Sherry Alu Campagna
There’s an ‘Ölelo No‘eau that goes like this: Pänoanoa ka ‘äina, mänoanoa ka po‘e. It translates to mean, Scarce is the land, many are the people.
On August 11th, I lost my bid for Hawaii’s District 2 U.S. House of Representatives. Losing is my least favorite item on the menu. The taste is bitter.
However, the run was filled with sweet moments. I met so many people, from houseless residents living in tents, to others living in mansions. Hawaiian, Asian, Micronesian, African-American, Middle Eastern, European, we have every ethnicity in Hawaii. And we are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and every other religion, too. And some of us are atheists. After every census, Hawaii ranks at, or near the top of the short list of “most diverse states.” Having met so many people these past months, I can attest to that. It was a privilege to see “who we are” firsthand, and I loved every hug, handshake, kiss on the cheek, shared laughter, deep discussion, and moments of connection and commonality. Still, the disappointment was palpable. That quote from legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, was ringing in my head. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
But as the dust settles and I shake off the post-campaign blues, and nurse my bruised parts, I am both comforted and discomforted by the alarming low voter turnout. I say comforted because when only 30 percent of eligible voters decide how all of us are represented in Washington, DC (whether we like that fact or not), I see an enormous opportunity for improving my chances, if I choose to run again. I say discomforted because when only 30 percent of the people who have a say actually bother to say what they want, I realize my challenges go beyond winning or losing an election.
We are living during an era of global unrest, the likes of which some experts compare to pre-WWII days. And yet, our national leadership is struggling to get a handle on how to work with an administration that turns out confusion and deceit faster than a spider spins a web. And they do it with none of the grace or expertise of an arachnid. There’s an ugly political pall looming, and it will impact all of us in the coming years.
Locally, Hawaii is facing its own moral malaise, one that continues to visit enormous hardship on impoverished people, as the cost of keeping a roof over our heads is steadily ticking upward, surpassing exorbitant pre-2007/08 economic meltdown prices. During the past year, real estate values have risen 7.4 percent. Gas, food, electricity, and everything we depend on is going up, yet, Hawaii’s wages remain lower than the national average. And not to pour salt onto that wound, it’s important to note that male workers in Hawaii earn on average $13,000 more annually than women. But male or female, with median rent at $2,400 a month, and people spending half or more of their paychecks on housing, many of us are staring down the barrel of a weaponized economy, with ruin waiting in the wings. For thousands of people the cost of surviving in Hawaii amounts to a humanitarian crisis. Poverty, or the threat of poverty, isn’t good for anyone who lives in Hawaii, even if you don’t live from check to check. Because poverty isn’t merely an economic burden on poor people and taxpayers, it’s psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally taxing on all of us.
I learned a lot during this campaign and I plan on putting my knowledge to work. I have glimpsed a future that can go for or against the betterment of Hawaii and its people, and I truly believe in each one of us having a say and being heard. Now isn’t the time to turn away or toss a coin to see who gets to determine the future.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who could have voted, but chose not to. I hope to be part of a shift in consciousness about voting. I hope to change minds and hearts on the matter of who represents us. This land, and how we live in this finite place, is the kuleana of all of us, the “many” referred to in that ‘Ölelo No‘eau. Voting is one way to exercise that kuleana.
Years after Vince Lombardi’s quote about winning had become standard fare for sports fans, he said he regretted saying it. He could see how it played out in the national consciousness and he wasn’t pleased. After all, he believed in the excellence not only of his athletes, but of all people who reach for their potential. There’s another one of his quotes I’m mulling as I write these words. I think it’s the one I will feed to my campaign wearied, but newly inspired and activated spirit. “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
Sherry Alu Campagna was a candidate for Congress in Hawaii's 2nd congressional district.