Self-Isolate

It’s been roughly two week since I’ve become even more of a home-body than normal.

While I remain confident that not only do I not have the Coronavirus, I have not interacted with anyone who does. Still, out of a combination of shared self-sacrifice and alternative-lacking, I have spent nearly 24-hours a day in my home for almost every day of the past two weeks.

As an introvert, you might think this time has been like a dream come true for me. Lovely long days spent alone with my thoughts, my work, and small apartment. It is not.

A friend shared on Facebook this article (https://introvertdear.com/news/introvert-but-quarantine-sucks/). Being single and childless, I can’t completely relate, but it does nonetheless hold some “truths” for me.

Being an Introvert Doesn’t Mean Solitude is Preferred

Last year, after a couple of different experiences, I wrote about what it really means to be an introvert. I used to think being an introvert meant we prefer solitude to other people, but that’s not true. Rather, it means that social interactions can be taxing both physically and emotionally. Solitude is necessary for our balance and for “recharging”. That’s definitely true in my case.

This experience has reconfirmed that fact for me. Not being able to go out (except for necessities), not being able to interact with friends and colleagues in the real world. Not being able to visit the Capitol, etc. All these are taking their tole on me.

In fact, I’ve understood for years that being cooped up in my house is a recipe for downward spirals. Under other circumstances, even without any of those things, spending an afternoon in a coffee shop was a welcome respite from the concrete cave that is my apartment.

Years of therapy have taught me this lesson well. So much so, that I’m able to often correct my trajectory so as not to completely lose it. In this way, I feel lucky. I imagine there are lots of people who will experience depression during this period of isolation, not recognize it for what it is, and won’t know how to deal with it.

Introvert or No, This is Hard

In addition to being an introvert, I’m also prone to depressive episodes that can last any where from a few hours to weeks at a time.

More than anything else, what keeps me on an even keel (under normal circumstances) is my work. So long as I feel productive, those depressive episodes are shorter and less frequent.

2020 was supposed to be an action-packed year. A legislative session pushing for advances on progressive issues, a flurry of local candidate campaigns, a presidential campaign, and county, state, and national Democratic Conventions. The Coronavirus has upended all of it and I’m struggling to fill my days. My professional work has all but come to a grinding halt.

Sure, there no end to all the reading I can and should be doing. And of course there’s writing and photography and walking I could undertake to keep myself busy. The trouble is I work best under deadlines. With no end in sight to this way of life, I struggle to get myself motivated to do much of anything.

What’s more, I tend to work and think better when there is some level of background noise and activity around me.

In college as now, quiet work spaces are not for me. Libraries, as much as I love browsing bookshelves, have always been a terrible place for me to get a lick of work done. Some of my best writing and thinking has taken place in bustling coffee shops blanketed with hi-fi headphones and a well-chosen playlist.

A Routine Built on Externalities

Yet another quirk of my brain is the need for at least some structure and routine. For me, entropy is a very real issue. Within a margin, deviation from a routine is jarring to me. It causes stress and can trigger depressive episodes.

So many of my friends are true “self-starters” who are able to find productive things to occupy themselves and their time. This, sadly, is a skill I’ve never been terribly good at developing. I can do it in fits and starts, but it’s always been short-lived.

Maybe I should see this global crisis as an opportunity to improve myself in this area. I am trying, but entropy, the relative quiet, and solitude makes it difficult.

To Do’s

While I’ve learned not to commit to something I’m not fully prepared to do, I leave here both for posterity and motivation a list of tasks and activities, at least some of which I hope to undertake as this global health crisis and necessary isolation persists:

  • Do more photography
  • Do more writing
  • Restart video blogging
  • Learn the ukulele
  • Take walks
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"Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards."

This is a subject I’ve been wrestling with for some time. Years, in fact. I started writing this post several weeks ago and repeatedly had to set it aside and come back to it as I tried to find the right words and the right conclusion….

The 2020 Hawaii Legislative Session is well under away. Given what is expected to be an utter train wreck for some of the most pressing issues facing the people of Hawaii, I thought now might be a good time to broach the issue.

Collaboration is Central to the Legislative Process

As a bill goes through the tedious and groaning process of drafting, public hearings, and debate, it is often important for parties on all sides to share in the pain of compromise to reach agreement before it becomes law.

This collaboration and give-and-take on important issues facing Hawaii and its residents is part of the democratic process. I am often disappointed and frustrated by this process. Over years of doing this work, I’ve learned to temper that frustration in pursuit of progress. That progress may be slow, small, and not nearly enough for my taste, but progress is progress.

