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Editorial | Island Voices

Kanu Hawaii promotes participation, not candidates

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I spent most of Sept. 18 visiting polling places, dropping off manapua for volunteers working in the primary election. Driving past sign wavers and walking along lines of voters and volunteers, it struck me: We take democracy for granted.

It’s easy to forget that people across the world still fight for the right to pick their leaders, to cast a vote in a free and fair process with results that reflect the will of the people. When elections don’t run smoothly, violence — even war — is often the result.

This was a year when Hawaii’s ability to conduct free and fair elections was in question. Many polling places were closed due to budget cuts, remaining places struggled to find volunteers, and voters needed extra help because many had been reassigned to new locations.

In response, Kanu Hawaii and Common Cause Hawaii launched "Your Vision, Your Vote" — an effort to get 1,000 citizens to work at polling sites, register voters and vote. We wanted those typically underrepresented to lead the way: first-time voters, homeless or displaced persons and young people.

In August, our members went to work recruiting poll workers from high schools, homeless shelters and public housing communities. Recruiting continues until the general election — but by the primary election, more than 200 volunteers had committed. More than half were high school students involved in elections for the first time.

It was inspiring to see volunteers from Mililani High, Kaimuki High, Punahou, Iolani, Kuhio Park Terrace and the Next Step homeless shelter at work — helping the grandma who’d made a ballot mistake or redirecting the confused voter to the new polling place.

Some polls were still understaffed. We’ll need more volunteers for the Nov. 2 general election. Still, the primary election was a remarkable demonstration of civic kuleana by thousands of voters who did their civic duty, and by hundreds of volunteers and Elections Office staff who helped them.

We undertook this work without any agenda other than boosting civic participation. We did not do it to push any particular issue or candidate. This is a point worthy of emphasis since we thought a recent Sunday Star-Advertiser article implied that Kanu Hawaii is a Democratic organization that supported Neil Abercrombie’s campaign for governor ("Message of unity trumps ethnic appeal," Sept. 19).

In fact, we are a nonpartisan organization that chose not to support candidates in this election. Many of our members chose to work on campaigns this year, including the Hannemann, Abercrombie and Aiona campaigns. They were not working on behalf of Kanu, but as citizens volunteering their own time.

As an organization, we decided not to support candidates this year because we wanted our work to send a message. We saw partisan bickering, group loyalties and personal grudges getting in the way of good policies for Hawaii. We wanted to ask the candidates to rise above these.

Since Kanu is about "being the change," we asked our members to lead by example, and share their own political views online — liberal or conservative, Republican, Democrat or independent. We encouraged speaking out in ways that modeled open-mindedness, humility and aloha. We felt we could best encourage such behavior in our membership (and through them in politicians) by remaining "non-candidate" in this election.

We hoped our work would remind us all that we should never take democracy for granted. We also hoped "Your Vision, Your Vote" would send this message to our politicians: We must all conduct ourselves as islanders — as a people who know the value of tolerance and prize a culture of aloha — even on the hotly contested ground of politics.

James Koshiba is co-founder and executive director of Kanu Hawaii.


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