While Mary Lacques grew up in an outdoorsy family of ranchers and farmers and always recognized herself as a part of, not separate from, nature, when she began working at Patagonia, she drank the proverbial Kool-Aid and became a bona fide environmentalist. At Patagonia, Mary became involved in numerous issues in the California Bay Area, Santa Cruz specifically. It was there that she was trained, nurtured and encouraged to organize events that brought public awareness to myriad issues dealing with land and water, agroecological practices and pesticide issues. “We had a grants budget and it was very gratifying to be able to fund small grassroots groups just getting off the ground, which was usually some sort of a David vs. Goliath struggle,” she recalls.
Surfing brought Mary to Hawai‘i in 2001 and she never left. Now, as the Hawai‘i SEED secretary and board member, Mary organizes people and spreadings awareness for agricultural and food security issues. “In Hawai‘i, so many of us are not from here,” she says, “yet we bring our values and connection to the natural world, our personal ‘indigene,’ which helps to support a sense of a common kuleana to perpetuate and promote common sense land and water use issues.” Recently, Mary organized the 2013 Raise Awareness Inspire Change Vandana Shiva events on O‘ahu, contributed to the second edition of Hawai‘i SEED’s educational booklet Facing Hawai‘i’s Future, organized the Waianae and Hale‘iwa film premieres of Islands at Risk, facilitated a partnership with ‘ lelo Community Media, organized GMO Week and continues to promote and plan numerous educational events around O‘ahu that connect and galvanize communities to become more involved in Hawai‘i’s agricultural issues.
“I never hear much talk about how unnatural and destructive conventional farming is to the natural world,” Mary relates. “It is our kuleana to grow food in as least a disruptive manner as humanly possible, adopting agroecological practices to retain topsoil and clean water—since everything eventually ends up on our near-shore reefs. Modern industrial agriculture, which includes conventional use of pesticides on largescale monocropping and GMO practices, is polluting the water and destroying the soil.”
From beautiful North Shore beaches to the wooded Pu-pu-kea bluff, Denise Antolini is not afraid to use the power of the law to conserve and protect natural spaces.
Denise Antolini always asked three questions of her clients when litigating: What do you want? What leverage do you have? What will you settle for? She now asks those questions of the community groups she works with when they are contending with issues of controversial land development and environmental protection. “Knowing how to use the law gives you power,” she explains. “Making change is a combination of the law and the street—people power. The tool of law is how you get a seat at the table with the big guys—you have to have leverage.” Denise is a founding and current member of the North Shore Community Land Trust, the Save Waimea Valley Coalition and Mālama o Pūpūkea-Waimea (President, 2005-present). Each of these organizations work for conservation and public education for critical ecosystems on O‘ahu’s North Shore. The groups have also been successful in halting land developers from building golf courses, strip malls and expensive subdivisions time and again.
Denise came to Hawai‘i as a full-time litigator for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now EarthJustice), serving as managing attorney of the Honolulu office from 1994 to 1996. There, she litigated several major citizen suit environmental cases involving coastal pollution, water rights, endangered species, environmental impact statements and native Hawaiian rights. She was lead counsel on the legal team for the Windward parties in the early stages of the Waia-hole water case. When Denise had her first son, she transitioned from full-time litigation to teaching environmental law at the University of Hawai‘i’s William S. Richardson School of Law as a way to juggle her passion with the role of motherhood. From 1996 on, Denise has been at the law school, for many years as a professor of law and is now the associate dean for academic affairs.
“Much of what I do these days is behind the scenes,” she smiles. “I’m kind of a quiet connector and legal advisor to community groups, advising and assisting on issues like legislation or negotiations with landowners.” Denise’s legal toolbox allows her to write grants that fund community organizations to make moves. For example, Denise wrote a grant that funded Mālama o Pūpūkea- Waimea to create (and soon erect) a series of educational signs that will explain the marine protected area that stretches from Waimea Bay to Sharks Cove. The signs were designed with NOAA with specific, place-based information on the critters, cultural stories and importance of conserving the unique ecosystems at Sharks Cove, Three Tables and Waimea Bay. “I tried the big, fancy legislative approach, drafting up perfect bills, and it didn’t often work,” Denise reflects. “I recommend the community approach, where we all get together, decide what we want, what’s our leverage, what can we compromise on and then go out and get it with the power of the people, using our tools of law.”
A veteran of mobilizing people for environmental causes, Mary Lacques is
now focused on sustainable agriculture practices in Hawai‘i.