How Does Change Happen? Part III

(Warning: This question may have more than one answer)

At a recent meeting with Minister for Social Development, Anne Tolley, I asked why she had agreed to meet with us. She told me she’d seen that ActionStation had the ability to communicate with, influence and mobilise a lot of New Zealanders, and that meant she needed to find out more about us.

Which is the key to ActionStation’s ‘outsider’ approach to change. Our theory is not that decision-makers will open their doors to us because they like us, or because they think we are clever, or connected to powerful people.

Our theory has always been that if there were enough of us — enough every day New Zealanders working together to demand change, whether as citizens or as customers — then people with the power, whether political or corporate, to change things would open their doors and listen to us.

The theory is slowly being proven in practice, not least because the current Government closely tracks public opinion on controversial issues. Which brings me to the second point the Minister made that day, which was that her Government could go only as far towards wiping emergency housing debts as their constituents wanted them to go.

“The people who vote for us,” she told us, “are happy for their taxes to be spent helping out people who have ended up in difficulty through what they see as no fault of their own. They are less happy about taxes being spent to help out people who they see as having a hand in their own downfall.”

So that’s our job then, I told her. And I meant it.

Our job is to help more people see that ‘fault’ is not an easy thing to measure or assign when we’re talking about the complex ways in which personal choice interacts with systemic and structural discrimination, unconscious bias and past trauma. Not when we are working within systems that were designed to sustain and maintain power imbalances and restrict access to opportunities (see also: The Fix Is In).

I know plenty of good, decent people who voted for Ms Tolley and her party who want and expect the Government to help out people who — as they perceive it — have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.

I also know plenty of people who find abhorrent the attempt to categorise people based on the degree of fault they carry for their own poverty and hardship.

Somewhere in the middle is a space for us to have a conversation about ‘fault’ and ‘choice’ in an economy built to work for some, not for others.

This conversation will matter most to people when it is directly connected to issues they care about, which is why ActionStation builds our campaigns around concrete issues, not concepts.

This conversation will have the most impact when it is linked to simple actions that we can each take to help create change, which is why ActionStation aims to start conversations that lead to action — conversations that give you something to do about them.

We need all kinds of conversations.

Conversations around kitchen tables, and in pubs across the country. Conversations on primetime television and on Facebook, which is where most ActionStation members report getting their news these days.

We need conversations that focus on the life of one person, and the difference one person can make, and we need conversations about how we can work together to reorient our whole economy towards the well-being of most of us, rather than the accumulation of massive wealth by a tiny minority.

If each of these conversations leads to action, we’ll be well on our way to building a brighter future for New Zealand, one that values and preserves the richness of our people, and all the things that matter most to most of us.

In a couple of months ActionStation will be kicking off a new conversation with our members, and hopefully they’ll kick off conversations with their friends and family.

This will be a conversation about what matters most to us, what’s standing in the way of the future we want for ourselves, our families and our country, and what we want political parties to prioritise as we lead into a General Election next year.

I hope you’ll be part of that conversation.