Attendance Swells at “Mandate-Free Maui” March and Rally
September 18, 2021, 4:52 PM HST
* Updated September 20, 8:04 AM
A Mandate-Free Maui March and Rally drew thousands of participants that stretched in a walking line from War Memorial Stadium to the Kaʻahumanu Avenue intersection with Kahului Beach Road. Bystanders estimated the crowd at more than 1,000, while organizers said the event drew an estimated 3,000 individuals over the course of two hours, beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The march, which was put on by a consortium of organizations, proceeded to the area fronting the Queen Kaʻahumanu Center where police officers were staged to assist with the crowd of people crossing the road.
The event was held in solidarity with World Wide Demonstration Day, uniting vaccinated and unvaccinated for medical freedom of choice. Organizers outlined two demands: (1) seeking an end to restaurant vaccine passes; and (2) calling for an end to all COVID mandates.
Bruce Douglas who served as a logistics coordinator for the event, emphasized that the rally was not an “anti-vaccination” event.
“It was an incredible outpouring of dedication from 3,000 people sharing their voice against these horrible mandates we’re all facing. This was a unity march of vaccinated and un-vaccinated people coming together for freedom of medical choice. So many people expressed they had felt alone… People made connections, felt solidarity and felt there was some hope for their voice being heard. It’s important that peoples’ voices are heard,” said Douglas.
Tashana Haunani Kelly, who is a 32 year resident of Maui, was among those who participated in the event saying, “The rally today was significant in a number of ways it showed support for our freedom of choice whether you belong to the country of America or belong to this Polynesian colony of Hawaiʻi Nei.”
“We the people have to speak up for our rights our voices and our choices to choose based on our beliefs and morals. No one should be forced to choose between a vaccine and their jobs their livelihood and businesses. Since when has this country ever forced people into a corner under pressure? The new mandates feels all-too-familiar like the segregation in the 1950s between races. This is getting out of hand and it’s a positive thing that people are showing up to rally and let their voices be heard all around the nation,” said Kelly.
Kelly called the new mandates in Hawaiʻi “extreme,” saying businesses are concerned they won’t survive to stay open yet again. “We have seen our small family business’ struggle and close including Love’s Bakery and Da Kitchen. Hopefully our politicians will open their ears to allow businesses and people to make choices for themselves. They regulate our own people yet allow thousands of tourists to come in every day sitting shoulder to shoulder on an airplane. Something has to give,” Kelly said.
The rally comes within days of Maui County implementing a new “Safer Outside” program that calls for customers over the age of 12 to provide proof of full vaccination when visiting restaurants, bars, gyms and other “high risk” businesses. Unvaccinated patrons must be served in outdoor dining areas or with takeout or drive-thru service only, according to the mandate.
“Very specifically, the restaurant mandates are not useful or needed and won’t be tolerated,” said Douglas in a post-event interview with Maui Now. “This is discrimination and all discrimination is ugly,” he said.
County officials have said the program will be reassessed after 30 days.
“A lot of businesses are asking questions and getting clarity on things,” said Sandy Baz, Managing Director for the County of Maui during a Friday afternoon press briefing. “That’s a good thing because they want to comply with us. We have gotten a couple of complaints that we have been working on and addressing those. But overall, in general, compliance has been good,” he said.
Mayor Michael Victorino’s 2020-15 directive, which was signed in December, allows restaurants to create and use outdoor dining areas to allow physical distancing for patrons and employees, while maintaining as many seats as possible. “The directive aligns with the County’s Safer Outside initiative, and it provides for expansion outside with the number of seats that would be as much as what’s allowed with 100% capacity for the pre-COVID numbers,” according to Josiah Nishita, Maui County Deputy Managing Director.
Many of those opposed to the event expressed concerns over the potential impact of the large gathering on COVID spread and hospitalizations. Just two weeks ago, the state faced its highest COVID-19 hospitalizations of the pandemic with 448 people hospitalized on Sept. 4. Health care workers are just starting to see improvement, with hospitalizations down to 313 as of Saturday.
Online comments to video of the event drew additional frustrations from others who called participants “selfish,” and worried that there would be further spread in schools and workplaces as a result.
The crowd included both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who expressed support for medical freedom of choice. “It’s a personal choice. Our body our choice of what we put in our body must be honored. If a person chooses to be vaccinated that’s fine. If they choose to not get vaccinated, that’s fine too,” said Douglas.
“We certainly saw the pulse of the people today–that they’re ready to participate and lend their voice to change the system,” said Douglas.
Organizers say there were no incidents and described the event as “a peaceful expression of the will of the people.”