Marama Davidson’s campaign launch

I was beyond excited to see Marama Davidson stand up to announce her bid for the co-leadership of the Greens.

I’ve been a Marama fan for an age, so I was very biased in her favour. But reading her speech from today’s launch in Ōtara just reinforced it.

Together, we can build a country that ensures everyone has what they need to live good lives, and that recognises that a healthy environment is crucial to that.

Together, we can change politics forever.

Together, we are many.

New Zealanders want their Government to reflect our values of care and compassion for communities and the environment.

Because progressive values, Green values, are New Zealand values.

It’s not just powerful, it’s incredibly effective.

There are three fundamentals for modern progressive communications (which I’ve shamelessly stolen from Anat Shenker-Osorio’s website):

  • Don’t take the temperature, change it
  • Stop feeding the opposition; show what you stand for
  • Engage the base to persuade the middle

As to the first: we aren’t thermometers. We can’t be content to reflect where people are. We have to be thermostats, pushing the political temperature in the right direction. And Marama Davidson is doing that just by being who she is: a Māori woman, a mother of six, launching a political campaign at the leisure centre in Ōtara where she learned to swim as a kid.

(Jacinda Ardern has also been doing this, by taking a drastically different approach to Waitangi and defying the standard frame of “one day of tension and shouting which doesn’t ~bring the country together~”.)

But it’s further reinforced in a speech which does not make a single mention of economic growth (she does cite the “steady economic development” of her grandparents’ day) or business but uses the word “communities” 20 times. This will be decried by the Kiwiblogs and Whaleoils of the world as demonstrating her inability to be part of a proper government.

Good.

The second point: we can’t just be a resistance. A resistance is defined by what it resists. There has to be more to progressive politics than hating everything National did for the past nine years. I really hate the word vision (thanks, David Shearer), but it kind of applies: you need something to aim for. To build a better world, you’ve got to know what that better world looks like, otherwise how do you know you’re going in the right direction?

This is Marama Davidson’s vison:

Aotearoa can again be a country of care and compassion and a world leader through the greatest challenges of our time.

A country where all children grow up in healthy, liveable cities, are able to play in their local stream and forest, and have the support and opportunities to realise their full potential.

And a country that recognises that upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document is essential in achieving this.

The third point is something both Labour and the Greens have been … not brilliant at over recent years. Instead of getting the hardcore fans excited, appreciating their role as communicators and agitators in their own communities, parties have taken them for granted. They’ve assumed the way to bring in people from outside was, variously, “say what the mainstream media wants to hear”, “try to look like National”, “tell people who hate us that we’re not that scary” and per point 2: “reinforce the right’s framing and priorities”.

The result … well, 44% of the country still voted National last election.

While it’s easy to write off Davidson’s approach as pandering to the fans (which wouldn’t exactly be a bad idea since they’re the ones voting for her) it’s important to understand how staunchly declaring Green Party values and the need for a fundamental shift in New Zealand politics and society will energise those fans, and make them feel there’s a real result from donating, volunteering, spreading the Green message.

Besides those three key points – and getting those right would have been entirely sufficient for me – there’s a few other things. Stuff you may have noticed me go on and on and on about, which progressive politicians just have to stop doing if they really want to achieve change.

  • Parrotting “my values are New Zealand values” without explaining what those values are
  • Using passive language instead of naming the villains
  • Using language that reinforces rightwing ideology.

Marama Davidson nails every single one of these. Her values are “care and compassion for communities and the environment”, working together (a prominent theme). The villains are “our elected representatives” who “tore apart the social safety net”.

That last point, that’s where I turn into the eyes-for-hearts emoji. One of my most-read posts last year was about how we (should) talk about child poverty: not as a passive force, but a created injustice. Well:

We could have chosen to pull communities in to our growing financial prosperity. But instead we further alienated struggling families and pushed them to the margins of our society.

Instead our elected representatives tore apart the social safety net we had built up over generations, pushing hundreds of thousands of children and families into hardship and deprivation.

Not “young people from vulnerable communities fell through the cracks”: “we built barriers for youth who simply were not born in to wealth”. Not “families ended up on the streets”: “we took families out of State houses that we sold to rich developers.”

We did this. We can fix it. Political messaging doesn’t get much clearer or paradigm-shifting than that.

