The New Zealand Election, Charlottesville and a slippery slope

Chelsea Robinson
Aug 26, 2017 · 10 min read
Looking southwest from Makara, Wellington NZ.

This is a response to “I will not be voting in this election”. This article made me feel sad and frustrated, as if young kiwis don’t see the big picture at all. So, if you know what the word neoliberalism means, you want politics to feel more relevant, but you feel exhausted by politics and the way it works right now, this is for you.

Young people in New Zealand have tough choices to make during elections at the moment. Parties put forward leaders of their choosing, and play the old game of billboards, press conferences and augment 20th century democracy with weekly attempt at Facebook live. Young kiwis talk about wanting to be able to vote for socialism, or to vote for no one because no political party on offer suits their emerging paradigm. New Zealand is only recently neoliberal in many ways, and yet in other countries like the US you can see the way “money in politics” builds a separate political class, captured by corporate interests over cultural values or community interests. Money in politics is not just about the truck lobby funding a political party to build roads, it’s also about how money and class become culturally worshipped within a neoliberal economy, which is attached to a story of separation, individualism and “fending for yourself”. Yes this story is killing us. It’s eroding our environment, our social fabric, our belief in each other, and our sense of what life is for. We need to press the restart button on almost every aspect of society’s structures in order to rebuild them within a new story, including how our politics is operating. The irrelevant reality TV show that is our popularity politics steeped in the story of separation is obviously steaming toward a cliff. But are we shooting ourselves in the foot by tuning out?

I think that it’s time to dig in our heels, vote strategically and actively build the foundation for Aotearoa New Zealand to thrive again in the long term. In the short term, this is unbelievably simple:
Party vote progressive/left.

There, I gave away the punchline. That is the action I want you to take. Why? These three reasons are scarier than you think.

1) Political parties either build or erode the context for securing a better future

Last week in Charlottesville, Virginia an international white supremacy rally caused violent injury and death of local people. Locals peacefully marching down a road aiming to demonstrate that hateful groups of extremists are not tolerated in their town were brutally attacked. For full information watch this short VICE documentary (trigger warnings: racist hate speech, car violence, unhelpful police). Donald Trump’s initial reaction said he condemns these behaviours “on many sides”, failing to acknowledge the “Unite the Right” rally as the perpetrating group.

This recent tragedy is a microcosm of the tension, disruption and values contortion which the US is experiencing right now. The consistent use of a neoliberal ideology to build the United States in the past 50 years has created the perfect conditions for this storm.

Folks interested in building an inclusive economic and political future for the United States were fired up for Bernie Sanders’ call for democratic socialism, and fired up for Obama the community organiser black president. But in the choice between Hilary’s “slightly improve the status quo” and Trump’s “drain the swamp” there was a sense of confusion even in my progressive circles. I met a young woman at a dinner event about inclusive workplaces, and she was voting for Trump as an act of rebellion. Not only was there that breed of confusion during the election campaign, but now there is a bigger confusion: How do we build the inclusive cultural future we see as possible, when we’re busy trying to organise counter protests against violent, heavily armed hate groups? How do we build the inclusive energy future we know is urgent, while trying to organise petitions to shame and change the decisions of the CEO of Exxon Mobil — the Secretary of State and Climate? The cards are officially stacked against progressively minded folks who want to build a world where most people thrive. We are forced to fight fires with one hand while juggling our own lives and organise a proactive community food program with what energy is left.

The policies, behaviours and influence of political parties in power can erode the political context in which work can be done to secure a better future.

Of course we can see the holes in the Labour party, and the two party system. But we have the opportunity to disrupt that. The Opportunities Party is doing a great job at shaking up the debates. It will be much more likely for new political parties to form and new political agendas to be proposed such as “NZ as a commons” (see Barcelona in common, as an example). We can present entirely new political stories — new narratives for society at large. But this will be hard without progressive/centre left politicians in power. Because everyone who cares about fairness, and access to opportunity, will be busy screaming for basic rights to be upheld, while those in power buy bigger earplugs and decide welfare should get smaller and smaller and smaller.