Though its a lesson I have to relearn on a seemingly yearly basis, I always go back to the very first time one of my mentors drove the point home for me.

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When the working-class thrives we all thrive.

Friends Come in All Shapes, Sizes, and Opposing Political Ideas

Years ago I worked for a small insurance agency. The owner and agent is a long-time capitalist.

This former employer and friend of mine loved to talk politics with me. And I with him. He believes when the government gets too involved, when there are too many regulations, too many taxes, it means less freedom.

I staunchly disagreed with him and there were times when our debates would go on for hours. Much to the chagrin of his wife and business partner, who would often scold both of us, “stop talking politics and get back to work!” I adore both of them.

Entrepreneurs Don’t Necessarily Have More to Gain or Lose

The reason I am starting with this story is because whenever I think about labor issues like a Living Wage, or Paid Family Leave, etc. I am reminded about something he said to me once.

Talking about employees versus business owners, he would say owners always take a lot of risk when starting their own business. His implication was that owners, more than employees, shoulder more risk and so deserve greater reward when the business succeeds. I would ask him how well he thought his business would be doing if he didn’t have me there. Would he be as successful?

And I would ask him what he thought would happen to me if his business closed. Being successful, he’s managed to build up savings and equity over the years so that if the business took a turn and he was forced to close down, he’d have a safety net on which to fall back. I, on the other hand, being both young and not making a lot of money, had no savings. No safety net. I would have to rely on Unemployment Insurance to fill the gap until I found another job.

The Hawaii State Legislature is Business-Focused, Not Worker-Focused

Over many years working on increasing the Minimum Wage, I’ve heard primarily one concern from opponents. One reason to oppose any increase in the Minimum Wage; businesses would suffer. Unemployment would increase.

Despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, these talking points persist. When policy-makers worry more about optics and politics than facts and figures, there’s a problem.

Years and years of research tells us increasing the Minimum Wage doesn’t cause an increase in unemployment. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to business closures. Some of this research is beginning to be done on $15 with similar outcomes….

In fact, a higher Minimum Wage can be GOOD for employers (even small businesses). It can increase employee happiness and productivity and reduce employee training and turnover costs for employers. Win-win. And a higher Minimum Wage can help level the playing field against big corporations when trying to recruit new employees.

Despite the high cost of living in Hawaii. Despite the fact that people are moving away from Hawaii for better chances at a good life. Our policymakers have done little-to-nothing to address this. Their solution to these problems is to reduce regulation, lower taxes for businesses, and to try to incentivize new industries.

But none of this addresses the income gap in Hawaii, nor does any of it address the fact that too many minimum wage workers are living in poverty. Literally. No one who works full-time should be in poverty. No one.

Don’t You Know; Trickle-Down Doesn’t Work

The neoliberal democratic majority at the Legislature worries about how businesses are faring. They worry about the burden of GET on businesses. And they worry about regulatory burdens. Regularly they decry the plight of businesses in Hawaii and twist themselves into knots trying to do more.

But where’s the knot-twisting when it comes to the plight of working people?

For the now-defunct Superferry as well as Honolulu’s HART train wreck (pun intended), Legislators went to extraordinary lengths to raise funds and side-step regulatory necessities. It happened so fast you’d think the fate of the State depended on them.

But what about the fate of people who are one bad day, one accident, one missed paycheck away from living on the street? Skyrocketing unemployment, they scream! Small businesses will suffer, they exclaim!

On Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Affordable Housing… the list goes on and on, our neoliberal legislators are convinced, despite mountains of evidence, that businesses are what drive the economy. In fact, consumer spending is one of the biggest economic indicators there is; when workers earn more money, they spend more.

When the working-class thrives, we all thrive. Its long-past time legislators remembered that fact and made working people their priority.

*This piece was previously published by Civil Beat. I also wrote early last year about the minimum wage fight here.

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Goodbye 2019. Welcome 2020.

So. I’ve never actually written a year-in-review type post before. At least, not that I can find. The closest I can come is this post from the beginning of 2018. It’s not a year-in-review so much as a forward-looking post at 2018 in front of me. As that post says, I’m not much for New Years’ Resolutions. Though I am all about reflection, so this revelation is actually a bit surprising to me.

Or, maybe because I’m so contemplative on a regular basis it’s never really seemed worth the effort to write an end-of-year summary. That streak ends today, as I look back on 2019 (and a bit at 2018). There’s no doubt the last year or two have been some of the most interesting and challenging of my life.

