Documenting Futures Beyond Covid-19

By Ellen-Rae Cachola, Evening Supervisor & Archives Manager.

This video explains the reasoning behind this project and how you can submit an item that documents futures beyond covid-19.

We are living in a historical moment. Covid-19 disrupted the order we previously depended on. Some businesses that provided livelihood for many people in Hawaiʻi have come to a halt, pushing many to unemployment. At the same time, this moment is an opportunity to create new ways of living. People are taking the time to imagine alternative directions for the Hawaiian Islands. How can we document this time of imagination and future-oriented thinking?

What is Important to Document?

I have been observing how to document this pandemic. Academic libraries across the country, like the Warren Hunting Smith Library, created a web page to invite students, faculty, and staff to submit pictures, journal writings, and video diaries of their life during the pandemic. 

There have been more deliberate acts of documentation. Covid-19 revealed underlying structural racisms and socio-economic inequities that have been plaguing the United States for many years. The Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action created a platform for individuals of Asian heritage to document Anti-Asian racism incidents against them. Advocates argued that President Trump’s rhetoric of naming the coronavirus as a “Chinese” virus instigated racist or prejudiced forms of physical, verbal violence, and discrimination against those who look Chinese. 

As the pandemic began to spread, community movements called out State Departments of Health to disaggregate statistics of infected people according to race and ethnicity. The COVID Racial Data tracker collected this data and revealed African Americans being disproportionately infected in midwestern and southern states and cities. Latinos, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians have also been disproportionately infected in other states and cities. Analysts explain that these communities are more vulnerable to covid-19 because of being essential workers, earning less income, and living in multi-generational households. These communities are forced to interact with more people during the pandemic, causing them to be more susceptible to infection and its spread. 

Documenting the Pandemic in Hawaiʻi

Here in Hawai’i, groups have been emerging to create strategies to respond to community needs as the pandemic placed a wrench in the wheels of capitalism. The initial positive infections in the State were visitors arriving to the Islands. This galvanized local residents to push the State Government to stop visitor arrivals and close tourism for the health of the local residents. Eventually, this happened and around 20% of Hawai’is workers in the tourism industry were laid off and are now unemployed. On one hand, this devastated families who worked in this industry. The Local 5 hotel union pressed the corporate hotel owners to support the unemployment and health care needs of the workers. But the hotel corporations did not send any financial support. 

On the other hand, the interruption of tourism revealed the fragility of the industry. Is it a secure and resilient industry during this time of pandemics, and even climate change? Community activists saw this opportunity to push a critical perspective about the previous “normal.” The largest income generators of the State, militarism and tourism, have long been polluting Hawaiian lands and seas, and exploiting local peoples labor. Advocates demand that we cannot go back to that lifestyle because of it has been hurting the most vulnerable in Hawaiʻi, and it has not prepared Hawai’i for this and future crises. The Hawaii Strategy Lab collects the stories of vulnerable people to determine better long term economic policies for Hawai’i. 

Governor Ige appointed Alan Oshima to head the Hawaii Recovery Navigator, to plan how Hawai’i would use U.S. Congress CARES funds to help with Hawaiʻi’s stabilization, recovery, and resilience. At this point, the State has received CARES funds to deal with the stabilization and recovery aspects. Oshima requested $10 million for its resilience strategy, largely to fund Boston consultants who would convene information gathering at community, government, business, and education sectors. However, legislatures pushed back on this request, and there was uncertainty if the use of a large budget on out-of-state consultants was the best use of the funds.  

Document Now

Governments are not the only source of ideas of resilience. Community people also have ideas. The University of Hawai’i School of Law Library Archive created the “Documenting Futures Beyond Covid-19“. This project invites the Law School ʻOhana–law students, staff, and faculty–to share information they have created, or have come across, that envisions life beyond the covid-19 pandemic and its related socio-economic impacts. Are there ways to a more resilient future? What are alternative policies, projects, or industries that the Hawaiian Islands could work toward? The response can be submitted to a google form as a video, sound, document, image files, or web link. Most importantly, the submitter is asked to interpret the item–why does it represent their response to the prompt? 

This project accepts a variety of formats and styles, from an artistic interpretation of a photograph to a researched policy paper. The items will be added to a public, digital, exhibit on the UH School of Law Library Archives website. The goal is to stimulate brainstorming and information sharing among our Law School community, about the many ideas that are emerging about what Hawai’i’s resilient future could look like. 

This project is not part of the Hawaiʻi Recovery Navigator. However, this project hopes that by people sharing and reviewing exhibited examples, it can organize communities to participate in articulating ideas for community-based, institution-wide or government-led initiatives to build Hawaiʻi’s resilience. While this project begins its focus within the Law School ʻOhana, it can grow to include broader, public participation.