LIHU‘E — Around 11 a.m. Monday, about three dozen people arrived just outside the Lihu‘e Civic Center Mo‘ikeha Building rotunda, unable to get in due to a closed gate.
For Our Rights CEO Levana Lomma, an organizer, said that gate’s closure is one of the reasons why some residents came out to a protest.
“It has been 16 months that this gate here has been closed,” Lomma said. “The people who voted for Mayor Kawakami have not been able to enter into this building to go speak with him. We have sent multiple e-mails and multiple requests to try to have some sort of town-hall meeting of sorts. The best we have been able to do is get a Zoom meeting with some of the councilmembers, but only two at a time.”
Sarah Blane, Mayor Derek Kawakami’s chief of staff, said the mayor has been available and has met with members previously, “but did not meet with them today.”
Many demonstrators yielded signs at the civic center rejecting COVID-19 vaccinations, calling for the reopening of County Council chambers as well as county offices, and to not enforce vaccination amongst adults and children. Supporters at the event said they felt their freedom to gather and make choices for their own bodies are being trampled upon.
“However, based on the signs on display: We agree that vaccines should be voluntary, which they are. We agree that children should be in school, which DOE has already announced for the upcoming school year. We agree that the county should not be funding the state Department of Health, which we do not, as it is not a county office,” Blane said in a Monday email. “All county offices and services are available and open to the public, some by appointment.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, For Our Rights has held weekly gatherings across the island, but has recently stuck to Lihu‘e for sign-waving on Saturdays.
“At this point, there’s so much evidence to suggest there really is no state of emergency,” Lomma said. “I’m not saying COVID doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a real issue, but it is something that is treatable and that doesn’t justify infringing on other people’s rights.”
Both the state and county are basing certain reopening goals on vaccination rates. The county is currently on the fifth of its six-tier restriction system, which opened up social gatherings to 25 indoors and 75 outdoors, and began allowing restaurants to work at 75% capacity. This change came just last week, when the state was projected to reach a 60% fully-vaccinated population. Restrictions on gatherings and traveling have been slated to end when the state hits a 70% vaccinated residency.
“We’re open for tourism basically 100%, so why isn’t the government open to the people of Hawai‘i?” Lomma asked.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.