Campaign Corner: What I Learned From The Primary Election - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Dyson Chee

Dyson Chee, 18, is a freshman at Kapiolani Community College. He is pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies. 


Vote. In the last two months, I used this word more often than my brother’s name.

As a highly active participant in Hawaii’s 2020 primary election, I experienced two important milestones: voting for the first time, and volunteering for a candidate’s campaign for the first time.

At the age of 17, I joined Kim Coco Iwamoto’s bid to win the District 26 House seat as chair of her campaign committee. As expected, many of my friends and family were befuddled that I would accept a leadership position in a political campaign while still in high school.

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to take on this responsibility.

The first is that I live in the same district as Kim Coco, which made this race both meaningful and impactful for me and my family. The second reason is that Kim Coco’s stances on local issues resonated with mine. Whether it was the cost of living, climate change, or economic sustainability, I knew I could count on Kim Coco to make choices that would protect Hawaii’s future.

Media gathers in the Kaneohe District Park lot before the Official Ballot drop box press conference. July 21, 2020
Hawaii’s first-ever vote by mail was inaugurated for the Aug. 3 primary, where voters could place ballots in drop boxes like this one at Kaneohe District Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Although Kim Coco’s bid fell short, this begs the question: What do campaigns such as Kim Coco’s mean for my generation?

With the state Legislature and U.S. Congress unable to pass laws to lower the voting age to 16 as of August 2020, campaigns such as Kim Coco’s offer a beacon of hope for youth who feel compelled to get involved in the electoral process.

Giving Youth A Chance

You do not have to be of voting age to be on a political campaign. In fact, several of the volunteers for our committee were people around my age.

We did everything adult volunteers did, with some of us clocking the most hours door-knocking and phone-banking. I even had friends who volunteered for other candidate’s campaigns.

Still, we were, by far, the minority. Most youth are not inclined to get involved in Hawaii politics because they do not see a future for themselves here; instead they feel out-of-place and sense a lack of opportunity. As one of my friends remarked, “This isn’t where you make it big. It’s where you retire.”

This is how campaigns like Kim Coco’s change the narrative, by giving youth a chance to engage meaningfully in the electoral process before they are even old enough to vote. For me personally, serving as chair for Kim Coco Iwamoto’s campaign committee has been an eye-opening experience.

You do not have to be of voting age to be on a political campaign.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to network with my neighbors, learn about the heavy lifting that goes into running a campaign, and gain a newfound understanding of local politics. Because of this, I feel rooted in my community and have even more reasons to stay in Hawaii.

As easy as it may sound, encouraging youth engagement and, more importantly, providing leadership opportunities for them in political campaigns requires us all to make an effort.

Candidates need to encourage youth to join their precious campaigns. Parents need to allow their children to step outside of the controlled comfort of the classroom. Elected officials need to put petty politics aside in favor of increasing youth participation, even if that means supporting volunteers who work for their opponents.

A united community has the power to create a world where youth involvement in a candidate’s campaign is normalized.

So, will you help create this future? I will.

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.


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About the Author

Dyson Chee

Dyson Chee, 18, is a freshman at Kapiolani Community College. He is pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies. 


Latest Comments (0)

Sounds like it was fun and I hope your engagement was greatly appreciated!Keep pushing for the voting age to be lowered to 16!Not to be mean but you do realize you were part of an intra party infighting where one and only ruling party is having internal squabbling, right?

Frank_Rizzo · 1 year ago

My hats are off to you young folks who already are eager to understand the views of adults who once were your age with the same reasons: to make a difference and to understand this "game" of life.  We knew what we didn’t want and some of us chose to protest with an eye to "tearing down the mission" as Elton John put it.  It can start peacefully but often ends with damage and injuries. As we grew older and started to find our niche’s in society, we brought with us those dreams of improving things and we did make significant changes.  Admittedly, more that some of us went overboard leaving our mess for you to clean up.  It is all worth it though to be able to step closer to the ideal...which, as it ends up is often anyone’s guess.  Keep on keeping guys and the world will follow!

Patw · 1 year ago

Congrats on getting involved.   I love Kim Coco and what she stands for. I first worked on a campaign for con con in 1978, it helped shape my political perspective.  Keep it up!

CraigR · 1 year ago

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