Aloha. Thank you so much. It's a privilege to be here to join all of you. Thank you all for taking the time to be here, but really taking the time every day to do the- the tough work that you're doing within our communities to serve Hawaii, to strengthen our party, and to make positive change. I want to thank all of the people and the many hands that have gone into making this convention possible, and I want to thank the hotel staff and workers for taking care of you and making your bed and feeding all of you as well.
I can't begin without first speaking of and just sending our prayers and love and support to our friends and neighbors in Puna and those who are being really affected so greatly by Madam Pele's lava flow. I had the chance to spend some time there both in my congressional capacity as well as in uniform with the National Guard and it was heartbreaking to hear the stories and to see the tears of those whose lives have been turned upside down by what's happening, but also so inspiring to see their strength, their resilience, and most of all their Aloha. That people who have very little or who have lost so much consistently are stepping up every single day to see how they can help someone else who has less than them. I saw the same thing on Kauai with the recent flooding and landslides and torrential rains that they have gone through that they are still working to recover from. We heard from FEMA region 9 director who came to Kauai that in all of his of service with FEMA going through disasters in places like Houston and all around the country, he has never in his entire career seen any community come together so quickly and so strongly as our communities do here in Hawaii to help one another. And so for him and for those who are not from this place who don't grow up here, it was a true lesson in the spirit of Aloha. What does aloha and action really mean.
Just this past weekend, I know many of us came together to bid a final a hui ho to our dear friend Senator Akaka, who has said many times throughout his life that the greatest gift that Hawaii has given to the world is Aloha, this most powerful, most special thing. He embodied Aloha, and he selflessly dedicated his entire life to serving the people of Hawaii and serving this country treating everyone with respect with kindness with love and without regard for how they treated him. Over the last weekend, I've had a chance to spend some time with some others who like me had the great privilege of working for Senator Akaka and as we shared some of our stories, we remembered some of the frustrations that we had when some of his colleagues or political adversaries were using dirty tactics in Washington to try to undermine his work. And so we were angry for him because we know how hard he worked and how much heart he'd put into his work, but never once did he ever talk stink about anybody, never once did he retaliate, he always responded with Aloha strength and kindness. So it didn't matter whether people had a D or an R next to their name, he showed us every single they threw his example that Aloha does not just mean we are kind and respectful to our friends or those who agree with us, but that true Aloha means having Aloha for all. It means being able to disagree without being disagreeable. It means being able to find common ground, knowing that we may have to set aside some differences in order to serve that greater good and in order to make progress on the challenges that the people of Hawaii in this country are truly facing.
I'm forever grateful to have had the opportunity to know him, to call him a mentor and a friend, and to have witnessed his aloha-filled leadership firsthand, and I know that the best way that we can all best pay tribute to him and the sacrifices and service he made throughout his life is to apply those same principles of Aloha in our lives, both personally and in the work that we all seek to do to serve the people of Hawaii.
So this Memorial Day weekend I'm remembering Senator Akaka, he's on my mind and in my heart, along with so many other service members and veterans who have left us. Every year since I've been in Congress the week before Memorial Day just this last Thursday, we always- a group of members both Democrat and Republican, a small group, go to Arlington Cemetery early in the morning, no staffers, no media, no audience, just a small group of people going to pay our respects to heroes and friends we've lost. We usually visit different parts of Arlington Cemetery, and this year in paying tribute to and remembering the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, we visited the gravesite of a service member who was very young but who was killed in that battle. One of my colleagues who's a Vietnam veteran served in Vietnam as a young marine, second lieutenant, shared stories of his experiences and the leeches stuff can sucking blood from their legs and how cold it was at night and the young men who he lost. And this tough and gruff old Marine shed tears in remembrance of them. We shed tears together as you remembered those we served with in Iraq, others who served in Afghanistan for our brothers and sisters who never came home. So it's- it's always a tough time for us Memorial Day weekend, but as painful as this day may be it is important that we all observe it and remember the cost of war and who pays the price.
Those who are killed in combat, and those who come home who suffer from visible and invisible wounds that sometimes haunt them for the rest of their lives. Just last week a young soldier who I served with joined a haunting statistic of veterans who survived combat, but come home and end up losing the battle and taking their own lives. He was just 32 years old. Unable to withstand the demons that haunted him leaving behind his two young daughters. So it is for our brothers and sisters who we have lost both over there and here at home across generations that I fight so hard to make sure that our veterans get the and benefits that they have earned, and to bring about an end to our country's addiction to these interventionist regime change wars around the world.
