In season four of Mad Men, Don’s concerned about the future of his agency after losing the contract for Lucky Strike cigarettes. He pens an open letter in the New York Times spinning the whole thing as a relief, a clean break, a way for the firm to start doing good, nice advertising. Everyone’s horrified. What company will work with a firm that trashes its former clients so publicly?
It turns out for the best, because all Don’s big dramatic flounces do. He’s Don Draper. He’s a fictional white guy in 1960s New York with great hair and an army of competent women sacrificing their own happiness daily to keep his legend going.
But we all know the real world doesn’t work like that. You have to pick your battles. Keep on smiling. Don’t burn bridges – New Zealand’s way too small. Everyone knows each other!
And besides, Stephanie (yep, this is segueing into the personal narrative) you’re smart and an amazing writer and so good at what you do. Labour and the Greens are in government! They’d be mad not to hire you (have said at least three different people who know about these things). Bite your tongue. Something will come up. It always does!
Well, nothing came up.
And I am ja so müde of biting my tongue. Because New Zealand is that small and the Wellington left and union movement is even smaller and once you’re an outspoken political commentator that’s the public sector pretty much locked off for all time.
What do you think the paucity of recent posting here has been, if not biting my tongue? Hoping the big boys would notice how good I’d been, how quiet and compliant and definitely a constructive, useful person you want inside the tent?
No one wanted to hear what Labour and the Greens could do better when we were in Opposition. Christ, Stephanie, isn’t it hard enough fighting National without Our Own People attacking us? Just get in behind and help us win. Now we’re in government … can’t you just be happy?
No one wanted to ask why it’s seen as a joke that unions are the worst employers in the country, LOL ironic or what we could do to change that. Just keeping doing what you can, it’s the cause that matters, not whether we’re actually doing the job well, never mind your own health.
It’s never about picking your battles. It’s about picking no battles at all. But I did.
And boy, when I did, I picked them good and hard. Publicly calling out important men for their sexism and bullying, questioning the anointing of Willie Jackson, defending Metiria Turei at a time when actually, Stephanie, what we needed to do was Look Like A Government In Waiting.
And in private – well. You get found out as the girl who (after a year of crying in the toilets on a daily basis) won’t accept bullying any more? Who tells the (union) boss that his micro-management and disciplinary threats breach the (union) collective agreement? You take part in in-house democratic processes against the will of the factions in charge?
Might as well have arrayed myself in purple and scarlet and written BABYLON THE GREAT ‘pon my brow.
I’m damn good at what I do. I write blisteringly sharp prose (wait, can you get blisters from sharp things? – ed.) I run campaigns that get the last guy on the Labour list elected leader and overturn government legislation in an election year. I’m at the bleeding edge of values-based narrative and framing, something which frightens the hell out of the right because they know if we get this going strong, they will never see power again. I’m the multi-talented strategic/operational media/online/print comms/PR witch of your dreams.
And yet it feels like I just can’t get a job in this town. Because I picked battles. I tried to do good instead of making insecure important people comfortable. I questioned the party line. Hell, I questioned the Party line.
Perhaps I should’ve listened to all those men who supported me and talked me up just so long as I was useful for their projects. Who promised we’d change the world but always had one reason after another to not do it today. They’ve got highly-paid jobs now, and I don’t, and if capitalism has taught me one thing, it’s that people with highly-paid jobs are the smart ones.
Besides, we did win, and that proves their strategy and policies were right all along, and has nothing to do with Jacinda Ardern being a uniquely charismatic person on whom dissatisfied voters projected a huge volume of principle and progressiveness the Labour Party had generally failed to demonstrate for nine years.
… but that’s a post for another time.
I wish, like Don Draper, I could say I’m relieved. That I now have a chance to really do my own thing and break out of the mould. But I don’t have Don’s writers, and only the roughest idea of what I’ll do with myself in 2018.
I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep having opinions. Maybe pitch that novel I’ve been working on for years. I’ll need the support of readers like you – and you can buy me a virtual coffee if the holiday spirit takes you.
I guess something will come up. It always does.