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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hawai'i's next social revolution?

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Columnist

In Hawai'i, the traditional sources of political power have been relatively easy to identify and monitor.

Before the Democratic revolution, power rested comfortably on Bishop Street and the Big 5, meaning primarily Republican business forces. Then the Democrats swept in and power was focused around activist Democrats, many with plantation roots, and the unions.

Today, sources of political power and influence are becoming more diffuse, less easy to identify. The election of a Republican governor who faces a staunchly Democratic Legislature is part of that.

So too is the changing face of our congressional delegation, where moderate Democrat Ed Case is challenging the established order.

But there are other sources of political power or political change that are slowly but surely emerging. In time, this may be looked back upon as an era where new power alignments emerged. An early sign was the uproar over the fate of Waimea Valley Park and, to a lesser extent, plans to redevelop Kaka'ako.

This, of course, is not exactly new. For instance, some years ago a resident uprising known as Save Sandy Beach was successful in forestalling a big housing project near the famous bodysurfing beach.

But big political change requires broad public interest and support, along with a dose of what can only be called selfishness. Large numbers of people must come to understand that their own welfare will be improved by change. That was the picture behind the Democratic revolution.

There are signs that a new, fairly broad, revolution may be waking up in Hawai'i. It focuses on the cost of living, jobs, taxes and the lack of housing many people can afford.

There's a simmering property-tax revolt on O'ahu that could gain real political steam. And the housing issue is drawing increasing numbers of people together.

One group that has turned increasing attention to housing is FACE, or Faith Action for Community Equity, a largely church-based, progressive grassroots group that works on a variety of social justice and community needs.

FACE recently sponsored a community workshop called "Facing Hawai'i's Future" that featured presentations from well-known author and speaker Jeff Faux, founder of the Economic Policy Institute, and Charlene Sinclair, an organizer with the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation.

Faux and Sinclair said they detected the seeds of a true community uprising focusing on the issues of cost of living and housing. They point out that this is not the typical poverty issue that such groups traditionally deal with, but an emerging middle-class issue that implies broad public interest and broad potential action.

Sinclair said it is largely a hidden issue as folks struggle to maintain appearances as the economic vise tightens.

When social equity groups step up to the cause of the middle class, something is happening. Wise political leaders will seize this issue or it will surely seize them.

Jerry Burris is The Advertiser's editorial page editor.

Reach Jerry Burris at jburris@honoluluadvertiser.com.