Tinkering and half-measures will not be enough. Now is the time to be bold and brave for those who need us most.

Boots Theory top 5 for January

It’s no great surprise that three of my top five posts in January were the Big News ones:

Why I’m Quitting Tobacco

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.

The year of living recklessly

I’m going to write. I’m going to write the truth – my truth, my understanding of the world: how it is and how it should be. How we can and must bridge the gap. How we might be failing and how we can do better.

Some people won’t like it, but I’m taking my own comms advice: they aren’t the audience, and I can’t keep biting my tongue in the hopes of reaching those who cannot be persuaded.

What I need from you

… this blog is labour. It is a product of my time and expertise. And it changes things – not in the most dramatic, final-uplifting-speech-of-an-episode-of-The-West-Wing way, but in shifting how politicians talk and what we think progressive politics looks like. Challenging the leftwing status quo and offering ways for us to be better and do better.

And to keep doing this – to post regularly and devote the resources I need to keep it current and interesting – I need it to be more than a hobby.

But I did also talk about some current events and big political ideas, starting with:

What did she expect?

It would still be assault if she’d been dressed “properly”. “Properly dressed” women are assaulted every day. Because there’s always another reason why he couldn’t stop himself, and another thing she should have done to stop him.

The person responsible for assault is the person who commits assault. And this guy committed assault. And he could have stopped himself. And it is our job, as members of the society he lives in, to send that message.

And stop treating walking garbage heaps like Gable Tostee as celebrities.

And [updated – we had a late contender!] a quick and clean exit:

We’re persistently fed this myth by rightwing politicians and lobbyists: the market knows best, businesses are more efficient than the public service, the profit motive encourages good, clean, efficient, smart behaviour.

Yet again and again we see businesses which are only able to be “successful” by shafting ordinary workers. By relying on poverty wages or tax loopholes to make the books look good. By making short-term cuts and bailing before the long-term effects are realised. By literally putting themselves out of business to make a quick cut-and-run to a more central, “slicker” venue.

~

Given the above it’s a little redundant to remind you that I’m now on Patreon – and asking readers (who can) to support me on a monthly basis and keep the good fight (or at least the good writing) going.

Or if you like what I wrote this past month, buy me a virtual coffee or two. You know how Wellingtonians are about coffee.

A quick and clean exit

I was off social media for much of yesterday avoiding spoilers for the Royal Rumble (WORTH IT) and missed this rather, um, celebratory article at NBR about Wellington restaurant Five Boroughs’ “quick and clean” liquidation:

Popular Wellington diner Five Boroughs has moved across town into smaller premises after the company was put into voluntary liquidation, which the owners say give it greater opportunity to chase more profitable business.

[The company] owes $32,400 to employees in holiday pay, $27,000 to unsecured trade creditors, and about $360,000 to Inland Revenue, though that number is yet to be confirmed.

One of Five Boroughs’ owners has made an open statement on Facebook challenging some of the article, but it’s hard to argue with quotes like

“We could see ourselves on this slippery slope where we were basically just becoming a hamburger restaurant, and neither Elie nor myself really wanted that. It was sensible for us to move to a smaller site, where we could really get a handle on the product and the quality … We decided we’d get a handle on everything now and do it on our own terms.”

Other reports (from people claiming to be staff) indicate that the timing was deliberate – workers were given 4, 9, 11 or 13 days’ notice that their jobs were ended – and in my experience, employers sometimes schedule redundancy announcements around or before Christmas to avoid extra holiday costs (usually because they don’t understand how holiday pay works).

The fact that Five Boroughs’ owners owed $32,000 in holiday pay tells us the staff were employed on a casual basis, instead of permanent; which is common in the hospitality industry and generally exploitative [I’ve been corrected on this point; it’s also possible staff are owed accrued leave as permanent employees]. Sure, there’s sometimes a genuine need for casual or on call work, but knowing what the basic requirements of your operation are is business competence 101 – and you can, and should, hire permanent, decent-fixed-hours staff accordingly.

This is horrific for the people who have been essentially turned into disposable assets by their employers, and it highlights the wider issue of how fucking terrible New Zealand business owners and managers are.

