As I go about my work, speaking and writing on issues pertaining to policy and politics, people often talk about their fear of speaking out publicly on issues and candidates.
None of us is free of that fear, because we are all vulnerable to bullying, be it political or corporate. But now more than ever it is vital to the life of our community and the survival of our planet that we each speak up.
Voting is the ultimate opportunity to speak without fear of retribution.
The fear sometimes comes from simply living and working in a small community and not wanting to offend friends and neighbors.
Too often though, the fear is based on the reality of politics. You are employed by government, your business does government work, or perhaps you are an advocate in the legislative arena. If you speak out against “leadership”, they can hurt you. They can hurt your future employment prospects. They can hurt your business. They can hurt the issues you might be working on.
Those who advocate for environmental protection, economic justice, open government, and the rights of the disenfranchised, hesitate to publicly criticize the do-nothing “policy of neglect” currently embraced by legislative leadership. There is a justifiable fear that these same “leaders” will kill or block an advocate’s policy proposals (bills), to teach them a lesson. The threat and the reality of retribution from adversaries both public and private is real.
When political and corporate forces unite the bullying and thuggery can be formidable.
Look what happened to former Governor Ben Cayetano. He ran for Honolulu Mayor on an anti-rail platform and the big money development interests shredded him. Publicly and repeatedly they attacked his character spreading lies, half-truths, rumor, and innuendo. He lost the election, sued for defamation and won. But of course, it was too late. The personal toll it took on him and his family must have been significant.
I experienced a small taste of this treatment myself during the Bill 2491 experience on Kauai in 2013. After all, the chemical companies of the world, Syngenta, Monsanto, Dupont, BASF and Dow Chemical (yes, they have all changed their name but not their spots) – have demonstrated that they will spend millions, co-opt members of the community, and basically do whatever they need to do in order to maximize profits. They operate globally in political environments that make the Kauai County Council look like kindergarten. They eat guys like me for lunch. Or at least that is what they try to do. Truth is, guys like me don’t digest too well: we don’t go away, and we never stop fighting back.
The ability and willingness to speak up and speak out is a powerful tool and potent weapon of its own. But it also brings with it pain. That’s why many choose to shut the front door, be quiet, and be happy for the legislative policy crumbs that do eventually come their way. Some front-line public interest advocates make the conscious choice to stay quiet and criticize privately.
But we cannot afford that anymore. I honestly believe that in this moment, making your voice–and your vote count– matters more than ever. I have spent nearly 20 years working in the political arena. More than ever, I believe we need to elect a new crop of leaders.
Legislators who can effectively articulate their positions on issues and take the initiative to do so publicly have more “power” on the floor of the House and the Senate than those who accept their marching orders and vote in silence. Citizen advocates, especially when they band together and speak out united on an issue, have tremendous power and protection from retribution.
And that is the secret to winning when dealing with political bullies and their threats. They push you, you push them back. The good news is we’re dealing with people who must be reelected every two or four years in order to maintain their power. Smart legislators soon realize that it makes more sense to accommodate and embrace a just and righteous cause than to retaliate out of ego or personal spite.
So, don’t engage in political gutter-fighting if you don’t have the stomach for it. But one thing you can and must do is VOTE. If, despite the urgency of the moment, you don’t want to get involved in the public side of things, at the very least please complete your ballot and speak truth to power in the privacy of your home.
Please encourage others to vote as well. For those that have not registered as voters yet, there is still time as Hawaii allows, same-day voter registration.
You have a choice this year. You can elect and hold accountable individuals who put the public interest above their own, and who will fight hard to protect people and the planet. Or you can do nothing and retain those lawmakers who carry water for the corporations, and who perpetuate the politics as usual, big-money, big-ego, fear-based, decision-making present at all levels.
Hawaii has already paid too high a price because of failures in leadership.
The choice is yours, the time is now.