Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Musings: Do Gooders

The air was still and the sky was leaden when Koko and I took our walk this morning. Thick clouds were drifting in from the northeast and piling up over the Giant, cloaking his body in swirling gray mist, although Waialeale remained clear.

It was so nice walking on ground that was still saturated from yesterday’s big rain, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a while, but hopefully will again today, as the small smatterings that dampened us on our return have now become a serious steady shower.

It’s a good morning for staying inside, which I wanted to do yesterday, but instead ending up spending the entire day and part of the night with do-gooders. Not that I use that word in any sort of derogatory context, as I believe strongly in doing good, although I often grapple with the best and most effective way to do it.

The day was devoted to do-gooders who act largely independently to achieve some personal vision of what will make their little corner of the world a better place, with actions that ranged from cleaning up Kealia Beach through chanting to monitoring violations in the Wainiha-Haena conservation district.

I felt good after hanging with these three individuals, all of whom I will write about, and it was obvious they were pleased with their efforts, even though they’d encountered resistance and setbacks.

But I left the evening do-gooder event with a decidedly different feeling, one that was more akin to frustration, annoyance, even despair.

While I know many of the people who attended the meeting are smart and caring, and committed to doing something meaningful for Kauai, I kept feeling like much of the effort expended on their various initiatives would come to naught.

Why? Well, for starters, as my neighbor Andy observed — it seems I run into him everywhere — while the faces were different than those he’d encountered at environmental meetings in the past “the complexion is the same.”

Even after all these years, the environmental movement has managed to engage only a small portion of the community, and one that has relatively little power at that. And so long as it’s largely comprised of haoles from the mainland, it’s simply not going to be effective.

That situation is compounded by the fact that some of the people in it are themselves part of the problem. This point was driven home when I heard a man speaking about the need to pass the proposed Charter amendment that would give the Council, rather than the Planning Commission, the final power to approve resort developments.

He was saying that if it didn’t pass, people should just stop complaining that Kauai was getting overdeveloped and rapidly turning into Maui. Yet this man happens to live right next to door to a good friend of mine in Hanalei, where he built the typical “all house, no lot” expensive home — the kind that has driven up property taxes there — replete with a formidable “don’t wanna interact with my neighbors” stone wall that didn’t meet county regs and now requires his previously shunned neighbor’s help to come into conformance.

He doesn’t seem to understand that he has already created for some existing residents the type of community he is now rallying against.

I see this giant disconnect over and over again, and it’s really at the core of the weakness of Kauai’s anti-growth/environmental movement. So many of its members want a certain kind of community, but they’re pursuing their objectives with no real understanding of what is already here, how the existing residents might feel about it, and the impact that they themselves are having.

Like I said, I believe in doing good. But first, I think, you’ve gotta make sure you really are.


Anonymous said...

I generally agree with Joan - not necessarily this time.

First, I don't think we should reject a message because the messenger seems hypocritical.
We all have our warts, but when we're working together for common good, it may not be productive to be pointing at the warts instead of the common good sought.

Second. Haole's on Kauai tend to be too insecure about their race. Truth sells. Good ideas take hold - regardless of race. I think it is a mistake to think that because a few people, mostly of one race, start community outreach, that the outreach is somehow flawed or doomed. Speak the truth and all types of people will come.

I urge people to stay involved - even if you have light skin pigments.

Katy Rose said...

But I think Joan approaches a critically important topic here. It's not as easy as adopting a "color blind" attitude - which by the way tends to be a conceit reserved for the priviliged.

We have to question our movements vigorously to figure out why they don't appeal to a broader demographic.

It's not because people of color don't care about these issues - so it is up to the white majority in the environmental movement to question whether there is a "culture" going on that is repelling local people from participation.

Part of it is race, part of it is class, part of it is urban/rural, part of it is culture and history, none of it is simple or comfortable to unpack and examine. But I agree with Joan - if we don't we're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

It's not the "truth." It's just some peoples' opinions. It's just different people arguing about what they want the island to be like. Niether side has a claim on "The Truth." Of course, everybody thinks they do.

