“If you hate violence and don’t believe in politics, the only major remedy remaining is education.”
“Finally, the youth of Kaua’i are standing up.”
- Random guy on the street
“With Mayor Bernard Carvalho Making such BAD decisions for the Future of OUR home and Kids. WE are Left with NO other choice but to Take his Chair and BRING IT BACK TO THE PEOPLE OF KAUA’I!!”
- Dustin Barca
's FB announcement of his mayoral candidacy
If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few months I'm sure you've noticed that I have a pretty simple theme. And my once-a-month postings are reflections of Kaua’i-centric issues through the lens of that theme. Three years of blogging boil down to these six sentences:
The status-quo isn’t working for Kaua’i. The dual crisis of environmental decline in the face of rising inequality necessitates a structural shift in society. We can’t expect the tools of the open market or politics-as-usual to fix Kaua’i’s problems. Likewise, rhetoric and blame are ineffective drivers of lasting change. Our problems are complex, and the solutions will be equally complex. The only path forward is to engage in inclusive solutions based dialogue.
On that note, I’ve been watching with mixed enthusiasm as this year’s election season heats up.
There is finally a candidate, Dustin Barca, who is the literal embodiment of change. His entire campaign is formulated around fighting the status-quo and he is engaging with many of the people who are left behind by our current political establishment. Most importantly, food production and sustainability are his two biggest talking points.
However, I am also really worried. In a recent article Barca said that the anti-GMO movement on Kaua’i was inspired by Gandhi and that he’s “on a mission from God." Yet, Gandhi's most important lesson is Satyagraha, which is an insistence on finding the truth through non-violent methods. And violence, as defined by Gandhi, includes aggressive rhetoric and any form of oppression.
At the same time, Barca defines himself as a warrior. As an MMA fighter, he literally makes a living through violence. But, most relevant is the underlying rhetoric of violence in the anti-GMO movement on Kaua’i. While there have been threats of physical violence to some of our policy makers, the real violence comes in the personal attacks (such as this website) and the myriad of offensive memes distributed through Facebook (such as this one) from both sides.
Even the holy grail of the movement, bill 2491, was passed in an atmosphere of extreme aggression.
Since I don't know Barca personally, and because his campaign website is lacking on details, I browsed through his public Facebook profile to see where he stands on issues other than GMO. While nobody should be judged based on an FB profile, it is illuminating into who he is. He denies the evidence behind climate change, yet believes the government is manipulating our weather. He rails against federal fire arm restrictions and repeatedly appeals for the people to "stand up and fight." He believes in the far right conspiracy theory popularized by Glen Beck that UN Agenda 21 is a secret government takeover aimed at collectivizing private property. All while repeating the refrain that he's "on a mission from god."
Gandhi famously wrote that “the pursuit of truth does not permit violence on one’s opponent.” Barca’s candidacy is currently painted as a protest against Mayor Carvalho. And there are many who will vote for him solely because of that. But, in order to have a realistic shot at winning, he needs to do more to separate himself from any threats of violence, aggression, and conspiracy theories. Most importantly, he needs to make this a campaign about finding real solutions to our gravest systemic issues.
How exactly will he fight the status-quo? From the important issues that he points out on his website: How do we "reverse our 90% food import with 90% food production" or solve "our reef pollution crisis"? Without bio-tech, what happens to the land? To the workers? Since the county doesn't own any ag land, where would the agricultural drug rehab centers go? In the process of regaining our water rights, how do we restore water to the south fork of the Wailua River while ensuring that Lihu'e continues to have a source of drinking water? As mayor, what is the administrative route to achieving these noble aims?
As George Orwell stated, we have three agents of social change: politics, violence, and education. On Kaua’i, we now have a clear choice between two of those three: politics or violence.
In the same way that I hope that Barca can move beyond the rhetoric of violence that often defined the anti-GMO movement, I hope that Mayor Carvalho sees the inherent anger and disenfranchisement of the Barca campaign as a wake-up call to move beyond back-room politics. Barca has identified some of the problems, can Carvalho do any better in identifying solutions?
It’s time for both candidates to leave behind violence, politics, and rhetoric in pursuit of effective solutions. This election season could be an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue and engagement on Kaua’i’s deepest issues. Or, we can continue with our current path, driving a deeper rift through the heart of our community because of an insistence on blind rhetoric; leaving us no closer to any solutions for our most pressing issues.