We’re persistently fed this myth by rightwing politicians and lobbyists: the market knows best, businesses are more efficient than the public service, the profit motive encourages good, clean, efficient, smart behaviour.

Yet again and again we see businesses which are only able to be “successful” by shafting ordinary workers. By relying on poverty wages or tax loopholes to make the books look good. By making short-term cuts and bailing before the long-term effects are realised. By literally putting themselves out of business to make a quick cut-and-run to a more central, “slicker” venue.

There are good businesses out there. There are Living Wage employers, bosses who understand the benefits of having collective agreements, companies which see the huge advantages of engaging constructively with the people who make their operation successful.

I want to see other business owners get angry about this story. Tell us that this isn’t how you run things. Show that you’re not just exploiting loopholes and grinding people’s faces into the mud for a bottom line. Because we have too many examples to the contrary, and your self-appointed spokespeople like National, ACT, the New Zealand Initiative and NBR telling the world it’s just hunky-dory.

We cannot accept a situation where ordinary people – the people who did the work every day of preparing food, serving customers, cleaning tables – are left in the lurch, and it’s hailed as savvy business practice. We cannot accept the “wisdom” of a market which relies on bullshit and crossed fingers to make all the numbers line up on a spreadsheet and call it “growth”.

Success is when you make a contribution to your community, when you nurture and protect the people around you, when you create something good for the benefit of everyone.

This isn’t success. It’s greed. And greed is poison.

Do Good Thursday: #KnitforJacinda and Little Sprouts

Here’s a lovely convergence of events. I’d been meaning to cover Little Sprouts for Do Good Thursday for a while, and then the whole idea of New Zealanders knitting for charity kind of became international news:

I was introduced to Little Sprouts a while ago by my grandmother, who can whip up a gorgeous cabled cardigan-and-booties matched set over the course of an ODI innings. In addition to goods like nappies, eating utensils, breast pumps and strollers, Little Sprouts baby boxes contain clothing and blankets often handmade and donated by a massive network of crafters. They work with groups like Barnados, Women’s Refuge and the Neonatal Trust to provide for:

  • Families with premature or unwell babies,
  • Women escaping from domestic violence,
  • Refugees starting a new life in New Zealand,
  • Young parents without support networks,
  • Families where one parent is terminally ill or struggling with other illness,
  • Families where the key earner has been made redundant,
  • Families with multiples (twins or triplets),
  • Single parents (mums, dads, grandparents and other caregivers) who are struggling,
  • Mums battling post-natal depression,
  • Families living in an ongoing cycle of poverty,

and more.

It’s amazing work, and one of many fantastic organisations who could use our help. I have a bag of goodies to send them myself – though I don’t think I can really use #knitforJacinda as they were done before the news broke!

~

I don’t normally make a lot of additional comment on DGT posts, but this one warrants it. There has been some unfortunate sneering, by men, at the notion of people wanting to knit for Jacinda Ardern’s baby, and knitting in general.

“Let’s not pretend those booties are anything more than a diversion to [sic] far bigger issues,” opined a certain leftwing man whose blog is entirely built on the unpaid labour of superior women writers.

But here’s the thing about the ~diversion~ that is knitting items for charity: it can literally save babies’ lives. The Neonatal Trust explains:

100% wool is a beautiful natural fibre that importantly is breathable – unlike synthetics and acrylics which can cause a baby to sweat and overheat. Babies born early cannot regulate their own body heat and the use of wool is key to ensuring their body can focus on growing and developing.

Now, we can keep premature or sick babies in hospital in an incubator. Or, with some booties and merino singlets, they can go home with their families that much sooner.

If that’s not enough for you – because you’re a Very Serious Person who wants to focus on Real Issues – consider how legendarily cold and unhealthy New Zealand housing stock is, especially for families on our equally-legendary low wages. Think what a difference it makes to those families being able to keep their babies and children wrapped up and warm when it’s simply too expensive to turn on the heater (or too pointless, because your windows don’t close properly.)

And we cannot underestimate the value of knitting or other crafts for the people doing them. The Neonatal Trust, again, points out:

• It can help with managing stress, anxiety, and depression
• It keeps your brain healthy
• It can help your motor skills
• It is a meditative act
• It instils pride upon completion

Knitting requires patience, dexterity, creativity, dedication and a whole lot of aroha. Making a few pairs of booties may not bring on The Revolution, but it’s doing concrete good in a world which feels out of control and terrifying right now.