Katy Rose said...

And this has nothing to do with white people removing themselves from the movment - that's childish - but maybe learning how to re-position ourselves within it. We don't always have to be at the center, at the front, in the lead, knowing it all, having all the answers.

I've heard the term "new age missionaries" applied to some of us continental do-gooders. I think we can learn something from that.

Anonymous said...

Look at the rhetoric. "McMansions"? It's so distinctly western. So much of what emanates from the movement can appeal only to white college educated liberals raised on advertising slogans.

Anonymous said...

and even all this anti-capitalist blabber is off-putting to people who haven't had the luxury of whiling away their late teens in airconditioned classrooms.

Anonymous said...

Haoles from the mainland messed this place up, so shouldn't they be the first ones to organize to clean it up?

Perhaps the Eco-roundtable event is really more an expression of *that*, than of anything else.

But to say this crowd is just the same ol' haoles with their imported enviro ideas is not entirely accurate, either. That's a phenomenon you'll find on Maui, assuredly, which is precisely why their community failed to stave off superferry, while ours did not.

Just the weekend before, many of the same haole eco-roundtable do-gooders were at a fundraising barbeque for Dayne Aipoalani's legal expenses. It was a racially mixed crowd. Those demographics would have never come together had it not been for the eco-roundtable, where many west side kanaka maoli have been attending because of GMO concerns. Their absence last night was anamolous.

Turning now to the subject of Carl Imparato, the guy lobbying for the charter amendment to put the brakes on the very activity for which he himself is guilty...

I had never seen nor met this person until last night, but for years have heard a lot of trash about him. Your blog description of him added to my "file." But that doesn't mean I appreciate the open forum offered by Eco-Roundtable any less. Anyone can take initiative to organize and speak publicly, even hypocrites like Carl Imparato. Eco-Roundtable is not there to silence him.

While you felt frustrated by the event, others left feeling empowered. People were raving about your, Juan's and Dan Hempey's information. One woman learned a legal fact that has instantly provided clear strategy for her to oppose the development of her neighborhood in Hanalei. (Until last night's meeting, she thought that the deal to displace her home with condos was a fait accompli.)

Though native participation was not explicit last night in particular, connections between key ecoroundtable haole types and with the kanaka maoli are strong.

Come on, Joan, we love you for all you contribute. But to hasten judgment based on last night's "snapshot" of Eco-Roundtable, is like assessing the entire anti-superferry movement based on the brief video footage of protestors banging on the truck at Nawiliwili.


Anonymous said...

There's something inherently wrong about building a large house and defining some "personal space" with a wall?

It's a "crime" to drive up property taxes by creating your dream home? Some might see this as improving the neighborhood depending on what it looks like overall.

That's happening in the Puna District on the BI (aka, "the gayborhood"...say what you will but they do spiff up the place).

Are we all supposed to live in what passes as "local dwellings"?

Why do many people here assume that moving to a given place requires the person to embrace the culture and practices of that location?

Hawaii is part of the USA, a decidedly western society. Americans still desire to move here temp or perm. and have the money to do as they wish within the limits of the planning department. It is their right and should not be dissed.

This is NOT a foreign country anymore. It is NOT required to follow any local practice not defined by the zoning/planning depts.

Andy Parx said...

The Charter amendment- improperly researched, absurdly contrived and probably legally unenforceable and therefore a waste of time and energy- is emblematic of what Joan is, I think, getting at.

How many of those at the meeting live on ag-zoned land and aren’t farmers? Yet how many of those are trying to keep ag land in ag and concerned about sprawl and the urbanization of our rural areas? When working-class local people- whatever their skin color- see that they see that their realities and values are not those of the walk of those doing the talking.

