Hawaii's Role as a Progressive Stronghold

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The following editorial was originally printed in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday April 1, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Ka’ala Bajo
Waialua High and Intermediate School

Like most of my peers, I’ve dreamed of leaving Hawai'i for college since I was a child. Most people assume it's because I hate it here or something ludicrous like that, but that couldn’t be further from the truth - I’m incredibly proud of everything Hawai‘i stands for.

There are two words commonly associated with Hawai‘i: “beautiful” and “microcosm.” The former is both self-explanatory and true. Hawai'i is beautiful in every sense of the word. However, I’m concerned about the latter. “Microcosm” is the buzzword when it comes to Hawai'i, and it is understandable that many young people perceive Hawai'i to be merely a small player in a much larger national picture. Located so far away from the continental United States, it is easy, at times, for me to feel detached from national issues. However, with our nation more divided now than ever, I can no longer afford to feel that way. Increasingly, partisan bias is threatening our nation’s progress. No matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on, a better future is something we should all strive for. What we need is a catalyst to create real, effective change.

I have come to realize that, while Hawai’i may be a small state, we can speak with a unique voice that embraces progress and innovation. Our island chain has every biome, an extremely diverse population, and its own culture and history. Although we may be viewed as one, we shouldn’t simply be satisfied with being a microcosm – a mere reflection of the world. Instead, Hawai'i must seize the opportunity it has to become a progressive role model for other states, as well as the rest of the world.

Being progressive simply means being open to change and new ideas. It does not mean one must forswear allegiance to a political party or even abandon one's beliefs, nor does being progressive mean disregarding traditions. Rather, being progressive means welcoming new ways of solving our problems and advocating for change where necessary. Too often, criticisms and solutions from one side of the political aisle are hastily discounted by the other side because of fervent party alignments. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. We have a unique opportunity to explore new possibilities and examine their validity and viability first-hand.

Being progressive comes with the innate responsibility to embrace controversy and to be bold in your stances. One of the most notable instances is the State’s public opposition to travel bans. In 2017, Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin challenged Executive Order 13769 imposing a travel ban on certain countries with Muslim majorities. The State’s opposition was a controversial move, yet it was crucial to make local voices heard. Once social media picked up the story, waves of support were sent to the islands from across the globe. Challenging the ruling had nationwide impacts and, at the very least, displayed solidarity with those affected.

Another important example is the response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Nationwide, walkouts were held on March 14th to protest gun violence and to honor the victims. Instead of objecting to the walkouts, our local Department of Education advised schools to consider designating specific walkout areas. Though each event was entirely student led, the DOE openly voiced its support for student expression and civic engagement. This acknowledgement was a huge step in the right direction, especially in light of the slew of schools on the mainland that actively punished students for participating in walkouts, including lowering students’ grades and suspending them.