Grassroots Effort By Friends Of Kewalo

Grassroots efforts: It’s a simple concept, but one that can be very powerful and effective. When executed properly, it can make any corporation, business entity or opponent uncomfortable and defensive, and in some cases, even reverse its position.

Hawaii long has been home to grassroots efforts – the coming together of organized groups that aim to make a difference. Some of these battles often resemble modern-day David vs. Goliath stories.

Last year’s cleanup at Kakaako Makai | Photo courtesy Ron Iwami

Last year’s cleanup at Kakaako Makai | Photo courtesy Ron Iwami

But those who fight the good fight believe grassroots efforts are the core of democracy. Ron Iwami, president of Friends of Kewalo, is one of them.

“We need to go back to basics, where the power lies with the people and not with the money, but somehow society has lost sight of this,” he says with obvious passion. “Our effort to save Kakaako Makai, the last public ocean-front land in urban Honolulu, from residential development is a prime example of grassroots efforts through ‘Power of the People.’ As John Kelly of Save Our Surf (SOS) once said, ‘We do not have money, but we have the Power of the People!'”

It started in 1964, when a group called “Save Our Surf” orchestrated one of the first grassroots environmental movements that stopped the expansion of Magic Island toward Kewalo Basin. Iwami says the proposed project would have destroyed popular surf sites from Bomburas to Ala Moana Park as we know them today.

The fight has never stopped. “Even though it’s taken a lot of time and energy, the fight has been well worth it,” says Iwami. “The most important product of this effort has been the law passed in 2006 that bans residential development and the sale of public land in Kakaako Makai. This law continues to protect this land from becoming another Waikiki – to be enjoyed by all the people of Hawaii.”

To show its continued strength and unity, the group is hosting the eighth annual Kewalo Basin Park Clean Up Saturday, June 7, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Iwami says this year’s event will be extremely special.

“We’ll be presenting a cast bronze plaque to George Downing, Wally Froiseth, and family members of John Kelly Jr. and Lord James ‘Tally Ho’ Blears to honor Save Our Surf (SOS) for all their noble work to protect our valuable surf sites and our ocean parks,” says Iwami. “It will be permanently mounted on a pillar at Kewalo Basin Park. The people can expect a wonderful day of giving back to the park by working together toward a common goal of making Kewalos a better place. This will one of those feel-good events!”

Iwami recently took his passion a step further by writing a book titled Save Our Kakaako. He calls it is the story of the power of the people.

“During the entire process, from May 2005 when Friends of Kewalo was born until today, I’ve learned many things that I felt people should know,” he explains. “This story demonstrated that the power of the people is alive and well, and that gave me great hope. I wanted to share this hope, share what I learned to perhaps inspire others to make a difference by doing what is pono to make this world a better place for the future generations.”

Iwami says profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Friends of Kewalo. And if you’re wondering how much of a grassroots effort this is, here’s something to think about: While Iwami’s book can be purchased online at, at Hawaiian South Shore Surf shop on Ward Avenue and at selected Town & Country Surf shops on Oahu, he’s also selling them out of his van at Kewalos.

“Email me at or just come down,” he says. “I want to help Friends of Kewalo continue to fulfill its mission of protect, preserve and malama (care) in perpetuity. I feel this legacy is very important.”

Now that’s grassroots.