I just went to a party this weekend in Kalaheo where old friends- haole- who share the values I described were holding the event at, what I learned, was their new ag condo house site at the end of the residential-zoned area at the top of Waha Road. While their house is at the top on the road, their land extends down the hill and includes a now cut-up valley that is a “floodway”- a perfect place for taro or any water intensive crop. It will never be used for that now. When I brought this up, they had never even thought about it.

I’ve been asked “why don’t you want to stop the uncontrolled tourism development” by the Charter amendment leadership people. When I hear that I feel the same as I do when the Bushies ask “why do you hate America so much”.

Anonymous said...

You can answer, "Because tourism development isn't 'uncontrolled.'"

Anonymous said...

Gadfly sez Why do many people here assume that moving to a given place requires the person to embrace the culture and practices of that location?

Uh, haven't you heard, when in Rome, do as the Romans do?

Anonymous said...

Which romans? the ones who live in big walled houses or the ones who dont? I'm safe if I behave as my native Hawaiian dentist, right? If he has a big house then so can I.

Joan Conrow said...

My comments were not intended as a specific indictment of Eco-Roundtable, which I see as a good concept conceived by thoughtful people. They were just observations of the shortcomings of the environmental movement on Kauai in general.

Katy Rose said...

My experience of the eco-roundtable is that it is not averse to widening its reach as a coalition-building project, and a few of the central organizers are deeply invested in challenging a drift toward "haole-exclusiveness." As such, it has slowly been attracting a more diverse crowd - in terms of class, race, issue-orientation and political perspective. (Other organizers have been more or less antagonistic to this, but that's another story.)

The main thing is that there is the start of a healthy discourse about creating viable and sustained coalitions for positive social change, and I think the eco-roundtable is on the right track. (I do wish the name would change, however.)

There is always room for honest reflection and self-criticism.

I appreciate the comments above challenging some of the "language" used in our activist circles which may contribute to a sense of alienation for some parts of the community, but I would like to challenge the assumption that the concept of anti-capitalism is off-putting. First of all, the concept and language of anti-capitalism is hardly mainstream at events like the eco-roundtable. And secondly, people in the global south, mostly non-Western, poor and people of color, have a very firm grasp of this language and apply it routinely to successful grass-roots social movements. I highly recommend watching the documentary "Cocalero" about the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia: there you will hear some of the clearest critiques of neoliberal capitalism ever, from impoverished rural indigenous coca farmers. This is one example among countless others. I would say it's incredibly "western" to be completely ignorant of the logic of anti-capitalism.

I think language is important, but the way it's carried is more so. I suggest we be on guard for elitism and an assumption that we "brilliant continentals" have so much to teach the locals. Better that we be open to learning, than bent on teaching.

Anonymous said...

Curious how the "pro-capitalists" prove the superiority of their ideal - because otherwise its they're just repeating their parents' dogma.

If we look at the world now - the countries with wealth, better standards of living, and currencies that are much, much better than the dollar are decidedly leaning toward socialism. Spain, Denmark, Sweden, etc. Even Brazil, since electing the socialist President has tripled the value of its currency in relation to the dollar.

I also note how it seems to be the "capitalists" that would gut environmental law to save the Superferry - even after it got a 40 million dollar taxpayer subsidy. That is not capitalism. It is much closer to corporatism, or even facism.

Anonymous said...

Warren Buffett and George Soros shouldn't help poor people - they have too much money.

Bush shouldn't be permitted to work for peace - He's embraced war too much in the past.

Churches shouldn't teach tolerance - they've been too intolerant in the past.

And Carl Imperato has a big house. How dare he work to help limit sprawl. Lets take away his house. Who cares if this keeps him form work that would benefit the land and animals of Kauai. That hypocrite must be stopped from trying to do good.

Katy Rose said...

Can we stop belaboring this Carl Imperato thing? I have no patience for the rightist "gotcha" tactic whatsoever. And we lose ground if keep reacting to it as well.

Let's acknowledge that Joan's point isn't really about this one individual who like all of us is a ball of contradictions but nevertheless has as much of a right as anyone to engage socially, but more importantly about the value of searching ourselves as we enter our movement spaces for ways that we can contribute to building more successful, relevant and diverse movements for social change.

