Saturday, February 2, 2008

Musings: Fighting the Odds

A friend called yesterday as I writing the post about the gutless, toothless vacation rental bill. She’d worked on it for years, and was so upset about what was going down at the last County Council session that she actually had to leave the meeting because she was feeling ill.

She was frustrated because she lives in an area that is being overrun by vacation rentals, with the usual fallout of no housing for locals and a diminished sense of community. She was frustrated because she had devoted so much time and energy for naught.

And she was frustrated because this is yet another one of those issues where our supposedly democratic system of government is compromised by money, and the influence it brings.

“The realtors are there at the Council meetings every time, but the people can’t be,” she lamented. “They have to work. What do you tell people? Come every week? Come every week for two years, and then in the end, nothing changes?”

Her comments underscore a serious problem with the way our Planning Commission and Council work. Developers, realtors and others with financial issues at stake can afford to pay their attorneys to sit through all those endless meetings. What do they care if the thing drags on for months when they’re getting $250 an hour, or have hefty profits at stake?

The public, meanwhile, is not compensated for its time, for the expense of driving in to attend meetings, for taking time off work to testify, for coming back again and again when the issue is deferred.

And when you throw in the factor of paybacks for campaign contributions — several people told me that was an issue in the vacation rental vote — the deck becomes even more stacked against Jane Q. Public.

The deep resentment and frustration that comes from continually having to compete on an uneven playing field causes burnout among many who care enough about their communities to participate in the governmental process.

It also can serve as a motivator.

I think that’s why the Superferry has galvanized so many people. I wasn’t much interested in the issue when I first heard about the petition to gather signatures for an EIS. It seemed like a done deal, and it was.

But when I felt the power surge that rippled through the community after Kauai residents turned the ferry away at the harbor, watched the pitiful special session proceedings unfold, researched the military link, and now witness the boat floundering, it came to epitomize for me, and many others, that ongoing struggle between citizens who are sincerely concerned about the Earth and their communities and lawmakers who repeatedly sell out them out.

It's hard to go on fighting against such odds, but the occasional small victories, and a sense of being unable to sit back and let greed and ignorance run rampant, encourage those in the trenches to keep on re-enlisting.

Just yesterday, I got a note from one of them:

“My moods swing up and down as to whether change is truly going to happen in this country in all the needed arenas and for all the deserving people,” she wrote. “But I do see positive progress for bold conservation efforts and these are built on staunch vision and the contribution of many, many ‘seers.’”

Amen, sistah.

And now, with the state Supreme Court decision that prevents the state from selling ceded lands, Hawaii is at another crucial crossroads in that very same struggle.

Will this mobilize nationhood supporters to defeat the Akaka bill and restore the sovereignty that the Hawaiian nation and kanaka maoli never relinquished?

Or will it prompt the rapid passage of the Akaka bill, solidify the power of the state-created Office of Hawaiian Affairs and thus perpetuate the wrongs and outright theft that have characterized America's presence in Hawaii?

Hope, at least in my heart, and I know I'm not alone, springs eternal.

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