If you’re visiting Kaanapali now or in the near future, you may find yourself in the midst of a protest that could impact your ability to enjoy the popular West Maui beach, where the majority of the island’s resorts and hotels are located.
A coalition of 28 community groups have staged what’s being called a “fish-in” on Kaanapali Beach to help raise awareness of the on-going impacts of the Maui wildfires.
As tourists return to the island, displaced residents are still in need of long-term solutions for their future, most notably in terms of long-term, affordable housing.
Wearing bright red and yellow shirts, the protesters have pledged to fish along Kaanapali Beach – an area usually crowded with sunbathers and swimmers – around the clock (24/7) in order to bring awareness to these issues. The coalition says that it wants tourists to know about the challenges still facing residents.
Not So Surprising
Despite calls from the local Lahaina community to delay the reopening of West Maui to tourism until all displaced residents could be relocated into long-term housing, government officials in Hawaii decided not only to reopen, but to ditch plans for a phased reopening in favor of opening all at once on November 1st.
Unsurprisingly, this did not sit well with many residents. More than 7,000 people are still living in hotels, with no clear vision about when they might be able to find long-term housing or rebuild their home.
“The haste to reboot tourism brings with it a specter of displacement and further indifference to those already suffering,” said one protester.
In many areas of the world, what the government says goes, with people tending to follow along with the official plan, even if they disagree.
That is not the case in Hawaii now, nor has it ever been. Residents of the Aloha State have always been willing to rise up when they feel like they are not being supported or heard by their elected officials.
In 2007, Kauai residents blocked the Superferry from docking on their island. In 2011, residents of Molokai blocked a cruise ship from entering their harbor. And then, most recently, residents of the Big Island blocked the Mauna Kea access road so that construction could not start on a new telescope atop the mountain.
Given these past examples (and others), the government can hardly be surprised by the reaction.
Next Steps Are Currently Unknown
The protest just began, so we don’t yet have a feel for how things will turn out or how much the fish-in will impact visitors.
But Governor Josh Green’s office did respond to a request for comment from local media, telling Hawaii News Now that the Governor was doing everything possible to help displaced residents.
“Governor Green is daily working with partners including Maui County on securing long-term housing for Maui residents displaced by the August 8 wildfires,” the statement said. “Hawaii’s statewide housing crisis was exacerbated by the fires, making housing efforts that much more challenging.”
Though the statement may have been intended to provide reassurance, the last part probably accomplishes the opposite – an official recognition that affordable housing is really, really hard to find in Hawaii.
Efforts by the government to house displaced residents rent free in hotels should be commended, however, and the protesters did recognize and appreciate the help they had received thus far.
“We are extremely grateful that these hotels have opened up their doors to all the displaced residents, and for Red Cross and FEMA stepping in and giving us housing temporarily,” protester Courtney Lazo said.
Still, more must be done, she said.
“We can’t even process and grieve what’s going on when you’re constantly worrying, ‘Where am I going to be tomorrow? Where am I going to be next week?’” Lazo said.
Requests for comment made to the Maui Mayor’s office had yet to be returned as of this publication.