Anonymous said...

I like anon 11:03...I'll be just like the Hawaiian dentists, doctors and lawyers who've made substantial money and live in substantial homes and hold substantial westernized values.

They may not hand with the brah's but they sound like my kind of people.

Maybe I'll "go native" after all...that kind of "native", that is.

Anonymous said...

This blog, today, is kind of racist.
The effort to effect "eco change" is "weak" because the proportion of white people at the meting was too high?

Maybe Obama shouldn't be president. After all he's not the same color as the majority of U.S. residents, so his leadership will be weak.?

People who feel weak, or feel that they can't effectively participate in Democracy because they are white are suffering from racism. Maybe its a self loathing reverse sort of racism, but racism, nonetheless...

Of course we should consider other cultures when formulating our ideas and activism - but this blog doesn't offer talk about cultures - it speaks of "complexion". Isn't Andrea B born and raised here? Does anyone have any constructive advice about HOW to bring all cultures into the fold - or do we just lament that the activism is weak because its too white.

That roundtable was full of people who are quite immersed in working with and helping Hawaiians.

So, moving forward.... How do we bring more Filipinos in? Japanese? Does anyone have any real cultural insight to offer?

Katy Rose said...

I don't think anyone is arguing that white or rich or continental or urban-fugitive folk shouldn't engage in movements here. I don't think there's anything "racist" about questioning how and when our movements fail to reflect the demographics of our communities.

It is most certainly NOT about changing the "color-level" of the room or the organization (otherwise known as tokenism.) It's about the reality of including and centralizing the experiences and perspectives of as broad a spectrum of folk as possible.

We all come from our own specific social locations, and they straddle class, race, gender and other realities. Each position brings with it a wealth of understanding and perspective that can only enrich our movements.

If we create a movement that is out-of-balance the creative solutions we come up with will be limited by a homogeneous perspective. We can't help having some blind spots. For example, if an organization is 90% white professionals we'd get a different approach to social problems than if the organization included a significant proportion of working class people or people of color.

Most of the time, I think we are pretty oblivious of the ways that we construct our movements to be homogeneous, and it takes a high level of consciousness to change that.

I am not saying that all movements must be racially or otherwise diverse. There is a place for "parallel organizing" in which people come together based on very specific experiences and identities. The labor movement is a good example of this: it is generally made up of wage laborers and not a very open space for managers or business owners ("bosses.")

Coaltions, of course, hopefully don't remain homogeneous because by their very nature they are meant to include an array of groups.

There are also questions of social power to be faced. Let's not pretend that there is a neutral division of power between local working class folk, either of Native Hawaiian or other descent, and the relatively well-off settlers who arrived here as a "lifestyle choice" because they had the means to do so. Ignoring these differences can bring up resentments and distrust.

In any case, I see much progress being made in these areas on the left as a whole, and much of it is due to discussions like this one.

Anonymous said...

Ask locals if you know any. If you don't then maybe that's the problem

Katy Rose said...


andrea said...

Thank you Joan for this really thoughtful blog. Unfortunately, Kaua`i has not been able (yet) to move beyond elitism in the environmental movement. Until we approach issues from a diverse and holistic point of view, and until we are truly concerned about the needs of all people along with malama `aina, we will not make monumental change. I think this kind of critique and reflection is necessary to moving forward, and we should not be afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations. The disconnect on Kaua`i between communities, cultures, movements, etc., is something that many would like to ignore, choosing instead to hide behind the myth of the "melting pot." I really appreciate your willingness to talk about the stuff that matters--including your great presentation on the mili-ferry last night!

Anonymous said...

"New age missionaries" is so true! Of all the publicly vocal native Hawaiians, it's Ka‘iulani Huff and Hale Mawae who sound like a couple of white undergrads with crushes on that TA who teaches the indiginous studies seminar.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"New age missionaries" is so true! Of all the publicly vocal native Hawaiians, it's Ka‘iulani Huff and Hale Mawae who sound like a couple of white undergrads with crushes on that TA who teaches the indiginous studies seminar.

