As probably all of you can tell, I can hardly be described as revolutionary in my personality. I'm simply not aggressive, and indeed one of my great personality traits is that I very easily see the other side of an issue and can often even sympathize with it. However, today I am more cynical than before.
Today the University Board of Regents approved the establishment of a University-Affiliated Research Center which essentially will do research for the Navy. The research could be of any kind. Now, I've never felt very strongly against the center, and there are good arguments for and against it. However, many people on campus do feel strongly about it, and there were protests and sit-ins at the President's office and meetings and, most importantly to me, votes by both the official student body organization and the faculty senate in opposition to the center. So while I don't particularly oppose the actual Center, it really does anger me when the Regents completely ignore the stated positions of both the faculty and the student body.
As I was at breakfast this morning, I realized that I have never ever heard of a case where the people in power, whoever they may be, host a town meeting, hear of opposition to something, and change their mind due to persuasion. It never happens. Whether it is building a new Dell factory in Nashville, a new high rise on the water front on Oahu, bringing the Super Ferry to the islands, or building a Navy-affiliated research center, whatever the plan was before the town meeting is virtually the same plan after the town meeting. It would be great to say that this is because the original plan was always the best rational choice, but it appears more and more that whoever is in power wins.
I should explain the SuperFerry, which has been a disaster all the way around. Believe it or not, despite this being a state made of islands, there is no boat from one island to the next. The only way to get to a neighbor isle is to fly (of course, there are private boats, shipping lines and yachts). A business decided to start the SuperFerry here, and it fills a strong market niche and I support its existence. But from the beginning they and the state have wanted to cut corners, the main corner being not performing an environmental impact study on the harbors that will support the ferry. People went to the official meetings and argued that this was indeed important, but it was ignored. It was ignored because the federal government promised to give many millions of dollars ONLY IF the state of hawaii did not require an impact study. The state changed the rule, took the money, and the ferry came.
However on their maiden voyage, they learned that many people really do care about these things. In particular, the ferry has not been able to land in Kauai because surfers and others clogged the harbor so that it could not safely approach. And now the ferry's future is dubious. This is all ridiculous in many ways because flying to Kauai, due to the carbon emissions from fuel consumption, is likely at least as damaging to the environment as the boat. So now we've got an embarassed state, a company losing money, planes dumping CO2 in the atmosphere, and still no boat from one island to the next. Almost all of this could have been avoided if everyone had just listened at the town meeting, done the study, and then operated the boat. But going to meetings and voicing an opinion changes nothing, it seems, since the opposition isn't giving away money, and the only way to have an opinion is to illegally clog the harbor with your body.
I wrote my first ever comment on the Honolulu Advertiser's message board today, where I reveal my new cynical self, and here it is:
"I have to disagree very much with the person who earlier stated that the lesson from this was that protestors need to be polite and sit down when told. I myself said similar things three years ago in an opinion piece in the Ka Leo paper because I too was exasperated and offended by many of the protestors' tactics.
However, whenever people simply go to meetings such as this and stand up and present their arguments, nothing ever changes. The number of times in which the organization with power, such as the regents, city hall, state gov, or neighborhood board, has ever changed their mind from people attending the designated meeting that they are supposed to attend and politely voicing their opposition comes now to a big fat zero. Zero. Whatever the project is, from a high rise in Waikiki to the super ferry to UARC, the people in power always do virtually the exact thing they planned to do before any rational opposition was expressed.
Many here are pretending that the only people opposed to UARC are people who hate the military, but, as the article detailed, both the UH Manoa Faculty Senate and its Student Body group voted against it. But of course there is no money in these opinions and so the Regents just ignored them.
It would be great if life worked the way we want it to in which we all sit back and offer good arguments and then make a decision, but in reality the good argument from someone in power trumps the good argument of the average citizen about 50 to 1, and the only way for the citizen to have any voice appears to be, not just to reason, but to protest.
That's what I have learned from this whole episode. Call me now jaded. Apparently the only way to have a voice is to swim out into the harbor as the boat comes."