What I’m voting for tomorrow

A hell of a lot is riding on this election. A hell of a lot could change if we get a genuine change of government. A hell of a lot of policies near and dear to my heart could be implemented, or not, depending on how the votes fall.

And a hell of a lot of you have already voted so this post is coming a little late in the proceedings!

But what I’ll be thinking about, as I go to vote tomorrow (what can I say, I have a thing about the ritual of voting on election day proper) is the Pike River families.

I’ve written previously about my involvement in the Stand With Pike campaign. Biases on the table, and all that. And there’s a very clear choice before us: Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, the Māori Party and United Future have all committed to re-entering the Pike River drift by the end of 2018 if they’re in the next government. Nick Smith called that “a stunt”. Nick Smith is a nasty little bully.

But there are broader questions at stake, too. Like, are we okay being the kind of country where 29 men die on the job, and no one is ever held properly accountable? Are we okay with politicians milking tragedy for sympathy and kudos then fighting every stage of the way not to learn the lessons of their deaths?

Do we say that people at work get to have a say in their own health and safety, or do we give Peter Talley a knighthood?

Do we value the lives of West Coast miners? Or are they just “ferals“?

Is justice for sale if you’re rich enough?

Do we put people first, or money?

It is no secret that I have my criticisms of Labour and the Greens, nor that I think a real opportunity has been missed, especially given the treatment of Metiria Turei, to build popular support for significant, real change in how our government operates. (This most excellent video by Jim Sterling makes every point I would on that general topic, but slightly shoutier, with way better graphics, and talking about video games, not nzpol.)

But in the next 24 hours we can make a material difference for the Pike River families. We can elect a government which will deliver them justice and closure. We can draw a line about what is and isn’t acceptable in our country, and build on that to deliver justice and fairness in the face of rampant corporate greed for everyone.

That’s what I’m going to vote for.

Sunday reads

A few pieces that caught my eye this week.

Mark Brown: If you’re asking ‘What real poor person could be at Glastonbury?’ you’ve never been poor

Culture makes your world bigger. Beauty makes your world bigger. A night out, a cream cake, a trip to the cinema, a something that is yours and yours alone. Having things you love now makes it easier to live in a world that tells you it doesn’t love you. They make the days differ from each other. They make you feel alive. Being poor is a struggle to feel alive, to feel part of the world and all of the things it has to offer.

When you are poor you feel you are continually trying to steal and get ownership of culture that you can’t quite afford, knowing that eventually you’ll have to go back to where you came from and to the struggles you face. You have to blag and graft and save and sneak into culture when you’re poor. It takes years to feel like you have any right. You can never quite afford it but you do it anyway because otherwise is a kind of death. You scrimp, you save you blow your money because if you don’t you are only what they say you are: an animal that just eats and shits and wants only a place to sleep.

Katelyn Burns: The Strange, Sad Case Of Laci Green — Feminist Hero Turned Anti-Feminist Defender

[Content note: discussion of online harassment, trolling, misogyny, transmisogyny]

… that someone so influential in the progressive online space could make such a complete 180 has shaken the social justice community to its core. How could a defender of equality change so much, so quickly? And what does it mean for those who had come to trust Green’s safe space online?

The answers to these questions are chillingly incomplete — and raise questions anew about the safety of online spaces for those who routinely face harassment.

Katelyn is also well worth a follow on Twitter.

 

Stop letting the side down with your fat hate

This post has been knocking around in my head for a while but it’s timely after another round of The Great Liberal Fat-Hating Sugar Tax “Debate” has played out on the leftwing blogosphere.

There’s always an outcry when the phrase “fat hatred” gets used. “How dare you imply I hate fat people!” they say. “I’m just talking about the public health issues caused by obesity.”

You don’t hate fat people. And homophobic cake bakers in the US don’t hate gay people, they just want them to stop being gay in public (or anywhere else). And the boss who won’t hire women doesn’t hate women, he’s just making a rational financial choice because women just go off to have babies. The Tories don’t hate people on benefits, they’re just cynically appealing to their base by putting vulnerable people through a meatgrinder.

If you are a liberal, a left winger, or anyone who claims to oppose social injustice, you know damn well that oppression isn’t as black-and-white as someone literally nailing a “No Fatties” sign on the wall. If you’ve read so much as a Wikipedia summary of any historic human rights struggle, you know damn well “it’s science” is a well-trodden path to justifying systemic abuse and violence.