Pete Antonson said...

This is a really critically needed and valuble posting because it is so to the point and done by a self described member or associate.
The thread mostly contains very thoughtful concerns regarding coalitions.
Perhaps it's more important this year to examine how to keep together the coalition called the Democratic Party. The Nader business was that coalition being fractured for some of the same reasons described on this post. Look at the 8 years we got for it. Let's not do it again over so called uncompromising principles.
Regards, Pete Antonson

Anonymous said...

Nothing kills a viable grassroots social movement faster in my opinion than a decision to put all our energy and focus onto national electoral politics.

This is not to say there isn't value in that process - but it is a much different process than localized grassroots movement building, which is what we are discussing here.

Anonymous said...

Before we leave this one to rest, I gotta throw down a comment on behalf of Carl Imperato. I have seen his house and its not that big at all. The wall?... it looks good, it block out the highway, and is not unlike the one down the street a local family built some years back. But all this talk about his house and his wall is stupid. The guy works tirelessly for the good of the people of Kauai on many issues. I was born and raised here, I have the ancient koko running in my veins, and I give Carl Imperato big repsect.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks. I'll pass your recommendation along to my friend, who lives with that "good looking" wall that runs between their properties. I'm sure it will make him feel better knowing that his neighbor works tirelessly for the good of the people of Kauai.

Andy Parx said...

I don’t really care about Carl or anyone else’s personal lives including the size of their house and fence. Like most, I’d probably have an ag condo if I ever could afford it. 30 years ago I might have farmed it- imagine that. It was never affordable.

But I would like to ask Carl about his participation in the KKCR whitewash and cover-up of the Hale Mawae beating incident, where he headed the Kekahu Foundation’s Personnel Committee that was in charge of an investigation that never happened and was also author of a Board-approved letter containing misrepresentation of facts and almost laughable denial of all involvement, much less responsibility..

I would also like to ask Carl about his letter in the paper praising what many have reported as an overshow of police force at Black Pot beach this week, harassing the local fisher(wo)men.

Anonymous said...

"Hale Mawae beating incident"? You mean the Hale Mawae arrest incident? "Beating." You are so full of it. Besides, how on earth would kkcr be responsible? By calling the cops? Oh, that's rich.

Anonymous said...

From Katy Rose:

The incident in which Hale Mawae was arrested with excessive force was indeed instigated by the hyped-up and hysterical reaction of station staff to an explicitly peaceful gathering of five people hoping to speak to management about a decision they had made. The acting "manager," Donna Lewis, called the police - that is public information. She claimed that we were threatening to do physical harm to the station - patently untrue and obvious to anyone with a brain.

Hale Mawae was walking along the road, where people walk, bike and jog undisturbed every day, on what is a public access road, when he was told to leave by police. When he questioned their authority - a perfectly reasonable thing to do - they threw him to the ground, in a mud puddle, and five cops dog-piled him, destroying the camera he held and injuring his wrist and shoulder, as he repeatedly said "I am not resisting." In what world is this okay?

The police - having been called with a report that we were physically threatening the station - were inflamed before they had even spoken to us. They were aggressive and confrontational and closed to negotiation from the moment they arrived. I believe it is reasonable for the entity who called the cops to be held to some responsibility for instigating the confrontation. The staff and board of KKCR have some responsibility here.

Anonymous said...

Hale has no responsibility?
How about responsibility for some common sense?

Katy Rose said...

This is really silly. When is it okay for police to react in such a way to a person exercising their basic human rights?

Again, the ONLY reason the police chose to arrest Hale for doing what others do all day up and down that road without interference was that he was there for a political reason, to express a dissenting opinion on a controversial and socially important topic.

The police should not target a person for doing something other people do without interference (walk down the street) solely for political reasons.

I guess Hale's "responsibility" for this was that he was young, indigenous and speaking out for social justice.

