Bailey Roberts Shines a Light on First Time Voters in the Aloha State

Photographs and Text: Bailey Roberts, Additional Text: Remy Holwick

Ed. Note: I grew up Haole (white/foreign/non-local) in Hawaii, and it would be impossible for me to present this story without presenting the history of the islands as I was taught it by those who were so generous as to let me call their land my home. Hawaiian culture is not my culture, but it is the culture that raised me, and I will always remain a steward of it.

For any mainlander, the mention of Hawaii evokes images of beaches, leis, palm trees, and carefree days– the state relies on this image of paradise to sustain it’s economy through tourism. Politically, the 50th state is a far more complicated place, where calls for a rightful reinstatement of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii are as mainstream as participation in the American System. Hawaiian statehood is the result of European colonization, an American coup to overthrow Queen Lili’uokalani and the Kingdom of Hawaii, illegal annexation to the United States, and ultimately, Hawaii’s value as a military base. In many ways, Hawaii has known all along what so much of white America is just waking up to. Our history exemplifies the American history of colonization, theft, and domination that is coming into focus across the country.

Against this complex cultural and political landscape and on the 100th anniverary of women winning the right to vote, what makes a first time woman voter? Photographer Bailey Roberts explores.

Roberts writes:

I refuse to believe that I can’t do anything about it.  

This promise has echoed in my head throughout the last eight months. 

Pandemic, racial injustice, economic disenfranchisement, politics, apathy, fear, confusion, depression, alienation… I refuse to believe that I can’t do anything about it. 

I realized that “doing something about it”, can take shape on a small scale; a scale that is well suited to me, my gifts and my voice. That my voice, regardless of how small, can inspire someone, give someone motivation, perhaps even hope. 

2020 marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. On the precipice of this upcoming election, I turned my lens onto a group of first time female voters. People that exist in my community at home in Hawaii.

As a snapshot of suffragist success, this anniversary reveals the many women left out of frame. After an arduous year of injustices and tragedy, this cross-section of women voice their consensus of conviction as they prepare to cast their first ballots.
By making their voices heard they carry the torch and broaden the lens through which all may be seen and heard.

“For me, voting brings about a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I’m excited for the opportunity to express my opinion and participate in such an important collective action. I get to have a voice in a way I never have before and it feels very powerful. On the other hand, I’m left feeling overwhelmed and a little discouraged. Although I know that voting is a powerful way to make my voice heard, it feels like such a small action compared to the importance of the issues at hand. I just wish that there was more that I could do. At the end of the day though, I feel very privileged to have the right and the ability to vote this year. Unfortunately, there are still barriers in place that exclude certain people from voting. So, with that privilege comes a big responsibility. I believe I have an obligation to vote for the best interest of myself and my community, as well as marginalized and underserved groups whose voices tend to be overlooked.”
Abby, 20
“Right now, more than ever, we all have a major part to play in the way we shape our world and our future. We simply don’t have the luxury of time, now is the moment to get up and do something about it.”
Abeba Holt, 19
“It is a privilege to choose whether or not to participate in the election.
Voting, to me, is an incredibly important opportunity to not only voice your own opinion and values, but also to support and reinforce the voices of those who are suppressed. I know that I can’t do this on my own, so voting feels like my chance to take part in a real positive change.”

Kano Watanabe, 21
“Having been a Green Card holder for the past 30 years, I believe it is time for me to step off the sidelines and make my voice heard. I am voting not only to honor the women before me that fought to ensure the freedoms and rights we enjoy today but also to ensure that future generations keep benefitting from and building on these rights.”
Sabine Ronge, 54
“During this time, as a woman, more so as just a human, I’ve definitely found myself searching for the true meaning of life and how we are supposed to live as one.”
Sarah, 20
“I feel that this election is particularly critical and I feel lucky that I am able to participate in it. With the way our world is headed, we need immediate change and I want to vote for a president that will guide us in the right direction.”
Danya, 19 
“This new generation of voters are more diverse than ever. During these turbulent times, I believe that it’s critical to make our voices heard. As a first generation immigrant, I plan on exercising my right to vote as an expression of my agency to make change and of my independence. Our future and the future of those after us depend on our vote.”
Kaye Carson, 19
“This election is the most critical in recent history. As a first time female voter who spends most of her time in the ocean and is passionate about the environment, there are issues that deeply matter to me on the ballot. I was nervous and excited when voting, knowing that this is a chance for my voice to be heard.”
Annie Starr, 19
“I’m proud to vote this year because I’m ready for change. I’m aware of what’s at stake and I don’t take this privilege for granted.”
Kristen, 20
“This is the time to make a difference. With the abundance of uncertainty in the world, sharing our voice is a privilege that is easily forgotten. Manifesting change is our right, and our voices need to be heard. This is our future, why shouldn’t we decide?”
Naia Griesseman, 23
“As a young adult, I think voting is important not only for my future but for the future of generations to come. We are setting up the foundation of ethics for society and for our environment.”
“My voice matters, yours does too. Amidst the current state of our country, we must make strides towards creating true freedom and justice to everyone. Even if the outcome of this election doesn’t impact you directly, it may be a matter of life or death for someone else. We have the power to make a change.”
Kaya, 20
“I am grateful for my right to vote. Every ounce of my being knows that as women we have so much strength and power to share with the world. We have the opportunity to use this power to shape a better future for our children.”
Mahina, 22
“I believe that we need to grow past the ideas that have stood in the way of the greater good. That is why I’m voting.”
Maya Reynolds, 21

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