So stop clutching your pearls when people point out – in far more reasonable language than I will manage – that the demeaning, arrogant way you talk about fat people and your smarmy, paternalistic “solutions” to the problem of fat people existing is 100% hateful, oppressive, and contemptible.

Not because what you’re doing literally harms people by contributing to stigma which denies them access to jobs, homes, food or freedom. Not because you should recognise that fat people, including Those Awful Fat People Who Deliberately Make Bad Choices, are human beings with minds and autonomy.

Do it because when you hate on fat people, and when you pontificate about the virtue of denying them access to “bad” food, you are harming the movement. Put perfectly by Anna Mollow at Food, Fatness and Fitness:

The key to success, we are told, is to make “healthy choices.” Eat more kale! Cut back on carbs! These imperatives uphold two closely related ideologies: neoliberalism and fatphobia. Most of us on the Left know that rhetoric about individual choice is frequently used to support neoliberalism; by claiming that individuals have the power to shape their own destinies, defenders of the current social and economic order foreclose critiques of systemic injustice. Since false claims about the power of individual choice animate both neoliberal and anti-fat ideologies, one might expect the Left to have mounted a strenuous critique of fatphobia. But unfortunately, this has not been the case.

These are facts. A person’s weight is significantly controlled by genetics. Having a fat body is linked to but does not cause some health conditions the exact way sex, height and ethnicity are “linked” to different health conditions and risk factors. Diet and exercise do not explain why people get fat, and do not make naturally fat people thin. The diet industry is worth billions, and the companies who make money selling weight-loss plans and drugs which don’t work are doing exactly the kind of dodgy studies we get up in arms about when Coke commissions them.

There are serious health problems in our country. Actual diseases caused by substandard housing, actual illnesses made worse by a lack of varied food (where added sugar is a concern, but here’s the amazing irony: that’s because we decided too much fat made people fat so we got rid of all the fat in foods which made them taste awful!) We have actual epidemics of preventable diseases and we have too many families in our community who cannot afford a full load of groceries, or even the time to Just Grow Their Own Vegetables in the garden they don’t have because they’re living in their goddamned car.

Imposing a sugar tax fixes none of these. I hear your objection – “we want to do other stuff too!” – but you need to understand that none of that other stuff is happening. And it will never happen as long as you, the well-meaning liberals who just want to help the stupid poor people make better choices, continue to buy, believe, repeat and promote a fundamentally neoliberal ideology about fat people, food, and health.

Stop using rightwing memes to justify hatred. Stop saying “we must punish the fat people in order to save them”. Do something to actually make a difference in people’s lives: challenging the judgemental status quo, promoting real progressive ideas, building true solidarity against our capitalist oppressors and changing the damn world.

Make the bludgers pay their fair share

Few things in this world make me eyeroll as strongly as the quibblers who jump up whenever you point out the discrepancy between the amount of money lost to benefit fraud – which our government pursues like a greyhound hopped up on E – and the amount lost to tax evasion – which isn’t nearly such a big deal, unless you’re a tradie, in which case you get doomsday language like “HIDDEN ECONOMY” slapped on you.

“But it’s different!” the quibblers cry. “Tax evasion is legal!”

As though “legal” is the same as “ethical”.

As though this doesn’t just prove how strongly the system is rigged – as though the loopholes aren’t there for a reason. As though the grey areas just evolved naturally.

As though all those just-legal-enough mechanisms are coincidentally only accessible to the people who are already wealthy.

As though the way we talk about tax and welfare aren’t designed to make this all seem okay.

That’s why I got a bit cheeky in the title of this post. When you saw it, who did you think I was talking about? Who do we usually frame as “bludgers”, and who do we usually assume isn’t paying their “fair share”? When politicians talk about people “taking responsibility”, do they mean the people with money? Or the people without?

Here’s the radical idea. Tax isn’t a burden. It’s one of the contributions we all make (yes, including people on state benefits) towards maintaining our society. Towards having strong infrastructure and free healthcare and education and a social safety net for people who need it.

The right like to scream and moan about the wealthiest 15% paying 75% of taxes – but it’s rubbish. What they love to avoid mentioning is that 1% of people in this country own 16% of everything while 50% of people own 5% – and they’d die before acknowledging that the 50% are the ones doing the actual work, while the 1% drain off the profits like leeches.