Shame on him.

Anonymous said...

you're playing rhetorical games. Andy said some radio person was responsible for, (what did he say?), beating incident?! (HA! Bullshit) presumably for calling the cops. If you think the cops overreacted, fine. But it's not the radio station's fault. Nor, probably, did the cops even overreact.

Katy Rose said...

As I explained earlier, I believe that the station staff and board should acknowledge responsibility for inflating the "threat" posed by us when the staffer called the police.

AND the police should be held responsible for what they did to Hale.

Anonymous said...

Here, you take the event completely out of it's context:

"When is it okay for police to react in such a way to a person exercising their basic human rights?"

Here, you put the event back in context:

"The police should not target a person for doing something other people do without interference (walk down the street) solely for political reasons."

Here, you put the event in, and take it out of, context:

"...he was told to leave by police. When he questioned their authority - a perfectly reasonable thing to do - they threw him to the ground."

Context is important. You can't examine something as if nothing else is going on and judge only that part of it. He was not just walking down the street. Real silly, is saying he was.

Joan Conrow said...

Can you see, Anonymous, that you are taking it out of context by claiming that Hale is somehow solely to blame because he was there for "political purposes," without also acknowleding that none of this would have happened if the radio station hadn't called the cops and inflated the threat of situation? What about the common sense and restraint that the station staff should have exercised?

Anonymous said...

Could there be a more childish attitude? "You got us in trouble cause you told on us!" Grow up. Nobody ever has to apologize for calling the police. Ever. If there is a touchy situation and someone isn't sure how it might go down, and if they're worried about it in the least little bit, they are totally correct to call the police. If someone can't handle themselves and gets themselves in trouble with their behavior, it's NOT the fault of whoever called the police. Hale and only Hale is responsible.

Anonymous said...

Joan, where do I say Hale is soley to blame? Please quote that part back to me.
I was evaluating Katy's posts that remove any blame or responsibility from the young man; period. Those posts are absurdly partisan.

Anonymous said...

Absurdly partisian indeed, considering her bio, which includes:

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have been committed to social and economic justice since elementary school, because I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by an activist community. I am an anarchist anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist..."

You expect anything less?

In her world, everyone is "equal". No one can have more than anyone else since that implies, in her world, that someone else must have less. One's abilities and training must never be used to improve one's own quality of life as defined by more money, land and power.

Basically, it will never work, but there will always be those fighting against the unchangable reality of the world.

Altruism is one thing and to be applauded, but rabid dogma-like "coalition building" for an anarchistic environment where the weak are artificially enabled by enforced distribution of assets from the strong....that's crazy talk!!

BTW - I think this guy could have avoided the problem by doing exactly what the cops asked. He knew he wasn't "Joe Average" just walking down the street. He knew that he was surrounded by cops whose body language and tone of voice most likely telegraphed "give us a reason". He was dumb enough to give them a reason. They asked him to move on. If he had complied, the situation would have been averted.

No blame to the radio station mgr at all. Too bad she didn't opine to the cops that she thought he was armed. That would have been fun!

Andy Parx said...

Dear Anonymous Troll,

You asked “Joan, where do I say Hale is solely to blame? I can only be one the three entities involved that is to blame or a combination. You, in your statements fully eliminated two saying how on earth is the station to blame and then said Hale caused the cops to beat him. No the station, not the cops=only Hale left to blame in your eyes.

This came up when I said that Carl Imperato and the Board said that the station was blameless. Talking to trolls like you is like nailing Jell-o to the wall- the definition of on-line trolling.

Anonymous said...

Dear Brainiac, er, Andy,

There's more than one anonymous troll. Duh!

Anonymous said...

That's right Andy old boy. I left the 6:44 and the 5:28 only. I'm still waiting for an answer.

Anonymous said...

damn that kkcr. They made Hale disobey the police when they told him to move to public property and warned him he'd be arrested if he didn't. It's all kkcr's fault for calling the police. Puh-leaze!