Neil Abercrombie: Words

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The Declaration of Independence. It's about 1,200 words written on parchment.

We are buried in words. We have a plan written in 1970 about how Hawaii could look in 2000. We have a plan written in 2008 about how Hawaii could look in 2050. In 1977, we described how Hawaii could be energy independent by 2010. In Congress, I voted for what became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—known as the stimulus—to spark economic recovery in a way that gave states the opportunity to transform their economies for the 21st century. The actions that followed its passage were meager and dispiriting.

Thousands and thousands of words. But no matter how elegant, how well intentioned, how inspiring they may be, words with no action are just reflections of what might be.

The Declaration of Independence was not a statement of intentions. It was a description of actions that were already alive. It was a declaration of the spirit in people’s hearts. This is who we are!

Words must be backed by actions, but actions must be grounded in a conscience. When we declared our freedom, we did not mean freedom from consequences for the things we say, freedom from all taxes, freedom to push others down to lift ourselves up, freedom from civic responsibility.

We must reassert a public conscience—each of us examining that which is more important than ourselves.

One clear example staring us in the face is civil unions, an issue so easy to distort in order to scare up votes. Every generation is called upon to exercise some civic courage and this is our time—to stand up for the human rights that form the foundation of our civil society.

Then there are the hard issues, when we are called to gather 'round and make shared sacrifices so we can move to energy and food independence, transform our schools, and build a more resilient and prosperous economy that actually helps sustain our environment and cultural diversity. These are the hard choices. Not arbitrary across-the-board cuts, but thoughtful, values-based decisions that require a level of collaboration that has been absent from state and local government.

We can make these choices because we are free people. We need to make these choices because it is the privilege and the burden of an independent people.

This is our time to exercise our independence. To say that we will not just talk about what we wish would happen, but that we will in fact put actions behind our words. I will vote, I will express my views, I will participate in my government, I will seek reconciliation, I will organize my community, I will look beyond myself to the needs of others, guided by this spirit of Aloha.

The Declaration of Independence is not just words. It is a ringing announcement that each of us counts. None of the founders could have imagined that in 2010, Hawaii—the last state of the union and birthplace of the President—could become the example of what independent people can accomplish. We are free people. We can choose our future.


DISCUSSION: Share your thoughts about this essay and the meaning of independence 234 years after the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Neil Abercrombie has been a fixture in Hawaii politics for more than three decades. He resigned his seat in Congress representing the state's 1st Congressional District in February 2010 to run for governor. Abercrombie was born in Buffalo, New York on June 26, 1938. After graduating from Williamsville High School, he attended Union College in New York where he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1959. After graduation, Abercrombie moved to Hawaii where he would complete a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Abercrombie went on to be elected 10 times to Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.

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