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People’s Congress to mobilize statewide grassroots advocacy

The Hawaii People’s Congress, a coalition of organizations and individuals from across the islands working to end systemic barriers to justice in the islands, is holding its statewide convening this weekend in Honolulu.

Hawaii Independent Staff

Hawai‘i residents face fundamental challenges in an increasingly globalized word: historic wealth inequality and a high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, an education system in crisis, and the sixth highest rate of poverty in the United States. Hawai‘i’s lands and waters are also being put at increasing risk from a variety of outside pressures: local funding for environmental protection is dropping as the climate crisis worsens; streams are diverted for business interests even as the state faces the impending threat of drought. Because Hawai‘i imports 80 percent of its food and much of its energy, residents are vulnerable to high food and energy prices, shortages in basic necessities and unstable job markets.

In the midst of these struggles, a coalition of community advocacy groups spanning the breadth and depth of these issues has convened a summit of sorts for folks from all walks of life in the islands to come together and create an organized voice to try and steer the direction of Hawai‘i’s wa‘a toward a more equitable and sustainable future.

“Hawai‘i Appleseed is excited to be a part of the People’s Congress because of its potential to bring together a strong, unified voice to address the most pressing issues facing Hawai‘i,” said Gavin Thornton, Co-Executive Director of the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “So many of our residents struggle with high housing costs, low wages, inequitable tax burdens and other widespread problems that threaten their ability to achieve economic stability and fulfill their potential. The People’s Congress can help create a shared vision of a better Hawai‘i and raise the chorus for positive change.”

Cade Watanabe, of Unite Here! Local 5 and Aikea Movement said, “We live in a Hawai`i that today provides less and less opportunity for Hawai‘i’s working families. The People’s Congress is an exciting opportunity for our members to connect, strategize and organize for a better Hawai‘i. It’s time for us to take back our community.”

A series of community forums was organized with meetings held throughout the Hawaiian archipelago during the months of October and November. Engaged citizens collaborated on establishing which issues ought to be at the forefront of discussion during the Congress, and began the discussion on what possible community-driven solutions might be deployed to address them. The People’s Congress will provide an opportunity to engage in shared movement building and concrete action, build on the work done at the Island Forums, and launch work on a “People’s Agenda:” a political and organizing strategy for lasting positive change in Hawaiʻi. 

Tiare Lawrence, Project Coordinator for the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), and also a founder and community organizer for the Aloha `Āina Project, believes that the People’s Congress, “will allow us the opportunity to build partnerships and help us help each other. I believe these partnerships will assist us in achieving our goals for a better Hawai‘i.”

“The People’s Congress represents cooperative and collaborative work which seeks proactive change for the benefit of the entire community,” said Moses K.N. Haia, Executive Director for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC). “For NHLC, this initiative provides a partnership opportunity that will greatly assist with identifying the issues important to members of the larger community as a means of engaging in a collective effort to align those interests with the best interests of the Hawaiian community.”

The head of the Hawai`i “Teachers for Change” Caucus, Mireille Ellsworth, makes clear that, “we want to establish connections with activists on other issues that also affect our students, members and the larger community. Without developing a shared understanding of the need for crosscutting solidarity in action, we will always be easily isolated and defeated.”

Marti Townsend, Director of Sierra Club of Hawai‘i said, “The People’s Congress provides a unique opportunity for us to work together with others of like-mind and mission. The Sierra Club’s mission is to protect both the natural and human environment. To achieve this mission we need a fair and open government committed to serving the interests of the people, not corporations. We need a system that respects and includes all of us equally.  We need a community united in our collective best interest to overcome the oppression and fear that dictates so much of our decision-making today.”

“There are so many good people working on important issues, from protecting our natural resources for future generations, to issues of homelessness, wealth inequality, open government, education and equal rights,” said Anne Frederick, Executive Director of HAPA. “We believe that if we come together through the People’s Congress to identify the barriers we face in common and illuminate the root causes of injustice we all face, that we (and our work) can be more powerful and effective.”

Highlights from the speakers, panels and workshops include:

Opening Speaker - Kamanamaikalani Beamer, Ph.D (Former president and CEO of The Kohala Center, faculty at the Hui ‘Āina Momona Program at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.  Former director of ‘Āina-Based Education at Kamehameha Schools and a director of Stanford University’s First Nations Futures Institute, a resource management development program for indigenous leaders. Author of award winning 2014 book, “No Mākou ka Mana: Liberating the Nation.”)

“Towards Solidarity” Panel - Marti Townsend, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i; Eric Gill, Unite Here! Local 5; Mireille Ellsworth, Hawai‘i Teachers for Change; Kat Brady, Community Alliance on Prisons; Tiare Lawrence, Aloha ‘Āina Project; Clare Hanusz; and Ikaika Hussey.

“Youth-led Activism” Panel - Youth share what ignited their activism in Mauna Kea/TMT movement, Aikea & Pacific Tongues.

“Preferred Futures in Public Education” - Panelists: Kaleikoa Ka‘eo, Associate Professor of Hawaiian Studies; Kū Kahakalau, Native Hawaiian educator and researcher; and Corey Rosenlee, HSTA President.

Affordable Housing Panel - Facilitated by Paola Rodelas and Gavin Thornton of Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“The Connecting Thread: Money in Politics, Nationally and What We Can Do Locally” - Speakers from MAYDAY.US, Common Cause Hawai’i, and others outline the national fight to reclaim democracy from excessive influence from the wealthy and corporations, as well as share stories of what city and counties have done to limit the influence of Big Money in their elections.

“Facing Trump from Margin to Center” - Strategizing around short-term and long term plans to create the best conditions to thrive under oppressive circumstances and to build collaborative resistance during the next four years and beyond.

“Food Futures” - Discussing the future of agriculture in Hawai’i.

The event will also include poetry by Jamaica Osorio, and “Creative Disruption with Artist Solomon Enos.”

The full schedule is available here.

More information here.

The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

The event will take place at the KUPU Net Shed in Kewalo Basin: 725 F. Ala Moana Blvd. Honolulu, HI 96813

People’s Congress Partner Organizations include Aikea Movement, Community Alliance on Prisons, Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety (HCFS), Hawai’i People’s Fund, Hawai‘i SEED, Hawai‘i Teachers for Change Caucus, Hawai‘i’s Thousand Friends, Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, KAHEA: Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Life of the Land, Maui Tomorrow, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC), Sierra Club of Hawai`i, the Aloha ‘Aina Project, and Unite Here! Local 5 Union.