It is for them that I fight in Congress to stop Warhawks from both parties who just last week tucked a hidden provision in the big defense bill that passes every year that authorizes the United States to go to war with Iran, a provision that had no debate, sidestepped Congress's constitutional responsibility to declare war, shutting out any input from the American people, and providing after the fact license to interventionist Wars that we're waging with countries like Saudi Arabia in Yemen killing tens of thousands of civilians, causing a cholera epidemic, and a humanitarian crisis that hasn't been seen in a generation. This provision would give license to people like Nicki Haley and John Bolton and Mike Pompeo and this administration who are eager to go to war with Iran, it would give them license to keep our troops indefinitely in Syria as they have already outlined they intend to do, and it gives them license to commit our troops to getting sucked into the sectarian Sunni Shia war that's been going on for generations.
We cannot ever forget those who pay the price for these wars, and we must continue to fight against those who lead this country who wrongly continue to act as though the United States should be the policeman for the world. But as we talk about these issues- as we talk about these issues, too often people say hey this is bad this is dangerous but that's something happening over there. We need to focus on what's happening here. We cannot forget that the cost of war does not only exist with those who wear the uniform, but it takes a toll on every single one of us in this room, and every single resident of Hawaii, every single person in this country.
We've spent trillions of dollars on these wars since 9/11 alone. Those trillions of dollars could have and should have been used to invest in the needs of our residents right here at home. We have to remember that every single dollar that we spend on these counterproductive wars is a dollar that we are not spending here at home on ensuring everyone has access to quality health care through Medicare for all, on making sure that our teachers have what they need to provide our keiki with a quality education, on making sure that every one of our neighbors has access to a roof over their heads, investing in our crumbling infrastructure, making sure we have clean drinking water, clean air, and preserving our … and our environment, taking care of our kupuna, taking care of our veterans, taking care of each other. This is the price that each of us are paying for allowing these endless wars to continue and why we must fight to stop them.
There are a long list of challenges that we face, both here in this state and in the country. There are those challenges that emanate by who occupies the White House and the cabinet and this administration, there are those challenges that we face that have existed long before the election in 2016. So as we try to bring about change, as we try to bring about solutions to these challenges, we can do so by leading with Aloha, by working together, focusing on our shared mission of serving the people of Hawaii and this country and this does not mean we give up our values. It is our values and Aloha that drive us. It does not mean being passive. It is Aloha that gives us the courage and strength to fight for what is right. It means sometimes taking that harder path to build that bridge that crosses the divide, to find common ground, to reach out with respect, and Aloha, yes to those and agree with us but especially to those who don't, otherwise how can we come together to make the kind of progress we know we need desperately here in Hawaii and across the country.
Our humanity unites us and Senator Akaka showed us with his life how to find that common ground in living Aloha. One example we just saw last week in the House of Representatives where we had progressives and conservatives who came together, not without great hardship and difficulty, but they came together to pass monumental prison reform legislation called the First Step Act. Neither side got what they wanted, everything they wanted, but this was a great piece of legislation that will move us forward and lay the groundwork for the kinds of comprehensive criminal justice reform that we need. That bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
There are many other examples of this kind of collaboration that can lead to progress, so for us as Democrats we have the opportunity during these divided times to choose love over hate. We can be the party that focuses on solutions rather than getting stuck in the swirling darkness of the problems. We can be the party that comes to the table with Aloha with respect both within our party and outside of our party being willing to meet and work with both friends and adversaries to make progress because it is love that calls us to care for families torn apart by our broken criminal justice system. It is love that brings us together to care for those whose jobs are at peril and vanishing because of destructive trade deals, to care for those who are barely scraping by because they lack a basic living wage, to care for our environment, to care for future generations, it is love that brings us together to care about lives lost and ruin that country's destroyed by counterproductive regime change wars, and to care for our veterans who still face hardship in getting the care that they have earned and deserved.
Dr. Martin Luther King famously said darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. If we choose love, individually and collectively we will spark a movement of Aloha that's bigger than any one of us as individuals, a movement that speaks to the conscience of our states and country and to our hearts. This love and Aloha opens our eyes to the truth that every hungry child is my child, that every worker seeking the dignity of the job is my friend, that every one of our kupuna in need is my parent, and that an attack on anyone because of their race, their religion, or their sexual orientation is an attack on every single one of us. It is when we choose to live Aloha, it is when we choose inclusion and love over divisiveness and hatred that we are truly at our greatest.
I hear from many people how downhearted and discouraged and even brokenhearted they are about the state of affairs within our country and within our politics. People who share with me that they're ashamed to be an American. Change lies within each of us and we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the darkness. We must bring the light of Aloha wherever we go and be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's words, “but a small body of determined spirits as gathered here today fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” He was speaking to us, every one of us, that we can and we must stand together in Aloha, carry on in the tradition of Senator Akaka and his legacy of Aloha and make real change, coming together, building a stronger future, here in Hawaii and in the country. Thank you all for your service and your activism and making this possible.