We are living in interesting and, some would say, dangerous times. Daily we awake to news generated by a president who appears increasingly unstable; tweeting out angry, disjointed and cryptic messages in the early hours of the morning. We have the so-called leader of the free world mired in a tangled web of deceit and deception, surrounded by plots within plots as uncertainty and crisis become the new norm.
Meanwhile we are alienating our once friends and allies abroad, provoking unstable enemies in possession of nuclear weapons and sending more and more young men and women off to fight ill-conceived and seemingly endless wars.
Other than read and fret daily over the news, most of us feel powerless in our ability to impact the national and international theater. Hawaii U.S. senators and representatives are thankfully working hard to at least slow and hopefully prevent the total shredding of our social safety net, the general disintegration of environmental protections and a dismantling of our already frail health care system.
Sadly, the war machine marches on unfettered by either side of our national leadership as the United States remains the No. 1 seller of weapons on the planet.
Yes, we must resist the madness and engage when possible the larger debate, but equally if not more importantly we can and must breathe new life into the adage “think global, act local.”
At both the state and county level our government has the power and authority to step forward to fill some of the gaps and shore up the systems rapidly being torn apart at the federal level.
The state and county could increase the implementation and enforcement of existing local environmental protections even as they are weakened daily at the federal level. Our local government could get serious about addressing the gross income disparity by increasing tax fairness at both the state and the county levels, shifting the burden to where it most belongs, to the top 1 percent and to the large, multinational corporations that earn large profits here but to a great extent fail to pay their fair share.
There is much that local government can do, but it takes bold action and a willingness to take risks and disrupt the status quo, attributes not normally associated with those holding political office. I know as I have been there. The nature of a political body is to take tiny bites and support small incremental change, or do nothing at all.
However, the times we live in require more. Our planet is burning up, and the extreme income and wealth disparity between the top 1 percent and the rest of us increases daily. We have a climate change denier for president, an EPA director who views environmental protections as a impediment and a secretary of Housing and Urban Development who thinks poverty “is a state of mind,” seemingly oblivious to the fundamental institutional injustices that hold people down.
Our state and county government, both the elected officials and the agencies that implement the laws already in place, can and must do more. And the citizens for whom government is accountable must do more as well. Each of us must take ownership and responsibility for the government we have, and we must spend the time and energy necessary to make it better, bolder and more effective.
As has been said by many others, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Please take the time as an individual citizen to lead; show up, get involved, call your local elected government leaders, encourage them to be bold and offer to help.
Now more than ever we must embrace our collective responsibility for the actions of our government and the future of our community.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control during Gov. Neal Abercrombie’s administration. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is the volunteer executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.