It is the evening of January 16 as I write this: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The weekend’s news cycle was more or less dominated by Donald J. Trump’s latest offense—the insult to Congressman John Lewis, arguably the most visible, living face of the American civil rights movement. Sadly, this new transgression is thoroughly unsurprising.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Roughly three weeks ago, as 2016 drew to a close, the University of Hawaiʻi’s administration reaffirmed its commitment to education for all who seek it, via a letter circulated by President David Lassner. The statement opens with the assertion that “all members of our community, regardless of citizenship status” are deserving of equal educational opportunities, and concludes thus:
As our state’s only public higher education system we have a deep responsibility to provide high-quality affordable education to advance our people, our communities and our islands. That mission requires that we support and celebrate diversity, respect and caring. We must support free speech and free expression even as we work to overcome intolerance and prohibit harassment based on immigration status, race, religion, national origin, gender, LGBTQ+ status or disability. Our commitment to these values has been and remains clear and firm.(Full text of President Lassner’s statement can be found here.
I am not so naïve as to believe that the United States has moved beyond discrimination, racism, homophobia, xenophobia or gender inequality. Of course not. Still, prior to November’s election, one might have wondered why the University would feel compelled to reaffirm this basic commitment to education. In 2016, it would have seemed a given that—as a matter of policy at a state-funded institution of higher education—all students deserve to be celebrated, respected and cared for. But that was then. Today these very basic ideals, which are so simple and fundamental that it seems silly to even refer to them as human rights, are not guaranteed. Nothing, it seems, is guaranteed. And so I applaud President Lassner for taking the time to restate what should be obvious. Just, you know, in case.
No one needs me to recap what has happened in the last 12 months; nor, really, to provide a person-by-person repudiation of President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments. Many are already doing that work, and far better than I could here.
Instead, let’s talk about where we go next. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, with Hillary Clinton a clear victor in the popular vote but Donald Trump having won the Electoral College, hundreds of thousands throughout the United States took to the streets in protest. Not surprisingly, supporters of the incoming administration criticized these gatherings as meaningless: Protest for the sake of protest. I, in no way, endorse that sentiment, but I do see how easy it was to shout those protests down. I also see how hard it is for people to feel like they have a voice when faced with an administration that was voted in by a minority of the American populace, and which expresses views that run so counter to the majority. But we, the majority of Americans, are not a nation of bigots, racists and xenophobes. We simply are not. And yet, I admit, I have spent the last two months feeling voiceless.
This brings me back to Hawaiʻi J20, a group that has coalesced on the UH Mānoa campus with the purpose, as its website states in part, of “[inaugurating] a new era of social justice.” On Friday, January 20, Hawaiʻi J20 and other affiliated groups will kick off this alternate inauguration with a “Day of Resistance” on the Mānoa campus, including a mass teach-in, a march and, that evening, a free concert at the Waikīkī Shell. This is not protest for the sake of protest, but rather a means of helping the UH campus community and the general public to reflect on—and think critically about—the impact of changes that have been promised by the incoming Presidential administration. And, yes, to remind people that they do in fact have a right to free speech. And that they have a voice.
All of which is well in keeping with the educational mission of the University. So I’ll be there, and I hope you will, too. Information on Hawaiʻi J20 and the events planned for this Friday can be found here.
Stu Dawrs wrote for the Honolulu Weekly and Hana Hou! and is currently a librarian at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and a member of the University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly (UHPA). The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent either the University of Hawaiʻi, his colleagues or UHPA. Stu Dawrs is not currently affiliated with Hawaiʻi J20.