2018: A Quick Look

The year started off normal enough; school, work, politics. I had no idea what was in front of me.

Taking a night dive into uncharted waters, in March of that year, I left my job in the Governor’s Office to take a position as the Campaign Manager for Kim Coco Iwamoto in her bid to be Hawaii’s next Lieutenant Governor. I left the stability and safety of a dead-end job for an exciting new one which I didn’t know where it would lead. Or what would come next.

Finishing a disappointing fourth place, it was nonetheless a tremendous experience I’m glad I had. Not understanding how hard things would get financially, I took the remainder of the year to try to stand up my own consulting business and finish my Master’s Degree at GW.

2019 Began with Hope and Energy

2019 saw me graduate from George Washington University, my first official consulting client, and travel for work.

By the time January came around, my bank account had dwindled to pennies and my credit card debt had exploded. But I was hopeful because I also was making better-than-decent money consulting.

I was doing the work I loved on causes I genuinely cared about. Things were great. My business was taking off and I thought I was on my way.

But then the dumpster fired of a legislative session came to an end. And so did my contracts. At the time, in early June, I was still somewhat hopeful that it would only be a matter of time before the next gig came around.

Then, Reality Kicked Me in the Head

Again my bank balances dwindled, credit balances continued to rise and I didn’t actually find any other work until the end of October.

Being self-employed can be great. Freeing. Fulfilling. For me, there’s not much better than sitting down at my desk with freshly made coffee still in sleep attire. No shoes or pants required.

It can also be incredibly difficult and lonely. I went from working in an office full of other people to spending more than a few days working from home. It’s not an exaggeration that I am not social. Even in the office, I’d rarely talk story with my co-workers. Except when I did.

Having the choice was something I didn’t think I’d miss. But now I can easily spend a few days not leaving home except to venture out for meals or smokes. Being alone with my thoughts can take a depressing turn at any moment. Staying focused can be challenging.

I started to think maybe I had made a terrible mistake risking stability and comfort to venture out on my own. I applied and interviewed for a few full-time jobs back with the State, though none went anywhere. Had it not been for the love and support of my parents, it’s likely I would have been forced to pack up and move back as a failure to my high school bedroom to start anew.

I’m an Odd Mix of Hope and Brutal Reality

My life in Hawaii hasn’t been without challenges. From long bouts of unemployment to a chronic illness diagnosis and major surgery, my 17-plus years in the special place has molded who I am as an adult. Despite these challenges, I’ve always managed to land on my feet. Sooner or later.

So, while I continued to struggle toward the end of 2019 I started to think, again, about packing it in. Then, I received a call for a job that sent me to Mississippi for two weeks of work. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a great experience I’d happily take up again. And it kept me solvent for another month or two.

Strangely, when it comes to my personal life, I have long since given up on the possibility of “meeting someone”. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on other parts of my life. Professionally though, I’ve always managed to stay mostly positive. Despite struggles and financial ruin (at least twice now), I continue to hold out hope that it’ll work out in the end and that I’ll be successful. Eventually.

Looking Toward a New Start in 2020

While I contemplate how best to deal with the crippling debt I’ve acquired over the last few years, new professional opportunities present themselves.

The 2020 Legislative Session begins in just a few weeks. And it won’t be long before the election season kicks into high gear. It will no doubt be a busy, stressful, and challenging year. As I sit here with my morning coffee on January 2nd, I am hopeful. Hopeful that income will begin pouring in. Hopeful that at least some of the projects on which I’m working will be successful. Hopeful that 2020 will see my business grow.

Here’s hoping. And here’s hoping 2020 will be a positive year for all of you.

Time to get to it.

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Sorry for the Inconvenience

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, Civil Beat published a Community Voice piece by Representative Gene Ward (House District 17). The article, entitled “Hawaii’s Status Quo Government Isn’t Cutting It,” takes to task Hawaii’s Democratic Party-dominated political establishment for contributing to voter apathy, for perpetuating wink-and-nod dealmaking, and for not handling the tough issues.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii is Not to Blame. Neither is More Republican Elected Officials the Solution.

As an active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii who has served on the State Central Committee (SCC) for nearly a decade, I can say with a good deal of confidence that it isn’t the Democratic Party that’s running Hawaii’s state government. Rather, it’s elected officials and appointees who pass themselves off as Democrats.

There are undeniably good politicians who do stand by and up for the Party’s platform and guiding principles. Sadly though, far too many merely drape themselves in the Democratic banner for the purposes of getting (re)elected.

