Friday, September 28, 2007

Vive la revolution!

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."


writtenwyrdd said...

Oh Paca, I sure do agree with you. I've worked for a federal agency and saw this from the inside out.

Church Lady said...

Unfortunately this is too often the case.
This was an interesting read, as I know very little about Hawaii.

But, you know what, as an second author's weekend featured Edna Cabcabin Moran. She's linked on my site as "Doodle Sprout." I wish you had been around a couple of weeks ago. She wrote a picture book called "The Sleeping Giant." We talked about kalo....


Ello said...

I keep coming back to this post and thinking about commenting but shying away. I really do agree with you and I do think that protest is important, but I also think that a unified and intelligent organization of concerned citizens can also do a lot to impact how the government will handle certain public projects. But it requires people to commit to banning together and working hard to find all the environmental impacts and also a solution to any problems raised by the project group. It is hard work but if you can find people to take the lead and organize, a major impact can be made. And then if it doesn't, you can protest. That's my 2cents!

pacatrue said...

Churkoda, I know of the book "the sleeping giant." B may have it at his day care school.

Ello, I agree really. My post is sort of a snapshot in time and represents me at an angry point. Angry? you may say. That was angry? Well, I tried.

And while I don't actually believe that one must be a radical protester for everything you believe in, I do have a couple points in this whole thing that I think may still be true:

1) I have little faith in the town meeting format where lesser beings show up and express how they feel. I am sure it does help, but much more than that is needed. Ironically, I would guess that a random citizen stopping a legislator in the hall and giving a personal opinion might have more sway than the same person saying the same thing at a town meeting. This is just because the town meetings are often adversarial in nature. They aren't people talking; they are gauntlets that the decision makers have to run through.

2) This is likely obvious, but it also highlights how much being the insider or having the right power or influence matters. If one "powerful" person has an idea, it can take 300 others in opposition to have the same importance. If one company wishes to go ahead, hundreds must line up to stop it. Or one person with the right lawsuit ;).

Ello said...

You got that right! And I totally agree with you about the actual efficacy of a town meeting - being none! And as sad as it is to say, it is lawsuits that make companies pause before moving forward. And if that is what it takes to be considered serious, then we have to use what is in our powers to be effective.

I like you when you are angry! :o)