Responses to the Trump election lining the NYC subway stations Nov 2016

2) The “ruling class” becomes more irrelevant and detached the more you ignore them

Metiria’s recent experience being vilified for telling a true story of hardship from a position of political standing shows that vulnerability is not welcome, real issues faced by mothers are not welcome. All the while our existing political class carrying on with their own tax evasion style tactics and using of legal loopholes to make the best of it for themselves. Bill English and the National Party admonished Metiria. But Bill English cheated the state to make a buck rather than to get by! Declaring he lived in in Southland to gain access to an extra $32,000 of taxpayer money for a housing allowance while living in Wellington and owning multiple properties (on advice from his personal lawyer, while in parliament), shows he is completely removed from the experience of normal NZ communities that are simply making money, keeping jobs, raising children, and finding 5 minutes for their passions in a complex puzzle of factors in order to live their lives in houses rather than on streets. Political elitism is divorced from a culture that values community, and when decision makers live at a distance from real issues it not only makes politics feel irrelevant NOW, but will make it more likely for politics to be irrelevant and violently irresponsible into the future.

Voting today is part of a journey for you to reconnect our politics to what you care about.

3) Nation states are easier to maintain than create

States are usually the product of war, if not a challenging international negotiation process at a table accessible only to existing nation states. To have control and power and influence and discretion and mandate to make changes across geographical region that you have exclusive access to, is not possible to get without force unless you live in a democracy.

Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the best opportunities to engage with the existing democratic structures in order to make them more relevant over time. Maintaining democracy — access to decision making in our geographical mutual aid network — is a choice. When we choose to disengage we’re not actually choosing to build a new democracy. Revolution is not as sexy as it sounds. It might come as a surprise to some people, but this would be very difficult to do. Restoring a broken, captured state would require extreme use of force or taking on extreme international debt (or both) and I don’t think that’s what we want or need for New Zealand.

In the context of global changes NZ has always practiced leadership and been out in front. We punch above our weight, we take the moral high ground. We have always been involved in looking at new ways of doing things. I could list many from being first to enable women’s right to vote, through to the Waitangi Tribunal process, the nuclear free decision, the role NZ took in the South African apartheid via the SpringBok tour.

Aotearoa NZ is an incubation nation. We can try things others can’t. We are in a lucky position to create the political environment that we want. We have the same % of naysayers as anywhere else, but we also had the first Green Party in the world (1972). From my perspective, the Green Party really innovated participatory policy development processes. Building community chapters and facilitating a tree of input from members towards collaboratively developed policies. No matter how niche their voters seem, they have pioneered new politics. We have a political precedent for innovation around how communities participate and get represented in creating the future of our nation state. This approach has been taken up by 100 countries. Global players pay attention to what we try here.

Our nation state is small and enclosed by water, making us an ideal incubation nation environment. And we didn’t stop innovating on fundamental aspects of our society in the 70s, its happening now. For example, the founder of one of the most influential cryptocurrencies is coming to NZ through the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. This is an exciting opportunity for some innovative testing at the highest level; what is the future of our financial system? Can we make a more just, fair, and transparent economy? What is the possibility of the blockchain technology itself making voting more secure? I don’t know. The blockchain space is filled with just as many power hungry people as the US money system. However, there’s an opportunity there to strike out and do something different. We are staying relevant when we innovate with the pulse of the world, and if we incubate the future in Aotearoa, we will be immersing these innovations in uniquely kiwi values which values-confused states like the US really need role modelled. The incredible wisdom and cultural lineage of Te Ao Māori is valuable beyond measure. What happens when we go above and beyond to build a nation state of the future which is deeply informed by and empowering for indigenous and pacific people? This is a special kind of incubation that we can only enable if we build a more equal society and enable tangata whenua to truly stand in their power alongside folks like the one building this cryptocurrency.

We have a history of trying things, pushing the boundaries and adopting new approaches. Initiatives like EHF are positioning New Zealand to be a culture MAKER not a culture taker in the next 100 years. Will you help to create a space for political innovations which we could share with the world? Will you help maintain the access to decision making that we have now? Will you help us hold on to a democracy that isn’t completely corrupt so there’s oxygen in our political economy to use for creating something new rather than have to fight to rebuild something we lost because we got apathetic?

Changing the course of nation states without enormous violence or disruption is about consistently making decisions & innovating towards our values and vision. And we are so well positioned to not only help ourselves but help other nation states see a new path forward.

Keep your claws in

Now, and every election in the foreseeable future, is a time to vote for parties that you agree with (even if their policies don’t feel perfect yet). It’s time to get people who can relate to you buckled up into the seats of power. Vote to say “sit there, please, hold the fort for us while we build something new, and be ready to help me when I’ve got something for us to use at scale”.

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