author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Photos recall restless
era that shaped
modern Hawaii

If just one construction crane would pop up over Honolulu, we would celebrate it as good news.

But during the 1970s, there were 25 or 30 cranes rising above the city every year, shaping the high-rise and condominium skyline that is today's Honolulu. The place names we recognize today were rallying cries for a struggle against that march of concrete.

Kalama Valley, Halawa, Ota Camp, Chinatown, Waiahole, Heeia Kea, Hale Mohalu and Mokauea spoke of a wave of endless development. Developers working with Hawaii's private land trusts and cheered on by the state were building a new Hawaii that didn't include the old and the poor, subsistence farmers, fishermen and retirees.

Rising in protest were students from the University of Hawaii's ethnic studies programs, community activists and even the poor and soon-to-be displaced.

The struggles that so dominated the local news during that decade are forgotten, but a wonderful exhibit at the Academy of Arts Center at Linekona recognizes them through the photography of Ed Greevy. Hurry to see it, today is the last day.

A documentary photographer who produced more than 60,000 images during that time, Greevy created a richly detailed visual history of the decade.

Greevy portrays the resisters in heroic terms. One memorable picture shows a fishing family leaving in a boat as the state burns their home on Mokauea Island. The issue back in 1976 was clearing what the state called "squatter shacks" from state property.

In another picture, a sign summarizes the feeling of many others: "We don't want hotels, we don't want freeways, we don't want eviction. And no more tourists."

One constant that runs though the pictures is the great atrium of the state Capitol as a locus for demonstrations. While many of the rallies now at the Capitol are public workers who already got theirs and just want some more, 25 years ago the great courtyard was filled with Hawaii's uninvited guests who carried signs saying "Listen to the People."

The Capitol's Tadashi Sato mosaic "Aquarius" seemed to shine a bit brighter then.

My favorite picture in the exhibit is a dramatic close-up of protesters linking arms in a futile effort to bar the eviction of people from Aloha Hotel in Chinatown in 1977.

I love the picture because of the irony. The one-time activist and now Salomon Smith-Barney senior vice president Pete Thompson is the featured protester.

"Those were totally different times, today you put together a mobilization on the Internet," says Thompson, who appears just as comfortable in pinstripes as palaka.

"Society hasn't fundamentally changed in terms of who got power, who don't get power, who get screwed, who don't get screwed -- it is just a different focus," Thompson says.

Thompson's acceptance of how things have changed makes a good warning: "The system has gotten a little smarter in accommodating these things."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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