One of my first thoughts is to apologize to graduates everywhere, but “sorry” really doesn’t cut it.
Though my generation has screwed things up pretty badly, there are also many of us who have learned from our mistakes and are committed to making things better.
The truth is, we really, really, really need your help.
Yes, there have been some huge accomplishments, and in some areas we have made great progress toward making the world a better place. Basic living standards and simple longevity for many are higher than they have ever been.
But we have also made tragic errors of judgment, starting and pursuing unnecessary and unending wars.
We marvel at the technological innovations developed in the past 50 years. However, during this same time period we have failed to stop the widespread pollution of our environment, the drastic loss of species diversity and the imminent threat of sea-level rise and climate change.
While the world of advertising inundates us with the symbols of wealth and prosperity, the reality is much different. In an April 24 interview with billionaire Ray Dalio, The Guardian reported that:
• We have a global economy where the wealth of the top 1% of the population is more than that of the bottom 90% of the population combined;
• Forty percent of all Americans would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency;
• The childhood poverty rate in the U.S. is now 17.5%, and has not meaningfully improved for decades;
• The U.S. scores lower than virtually all developed countries other than Italy and Greece on educational attainment;
• The U.S. incarceration rate is nearly five times the average of other developed countries, and three times that of emerging countries;
• For those in the bottom 60%, premature deaths are up by about 20% since 2000.
So, yes, graduates, we kinda need you. We need you badly, actually.
We need your leadership, your energy and your commitment to our shared future.
We need you to be willing to stand up, speak out and resist those forces in the world who pillage the planet and profit off the backs of the 99%. These same entities driven by greed and the desire of ever-increasing profits fight every attempt to increase environmental protections or to improve the pay and working conditions for those who struggle daily just to make ends meet.
This is not hyperbole. It is the real world. If you need evidence, just look around. Think about the chemical companies or “big banks” or “big pharma” or “big oil.” The list is long and the story is a sad one.
The struggle is real, both global and local.
Think about how the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce opposes every single attempt to increase the minimum wage for regular working people. Think about how a handful of our major landowners monopolize the land and the water, all the while seeking also to control the political processes that too often are used only to increase their profits.
Be honest with yourselves and look closely at the world we live in. Then choose a career that is grounded on principles of justice. If you go into business, then commit to a business that values economic, environmental and social justice. If you go into law, then do the same and fight hard for these values. Whatever your path, place the pursuit and support of justice high on your priority list.
My hope is that some of you will consider careers in the world of public policy and government. And yes, my hope is that those of you who feel truly driven to make our world better will seek to serve in public office.
There is much to be done, and Hawaii can serve as a model for the rest of the world. I truly believe this.
Via changes in public policy, literally “with the stroke of a pen,” much can be accomplished:
• We could require all rental cars meet a minimum energy standard, or be electric;
• We could prohibit new public buildings from being built in areas prone to sea-level rise;
• We could require all airlines landing in Hawaii to be “carbon neutral” via a carbon tax and/or a TAT surcharge, used to manage and restore our watersheds;
• We could gradually raise Hawaii’s minimum wage so it eventually reaches a living wage;
• We could publicly fund all elections and drastically improve campaign-spending laws;
• We could require all paid lobbyists to state that fact every time they submit testimony;
• We could pay our teachers more, decrease class size and increase technology in our schools;
• We could fund “Housing First” programs instead of $350,000,000 for a new stadium.
• We could make a true commitment to ending homelessness and invest not just in new shelters and housing but also in the training and hiring of a new generation of social workers and mental-health professionals.
There is so much more we can do. But, we need you.
We really, really need you.
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 former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.