Growing up in Happy Valley, I was shaped not only by my family’s life in the working class, but also by the people around me who struggled in an unfair system. I had a friend who’d come around for a snack because there wasn’t anything to eat at his home. There were houses where I knew meth had a strong hold. A number of my friends’ parents were absent because they worked multiple jobs to support an extended family. Today, little has changed for the better: A recent study says two-thirds of Hawai‘i residents face financial hardship.
Solidarity forever, to me, means standing and uniting with these people, and all the working, oppressed, and poor people that work for unlivable wages, can’t afford a place to live, don’t have access to adequate health care, and face a climate future that is catastrophic. For these people, to whom the needs are urgent, I will not compromise on what I see as basic human rights: universal healthcare, a livable wage, a safe place to sleep, equal representation, and environmental protection.
After Super Tuesday, it’s widely recognized that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are in a two-person race to become the Democratic nominee for president.
Without litigating too much, it’s safe to say that Sanders’ platform and record is more progressive. Sanders is fiercely anti-war, including a vote against the Iraq War, while Biden supported the War and is complicit in the Obama-Clinton Middle East doctrine; Bernie is a staunch advocate of Medicare For All universal healthcare where Biden wants to tweak the Affordable Care Act; Biden wants to transition away from fracking, while Bernie wants to ban it (youth climate organization Sunrise Movement scored Bernie with a 92 percent for his plan, while Biden scored 42 percent); Bernie supports full student loan forgiveness and tuition-free public colleges while Biden does not; Bernie wants to legalize cannabis on day one while Biden will not; and to help pay for these plans, Bernie supports a wealth tax on the top .1 percent for net worth over $32 million while Biden’s tax plans have been called “modest.”
To paint it in broad strokes, Biden is a moderate, suggesting modest changes to the current system. To many of his supporters, this is the best path to the White House, and a recipe for gradual improvement.
I reject this notion.
Eight years of Obama resulted in continual drone strikes, deportations of non-violent immigrants, no change in federal cannabis scheduling, US militarism abroad, widening wealth inequality, a Republican House and Senate, and expanding student loan debt. I have no reason to think a return to this status quo will provide the energy and ideas needed to repair a nation damaged by Trumpism.
In recent years I’ve had the privilege of writing about the community that raised me, and this is what I’ve seen: widening income inequality between the highest and lowest earning census tracts on Maui, development rushed through communities where participation in public decision-making meetings is a privilege afforded to a few, the explosion of tourism, rising rents and record home prices, and corporate developers and “agriculture” companies that maneuver around transparency and community input.
But I have also seen the power of the people to organize and put up a fight against Monsanto, going toe-to-toe wielding people power versus a million dollar, dishonest corporate media effort. I saw that grassroots movement morph into a Community Farmland Initiative that almost had enough signatures to create a framework for redistributing the massive old sugarcane lands. I watched that network shift into the effort that got the historic, progressive, majority-female County Council elected.
I spent time at a picket line, where Sheraton workers sacrificed 51 days of pay to go on strike day and night and fight for a fair contract from a faceless corporation. I have seen public pressure influence the mayor’s decisions for department directors, and I’ve seen public outcry reverse the decision on whether to settle the Lahaina injection well lawsuit in environmental groups’ favor. I’ve seen a group organize to ban polystyrene, then shift focus to single-use plastic, and I’ve seen the youth rise up to call for climate action while organizing their peers for sustainability projects. Last year, I saw a renaissance of Aloha ‘Aina take root at Maunakea and spread through our island, successfully halting the desecration of a sacred place.
I have seen that the best future is one in which people power is activated, and I stand in solidarity forever with you in the belief that a better world is possible if we organize and fight for it. In fact, that might be the only way a better world is possible.
Bernie Sanders, with his history of integrity, dedication to issues that affect everyday people, support of the youth vote, constituency’s enthusiasm, and message of continual organizing around a Political Revolution, is the best candidate for the job of President and Organizer in Chief.
Because of our belief that people power and civic engagement is the only way to ensure a lasting democracy that works for all, MauiTime is endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders in his bid to become President of the United States of America.
Here’s an Experiment
Navigate over to Facebook.com and search “Maui” plus the name of a Democratic presidential candidate, and see what pops up. “Maui Elizabeth Warren,” for example, will yield a handful of national pages and groups in the top results, dedicated to the progressive senator from Massachusetts… along with one satirical group. “Dream big. Fight hard. Run away if it’s too controversial,” the group says in its bio, poking fun at Warren’s campaign slogan.
“Maui Mike Bloomberg” turns up a couple of national campaign Facebook groups, the page for Bloomberg news, and an anti-Bloomberg meme group, “Executive Mike Bloomberg’s Pandering Authoritarian Meme Yacht.” Search “Maui Joe Biden” and the first result is the “Maui Thieves” group (seriously) followed by a slew of generic “Americans for Joe Biden”-type pages, then the popular, 5,000-post-a-day group, “The Creepy Joe & Mini Mike Dank Meme Stash.” (Content warning: This group features explicit language, and footage of Uncle Joe sniffing hair and being creepy as hell.)
Now search “Maui Bernie Sanders.”
Below the blue-check-verified, official “Political Candidate” page, you’ll find a grassroots network expressed through pages like “Maui for a Political Revolution” and “Hawaii For Bernie Sanders Progressive Agenda,” and groups like “Maui for Bernie Sanders 2020” and “Hawaii Ohana for Bernie Sanders.”
That’s just one measure of Sanders’ support and the enthusiasm of his supporters.
