We are living in extraordinary times with great uncertainty on the horizon. Fortunately, our home is on the most isolated island of the most isolated island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In this time of social upheaval, it is good that folks from the outside cannot just jump on a Greyhound bus and come into our community, as they have streamed into Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, in recent weeks.
We don’t need or want the hate and divisiveness here. Yes, we have a similar diversity of opinion, and we have similar strong feelings on similar issues, but so far aloha has prevailed — mostly.
The vandalism of the Trump banner on Kuhio Highway in Kapa‘a saddens me, and I am hopeful that this negative destructive behavior does not spread further.
You will find no greater opponent to the re-election of Donald Trump than myself. I believe that his re-election would plunge the United States even deeper into the turmoil and darkness which now seems to permeate all corners of the continent. While it seems cliche, I truly do believe that the election of November 3rd is the most important one of our lifetime.
But we must not allow President Trump, nor his supporters, to goad us into negative behavior that accomplishes nothing except to justify their claims against us. As former first lady Michelle Obama has said, “When they go low, we go high.”
It is a slippery slope from the destruction and defacement of a Trump campaign banner to the vandalism of other candidate banners of those who might support his re-election. Then, it could quickly devolve into a “tit-for-tat,” first among Kaua‘i candidates and supporters, and then among our friends and neighbors who may have differing opinions.
No one should be afraid to put up any candidate’s sign in their yard. We here on Kaua‘i are better than that. We can and must show aloha and respect each other’s political choices. We may not understand how our neighbors could come to the conclusion they come to, but we must respect and honor their choice to think differently.
As someone who has been in the thick of many important and contentious issues over the past 25 years, I have come to conclude that good people can look at the same facts and circumstances and come to different conclusions.
This does not mean we must accept injustice, racism, the loss of our freedoms or the poisoning of our environment. To the contrary, we can and we must join with our brothers and sisters across the planet to fight back against these things.
The battle in a civil society, however, must take place first at the ballot box, then in the halls of government and in the courts. And yes, the battle must sometimes also be taken to the streets in the form of peaceful protests and, if necessary, civil disobedience.
Stifling the free speech of your neighbor while destroying their property in the dead of the night is not the answer.
With COVID-19 taking its daily toll, the economy in a free fall, the November elections looming only months away, the ongoing racial injustice caught on video seemingly on a daily basis and the increasing violence occurring on the streets of cities across the nation, the prospects of a positive path forward seem dimmer each day.
But, of course, we must not let these challenges overwhelm us, and we must instead rise to the occasion as a community, regardless of how others act elsewhere.
At my core I’m an optimist, and know that this too shall pass — all of it. The time of COVID-19 will pass, and eventually both our physical health and the health of our economy will recover and improve. The coming presidential election and the strife and discord that now seems ever-present will also pass.
To be clear, optimism without pragmatism is simply naivety that is sure to result in disappointment. Thus, we cannot stop the work.
Now more than ever, we must pull together. Now more than ever, the importance of accountability, forward-thinking, decisive and informed leadership at all levels, is critical. We must vote, and we must actively take ownership of our government. We must take civic responsibility seriously.
Now more than ever we need to live with mutual respect, civility and aloha. For our community to survive and to grow stronger during these extraordinary times, we must remember first and foremost that we are all ‘ohana, and that we are all in this together.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.