Early last year, we set out on an ambitious reporting and engagement project in an ongoing series we call “Fault Lines” — to explore our collective disconnect over things like building a telescope on Mauna Kea and siting renewable energy projects.
Our goal was to tell stories and convene talk story events that would shine a light on the rifts that had developed in Hawaii’s social and political fabric. Our hope was to learn something essential about how decisions are being made, why people feel like they have no real voice on issues and how we as a community can do better at repairing these fundamental fault lines.
We got off to a great start. You can read those stories here: a deep dive into local identity and how that serves to divide us; lessons learned from communities that had found ways to bridge some important gaps; even advice from four of our former governors about how they had tried to bring disparate factions together in the past.
Then the pandemic hit and the things that divided us didn’t seem so important anymore. People pitched in and helped each other out, with donations of food and money for sure but there also seemed to be a new patience with each other as we wore masks outside and kept a safe distance apart, stayed home when asked and followed emergency rules without too much complaining. “Fault Lines” seemed a little tone deaf.
Now, the pandemic appears in the rear view mirror. And many of the cracks in our civic structure are widening again — development disputes as companies and agencies get back to work, political squabbles over public policy issues.
And new cracks have surfaced — the rift over COVID-19 vaccinations, the return of millions of tourists and the conflict that presents for a revitalized economy butting up against a reawakened quality of life. Even the discord over police practices and public safety has grown more divisive in the last year.
“Fault Lines 2021” is picking up where we left off. Last month, we took a fresh look at the disconnect between the state’s publicly touted vision for 100% renewable energy by 2045 and the difficulty in finding sites for big wind and solar projects that are needed to reach that goal.
As we said more than a year ago, we believe most residents and community leaders share a common vision — for Hawaii to be a place where everyone can prosper, where new generations have a reason to stay and raise their own families, where our kupuna can afford to grow old surrounded by those young families.
But how do we find the common ground we need to move forward when we just keep tearing each other apart?
That’s still what we hope to learn. We’re planning some solutions workshops this year to really drill down on one specific issue at a time. The pandemic taught us the art of Zoom, allowing us to bring in more voices from throughout the state. So we’ll try some hybrid events with a mix of in-person and online participants.
We launched our IDEAS Essays section last summer as a forum where the state’s sharpest thinkers could offer up ways to deal with some of the problems the pandemic exposed or underscored. It’s the perfect spot to begin to bridge a bigger fault line and we’re looking for specific solutions to real problems, even if it’s just the first step.
Not everything we do is hand-wringing. We have so much we can learn from each other, and there are plenty of neighborhoods and civic groups throughout the islands that are already coming together in meaningful ways. We’ll continue to highlight those stories and we’re also adding to our Community Scrapbook section, which seeks to document through photos as much of the good work going on throughout the islands as we can find.
It’s time to take a collective deep breath as we get back to work, to school and out into our communities again. Please join us in re-energizing this important conversation.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.