Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Governor flubbed protest moment

By Lee Cataluna

"You must show your strength, reassert your authority. You sit on the most powerful throne in Europe, head of an unbroken line that goes back more than a thousand years. Do you really think that any of your predecessors would've dropped everything and gone up to London because a bunch of hysterics carrying candles needed help with their grief?!"

That was the Queen Mother advising Queen Elizabeth, played by Helen Mirren in the 2006 movie, to ignore the people demonstrating outside the palace after the death of Diana. It could have been an adviser telling Gov. Linda Lingle to ignore the people protesting furlough Fridays outside her office. Lenny Klompus might be playing the role of Queen Mother in this drama.

The protesters from Save Our Schools say they never thought the sit-in would go this long. What is fueling their tenacity is Lingle's stubbornness. She has done nothing to defuse the situation. If anything, she's poured gas on the fire.

The situation also calls to mind a similar sit-in a few years ago in another government office. In 2005, a dozen people occupied the Office of Hawaiian Affairs boardroom. They stayed overnight. OHA, in its inimitable way, fed the protesters, ordering in dinner. The next morning, the protesters made a statement and went home. It was all very civilized and respectful.

Lingle doesn't have to order bentos for the protesters in her office, but she has done nothing to acknowledge their frustration. Indeed, everything she's done, from leaving her office out the back way to writing the defensive "you people just don't get it" letter on Sunday has only strengthened their resolve and garnered more supporters. The protesters have become archetypal earnest "little guys" standing up to a heartless leader on behalf of children. When the protest started on Wednesday, it was a few parents and their kids. Now it's a movement that has garnered national media coverage.

All Lingle had to do was call the protesters into her office that first day, close the door to reporters and have a 15-minute "I hear you; let's work together" chat even if she thinks they are wrong. She might have even enlisted their support in her beef against school bureaucracy and unions.

Lingle has said a lot about accountability in the schools, but in that spiky Sunday letter to the protesters, she wrote three pages deflecting responsibility from herself.

But she still has a chance. That movie moment when Queen Elizabeth walked among the people and acknowledged what they were feeling was a moment of greatness. Lingle might think she can outlast protesters but that's not the way to save face.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172.