On Jan. 22, 2017, millions of people all over the world marched in the largest demonstration in American history. In over 500 cities in the U.S. and another hundred around the world, people gathered in protest and solidarity the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. And it all started here on Maui.
The spark of the march came from Hana resident Teresa Shook, who posted the idea on Facebook last November. From that seed grew the Women’s March on Washington, with sister marches planned all over the world.
No one was sure what the marches would look like before they happened. On Maui, thousands gathered on the University of Hawaii Maui College great lawn. Robin Pilus was shocked. “What I had initially envisioned was a small, dedicated group,” says Pilus, who was one of five women, all private citizens with no political or organizational affiliations, who helped organize the march.
But the Women’s March on Maui took on a life of its own, and Pilus estimates that around 5,000 people showed up. “It was amazingly organic,” Pilus said. It was an inclusive event with performances, speeches, creative, funny and poignant signs, and a short march with which the Maui Police Department was “amazingly helpful” in helping to orchestrate traffic.
The feeling was one of hope–for many, the first since the election. “I have always believed that it is our responsibility to fight inequality and to choose education rather than ignorance and denial, but I was surprised to see the amount of like-minded men and women who showed up,” says Jessica Nakasone-Koki, a nonprofit and Community Client Liaison who marched with her teenage daughter. “The march inspired me to persist and take action more frequently.”
There’s been a shift on Maui in the last five or so years. There’s more energy and empowerment with collective action, especially around local politics, from GMOs to Iao Valley to land use rights. At a recent community meeting about TEACH LLC and the planned usage of the old Maui High School, the Paia Community Center was packed to overflowing, with the line of people giving testimony reaching out the door. Frustration, nationally and locally, has inspired even those who never considered themselves activists to start speaking up.
Six weeks after the march, I sat down with some of the women of the Women’s March on Maui to talk about impact, ideas and what’s next for political action and organization for the participants of the Women’s March on Maui.
We met at Front of House in Kahului, a new event resource center created by Aleta Lee, owner of Epic Lighting. She frames the place as a hosting spot for nonprofits and other community groups. They use the space to accommodate events and assist in planning.
All the women are busy with day jobs, but find the time and energy to devote to political side projects. Deborah Vial is a realtor who marched in Washington and has since become politically active on Maui for the first time in her life. “I became un-bubbled,” said Vial. “I realized we should wake up and speak up.”
“We just wanted to be heard,” says Pilus. I asked her if she believed the message was heard. “Yes,” she said. “Even if we just heard each other, that’s important. It was just as much as an encouragement for each other as an opposition. Trump represented misogyny, disrespect for persons with disabilities and racism, and people just needed to feel empowered.”
There was a burst of energy after the election channeled through the march. “We don’t want that ember to die,” says Jen Cox, a marketing and communications consultant who attended a march in Santiago, Chile. “We can’t do everything, but we can all do something,” said Cox. The women are trying to give Maui community members an opportunity to fan the flame.
There was no single direct aim of the march. Some marched for solidarity, camaraderie, protest, to assert dissent, resistance. Some marched for women’s reproductive health rights. And the aftermath has a similar goal of being whatever people want it to be.
There’s a difference between a party and a movement. A movement implies action, and that’s what the women are encouraging. In a philosophy of free-market activism, they are encouraging Maui community members to get involved with any cause they care about. Whether environmental, social, national or local, “We just want to encourage people to do something,” says Lee.
“It’s messy,” Vial admits.
One action for that to happen are “Huddles,” which are popping up in different parts of Maui. The Huddles are an opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together to make action plans, phone calls, talk or even just network with each other to meet others in the community.
At a recent Huddle that Vial attended in Haiku, the message was that the participants wanted to focus on “positive, non-partisan, local action” such as focusing on banning sunscreens that damage coral reefs, rather than resistance. The organizer of the Huddle says that “for now, it’s all grass roots happy chaos,” and the group is comfortable with that. That’s how change starts.
“That’s where this is going,” Vial said. “People are going to start participating in their communities more. There are all these small things you can do that are positive. We’re all getting worn out on ‘resisting.’ The idea is to engage in a positive way.”
Anyone can start or participate in a Huddles through the Women’s March on Maui website, with opportunities to reconvene. Social media played a cornerstone role in the movement and social media continues to be a means of connection and organization. “We are just trying to encourage action–whatever it is that fuels your fire, do it,” says Lee.
And the Women’s March has been a part of inspiring others to want to organize. Nationally, lawyers and scientists are mobilizing to march nationally, and local organizers have stepped up to plan a March for Science here on Maui on Earth Day, April 22. The politicization of environmental issues, coupled with new Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt denying that carbon emissions have a role in climate change, has led educators, scientists and really anyone who doesn’t think of science as a belief to feel a deep frustration and a need to do something about it.
The March for Science organizers had reached out to Pilus to get her take on it, and she’s offering them some guidance. “It’s more impactful when there are many opportunities for people to participate in,” said Lee, recognizing that people have different motivations for getting involved.
“I want Maui people to get out of their shells,” said Vial. Another project the women are working on is Wahine Week, April 10-15. It’s a serious of lunches, workshops and events to empower and encourage women in the community.
“We’re not claiming to have all the answers, or know exactly the right way forward,” said. Cox. “I just want the Women’s March to help create a kinder and more inclusive community,” Pilus added.
Pilus continues to stay involved and hope others in the community will, too. “I would ask [Maui community members] to continue to stay informed and inquisitive,” she said. “Be open to positive communications, be open to entertaining other people’s ideas. Stay involved, and keep up with what’s happening with the Women’s March so we can continue to be a collective.”
“We’re all busy with our lives, but we need to get out there, and get active in our community,” says Lee. “Get engaged in some way–join anything. Get out of your Maui shell.”
Pilus said the march showed her the power of the individual and the power of the collective. “This started with one person, and it spread to seven continents and millions of people,” she said. Where it ends is up to us.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
• Attend the March for Science on April 22. Find it at Marchforscience.com or look up the Facebook group “March for Science – Maui”
• Join a Huddle/Neighborhood Action Group. Find more information at Womensmarchhawaii.com/nags
• Be a part of Wahine Week, April 10-15. Go to Wahineweek.com for more information
Cover Design: Darris Hurst
Cover Illustration: Napua Ahina