In the four years since we launched Kanu Hawaii, we have been working toward a more sustainable, compassionate, resilient Hawaii, rooted in personal commitments to change. We've asked people to "be the change" by committing to live as environmental stewards, compassionate neighbors, and productive contributors to the local economy.
As of this post, more than 15,000 people from across the islands have shown their willingness to lead with change in their own lives, sharing their commitments and stories online. Many have also joined campaigns we've launched to tackle issues including sustainable food, clean energy, waste reduction, ending the school furloughs, and disaster preparedness.
We've come to realize that personal change by itself, is not enough. Our institutions - including government and its policies - must change, too. And here, we've run into a frustrating obstacle: a vicious cycle of discouraged people and disappointing politics.
Widespread cynicism about politics means that few of us vote, and even fewer engage with our leaders in the process of government. With few participating, politics gets dominated by the most zealous and self-interested voices, and policies get dominated by those with money and connections. We spoke to this frustration in a public commentary in late 2011.
This year, Kanu Hawaii has committed to put specific issues aside, and invest time and resources into an effort to put democracy (back) to work for all of us, starting with the upcoming elections. We’re going to use our online tools to ask people what's important to them, share candidate information, and engage new voters. We're also going to see if we can turn a few “pilot” communities into model democracies by registering new voters there and giving people the information they need to vote smart come election day.
We are not pushing any particular issue or candidate. We’re simply trying to get democracy to work as it’s supposed to, with volunteer energy, new technology, and fresh thinking.
Our plan has 3 parts:
(1) Identifying community concerns - asking people to name the most important issues to them in the coming elections, and including these concerns in a multi-issue candidate questionnaire
(2) Holding elected officials accountable - getting candidate responses back to people before the election, and offering post-election reports so we can keep watch as they make new laws
(3) Expanding the vote - registering new voters, especially young adults and people who are struggling financially through these tough economic times, focusing on a few target areas
In the long run, we hope our work enables people to hold their elected leaders accountable, and encourages elected leaders to lead in conversation with their constituents.
Like other Kanu campaigns, this one will be led by a volunteer corps, mostly 20- and 30-somethings who drive Kanu Hawaii. As a test run, Kanu volunteers are out canvassing door to door, engaging people online and off, asking folks to suggest questions for candidates this election year. Volunteers are also preparing to register new voters in classrooms, congregations, in shelters and on the beaches.
We want to see if we can engage and turnout enough people to create model democracies in a handful of districts. We picked some target areas using these criteria:
1. areas where Kanu has members, volunteers, partners that can help us reach a critical mass of voters
2. smaller political districts, where we can engage people in numbers that truly represent the voice of a district, and get politicians to pay attention
3. areas where we can engage low-income and young adults in meaningful numbers
4. contested races (vs someone running unopposed) so candidates have a reason to listen, and people have real choices
Based on the above, we're focusing our pilot efforts on:
Primary Election Pilot – 1 pilot district in Windward Oahu, where we have lots of members, willing neighborhood partners, and a contested primary election.
General Election Expansion – 2 additional districts along the Waianae Coast and East Honolulu where we have member and partner strength, and where we can reach young and low-income voters.
We apologize to our neighbor island members: We don't have enough volunteer capacity to reach out beyond Oahu in this first attempt, but will be looking to do so in the future.
When democracy works right, it can unleash an unstoppable force for positive change in-line with our best aspirations as a people. But, the problems with our politics are complicated and cynicism is widespread. The Kanu Hawaii team doesn't have experience engaging people through an election. We don't know if our plans this year will bear fruit. But, we felt we had to try. Like our personal commitments, we will declare our resolve, do our best to change things, and learn and be humbled in the process.
We hope you'll join us. If you see our volunteers out canvassing for community input or registering new people to vote, engage them in conversation and offer an encouraging word. And, please check back often at kanuhawaii.org/2012 for updates and action opportunities.
Comments posted prior to adopting Facebook comments.