Saturday, May 01, 2010
Passage of Hawaii civil unions bill a populist victory
by Larry Geller
The passage of HB444, Hawaii’s civil unions bill during the closing moments of the 2010 legislative session, is the culmination of a true populist movement in Hawaii. As with other populist movements around the country and the world, it is lead by strong, innovative leaders:
The pro-civil-union group Citizens for Equal Rights is producing a photo booklet of supporters of equal rights and HB 444 to show House members that the mainstream community supports the bill.
"We believe the booklet will show broad community support for civil unions. Through it we hope to bolster the confidence of House members who have previously voted for HB 444," said Rachel Orange, president of the new group. [Star-Bulletin, Civil-union backers seek to resurrect bill, 4/21/2010]
The article expressed cautious pessimism, quoting legislative leaders who didn’t think revival of the bill was likely. At the same time, it reported the quiet activism of civil rights supporters and their success in raising awareness.
Certainly the odds seemed to be against the relatively small number of activists taking up positions at the State Capitol. They could be swamped at any time by the sheer numbers that religious and other opponents of the bill could muster to rallies. Yet they prevailed.
Populist movements do succeed. Jim Hightower has highlighted, among others, the success of the organic movement:
"The whole shift to purer, local, more organic food has been a tremendous populist revolution right before our eyes," Hightower says. [American Statesman, Jim Hightower talks about populism, 4/29/2010]
Nationwide, the current movement toward equality and equal rights is advancing painfully state by state. No one said overcoming bigotry and discrimination is easy, but the trend seems clear for the moment, and it’s positive and encouraging.
On Bill Moyers’ final program on PBS last night, Hightower talked about a taxi drivers’ cooperative that succeeded against all odds, and of other populist movements. He differentiated true populist movements from corporate- and media-fed efforts such as tea parties. I do know a little about the taxi driver effort—my father joined New York City’s version, a challenge to Tammany Hall corruption.
Of course, the fight for HB444 in Hawaii isn’t over. The bill faces an uncertain fate on Governor Lingle’s desk. Should it fall again this session, you can bet it will be back, because it is supported by a dedicated, vibrant movement in a state that has enacted more than its share of progressive legislation. This isn’t Texas or Louisiana, this is Hawaii. We’re not perfect, but at least we point ourselves in that direction.
Rachel Orange and other supporters of this bill are the populist leaders of today and tomorrow who you can be assured, will not be denied.