When it comes to lamenting the poor little rich boy who has to pay tax, there’s plenty of numbers and statistics to justify the status quo. When you ask the government how many kids they are letting go hungry because there aren’t enough jobs for their parents, and the jobs that do exist are paid poverty wages – oh no, that’s too difficult to measure, they say, we can’t do anything about that.

The truth is this. The rich aren’t paying their fair share to keep our country running. And even if they stopped using their wealth and power to dodge the spirit of tax law, if not the letter, they still wouldn’t be paying their fair share, because the tax system has been set up to benefit them.

This is a conversation the left desperately need to stop running away from, especially if we keep letting the first question for any progressive policy be “but what will it cost?”

Let’s just stand up and say it. Yes. It will cost a hell of a lot to institute a universal basic income, or raise benefits to a survivable level, or rebuild our health system. But we won’t be paying for it – those dickheads over there, who have been bludging off other people’s hard work and living the high life through fancy accounting tricks will. Because for too long they’ve dodged paying their fair share and it’s time they took some responsibility.

Let’s stop the bludging. The filthy rich have spent decades stockpiling the wealth other people worked to create, exploiting our country’s social support systems to enrich themselves. It’s their turn to pay the price for a strong, healthy democratic society. They won’t be impoverished by having to sell off one of their yachts or settling for just two investment properties. And they’ll benefit, as they always have done, from being able to do business in a country of healthy, educated, happy, productive people.

It’s really that easy. We just have to change the conversation.

Building a mass movement

[Content note: mentions of transphobia, sexual violence and violence against people of colour]

This was a line of thought which fell out of yesterday’s post, but that was getting quite long enough.

The article I quoted from, with its laundry list of stupid, trivial, oversensitive, left-destroying complaints, went on to lament that we’re not building a “mass movement” on the left. It’s a common question: post the glory days of compulsory unionism, how do we get thousands of people to march on Parliament and demand social change?

I have a question in response, though. How on earth do you folks expect to build a mass movement when you insist on ignoring – or not just ignoring, deliberately rejecting – issues faced by the majority of people in society?

“But we’re not!” they protest. “We just want to focus on things that really matter, material issues!”

As I’ve blogged about a lot previously, there are two problems with this “analysis”.

In no particular order, the first is that many of these “symbolic or linguistic” issues do really matter. It does really matter to trans people that they can be outed by airport security scanners, and that their bodies are publicly described as “anomalies” when it happens. The choice is: Travel, and be outed. Travel at the expense of being physically assaulted by strangers. Or refuse to travel, and lose your job or never see your family or go to Disneyland or do a hundred other things which cis people would consider “living a normal life”.

It does really matter to people of colour that ingrained, unconscious attitudes affect whether or not they get shot walking through their own neighbourhoods or arrested entering their own house.

It does really matter to women that society reduces us to sexual objects and promotes attitudes which allow our rapists or abusers to walk free – and to have those attitudes reinforced in a hundred different ways every day.

The second problem is that identity is a material issue. The labour of women and people of colour is undervalued – deliberately. Queer and trans people are marginalized in order to reinforce capitalist norms about heterosexuality and child-rearing.

Karl Marx and Friedrich bloody Engels had this stuff figured out.

And to get personal for an instant? When high-profile leftwing men call me crazy or irrational, or stroke their chins musing whether I’m a liability to the organisation I work for, damn straight sexism is a material issue for me.

Class is an identity. Identity is inextricable from class. The working class in New Zealand isn’t just a row of white dudes in cloth caps any more. It’s Pasifika women cleaning office buildings on the graveyard shift and Maori men and women in the meatworks and young people on zero-hour contracts at fast-food restaurants.

We have to treat them – and everyone else – as people. People with lives and families and interests and needs. Not just “workers” whose existence begins and ends at the shop door.

It’s not easy. But what should be easy, for people who are committed to fairness and justice and who can see that the imbalances of power in our society have to be overturned, is to be aware of the fact that life isn’t simple. Capitalism isn’t a one-dimensional foe. And if we’re open-minded to change and willing to acknowledge we’re not perfect and have plenty to learn, maybe people will start to see the left as a relevant political project again.

If that isn’t step one in building a mass movement, I don’t know what is.