Floor Remarks for SB1, HD1
Senator Jill N. Tokuda
I rise to speak in support of SB1, HD1, Relating to Equal Rights.
Much has been said on this issue in our chamber and in the House over the
past two weeks, over the past 2 decades really, so I found myself looking at
pictures for inspiration on what to say today.
While I was scrolling through the pictures taken by the Star Advertiser, one
of them really drove it home for me why we are here. It was a picture of
Amina Peterson, a young African American woman from Kaneohe, wearing
a bright red shirt with an equal sign carrying a large homemade poster
board in front of our State Capitol.
It wasn’t her bright red shirt or the fact that she was from Kaneohe that
made me pause on her picture. It was her sign: “Remember…the majority
voted to keep me a slave.”
Colleagues, we are, as our Judiciary and Labor Chair has stated, at a
defining moment in history.
With the benefit of hindsight only history can afford us, we know that we
are indeed at a crossroads, positioned in that proverbial time that John F.
Kennedy referenced in his book Profiles in Courage as “the lag between our
way of thought and our way of life.”
At so many of these points in our past, it was not the majority or popular
vote that righted the wrongs and corrected the injustices—it was leaders
who did not merely listen to who’s cries were the loudest or petitions the
longest, judges and lawmakers who with their pens and collective votes
were asked to exhibit great courage on behalf of the disenfranchised and
How we think today does not always match up with the way we want to
live tomorrow…reflect the kind of society we want to be.
Think about the fact that the popular majority once supported segregation
in our schools: in 1942 public opinion polls showed an overwhelming
majority, 2/3 polled, supported segregated schools. It wasn’t until 1963
that a majority of Americans supported desegregation, and you’d have to
wait until 1970 for public opinion to flip completely to the point where now
an overwhelming majority or 2/3 polled now supported same schools for all
And when Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were breaking Virginia’s
miscegenation laws, the popular majority universally disapproved of interracial marriage. In 1959, only 4% polled approved of marriages between
white and colored people. That was the term used then. While we are now
at 87% in 2013 approving of marriages between whites and non-whites,
which is now the term used, the more telling statistic is that a majority of
Americans polled did not approve of such marriages until the late 1990’s.
So often during these proceedings we have heard the phrase, “let the
people vote, let the people decide.”
Well, yesterday I was at the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Hawaii State
Veteran’s Cemetery and Drusilla Tanaka came up to me and gave me a copy
of the third volume of Japanese Eyes American Heart, Learning to Live in
Hawaii, and like most things, it got me thinking.
Over 70 years ago after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, public opinion polls
were taken and while there were no doubt many motivations, there was
widespread support for a number of actions, some of the most civil, believe
it or not, being the internment of Japanese citizens.
This is a case where popular opinion did sway public policy makers, where
you could say that the people did decide.
And while there are some even today who will say it was the right decision
and for the best, I don’t know that my great grandfather who was flown
from Hawaii to Sante Fe, New Mexico to be interned, while his son went off
to boot camp to serve our country, or the over 120,000 others like him who
were interned during the war, would agree. And yes, the way we think and
the way we want to live did finally meet up in 1988 with the passage of the
Civil Liberties Act. But that was over 40 years later.
Looking back at some of these critical junctures in our past, we see that
public opinion was often at odds with the granting or protection of the
rights of others.
This does not mean we should stand idly by and wait for our collective
conscious to catch up. This does not mean that in moving forward we are
negating the rights or disrespecting the views of the voting majority.
I would contend that we are simply serving the role history has afforded
us…serving as the bridge between the somewhat divided public sentiment
of today and where we aspire to be as a society and a people tomorrow.
And so I look forward to that day, and I hope it isn't too far into the future,
when the way we think meets up with the way we live…like it did with our
views on slavery, school segregation and inter-racial marriage.
Perhaps it will be our children, our grandchildren, maybe even great
grandchildren that will sit by our side to listen to us tell them stories of this
day, and I know I will smile and sit back as they say, "What took you so