Ask any engaged member about how the Party’s legislative agenda has faired in the last several cycles and you’ll quickly learn that the (Democratic) Majority Caucuses of the House and Senate do not represent the will of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

(Read: My Speech to the Maui County Convention)

That Hawaii’s Government is dominated by a supermajority of too many who simply call themselves “Democrats” is a problem. But Representative Ward would have you believe that part of the solution to our State’s woes is to elect more Republicans. This wouldn’t solve the problem so much as remove the cloak from some who are not truly Democrats. Hawaii’s Republican Party just clings to life not because the Democratic Party is dominant. But because they have wholly failed to prove themselves a reasonable alternative.

That the Hawaii GOP nominated Trump in their 2016 Presidential Primary should be evidence enough they are out of touch with most voters in Hawaii. There is no easy path for them to regain even some modest power without acknowledging this obvious shortcoming. Blaming Democrats for that won’t solve their problems (just as blaming immigrants for social and economic woes has done nothing to improve the lives of Americans).

But Gene Ward Does Raise Some Points Worthy of a Closer Look

The “Democratic” majorities in the House and Senate believe they have support for their neoliberal and small incremental approach to our most challenging problems because they keep getting reelected. Forget the fact that far too many of them have gone unchallenged for far too many election cycles.

Rep Ward rightly points out that “more than half (56%) of those polled said politicians don’t listen and don’t have high moral standards (51%)”. And why should they listen when they believe they can whatever they want and continue to get reelected?

When push comes to shove, the Hawaii State Legislature will work hard to the benefit of special interests. They bent over backward to support (illegally) the Hawaii Superferry. And they went to extraordinary lengths to see Honolulu’s rail project is sufficiently funded. Or support the illegal taking of water by Alexander & Baldwin.

But when it comes to the highest cost of living, the highest rate of homelessness, the lowest teach pay or helping struggling working-class families, they do nothing. They obfuscate and deflect. They kick the can down the road. Maybe they think if they put off dealing with these problems long enough they’ll solve themselves.

When voters don’t think politicians are responsive to their needs, they do one of two things. Either they disengage (don’t vote, don’t write testimony, etc.) crying, “what’s the point”. Or they go the other direction, as we’ve seen in the case of the TMT, the Kahuku wind farm, or the Sherwoods development. They rise up and fight back in dramatic fashion.

Gene Ward is spot on when he says, “you’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope”. It’s about a people who feel they’ve been ignored, are tired of it, and are taking action.

Turning “Protesting Into Voting” is Part One of the Solution

Voting matters. In state and local elections, it matters even more. Winning margins can be incredibly small; as little as a couple of hundred votes, or less, can be the difference between an incumbent winning re-election or not.

Next year Hawaii will conduct its elections entirely by mail-in ballot. This will make it easier than ever to vote. No requesting an absentee ballot. No having to remember when Election Day is or where you’re supposed to go to vote. Ballots will be delivered by mail directly to voters, who can complete them and simply put them back in the mail. No muss. No Fuss.

Even if you are discouraged by the current state of affairs in Hawaii, you should vote. I’d say this goes double for Native Hawaiians who feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland. Voting won’t magically set right old wrongs. But it will send a strong signal that sitting on the sidelines is no longer a viable strategy. Whether you’re camping on Mauna Kea, or standing in front of trucks in Kahuku, or supportive of those efforts, it’s time to make your voice heard in a meaningful way. Register and vote.

Run For Office Yourself. Or Encourage and Support Others to do so.

Of course, if incumbents have no challengers then there’s no choice to be made. The same-old politician goes back to their cushy seat for another term, comfortable in the knowledge they’ve been given a blank check to do what they like.

What we need in addition to better voter turnout is more candidates. We need more good, smart, passionate, people who care about their communities running for public office. Without a real choice during elections, it’s easy to feel like casting a ballot is a waste of time.

Much to the chagrin of Gene Ward (and many Democratic electeds), there is an ongoing and growing effort to identify, recruit, train, and support progressive candidates to run for public office. These candidates, frankly, align much more closely to the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawaii than many of those currently serving.

It’s not hard to see a political shift is coming. A revolution from the left supported and encouraged by those who are tired of being told: “maybe next year”. Or, “be thankful for what you have.” Cracks are forming in the political establishment’s grasp on our systems of government. Let’s work together to turn those cracks into chasms.

The tide is turning. Come join the effort. If you’re not sure how I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Or if you have friends or family that are engaged reach out and ask them how to get involved.

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