.
Perhaps the connection isn’t clear enough that our votes determine who wields power over our lives. Perhaps we have failed as a community to help nonvoters understand that their refusal to vote helps keep the status quo that hurts them and their families in place. A status quo that has delivered one corruption scandal after another; a status quo that has failed to ensure that our aquifer is protected and that our water is safe to drink; a status quo that has allowed the military to leave the dangerous byproducts of its exercises on conservation lands that continue to burn even as we put the Primary behind us. To let one’s vote go unused is to say “I’m OK with all that I see around me: the people living on the streets and under our bridges; the lack of affordable housing even for those working two and three jobs; the underfunded public schools; the unfulfilled obligations to native Hawaiians.
The list is long. There are plenty of reasons to be disillusioned with politics and politicians when we see problems go unaddressed and fester. But to not vote is to concede defeat and hand over control of everything that is near and dear to us to the same people who have let us down badly. Not voting is a way to guarantee that those who have failed us, stay in power.
PBS’ Mister Rogers said that when things are bad, “look for the helpers.” There were many who stepped up to be “helpers” in this Primary.
They said no to Big Money. They demanded transparency about finances and answers to reasonable questions. Let’s not lump the legitimate demand for financial transparency from all candidates with the avalanche of nasty attack ads. The media has a duty to pursue answers to questions about financial transparency, wherever they might lead. Even if it unsettles those in power. Especially if it unsettles those in power. It’s good to see the Star Advertiser now doing so.(“Voters need more from candidates,” Our View, Aug. 15).
We live in perilous times. Times that call for full disclosure. For a cleansing of our institutions.
Leasing valuable conservation lands to the military for $1 annually: when did that ever make sense? Embarking on a costly stadium project when families cannot find affordable homes and when we cannot seem to keep rail on track financially: does that make sense to you? Doing what we have always done in the way we have always done it maintains the status quo. But as many essayists in the third volume of Value of Hawaii: Hulihia have said: when so much is broken, it’s time we stopped simply maintaining the status quo. Is it any wonder that the calls to huli the system are getting louder?
We start by using the precious ballot that is delivered to our mailboxes wisely. We don’t just let it go to waste. If we care about the kind of future we want for Hawai‘i, the least we can do is: Cast. Our. Vote. Yelling into the void changes nothing. But choosing leaders with the courage, commitment, energy, and integrity to huli the system is a necessary first step. Of the 853, 874 registered voters, 338, 477 returned their ballots in the 2022 Primary. We can all do more to persuade those we encounter among the 515, 397 who did not that it is worth making their voices heard in the General. And in the years to come. Because democracy is in crisis. Right here. In Hawai‘i.
Beautifully written, Dawn. Thank you so much for calling attention to the frightening apathy in our community when it comes to getting involved and even doing a simple thing like voting. What to do about it is the challenge. I think it’s a feeling of hopelessness. Of being so exhausted with making a living, of surviving here that some can’t find the energy to do one thing more. How do we cut a knife through apathy? Well, first we name the monster and you’ve done that. The narrow victory by Scott Sakai twice now is particularly heartbreaking/heartwrenching/ infuriating leaving me (and maybe others) filled with guilt – why didn’t I do more? who could I have talked to about Kim Coco that would make a difference? Well, anyway, you got me going on it and I’ll stop now. Because what I really wanted to do is just thank you for calling attention that not voting, not participating in our democracy, in such large numbers as is happening in Hawaiʻi is indeed a crisis. You nailed it!
Warmest aloha and so much appreciation and admiration – Jeannette Jeannette Paulson Hereniko
Thank you for reading and commenting so positively, Jeannette. Somehow we have to make voter education an essential item in the education programs of every professional, nonprofit, social, extra-curricular organization. People clearly are not recognizing how crucial the Primary is to letting new blood in and cleansing the ranks of leadership that have gone stale–or even corrupt. I think we can each make an effort to introduce voter education as a module in the programs of the clubs and groups we belong to. It can be done if if we have the will to do it. I am encouraged by the national polls yesterday that show that
“democracy in crisis” is rising to the top of voter concerns–along with alarm at the misogynistic efforts to manage women’s wombs. I am hopeful and determined to not give up.
[…] Must read special guest post by Dawn Morais Webster (also published in Honolulu StarAdvertiser) Democracy Faces A Crisis In Hawaiʻi […]