By Keith Sarji, Aloha Freedom Coalition
At least they haven’t made us stop surfing yet.
Not even at the height of the initial panic, not even on March 23rd as the world stampeded into shutdown, not for a single day. There are just some things you can’t forbid in Hawaii; people would revolt if there was a big swell and we weren’t allowed to go out. So instead surfing was designated a native Hawaiian practice, an exception to the lockdown, a quasi-religious signpost on the long road from the 1898 US annexation of the Kingdom to today.
But letting us surf is about the only Covid-related measure they’ve gotten right in the Aloha State. Decades of one-party rule have produced a government that no longer feels it needs to answer to the people. From the well-meaning but indecisive Governor David Ige, to the mini-tyrant Mayor of Honolulu, Kirk Caldwell, the people of Hawaii have been erratically and unfairly treated by our elected leaders.
All of Hawaii willingly complied with the initial wave of anti-Covid measures to “flatten the curve.” On April 14th we had the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the entire country. We did our part.
But then the goal posts moved. Talk of flattening the curve ceased as our leaders embraced the fantasy that coronavirus could be eradicated in Hawaii through social control, then kept out permanently with test and trace. “Flatten the curve” morphed into “Covid-free Hawaii,” with case rates the only metric that counted.
As the weeks and then months slowly ticked by, the case rate dropped. But there was little or no preparation for dealing with the inevitable rise in cases that would come with reopening our islands. Our leaders had no exit strategy.
Still, in mid-June we began to open back up. Predictably, our case rates rose, to a high of 354 on August 13th. And a loop of self-reinforcing politics and media kicked into action, using fear and breathless reporting to demand social compliance.
But the fear is far out of proportion to the risk. It always has been. The case rate studiously avoids any discussion of asymptomatic cases and we’ve had more than twice as many influenza deaths (542 in 2019) than Covid deaths (215 as of October 28th). The damage from lockdown – economic, mental and social – is increasingly obvious. Crushing jobs and freedom while forcing healthy people, including children, to wear masks does not come for free. Our response to Covid has been like using a hammer to kill a fly. The real costs are clearer every day.
But to get us out of this situation our leaders would have to admit they made a mistake in the first place. And that they will not do.
Instead, Hawaii instituted its second full lockdown on the 27th of August. Most parts of that lockdown remain in effect today. As we enter the 250th consecutive day of our “emergency”, we are ruled by Governor Ige’s 13th Emergency Proclamation and Mayor Caldwell’s 29th Emergency Order. Yes, you read that right. Thirteen emergency proclamations, twenty-nine emergency orders, and no end in sight.
Hawaii now has the highest unemployment in the nation (15.1%), highest job loss (18.1%) and highest percent loss of total GDP (-14.8%). Our children remain locked out of their schools while teachers who shop at Costco every day tell us it is for their own good, if only we were smart enough to understand. Local establishments crumble to dust while big box stores and politically connected corporations are proclaimed essential and do more business than ever. Thousands of local businesses have closed their doors for good. That is real damage.
Churches were denied freedom to worship, while coronavirus relief funds paid for extra enforcement officers to ticket those not complying with onerous and nonsensical mandates. Honolulu is still suffering under a rigid system of control based on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s incredibly arbitrary “Tiers” of Covid testing results, with business openings, social activities and sports restricted forever unless we achieve the miracle of zero cases. Reverting to more restrictions, even a full lockdown, remains a permanent option.
The government testing regime will not publicly release testing parameters and a recent court ruling held that there is no limit to extending emergency proclamations for the undefined “duration” of an emergency. The original law, Hawaii Revised Statute 127A-14, was so poorly written that it is actually legal for the Governor to keep extending an “emergency” forever. Things do not look good.
But perhaps all is not lost. As a Native Hawaiian friend of mine told me one day, “We didn’t want to be annexed by anybody, but if we had to be, at least it was the United States.”
Why is that? Why is this man, who has never lived on the mainland, still glad to be part of the United States?
It is because America, for all its flaws, has a government system that can be held accountable if the people act. And the people of Hawaii are beginning to act, with love for all, with courage to face the future, with Aloha over fear.
We are beginning to rise.
Yesterday as I sat in the surf lineup with my friends and watched a gray wall of rain sweep across the ocean, first toward and then over us, I was still incredibly thankful to be here. The water glowed with a surreal blue-green intensity as the rain broke the surface of the sea into countless tiny pops and bubbles. The water’s gentle heave was like the breath of a huge slumbering beast, the curl of the breaking wave on the reef perfect beyond any mortal design.
The rain passed over. The sun came out, transforming the sliding surface of green water to translucent turquoise like a great, fragmented jewel. It cast light in every direction, the ocean floor, sand and reef visible below us as if we were flying. No one spoke. In the distance the air shimmered and a rainbow formed above the bay, a perfect arc of colors across the sky, that stretched complete from horizon to horizon, framing our world in indescribable beauty.
Only in Hawaii is the world like this. All is not lost. The people are waking from their long slumber.
Be of good courage. We shall overcome.