For too long the status quo has been projects that proclaim themselves to be “for the people,” but “the people” seem to be strangely absent from the process, the planning or the result.

The new rules regulating the HRS Chapter 343 (the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act) have an interesting new element in the scoping process for environmental impact statements. People who attend scoping meetings need to have the opportunity to indicate when their position is “no comment” or neutral. It’s a small, but fascinating rule, as it allows people to attend meetings, but be clear that their attendance is not an indication of silent consent.

I like it.

Sherwood Forest Supporters arrested by HPD after allegedly blocking construction equipment from entering the Sherwood Forest area.

Sherwood Forest supporters are arrested by HPD after allegedly blocking construction equipment from entering the development area.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This is because “silence is consent” has long been the unspoken rule in these islands. In our “no make waves” culture, officials seem to assume that the only three positions one can have are vocal support, vocal opposition, or silent consent.

This just isn’t the case anymore. The silent majority concept seems to have faded. I believe there’s a new category: the silent opposition.

It’s not far-fetched to say that people in Hawaii are widely unhappy with our government at all levels. The federal government and the president in particular seem to be spinning so madly out of control that it’s dizzying to even try to keep track of it all.

Our state government seems to be in a political paralysis over Mauna Kea. And now Honolulu’s mayor who wants to be governor has thrown himself head-first into the melee by refusing to back down on the development at Sherwood Forest.

When kupuna are getting arrested by the dozens across the state it is an unequivocal sign that something is terribly wrong.

It’s understandable that some people would be genuinely perplexed by the sudden increase in protests, and in particular acts of civil resistance where residents are willing to put their bodies in harm’s way and be arrested to make their point. How do you reconcile these actions against a state that boasts itself being the “happiest state in America?”

The reality is that simmering just below the sand and sun are real problems, among the worst of which is the feeling that government does not listen to the people. The result of this disconnect being a growing sense that Hawaii is moving away from the people — economically, socially and culturally.

We are becoming strangers to our own home.

People don’t feel safe. The recent string of violent murders leaves many people feeling uneasy and unnerved. Gun violence used to be a rarity, but we are hearing about it more and more, and in our own neighborhoods.

Housing prices continue to bolt away from local families. Children of multigenerational residents struggle to become first-time homebuyers, to make safe homes for their young families. Making ends meet feels like it is getting harder and harder.

Kupuna are living in the streets at levels that are both heart-breaking and embarrassing. What does it say about us as a society that we allow the children and the elderly to be homeless? What is wrong with us?

“Progress” should not cost us our humanity.

People are frustrated. People have had enough.

What started with Mauna Kea has moved to Waimanalo. It won’t stop there, because it’s not about a park, it’s about a community. Arresting people isn’t the answer. Listening is.

Rather than fueling the conflict, our elected officials need to stop and take a hard look at the path that got us to where we are today, because clearly this is not where any of us want to go, or where any of us should be.

We can do better. We must do better.

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About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.