Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, August 15, 1997

Public outrage shows
that people still care

TODAY is my birthday and, this week, I got the best present ever. Not wrapped in a pretty box with curled ribbons. Not something to smell, like a bouquet of flowers, or to taste, like eyeball-rolling chocolates. I don't even know most of the people who "chipped in" for the gift, nor will I ever get to meet them.

Nevertheless, here's a thank-you note from an overwhelmed recipient. This generous and extemporaneous offering has bolstered my faith in the citizens of Hawaii. It has renewed hope that this state won't go gurgling down the drain like a dose of Liquid Plumber.

These gift-givers may have even saved a soul. In my mind, the Star-Bulletin is a metaphor for a feisty but fun-loving person. If the front page is the paper's face and the news pages are its guts, the editorial and opposite editorial page -- which include the letters to the editor section -- represent its character.

These missives are thought to mirror the joys and fears of the community. These letters are tangible directives to the powers that be, telling them what issues people are concerned about or whether they are concerned at all.

For the most part, correspondence has come from a small but loyal cadre of talented scribes, churning out frequent and eloquent contributions to this open forum. Because their names have hit ink so many times, they have become mini celebrities in their own families and neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Hawaii residents were missing in action -- too busy, tired, uninterested or demoralized to take on the role of public scribe. Through this lack of participation, a politico, bigwig or bureaucrat may have gotten the impression it was OK to wreak whatever, since nobody was watching anyway.

Not anymore, pal. Have you seen the letters page lately? More important, have you seen Star-Bulletin letters editor Mary Poole? She is the exhausted but remarkably good-natured woman most often found at a desk piling higher and higher with typewritten sheets, postcards, faxes and e-mail printouts.

During her nine years in the Star-Bulletin newsroom, never has she seen such a deluge of public concern and outrage as in the past week. Most of the blaze is fanned by the controversy over the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustees and the governor's economic task force, but other subjects are adding fuel to the hibachi.

Letter writers, many of them first-time contributors, are debating issues like letting under-achieving students participate in sports, a racist caption in a high school yearbook, giving U.S. benefits to Filipino World War II vets and the ever-present furor over same-sex marriage. Some are even telling folks who use noisy leaf blowers to kindly blow town.

Frankly, it's getting hot around here and not because it's August. To paraphrase actress Sally Field as she clutched her Oscar, "You care! You really, really care!"

SINCE it's my birthday, permit me some gloating privileges. I always knew that the people of Hawaii -- and those multitudes reading our popular online edition -- really, really cared. Only now, they are showing it by conveying their thoughts in a public forum. Believe me, this town's bullies are shaking in their shoes.

On behalf of all of us at the Star-Bulletin, thanks for looking at our face, ingesting our innards and revitalizing our soul.

Ahhh, another year, another candle. Hawaii ain't getting older. It's getting better.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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