Rebulding Democracy Part II

Copy Editor Rosannah Gosser

Photographer Karlee Oyama

Noele Rodriquez

Activism is a lifestyle, a perspective, a habitual concern and resolute effort working to shape the world into what you believe is the ideal life for us all. Mahatma Gandhi spoke the phrase “be the change that you wish to see in the world,” and it’s rare to find a better example of someone living these words than Professor Noelie Rodriguez, a Hawai`i Community College sociology instructor, founder of Global H.O.P.E., and creator of the America in Crisis series here on the University of Hawai`i at Hilo campus.

Last semester, Ke Kalahea covered the beginning of the America in Crisis series, which is an ongoing showing of documentaries and lectures designed to encourage student and community engagement. On Thursdays at 7 p.m. in UCB 100, Professor Rodriguez invites speakers or presents films that address the current issues our country faces, followed by discussion. Previous showings include Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream (2015), Michael Moore’s Sicko (2007), and Food, Inc. (2008).

Rodriguez started the series this semester with Prescription Thugs (2015), a documentary investigating prescription pill addiction and America’s opioid epidemic, and Before the Flood (2016), which follows actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio as he meets with experts and influentials to discuss the causes, threats, and solutions to human-induced climate change.

Upcoming additions to the series include a lecture by Dr. Jon Price, a UHH geography professor, on climate change in Hawai`i’s forests and wetlands scheduled for March 8, and Reefs at Risk, which details how certain chemicals in sunscreen can have detrimental effects on the health of coral reefs. On April 5, Rodriguez plans to show Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism (2017), followed by Occupation of the American Mind (2016) on April 26.

Professor Noelie Rodriguez has been living, teaching, and encouraging community involvement in Hawai`i for over thirty years. After receiving her doctorate in sociology from the University of California at Los Angeles and teaching at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Rodriguez was an assistant professor at UH Hilo until 1991 when she filed a lawsuit against the university on the basis of gender and racial discrimination. Rodriguez accepted a settlement from UHH and began teaching sociology at Hawai`i Community College, where she is now a tenured professor.

Rodriguez has made multiple contributions to the UHH and HCC communities that have helped develop student and faculty wellness, political engagement, and public enrichment. In 1983, Rodriguez founded Global H.O.P.E. (Hawai`i Organization for Peace and the Environment), a club for students, faculty, staff, and community members to advocate for and actively work towards democratic participation and positive change in both the local and global community. Global H.O.P.E. has hosted over 600 events, including speakers, films, rallies, festivals, debates, public access TV shows, voter registration drives, and petitioning.

Additionally, Rodriguez founded the annual Earth Day Fair in 1988 and, two years later, coordinated the UHH Women’s Center to foster an inclusive and empowering environment for women on campus. And now, Rodriguez is running the America in Crisis series to cultivate political awareness and engagement, not just for UHH students and faculty, but for Hilo community as a whole.

Back in a 1994 interview with Ke Kalahea, and similarly stated in our coverage of the America in Crisis series last semester, Rodriguez described the goals she envisions for the Hilo community that she continues to fight for today. “The community college and the university should be the center of the democratic process in this community,” said Rodriguez. “I’d like to see an open microphone on the Library Lanai at lunch time, like there was at UCLA, where people would come and discuss policies and issues. The level of apathy here is tremendous. We need to try and get more dialogue and participation.”

“Unfortunately, the government often does not reflect the interests of the people,” Rodriguez continued, “but reflects the interests of those who can make money at the expense of the public good. I think about that every day.” Almost twenty years later, wealth inequality in America is still at the forefront of Rodriguez’s concerns about the current situation in the country.

“We’re rewarding those who do not have any need for the money,” Rodriguez tells Ke Kalahea. “The amount of wealth they possess is already beyond human comprehension, and that wealth has now become power that is pitting themselves against the democracy we want to have, as they spend their money on lobbyists, on right-wing think-tanks, and on contributions to political campaigns. They’re depriving us of our voice.”

Reflecting on the events from the America in Crisis series last semester, Rodriguez recounts finding it intriguing to observe the dynamic discussions involving “baby boomers,” who were youth in the 1960s and 1970s, and “millenials,” who were often able to bring up parallels between the state of the federal government then and what the nation is dealing with now.

“As a society, we’re sick economically, politically, psychologically, biologically, and environmentally,” Rodriguez declares. “We’re absolutely in a crisis. My only hope is in the millenials who are listening to the critique very articulately made by many, but most effectively by Bernie Sanders. Like the parable of the emperor with no clothes, the millenials are telling the truth about what some of the older generations have lied to themselves about: that our society is racist, sexist, and very classist.”

Through the America in Crisis series, Rodriguez hopes to develop the kind of community awareness, engagement, and activism that’s essential for a thriving democracy, especially in a time of political instability and uncertainty. “We have all of those sparks, they just need to come together to form a real revolutionary movement. The 2018 elections are critically important.”

Regardless of your political stance, it’s an inevitable fact of life that our generation will someday make up the movers and shakers of society. It’s in our control how that will unfold and if we want to be a generation known for dank memes, or one that utilizes our technological savvy to create a society where everyone’s voice is heard.

As students, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to be politically engaged, but the easiest way to support and fight for democracy is simply by being an informed citizen and helping to grow our campus community into a place where the next generation learns just how loud we the people’s voices can be. This can mean listening to the news while you study for calculus, reading through the pamphlet your local politician gives you, sharing a credible Facebook post that spreads awareness of a certain issue, and taking advantage of opportunities on campus like the America in Crisis series.