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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sit-in at Lingle's office like 'Survivor'

By Lee Cataluna

On Friday around noon, a sheriff stuck his head into the governor's office and good-naturedly announced to the protesters, "Your contraband pizza is here!"

A few hours later, the sheriffs were giving warnings and issuing citations to those who decided to occupy the governor's reception area for a third night.

No one knew what to expect when they decided to demonstrate against furlough Fridays in Gov. Linda Lingle's office. Protesters didn't intend to spend the night that first Wednesday. They thought that Lingle would at least come out and meet with them, even briefly. But as time passed, the stakes got higher and their commitment deepened.

"We're all in over our heads," said Clare Hanusz, an attorney and mother of two. "None of us thought it would go on so long."

Yet they have stuck it out, staying in shifts, posting updates on Facebook and Twitter, getting their kids to school and waiting so far in vain for Lingle to respond. "She hasn't even acknowledged us in any way," said Marguerite Higa of Save Our Schools.

On Friday, the protesters were discussing how to deal with a statement Lingle had made calling them a small group.

"We've been called small, but we represent more than 170,000 students," said Terri Zucchero, a University of Hawai'i nursing instructor who has three children in public school. "We're here for all the parents who don't have the flexibility to be here themselves," Hanusz said. They frequently had to look up from crafting their response to find chargers for their laptops, answer questions from reporters, thank the American Friends Service Committee for the pizza and wave to the steady stream of people who popped their heads in the door to call out messages of support:

"I'm a teacher God bless you folks!"

"Right on, you guys!"

At one point, a group of fifth-graders visiting the state Capitol came by to have a look. "These are the people working hard to get your Fridays back ... and over here in the cabinet, here's the moon rocks." There wasn't much time to be bored at the sit-in. There was always something new to react to. Except, of course, the visitor they were waiting for.

The overnights in the office have been part slumber-party, part "Survivor: Governor's Office." The big issue has been, of course, no access to bathrooms. Speculation has run wild about how the overnighters have dealt with the situation. They deny peeing in the potted plants, but coyly won't comment on stories about aiming into disposable diapers.

"Let's just say we've been creative," Hanusz said. "We are willing to do what we have to do. It's been as sanitary as it can be."

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the air conditioning gets turned off in the office until the next morning at six. Then the doors open at 7:45. Until then, they say the room is stuffy. The lights are on, though dimmed, so they haven't been locked in total darkness. In fact, they are always free to leave; they just can't come back in if they do.

One night, one little boy read a book to a sheriff. Another night, the kids and a sheriff shared some fries. During the day, the sleeping bags, a Barbie pillow, a pallet of water, hand sanitizer and a box of doughnuts are neatly piled against the koa-paneled wall. It is a well-mannered kind of protest, though clearly, the protesters are angry.

Meanwhile, an incident that Lingle could have nipped in the bud has instead escalated to garnering national attention.

USA Today ran a story about the infamous fruit basket sent by Neil Abercrombie that Lingle would not allow them to have. An Associated Press story about the trespassing citations was picked up by The New York Times, Huffington Post and the UK Guardian.

"For whatever reason, we have this calling to be here," Hanusz said. "It's a pretty desperate tactic, but we're desperate. ... And if nothing comes of it, at least we will know we did everything we could."