This is what democracy looks like.
By now, most of you have heard that Governor David Ige has signed into law SB3095.
Yes, we won.
It’s amazing really. A handful of news clips announcing our victory to the world are below and no doubt many more will be forthcoming.
The real story of course is about how it happened. How a small group of dedicated citizens in the middle of the Pacific ocean, took on the largest chemical companies in the world, and won.
The details of SB3095 and a short history of the journey can be found here.
4 years ago Syngenta, Dow, Dupont and BASF successfully sued Kauai County for the right to spray poisons next to schools, and not tell us about it. Today, as a result of the passage of this measure they can no longer do this. Plus, over the next 4 years the Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP)and neurotoxin chlorpyrifos, will be phased out and its use totally prohibited.
Though other States have tried, none have been successful and Hawaii is the first.
The credit goes to a handful, and to thousands. As in any achievement of significance, it requires both.
In this case a small group of committed, talented and incredibly tenacious individual citizens, mostly from the neighbor islands of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii County, joined with a handful of organizations’s in partnership with an even fewer number of legislators in the Hawaii House and Senate, to make this happen. Governor David Ige, capped it all off on June 15th when he signed it into law.
This win is an important moment in the longer arc of the movement towards food justice in Hawaii. Many individuals and organizations have paved the way, stepped up along the timeline of this longer arc, and each of their contributions made this win possible. The legal support from EarthJustice, the early educational efforts of HawaiiSEED and the Mom’s Hui, the street movement and grassroots organizing on Kauai led by Dustin Barca, the provocative and unapologetically radical work of Babes Against Biotech, Hector Valenzuela, Dr. Lorrin Pang, and Jeri Di Pietro – ALL elevated this issue and ignited community engagement across Hawaii.
The Hawaii Center for Food Safety’s key report “Pesticides in Paradise” in 2015, provided an invaluable contribution by bringing key peer-reviewed scientific studies, rigorous data driven research on agrochemical footprint and pesticide usage in Hawaii to bear on state-level policy work. The HCFS team laid the groundwork for an informed and rigorous discussion of these issues and took on much of the heavy lifting through out the state legislative process.
It is especially clear to me that SB3095 would not have passed into law without the phenomenal work, and the personal commitment to the cause made by Tiare Lawrence, Autumn Rae Ness, and Lauryn Rego (Maui) and Keani Rawlins-Fernandez (Molokai).
I will never forget one particular incident, when I ran across this group accompanied by handful of other women from Maui while walking the halls of the state capitol. I commented to Autumn, “I see you brought the big guns today.” Without missing a beat Autumn replied, “We don’t have any little guns left. All we have left are the big guns.”
As the women from Maui, represented the thousands who are responsible for passing the “Maui Miracle” ballot initiative that also strove to regulate this industry, Fern Holland another wahine powerhouse likewise represented those many Kauai residents who stepped up to create and carry Bill 2491 through the Kauai County Council process. From Hawaii County Councilmember Jennifer Ruggles also symbolizes the commitment and effort from that far end of the island chain. On Oahu suffice it to say that Mae Fuimaono, and Mary Laques hold that space today, representing so many others.
When all is said and done, SB3095 passed unanimously in the House and the Senate because of the pure force of will and commitment made by a relatively handful of committed local residents who worked tirelessly, often at great personal sacrifice because they believed in their cause and refused to give up or back down. Yes, they had science and the testimony of the American Academy of Pediatrics on their side. And yes, their fundamental cause was a righteous and urgent one.
But make no mistake about it, laws are not passed based on the cause being a righteous or urgent one. And unfortunately, they are also not passed just because a prestigious group of physicians provide incontrovertible evidence of a substances harm.
Passing a law of any significance, requires a marshaling of forces to push and pull and cajole and threaten if needed (in a political election year sense), until the critical majority vote is achieved. There are always forces “on the other side”, pushing back. The larger the stakes, the greater the push back and the tougher the fight.
Nothing is ever cut and dry. There is always “another side” and there are always “experts” who will testify in opposition to the other “experts”. There are always reasons that “now is not the time” to pass any and all measures that are introduced each year.
It is only through the marshaling of broad-based strong, unrelenting community support that SB3095 was able to be passed through the legislature.
It was 4 women from Maui and Molokai combined with a handful of other likeminded friends on Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island who by their sheer force of personality and will, made this happen. They showed up. They reached out to their networks. They asked for help.
And then from all corners or the island chain others stepped up to give that help. Friends and relatives and neighbors and co-workers inevitably would respond,“Ok, I will send yet another email of testimony in, and yes I will also make a call or two to my legislator.”
Over and over this cycle would be repeated. The voice mail of the legislators would be full of messages from district constituents when they came to work in the morning. The incoming email would be non-stop, and daily they would see those 4 women from Maui walking the Capitol halls, often with friends from Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii Island.
Next came the teachers in support, then the Sierra Club and then other disparate groups committed to protecting health and environment, and to fighting back against the abuses of large corporate agriculture. All the while, the testimony of the American Academy of Pediatrics stood as the bedrock of legislative justification.
And then we won.
Unanimous votes, in the House and in the Senate. Who would have thought?
First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.
Mahatma Gandhi* (question as to attribution)
Mahalo to Governor Ige for capping off this effort by signing SB3095 into law. He could easily have sidestepped this politically sensitive issue, but instead he showed courage and leadership by putting his name on it in support. Please take a moment and read my remarks about his support.
Senator Russell Ruderman as the primary introducer of the Bill, and Senator Mike Gabbard who shepherded the measure through the committee process deserve the lions share of the credit in the Senate.
In the House, Representative Chris Lee and Representative Richard Creagan are to be especially thanked for their leadership.
There are many legislators and individuals who deserve thanks and who stepped up at key moments. My listing of a few names here is meant to especially acknowledge the handful who if not for their individual efforts this measure would not have passed. These individuals symbolize and represent many others, that space will not allow me to list today. And yes, I know I risk leaving key people out, but I do not want that fear to keep me from recognizing those who especially deserve it.
Is this the end of the journey? Absolutely not. We have more work to do. But Act 45 represents a significant and meaningful step in the right direction. For the many who have contributed in small and large ways, take a moment to savor this win. Let us also take a moment to rededicate ourselves to the work of protecting what we love.
Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA)
P.S. Some have indicated that the link to a previously posted piece was not working so am reposting: “Bad News: Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop – Winter is Coming”
Below are national/international stories about the passing of Bill 2491:
A very brief excellent, high quality video for some historical context: