The day after Flossie left town, we still felt her visit. Clusters of grey clouds created a canopy of apparent protection from the sun. Water hung in the air in the form of humidity. There was no serious storm threatening the skies above, but there was one brewing on the ground.
It might as well have been Kauai High taking on Waimea in the island championship football game. There were teams, one dressed in red, the other in blue. There was cheering and some booing. Signs. The occasional interjection by a referee. The line to enter and partake in or witness the action started forming a good five hours before the doors opened and included passels of children, grandfathers in wheelchairs, mothers toting toddlers on their hips, brothers, sisters, family and friends. And in true Hawaii fashion, there was a big tent outside with food and drink.
But this wasn’t a football game. This was, also in true Hawaii fashion, exactly how people in Hawaii—and, in particular, Kauai—respond when given the opportunity to testify on behalf of proposed local legislation affecting them, their island, their lives. And, that is, vocally. Passionately.
In this case, County Bill 2491 demands disclosure of pesticide use and the presence of genetically modified organisms by large-scale agricultural operations. As well, it would set up pesticide-free buffer zones, in particular near residential areas, schools and waterways.
Of course, some legislation slips through the process with hardly a peep from the public. Not this one. This one saw brothers turn opponents. Many cited numbers and studies. Many made emotional pleas. Both sides implored the county council to do the right thing on behalf of the children of Kauai.
And it was all pretty darn civil.
I left the grounds of the Kauai Veteran’s Center, a special venue set up for the day to handle the rightly anticipated crowd—with a shuttle from the nearby Vidinha Stadium where cars were encouraged to park—and made a stop at a Kapaa grocery store. I picked up kale and basil and listened to more testimony as it was broadcast live via the local community radio station over the store’s sound system.
Here’s what I’ve learned in living in these islands for more than 13 years: Hawaii is more than just a pretty place. Just like a good cover might turn your head, get you to pick up a book, and, perhaps, make a purchase, if the writing, the words, the story doesn’t intrigue you, you lose interest. There needs to be something deeper, a connection that keeps you.
I admit to moving to Kauai 13+ years ago in complete ignorance of the place. I know that now. Back then, I said the same things I hear out of the mouths of many friends who visit. “It’s so beautiful.” “As soon as I stepped off the plane, I felt like I belonged. Like I’d come home.” I’ve learned much in the years since, enough to know I don’t know much. But one thing I do know is that I love living in a place where people care enough to get involved in shaping their future as a community. I love seeing the red and blue teams show up, no matter what team I may support. I love the feeling that my voice might really make a difference.
When I went to bed last night, I turned off the livestreaming coverage of the testimony at 10:30 p.m. It went on for another two-and-a-half hours, just shy of 12 hours.
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