Last winter, while John John Florence was threading barrels at Pipeline en route to his second world title, we made a field trip from our tiny Airbnb by Rockpiles to Lanikai for a conversation with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
I was really excited about the opportunity. Any time we can connect surfing and our need to protect the environment with individuals in positions to make world-changing impacts to policy, it’s a privilege.
Beyond that, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has managed to operate a political career largely on her own terms.
A veteran who served two tours in the Middle East, Gabbard is the first Hindu member of U.S. Congress. She is the youngest person ever elected to Hawaii State Legislature, taking office when she was 21 years old in 2002. In 2004, Gabbard volunteered to deploy with her fellow soldiers, becoming the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. She’s met with Assad to discuss foreign military intervention. She resigned as the DNC Chair when the position no longer matched her beliefs.
Consistent through her entire political career is her unwavering commitment to the environment, and she’s in a position to make a big impact on behalf of the surf and outdoor community. Gabbard introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), which aims to replace fossil fuels with 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
“I wish more people in Washington surfed because I think they’d have a very different perspective on life and on their work,” Gabbard told The Inertia.
On Saturday night, Gabbard delivered the keynote speech at our first-ever EVOLVE Summit. She followed Tom Carroll and Sal Masekela in one of the most powerful conversations I’ve ever witnessed. Carroll and Masekela brought the audience to their feet and tears were shed as they relived gut-wrenching moments from apartheid-torn South Africa following the premiere of our short film Boycott the Gunston 500. And Gabbard transitioned us out of the evening with heartfelt thoughts about our own personal ability to bring aloha into everything we do.
Here are excerpts from Gabbard’s keynote speech, which was received with a standing ovation.
“What you’re really saying when you say ‘aloha’ is, ‘I am coming to you with an open heart,'” said Gabbard on Saturday night in her keynote speech. “I am coming to you with respect, with love, and with care, and a recognition of our interconnectedness. A recognition of our responsibility to each other because of that interconnectedness. Regardless of where we come from or what our beliefs may be about things. What country we’re from, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, all of the things that can make us unique. We are all interconnected. That responsibility that we feel not only to each other but to our home. To our planet. So we can say aloha to each other. We can feel aloha towards each other, and we can make that choice every single day to live aloha through our actions and the way we go about our lives.”
“And it’s so perfect being able to sit here and hear from Tom Carroll himself and hear about his journey and how he made that decision at critical points when it was deeply unpopular, but to me, he is the example of someone who embodies that aloha. Because that’s what gives you courage.
“Examples like his are so important for us to reflect on and to be inspired by during these challenging times that we have as we stand and walk through our paths and our own lives whatever they may be and think about, ‘what can I do?’ It’s so easy to scroll through Twitter and turn on the news and complain and bemoan all of the things that are happening right now. Both in this country and in the world there are many, many challenges. It’s harder for us to look in the mirror and say, ‘how can I put this aloha into action. How can I bring this light and this love into a conversation rather than adding layer upon layer of darkness and divisiveness and anger and hatred?’ If we want change, we, collectively, are the ones who will make it happen. That is the only way it will happen is if we choose to do so. If we choose to do nothing, then what a disgrace that we are leaving behind for our kids, for the next generation.
You heard Tom talk about how he was standing alone then the next year there was five, then the next year it multiplied and multiplied and multiplied. So while that singular action may be lonely at first, or it may seem lonely at first, you may not realize the ripple effects that that decision in that moment can have…”
Gabbard noted that every year 8,000,000 metric tons of plastic goes directly into our oceans. In Hawaii, a recent study found that an average of 2,600 daily visitors to Hanauma Bay left behind 412 pounds of sunscreen.
“The time for urgent action is now,” said Gabbard. “The time for baby steps is long gone.”
“It is that important that in our own way every one of us find a way to choose to take action. To choose to take love and action. That is my hope for you. As you’ve heard tremendous leaders throughout the day today..that you think about what you can do. I was 21 years old when I ran for office in Hawaii, motivated by this desire to do more, and everyone around me said, ‘Don’t do it, it’s a waste of your time.’ But enough people believed and trusted in my purpose and why I wanted to serve them, and so I talk to young people all the time who say, well I don’t know what I can do, I’m a teenager or I’m a college student or I’m 25 or I’m 35…”
“One of my favorite quotes from Mahatma Ghandi is, ‘A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can truly alter the course of history.'”
“The odds and the obstacles more often than not seem too great and against us. You’ve got big money, you’ve got special interests. You’ve got big power, big media. Big everything. Change always happens when it’s driven by the people. That’s every one of us. So I hope that you feel inspired by the aloha spirit that exists within every one of us and makes this choice in your own life. Thank you so much. Aloha.”
Watch the full keynote speech above from The Inertia’s 2018 Global Advocate, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.