It’s an unscientific one. For other indications of the success and possibility for Sanders’ “Political Revolution,” I look to my friends and family. Like my dad, a lifelong Republican until joining the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i to vote for Bernie in the 2016 primary, who spent hours on Sunday phone banking for the revolution (he was “asleep,” he told me once about those dark Republican years). Or my mom, a recent US citizen who’s always had a keen nose for B.S., which she now uses to sniff out lukewarm, neoliberal arguments disguised to preserve the status quo.
When I think about Sanders, I think about the time in 2016 I visited an old friend in his room at his parent’s in Kahului, and how instead of smoking and talking music and movies like we usually did, we talked politics, Trump, and his hope that Sanders would be the nominee. We watched Vox and NowThis clips on YouTube and talked about how Sanders’ candidacy, for the first time, gave him a vision he was excited to get off his ass to vote and fight for.
I think of a college friend, a teacher, who crisscrossed the country to canvass for Sanders, and knocked on doors in the freezing New Hampshire winter. He posted to social media during his off time like it was a second job. I think of the high school student who told me, a college prep program advisor at the time, that he wanted to study journalism because he was inspired by Sanders’ integrity and the media’s refusal to take his candidacy seriously.
When I think about a Sanders Presidency or the so-called “Political Revolution,” I think about these people, packed rallies, and others I’ve met along the way with similar stories of being inspired to engage and take back a system that has disenfranchised them and ignored their needs, stories, and lives – all while the rich get richer, corporate influence runs amok, and environmental catastrophe looms.
Maui Feels the Bern
On a Friday evening in February, a group of about 30 supporters of Bernie Sanders gathered at the Wailuku Coffee Company to “Barnstorm for Bernie Sanders” and organize for the candidate’s victory. The event opened with a call for attendees to introduce themselves to someone new, and share why they were supporting Sanders.
John, a young Bernie supporter from the national campaign, began. “I joined the campaign in 2016. I’m really invested in this movement for several reasons. My dad has stage 4 cancer and he has good insurance through his job, and even then he’s had to fight his insurance company to convince them that the treatment is necessary, even though he’s literally dying,” he said. His mom struggles to get by on a minimum wage job, and like his peers he’s been underemployed and buried in student debt since graduating from college. “The American Dream is broken, and really we need fundamental change,” he said. “Everyone else here has their own reasons, their own stories, their own background too. That’s what makes us a movement.”
Eyes glanced around the room after he asked if anyone would like to volunteer their partner to share a particularly moving story. A reluctant hand poked up in the silence.
“Hi, I’m Noah.”
He was originally from Baltimore, moved here in 2005 after 10 years in military service, and wanted to be part of changing the system.
“We’re here for our kids,” said Deb Mader, a mother whose kids lounged in the sofa chairs beside her. “We’re here for environmental justice for them, economic justice for them, social, racial justice for our brothers and sisters. There’s just so much passion that drives us.”
Now the crowd was excited.
“When he [Sanders] was speaking about fighting just as hard for someone you don’t know as you fight for yourself – how is that not something everybody wants?” another jumped in. “We just have to keep the message strong and keep moving forward. We’re gonna win this.”
“Tom from Ireland” added, “I lived in a socialist country in Ireland. And the thing about Ireland is that the government takes care of the people – free healthcare, free college, free dental, so much free stuff that I don’t see here, and it makes me so mad. That’s why I can relate to Bernie Sanders.” He drew applause when he said he hoped they would “knock Trump off his perch.”
Quickly, though, the conversation turned practical and focused on the nuts and bolts of a revolution. Details were passed out for Democratic Party precinct voting on March 4, and the Presidential Primary which closes on April 4. Commitments were made to host events, phone bank, and outreach to voters. Strategy for state and national conventions was discussed.
People were encouraged to engage and invite community members with similar progressive views to participate in local politics and the Democratic Party beyond the 2020 election.
After the event, a group coalesced near the door with the eager chatter of planning, and I asked them why they were supporting the Senator from Vermont. “I’m supporting Bernie Sanders because he supports the Green New Deal, getting away from fossil fuels, and for supporting a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour,” said Bill Andrews, 28. “I work in the ocean, and the environment means a lot to me.”
“He’s the only candidate that’s going to get people who aren’t voting and aren’t in the system involved, which is what happened to me. I had never voted until 2018,” said Andie Heim, 28. She watched the 2016 election from afar, and read Sanders’ book before deciding it was time to get politically active. Andrews added that Sanders inspired him to participate in politics too.
“His policies are for the people, always, and his consistency over the past 40 years has been the same thing over and over, so we know that we can actually trust him,” Heim said. She wore a shirt with an image of Sanders getting arrested in 1963 at a Chicago protest against school segregation.
Olivia Nguyen, also 28, echoed their comments. Sanders’ consistency, and record on ending “needless wars,” opposing fracking, supporting Medicare for All, and legalizing marijuana all appealed to her. “And he’s the only one who mentions the oligarchy,” she said.
Is a “revolution” necessary, I asked, referring to the candidate’s so-called “Political Revolution.” They agreed.
“I’d say a revolution is necessary,” said Heim. “The problems in the establishment are so deeply seated and have been going on for so long that small changes are not going to get us out of this hole we are in. We’re gonna need to take a big jump.”
The last day to register for mail-in ballots for the Democratic Presidential Primary in Hawai‘i is March 8. Sign up at Hawaiidemocrats.org. Same-day voting and registration will be held on April 4, from 7am until 3pm, at the ILWU Union Hall 896 on Lower Main St. in Wailuku, ILWU Union Hall 840 on Waine’e St. in Lahaina, and Hana High and Elementary School at 4111 Hana Hwy.
What do you think?
Do you agree with our endorsement of Bernie Sanders? Why or why not?
Vote and leave a comment in our weekly readers survey by following the link below for a chance to appear in print! #coconutpoll