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Wielding our Political Power for Progress in the Food Movement

By Ashley Lukens, PhD

May 11, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Five years ago today, I closed out my first legislative session as a grassroots lobbyist. At that time, I was an active member of the all-volunteer Hawaii Food Policy Council, a project I helped co-create in the context of my doctoral research on food activism in the United States. For those who wonder why I got into the game of policy, as opposed to other forms of activism in and around food, you can read more about the awakenings of my political consciousness in this blog post.

I was starting to understand then, as I understand fully now, that although we have great power living in a democratic political system, we do not always know how to effectively wield that power. And, unfortunately, in the absence of an informed and engaged and citizenry, our institutions are being co-opted by great corporate and ideological powers that are destroying our planet. As Van Jones so cogently emphasized in his interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, we need people power in the streets and people power in government. Both are necessary for effective progressive action to happen.

That’s why I am proud to be a lobbyist. I know that the word is often spat out of the mouths of those who hate “the system,” however I see the skills I have acquired in the past five years of working at the legislature as part of a critical stopgap from total corporate take-over. We need these skills as we simultaneously build lives and communities that are independent from corporate/colonial power.  (We also need better election skills – which is why I am so endlessly grateful for the Kuleana Academy and the visionaries its equipping to run for office).

I remember how lonely it felt at the legislature in my early days working as a young progressive on food issues. Today, it absolutely does not feel that way. Through this session we worked hand-in-hand with allies from organizations like Sierra Club of HawaiÊ»i, HawaiÊ»i Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), Surfrider Foundation of OÊ»ahu, AiKea Movement, HawaiÊ»i SEED, Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA), Aloha ‘Ä€ina Project, Babes Against Biotech, and Pesticide Action Network North America. Most importantly, this session we worked with YOU:

Online Campaigns: Through membership outreach and online campaigns, we facilitated over 3,000 actions, including testimony submissions, emails urging legislators to hear bills, and phone calls to key legislators.

Citizen Lobbying: We built out a broader base of volunteer lobbyists from across the islands, hosting four community lobby days with over 20 volunteers.

Partnership Building: We re-launched the Protect Our Keiki Coalition, deepening partnerships and building new ones with organizations like Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, the AiKea Movement and the Young Progressives Demanding Action.

Watchdogging: We were a resource on any pesticide-related legislation and action opportunities, actively tracking over 60 bills.

Independent Journalism: We produced powerful independent media highlighting community voices and our legislative heroes, while holding our opponents accountable with a reach of over 200,000.

Press Coverage: We received major coverage in the Star Advertiser, Civil Beat, and The Garden Isle, along with 65 national publications covering the public demand for pesticide regulation.

Our Wins

Our Carbon Farming Task Force Bill (HB 1578) is on its way to the Governor! The bill creates a task force that enables the state to offer local farms and ranches carbon credits for their efforts to improve soil health and sequester carbon. Soil health initiatives are sprouting up around the country, and Hawai‘i will now become a leader in this hopeful movement. Our bill was supported by the Surfrider Foundation OÊ»ahu and the Sierra Club of HawaiÊ»i and was written in partnership with Center for Food Safety’s Soil Solutions program.

We successfully stopped multiple industry bills aimed at attacking small farmers (HB452), repealing the organic farming tax credit (HB961) and setting unreasonable standards that mandate all applicators of any pesticide be forced to report their usage (HB1302). We deepened relationships with our core allies at the legislature while cultivating new relationships with key legislators, educating them on the critical importance of this issue.

This session we continued to lobby a suite of legislation aimed at reforming the regulatory framework for pesticide use in the state of HawaiÊ»i. Unfortunately, HB 790, SB 804, and half a dozen other bills didn’t make it through, but we did make it further than ever before. The bottom line is that we had more hearings, more public engagement, and more well-informed legislators speaking out publically in favor of our issues. The rhetoric is shifting. The public is watching and holding their legislators accountable.

The fight for a more sustainable food future for HawaiÊ»i is far from over. It’s up to us as citizens to step up and get involved.

Our Policy Priorities Moving Forward

With legislative session now closed, our focus at HCFS has shifted back to Governor Ige, as he has the authority to advance these regulations. We will be extending our legislative program year-round to continue to educate, build relationships and draft meaningful policy for the 2018 legislative session. HCFS will continue its campaign to pass legislation that would strengthen the state’s regulation and oversight of pesticides and push to advance regenerative farming and sustainable food policies.

We only win this battle if we fight together.

'A'ohe hana nui ke alu 'ia. There is no task too great when we come together.

Pupukahi i holomua. Join as one to advance forward.


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