Lee Cataluna: This New Website Provides A Toolkit For Activism

Maybe you show up at your favorite little beach to find the public access lane to the shore has a locked gate. Or maybe you see that bulldozers are closing in on a plot of land that you think is near a heiau or contains ancient burials.

Who are you going to call? What are you going to say?

Ann Marie Kirk spent 25 years working to get a public beach access path restored at Maunalua Bay. She took everything she and her brother, Jim, learned during that arduous process, and lessons from other cultural preservation and community rights projects she’s been involved in, and created a website that anyone can use to help in similar fights in their own neighborhoods.

“You call one office, they tell you to call another office and then another. No one will answer your questions,” Kirk said. “And then, when you finally find the right place, they ask, ‘What’s the tax map key?’ or ‘Is the work permitted?’ You can spend weeks trying to get information just to get started. So many times, communities have given up.”

Kokuaneeded.org gives people the tools to, as Kirk puts it, “dismantle a system that is frustrating to work with.”

The site was funded by a grant from the League of Women Voters Honolulu Education Fund. The information is free to use.

The site was launched this month, and Kirk says she has been floored by all the emails from people who say they’ve been posting the link to social media and sharing it with friends.

“I also got a nice email from someone who had another resource to add, so it’s being built upon by community members,” Kirk said.

Ann Marie Kirk created a website to help others take action on community issues. Ann-Marie Kirk

It’s not just an aggregate of all possible phone numbers. The list is curated. Kirk has actually used each of the contacts and called every office listed in the site while working on the Portlock gate issue and preservation of cultural sites at Hawea and Wailupe. She wanted her experience to streamline the process for others.

The site includes links to current laws regarding cultural sites and public beach access, planning departments on every island, where to get tax map key and real property tax numbers, and information on legislative processes, including how to testify.

“Some of these historic preservation agencies always say they’re understaffed year after year,” Kirk said. “Rather than wait on them, how empowering to the community to be able to say, ‘I know these laws are in place, here’s the tax map key, and I know they don’t have their permits.’”

Kirk also created a section on how to get news coverage of your concern.

“It’s basically a checklist for working with the media, like include photos, have two people who are willing to be interviewed and their contact numbers, make sure those people pick up the phone if they’re contacted, and how to put together a press packet.”

She includes other practical advice, like:

• Log every call, when you called, who you spoke to.

• Remember that while your elected official in your area may not support your initiative, another representative might champion your cause, so keep trying.

• Sometimes, the best solution for preservation is acquisition to protect the land. For this, Kirk includes information on the State Legacy Land, The Trust for Public Land, Hawaii Island Land Trust.

While the website is a toolkit for activism, it is not connected to an agency or group that will do the fighting for you. In an era of increasing personal empowerment, kokuaneeded.org is a DIY site where community members can educate themselves about current laws and make a plan of action for change.

“To create change, you have to be involved,” Kirk said. “A lot of times, these are reactive issues. Somebody is doing something and the community has to react. But when you know what to do, the next time, when you have just the inkling that something is happening, you know how to handle it before a bulldozer shows up. You don’t start a hundred steps behind.”