Our civic duty
|Video: Teens discuss civic duty|
Advertiser Editorial Board
Advertiser Editorial Board
The Advertiser's Editorial Board recently sat down with a small group of high school students from different parts of the island to talk about voting and civic engagement. Against a backdrop of Hawai'i's painfully low voter turnout record, these students discussed the need for residents who care about the state's future to turn out at the polls.
From determining the course of land development to shaping education policies to deciding on crucial environmental issues, our student panel rightly noted that many of the decisions being made by our elected leaders today will directly affect their future.
Jeanne Mariani-Belding, editor of The Advertiser's editorial and opinion pages, moderated the roundtable discussion, which included Kahuku High School senior Matthew Cabamongan from Hale'iwa; Tina Grandinetti, a senior at Mililani High School; and Jasmine Kaneshiro, a freshman at Hawaii Baptist Academy from 'Ewa. Here is an excerpt of that discussion:
Jeanne Mariani-Belding: We often hear that teens today just aren't engaged in civic issues. I don't see that here with this group. What do you think are some of the issues that are important here in Hawai'i?
Matthew Cabamongan: In the North Shore especially, we have the Turtle Bay development and we have traffic. The local issues that affect us the most are the things students actually care about. For us on the North Shore, the issue of Turtle Bay and traffic really forces us to consider politicians we elect.
Jasmine Kaneshiro: I live in 'Ewa, and we have a traffic problem. I heard from the local politician that there is going to be a road built, so that's important to help relieve the traffic. Another issue is homelessness. I have been reading a lot in the paper about how they're doing sweeps on the beaches, cleanups, closing Ala Moana Beach Park at night, and how the state is building more shelters. So I think we should also look into that problem. I think people are starting to take more of an interest in it now, and that's just one step toward helping the problem get better. Small steps.
Cabamongan: In Kahuku, especially, we are very passionate about the environment. We want to maintain the good beaches, nice clean air, the sense of not worrying about traffic to come to school, the nice trees that adorn our countryside. There is a sense of urgency about development, because we do care about our environment and our lifestyle. I imagine five hotels and these condominiums, and it's quite traumatic for the North Shore.
Tina Grandinetti: I think one of the main issues is conservation. We live on such a small island, it affects everything, not just the beaches and the North Shore.
With all the development going on, we have too many people, and no one is willing to just say we are doing it all for the money — we need to start protecting the island. On the way to Mililani, there is a ridge past the cemetery. It is so pretty. My dad told me the other day they are trying to develop that, too. And it doesn't get the same response because it's one of those things in the backdrop; it's not like the beaches, where everyone wants to be able to enjoy it. But it's one of those little places: When you are driving home, you get to look at the scenery instead of neighborhoods.
They want to build homes there. Everything is changing, and it makes me so sad to think that I'm going to go away to college and I'll come back and that place might be gone. We have a problem with housing, but it needs to address issues like the homeless instead of just building for more and more people coming in.
Mariani-Belding: You've all rightly pointed out that decisions being made by our elected leaders today will have an impact on your future and your life as a young adult here. These decision makers help determine whether or not you will be able to afford a house here; and whether or not you will be able to find a good job here that will afford you the opportunity to pay the mortgage on that house.
So, think about some of our politicians for a moment. Do you think they are doing a good job of ensuring your future is a positive one?
Grandinetti: I think teenagers, first of all, need to realize that politicians not only affect our future, they affect us now. They have a database of all our names, a federal database for military recruitment. And with the Army recruiters coming to our school — we are affected by these things now.
People underestimate how much their vote matters. People don't realize how important it is to know who these candidates are and what they do and to actually vote for who they want.
You have to commit to raising your voice and taking a stand. And if you don't do that, you can't really expect much to happen. It takes time and dedication. And there are many communities like that, where the people will actually rise up and say this is what we want. And you need to have that because it will make a difference eventually. Especially if we start now.
And it's really sad about Turtle Bay, a decision made 20 years ago that's affecting us today. It shows you need to be really conscious of who you trust to represent you.
