What can one person do to change things for the better? Some people will say not a whole lot and it’s just wasted time. Some will defy those odds.
Meet my friend, Makani Christensen. He had a dream to have the local people’s voices heard. He has a vision for Hawaii that he wants for his family and it is just like what others want too.
I met Makani over a year ago through mutual friends. I was invited to attend a talk story group organized by the fishermen and hunters. Leaders in these groups had seen access to the resources slowly dwindling and a groundswell in politics promoting a loss of those island ways of living. These folks wanted to do something to preserve their ways of living off the land and ocean. As we all talked story, we all realized that we were in the same boat.
That group included long time local folks from many islands that decided something had to be done or we’d lose out. There were folks from the Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu there. Many wore their t-shirts and rubber slippers to the meeting. As I listened to everyone’s story, it hit me that our voices weren’t being heard and if we could band together, we’d have a much louder voice as a group. That’s where Makani led the charge to form the Hunting, Farming, and Fishing Association.
We were a small group of just 6 of us folks fighting to continue our rights to farm, fish, and hunt. We had no money, but we did have passion and energy to do something about the loss of ways of living. The very people who were against us, weren’t going to back down and collaborate on the plan to include these ways of living into policies. From the animal rights folks down to the anti-GMO and anti-fishing folks, who were backed with full time paid activists and lots of money for media, they used any means possible to dictate the narratives that our groups were horrible people. It simply was wrong but it didn’t matter to those who don’t live like us like this because they focused on only the end goal of taking people off the ocean and land. Collaboration is not part of the mainland activists’ vocabulary.
Without any fancy public relations or huge social media presence, our group was disadvantaged to begin with. That never deterred Makani. Even some people within our group was anti-GMO and skeptical of it but Makani still pressed on to have people learn more before they formed an opinion. It was hard to get people to educated when popular opinion was to be anti-GMO and most of their friends and family were leaning that way. He helped to organize people to help show up at hearings to speak up for farmers and was threatened by none other than Dustin Barca himself. He was not afraid to speak up for our farming family despite the huge opposition. I was inspired that he’d put himself out there.
When it was time for the other user groups to be heard, I showed up at a hearing and learned their issues to speak up for them. I had just had my son less than 8 weeks prior but still made the trek over to speak up for them. With my baby sleeping over my shoulder, I gave testimony for the hunters that I had met and learned their stories. Despite me not being a hunter, I was put on the news for speaking up.
This year, after much persistence, the hunters got their bill passed that helped create a gaming commission that amplified their voices in policies before the fact. It was through hard work and lots of relationships developed in the community that worked to change policy in their favor for once. It really was a collaborative effort on all sides to help each other out.
One person can’t do much alone and that’s clear. One person can make change that can be heard even in Washington, DC. He didn’t need tons of money and the backing of powerful people to be heard, but he still accomplished to get the local voice heard. Makani was that person who inspired so many to help speak up to preserve Hawaii’s ocean access to people. He didn’t get paid or was backed by any non-governmental organization or non-profit funded by the wealthy to get the local folks heard but what he did have was the passion to speak up.
Several years ago, there was a proposal to expand the National Humpback Whale Sanctuary in Hawaii. That expansion would have limited many ocean activities that are a part of life here in Hawaii. Despite the glaring fact that the humpback whales were recovering without the expansion, there still was a push for this monument. Makani and several others worked tirelessly to get organized and have people’s voices heard to stop this from happening.
So what could this one person do? With his leadership and inspiring others to help increase awareness of this issue, he got the local folks’ voice heard. With his t-shirt, board shorts, and a red wagon, he walked over 10,000 signatures to Governor Ige’s office. That monument did not expand to take people out of the oceans and policy that was not soundly based in evidence did not prevail.
Many people think that Makani’s lack of “official” political experience is a concern. Lots of people questioned this choice to begin with. The old school wants a long timer in office to bring in lot of money to Hawaii but is that really helping out the local folks who continue to struggle to make ends meet? Are their needs being heard in Washington, DC? When our young students leave Hawaii, are they coming back with their hopes of working here or are they leaving because of the lack of opportunities? There are many families who long to return home but simply can’t because of what’s happening here. Is that how we are going to keep our island home special when all the local folks can’t even come back?
Well, one guy in his t-shirt and shorts did an amazing feat to get the local people heard loud and clear. In fact, he’s a Hawaiian who got all the people’s voice heard in Washington, DC. You won’t see him talking bad about others and in fact he’s been on wanted posters for the unpopular stances he’s taken, which is what has happened to me. He did all of this with no money and for the local folks.
Actions speak louder than incessant radio commercials and I chose to go with those who have been in our communities and listened to the local folks’ stories. I put my trust in Makani making Hawaii a better place for my children and for all the families of Hawaii. He defied the odds and got our voices heard and continues to lead others to do the same and speak up for what is right. My vote goes to Makani Christensen for US Senate because he not only wears the rubbah slippahs, he will speak for the rubbah slippah folks of Hawaii.