A little over 20 years ago, on May 6, 1998, then-Maui Mayor Linda Lingle was speaking to a group of business leaders from the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.
Before the meeting, she was told that she could speak on anything she wanted to, but she was specifically told not to criticize any specific person in the government. She complied with the request, but she also said this:
“Why is the chamber so reluctant to speak up? The chamber should be standing and speaking loudly and openly criticizing the policies that have brought our economy to its knees. The Chamber of Commerce plays a major role in maintaining the status quo by failing to speak up.”
When many of us in Hawaii grew up, we were taught to go with the flow, that we shouldn’t rock the boat, that it will all work out in the end. Maybe that is one reason why so few of us turn out to elections. We just sit tight and hope that it all works out.
And, for those of us who do turn out to vote or engage in campaign activities, we vote for the person we voted for before, or we support a candidate we supported before. So what if the person supported a stupid bill or said something idiotic when speaking about it in the committee hearing? He is my candidate and I support him, or she has a lot of power and I better support her or else. All of these are variations on the theme of, “Let’s maintain the status quo.”
On the business side, many of us are fearful that we’ll lose customers or attract political retribution if we support a specific candidate or a specific policy or platform. Some of us contribute to opposing candidates so whoever wins will be our “friend.” Again, these are just variations on the theme of supporting the status quo.
But what if we don’t like the status quo? What if we think that our economy is in the toilet and our elected officials are constantly making it worse? What if we think that real problems that we now face, like staggering unfunded liabilities for pension and health benefits for state workers, or the homeless, or invasive species, are not being adequately dealt with?
We’ve got to rock the boat.
If you’re walking peacefully in the park one day and you step on a huge thorn on the ground, do you just remain silent, not wanting to bother anyone around you? Of course not. You howl in pain, bounce around on the other foot and cry for help.
So, if you are suffering because of our cost of living, or you see government resources wasted or mismanaged, or you confront problems that we should be dealing with but aren’t, howl in pain.Make your sentiments known. Educate yourself on some of the critical issues we face and share your knowledge. You can even share your knowledge with your elected officials, because some of it, maybe lots of it, may be news to them. (You’d be surprised. Really.)
If you have an issue you are passionate about for all the right reasons, get other people on your side too. Unions like HSTA, UPW, or HGEA, or politically active nonprofits like the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy, don’t have a monopoly on organizing people to support their respective causes. The more people you can convince, the more you can rock the boat.
Remember, if no one rocks the boat, it will never change direction.
Tom Yamachika is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.