Mariani-Belding: And that's why voting is so important. Unfortunately, that message is not resonating among our residents to the degree that it should. Are our elected leaders doing a good job? Jasmine, what do you think?
Kaneshiro: I think it kind of depends on what you want. Last year the senators, both of them, voted yes for drilling in Alaska for oil. And I know that vote, it was like 49-51. I remember reading the editorial page and the letters to the editor the next day everyone was like: Why are you voting for that? We don't want that, that's not what the people of Hawai'i want. And I guess it kind of depends on your priorities. Still, for me, I think they are doing a pretty good job.
Grandinetti: I still have a lot of respect for them, because I got to meet Sen. (Daniel) Akaka and (Rep.) Neil Abercrombie, too. And he also supported that. It's disgusting that it works that way, but they have to learn to play hardball. I think we do have good people in office. I think they have a larger picture in mind. Especially Abercrombie, because he advocates for the environment so much.
I guess it just made me realize that no matter who you elect, they are going to be politicians, and they have to do stuff like that, and that's even more reason to be more outspoken. Because they have the ability to change how we live. And they're still going to make bad choices because they're human and they have to deal with other humans. They have to compromise sometimes, but you kind of have to tighten your grip and try to make sure they can't do it as much as they are.
Mariani-Belding: That's a good perspective. Tina, you've met both Sen. Akaka and Congressman Ed Case. If you could vote, who would you vote for?
Grandinetti: Akaka. We were with the Hawai'i delegation to National History Day, and Akaka welcomed us, and he seemed generally proud of us for representing our state. But Ed Case, we asked him our questions, and he didn't really answer a single one of them. He made us feel like we didn't know what we were talking about.
I know Akaka is criticized a lot for not being aggressive enough, and I understand that because he really is, like, so local-style, so genuine and nice. I can really see how it would lessen his effectiveness. I can't see him being pushy. But I'd rather have someone like that. Someone who brings good to the government instead of someone who plays along. Because we don't need any more people who play hardball. If you can get genuine trustworthy people there, I think they deserve it.
Cabamongan: Since I'm a conservative Republican, I'm against the mainstream. Akaka, according to Time magazine, is one of the most useless senators.
I want a regime change.
Mariani-Belding: I wanted to come back to the issue of civic engagement and get you thinking again about voter apathy, about why some people just don't see the value in voting. In your view, what's the problem?
Cabamongan: I guess government is an intimidating system right now. Thomas Jefferson once said there is the tyranny of the majority, and George Washington warned against political parties. Ironically, these are the problems we have in government today. And that's why people have a sense of apathy. I guess because it's so intimidating because of the system we have nowadays.
You have political parties that are just going at it, issue by issue. You see how bureaucratic it can be, it is so intimidating.
The Constitution starts with the phrase "We the people." We are a nation, a united nation. We live in a free society. We have the freedom of choice, the freedom of speech ... it's our responsibility as citizens to participate in civics and especially voting. We have to hold our politicians accountable not because we hate them, but because we want to make our country better.
Grandinetti: I think people expect all or nothing. If they get involved, they want it to make an immediate difference or to feel the immediate effects of it. They have to realize that's not going to happen. You're not going to feel the effects until you commit to it and you get other people to commit to it. And I think that's what people forget. They think "Oh well, my vote is just one vote." But if you live a lifestyle where you are involved in politics, you are going to rope in the people around you, express your opinion to other people, and more votes will come in and you will make a difference. It's not just going to be about going to the polls one day.
It's important to vote because we are fortunate enough to live in a democracy where we have a say in the decisions that affect our lives. One vote may not seem important. But together, as a country, if we keep informed of events and the people who represent us, we can better ensure that our government looks out for our best interests ... of ourselves as well as our interests as a community and as a country.
Kaneshiro: Some people might think their vote doesn't count. But it could be just one vote that keeps someone from winning or losing. Because we live in a democracy, everyone needs to express their opinion to make it work smoothly. And if you don't vote, you really can't grumble later. We need to all take part in trying to shape our future.
I believe that we should vote in all elections because as people of the United States, we take responsibility for our politicians and choosing our politicians to help make sure that the country that we shape through laws that are passed is the country that we want.