HONOLULU (CN) – New York political upstart and lightning rod Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Honolulu on Thursday night to support fellow socialist Democrat and congressional candidate Kaniela Ing at a rally ahead of Hawaii’s Democratic Party primary this weekend.
Facing stiff competition from former congressman and frontrunner Ed Case – a so-called “blue dog” Democrat – and former Attorney General Doug Chin, who oversaw Hawaii’s lawsuit against the Trump travel ban last year, Ing got a boost from Ocasio-Cortez and several local activists.
Some 750 supporters spilled out of a school cafeteria and onto the quadrangle of Honolulu School for the Deaf and Blind in a light rain during the opening oli, or chant, performed by Kalama O Ka Aina Niheu.
Niheu herself is locked in a fight of a different sort, with Chicago-based Aloha Poke Co. The restaurant chain wants to bar Hawaiian restaurants – even ones owned by Native Hawaiians – from using the word “aloha” commercially. The fight seemed to ripple beneath the surface of Thursday’s rally, an apt metaphor for Ing’s commitment to eschewing corporate donations while championing indigenous groups, working class families, women and others subjected to political inequality.
During his talk, Ing took swipes at the right-wing regime of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and at Hawaii real estate giant Alexander & Baldwin as disparate examples of powerful hegemonies that rule over the lives of indigenous people.
“Of five missionary families that helped impose the plantation system on Hawaii, two, including A&B, are still the largest landowners in the state,” Ing said.
Ing’s wife Khara Jabola-Carolus, director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and a clear intellectual influence on Ing, spoke passionately about the enduring colonial legacy common to the Puerto Rico of Ocasio-Cortez’ family, the Philippines of her own family, and the Hawaii of Ing.
Ocasio-Cortez, met with loud applause and ear-splitting che-hoos (read ya-hoos), carried the argument forward.
“Kaniela and I were introduced by justice Democrats before my election, but when I met him I saw myself. Both of us from working class families, though an entire world away, leading the same life, shaped by the same forces of inequality. We both turned to community organization. Both of us committed to Medicare for all single-payer system, free education, environmental protection and LGBT rights. Both of us oppose eternal war.”
Ing, whose father died when he was 11 , worked in pineapple fields and later in hotels. As a student at Kamehameha Schools he became galvanized when discrimination lawsuits were filed against the school, whose mission is to fulfill Princess Bernice Pauahi’s desire to create educational opportunities for people of Hawaiian ancestry.
“Politics found me, because it threatened my existence,” Ing said.
During the rally he sought to separate himself from other state Democrats.
“We have the most conservative Democrats in the country, bragging about Bayer,” Ing said, a reference to the German conglomerate that now owns agrichemical giant Monsanto.
As a state legislator, Ing pushed marriage equality legislation in 2013, a minimum wage law in 2014, opposition to private prisons in 2015, and fought the takeover of Hawaiian Electric Company by an outside corporation. He supported the creation of Papahonaumokuakea Marine Monument and state energy independence goals.
“It’s easy to knock Trump. We still have to stand for something,” Ing said. “We stand for dignified lives. We have moral clarity on our side.”
As Ing’s campaign rolls into its final days ahead of the primary, he hopes to achieve the kind of grassroots comeback Ocasio-Cortez managed in securing her party’s nomination to represent the Bronx in Congress.
Between speakers, Ing’s young campaign manager came on stage. “Who’s going to volunteer for the next two days? Raise your hands. Volunteers, go sign them up. Come down off the stage and sign them up. We need everyone to tell 10 people.”