A recent opinion piece by Danny de Gracia seeks to resurrect the dead, with a plea for policymakers to get us to a collective “yes” on divisive issues, his prime example being the Hawaii Superferry.

NOTE: pick the correct link

For those of you who may not remember, the Superferry drowned in its own steamy corrupt stew of environmental, legislative, and financial ruin in 2009. It was only operational (and I use that term loosely) for about two years.

We, the taxpayers, incurred a $71 million debt that, according to a 2017 audit, we will continue to pay back the remaining $32 million until 2028.

It would take an entire book to begin to unpack the whys and hows this particular debacle failed so epically, and it’s already been written (see “The Superferry Chronicles” by Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander for more in-depth reminders of why the Superferry needs to stay dead and buried).

Instead, I would like to focus on this idea, at the end of de Gracia’s piece, of “getting to the yes.” It is the idea of turning a no into a yes that I take the most issue with. That misguided goal is ultimately behind a lot of the issues we are facing here in Hawaii.

The Hawaii Superferry is an example of a bad idea that never had broad support.


Imagine the world we would live in if the word “no” was truly respected. Imagine if when native people said no, our elected officials listened. Imagine if when a woman said no there was no one there trying to convince her that maybe just this once, she should say yes. It’s a matter of consent, and the Superferry doesn’t have it.

Since our overburdened roads and failing infrastructure can’t speak for itself, I will say “no” for it. Since our fragile ecosystems, already overwhelmed by invasive species and over-fishing and pollution can’t speak for themselves, I will say “no” for them.

Since our native population is already exhausted, emotionally and physically, from standing up for our kupuna and keiki and their sacred spaces that are constantly facing over-tourism and poorly planned development, I will say “no” in solidarity. I encourage you to check-in with them before putting any more thoughts out there about adding more to our collectively full plate of debt and debate.

Sure, we all want more accessible and affordable ways to travel inter-island. We’ve been down this stream before, we all know where it leads. A decade hasn’t changed our need to put the environment first. If anything, it has heightened that importance and created more urgency in that regard.

When A Yes Should Be A No

De Gracia’s writing also mentions how people struggle to survive in the islands due to competition for limited resources and scarce opportunities. I beg to differ and think that a scarcity mentality is partially what drives people to ignore the “no” and continue to push for a “yes.” That scarcity thought process is a myth. This myth continues to be perpetrated and we ignore the deeper questions.

What things are we saying yes to, that perhaps should have been no? Are we saying yes to a single-use plastic mentality that’s damaging our environment and adding to our rubbish problem?

Are we saying yes to big corporations and foreign investors that have their private interests and bottom-line in mind instead of the health and wellness of our communities? Are we saying yes to importing almost all of our food?

Are we saying yes to oil companies and fossil fuels for most of our energy needs? What if we didn’t have to beg to change a no into a yes?

What things are we saying yes to, that perhaps should have been no?

We need policymakers and leaders who support and promote ideas that we can all say yes to, without much convincing. Ideas that sustain people over profits, and caring for the aina over corporate greed.

Like, how about figuring out a way to feed our people 90% or more with locally grown food, without pesticides? Or creating an economy not based solely on tourism and constant consumerism?

Maybe creating a program to reduce our waste and actually recycle or reuse the waste we are producing on island? How about clean and renewable energy done the right way, in the right place, with proper community input?

Maybe there wouldn’t be such a struggle to get a yes if the needs of the people and environment were put first from the start.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Shannon Matson
    Shannon Matson was born in Honokaa, raised in Kona, and now calls Hilo her home. She is a former vice chair of the Hawaii County Democratic Party, a small business owner, and a graduate of the University of Hawaii Hilo and HAPA's Kuleana Academy. She spends most of her time keeping her two children alive, watching her kalo grow, and teaching yoga.