When I take on a new issue, a new cause… or even when I return to an old cause resurfaced, I often come away having learned something new. In some cases, I’m reminded of things I’ve learned before. So too is this the case in the recent and ongoing battle over Hawaii’s water, a public trust.
First Truth: Never Doubt the Corrupt Nature of Politics (And Some Politicians)
The most recent chapter in this story, saw one of the remaining “Big Five” challenged. With money lining the pockets of their political puppets, Alexander & Baldwin thought their interest secure in the passage of HB1326. So confident were they in their final success that they didn’t even bother to join the parade of testifiers on the bill. Instead, they lurked in the shadows and crowded corners, letting others stand in the spotlight facing legislative committees.
Victory, all but assured, was only cast in doubt by a small cadre of dedicated, ordinary citizens. But I’ll come back to this shortly.
In the disinfecting light cast by the Chair of the Senate’s Water and Land Committee, A&B began to feel their favored legislation slipping through their fingers. And so as they had huddled behind doors to dark rooms, so too did they drag “the water bill” with them. A favored puppet, responding to tugged strings, drove a knife through an otherwise open and public process.
They would look for other ways to get the water they so wanted. So machinations began to wrest control of HB1326 from the interfering hands of the Water & Land Chair to the Senate Floor, where puppets would be lined up, strings pulled to do A&B’s bidding.
In a saga that started in 2016, though it could easily be argued it began far earlier, we have seen time and again how those who want power are attracted to those who have it. Like gravity or magnetism, power is an attractive force that also has the power to destroy. Lesser forces like, truth, justice, and compassion are of little consequence when compared to power.
And though this will always be the case, I am nonetheless astonished at how often I need reminding.
Lesson Two: Never Doubt That a Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens Can Change the World…
… Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Much like in 2016, I came late to the water fight this year. With HB1326 waiting for a hearing in the Senate and fearing the worst, I did what I could to lend support to those who have been on the front line from the beginning.
The tenacity, compassion, and humor with which they were waging a seemingly un-winnable war was… is inspiring. People from every walk of life and from every corner of the islands came together to take on Goliath. While there were experienced political actors among them and some did more directing and strategizing than others, the group was a school of fish, all moving together toward a common goal.
Egos were checked at the door. Everyone played a role and did their part.
Perhaps even more inspiring than a couple of awe-inspired wins, what truly fills my heart is how these people came together to win. And this might be, when I’m really honest with myself, why I love what I do.
Sure, the political intrigue and strategizing is fun for me. As a card-carrying introvert, my brain focuses more on that part than the people of politics. Still, it’s the people I am so lucky to work with that really make smile. The hui of people who have dedicated their time, passion, and money to the defeat of HB1326 is a sight to see.
My Own Truth
Those who know me well would likely describe me as a skeptic. A realist curmudgeon who sees doom and gloom. And mostly they’re probably right. I think about the work everyone has done on this issue. I think the faith with which they approached the daunting task. I think about the camaraderie in victory and set-back alike and I am filled up.
That is why I do what I do. That is why I can’t think of doing anything else. And that is the real power in politics: friendships and family, solidarity and caring. When people stand up to do what’s right, there are no odds that can’t be beaten.
I remain skeptical we’ve seen the last of “the water bill.” Power as a force will always remain. So too will remain that group of thoughtful, committed citizens. That is our cause for hope.