If the Prime Minister’s pregnancy means more people get involved in a community effort to provide for those in greatest need, it’s socialist enough for me, comrades.

Has Labour kept its promise on the TPPA?

There’s a question I haven’t seen answered in the most recent coverage of the abysmally-renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership: how does it line up with the five principles then-Labour leader Andrew Little announced in July 2015?

– Pharmac must be protected
– Corporations cannot successfully sue the Government for regulating in the public interest
– New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreign buyers
– The Treaty of Waitangi must be upheld
– Meaningful gains are made for our farmers in tariff reductions and market access.

(Are we even allowed to know? Wasn’t the TPPA’s secrecy another major sticking point for a lot of people?)

Professor Jane Kelsey suggests that, besides a token attempt to address the issue of investor/state disputes, we’ve achieved none of those points. The best that free trade fanboy Stephen Jacobi can say today is:

“I wouldn’t expect the dairy farmer to be jumping all over the place, but it’s better than it would have been otherwise.”

… which could be interpreted as “meaningful gains are made for our farmers” if one were feeling extremely generous. One is not.

On the Pharmac issue – maybe? Those of us who aren’t Stephen Jacobi are still having to read between the lines here – Stuff reports:

Fully 22 provisions of the original TPP agreement have been suspended, up from 20 frozen in November last year. These provisions include controversial pharmaceutical changes and would only be reactivated after renegotiations and if the United States re-entered the pact.

Does that mean Pharmac is protected … until the US enters the deal? If we sign this and a new President comes along in 2020 and says “Yup, we’re in” do we even get to discuss what happens, or is it gone by lunchtime?

Tens of thousands of people marched against the TPPA, and expected Labour, especially Labour-in-government-with-the-Greens-and-New-Zealand-First, to actually be different to the last lot. But I don’t know if Labour really understood this. If you go back to the July announcement, Labour declared:

Labour will carefully consider the impact of the draft TPP agreement on New Zealand’s interests, and we will not support the TPP unless it protects New Zealand’s sovereignty and is in the best interests of New Zealanders.

… in the last paragraph. The first four words of the announcement, though, are:

Labour supports free trade.

So it has been: at every opportunity, as New Zealanders protested and organised and challenged the very idea that “free trade” is good for all of us, you couldn’t get a statement out of a Labour spokesperson which didn’t begin with, “Well of course Labour has always supported free trade agreements, however.”

Labour has been unable to detach itself from the idea that trade agreements are Good Proper Governance. They’re what you do when you’re in power, and while of course there are some domestic issues to work through like basic human rights and the ongoing legacy of unilaterally self-immolating our manufacturing sector, y’know, Trade Agreements Are Good. They must be, or we wouldn’t keep signing up to them, and those nice men in suits from the big banks and think-tanks wouldn’t keep saying how great they are.

Even when New Zealanders took to the streets saying, this secrecy is undemocratic. This provision for companies to sue our government over lost profits is obscene. Pharmac is too precious to give up for undefined economic gain, Labour dithered, giving Phil Goff leave to cross the floor over it and looking not entirely cohesive when David Shearer wanted to do the same.

I don’t think Labour have ever understood that those specific complaints (which they haven’t actually fixed!) about a specific agreement weren’t the whole of the argument. That people weren’t blockading motorways just because of one particular instance of investor/state dispute resolution clauses.

The world is changing. More and more people are starting to think, maybe “free trade agreements” aren’t the universal good they’ve been sold as. Reconsidering what “free trade” means: who gets to be “free”? Free from what – job security? Affordable housing and healthcare? The power of their own elected governments to pass legislation for the public good? Things that matter more than profit margins?

And maybe, after thirty years of this being the status quo, we’re ready for an alternative. A genuine change in direction. We see a new government formed of parties who (more or less) said that the TPPA was not OK, who promised a new way of doing things. It’s the old organising model of Anger, Hope, Action. People are angry. Jacinda Ardern gave them hope. Action?

Apparently not. And I don’t know how thrilled people are going to be about that – or the government’s message that actually they should be happy because that’s the way the world works.

I could be wrong. It could be as my comrade Giovanni suggested:

Maybe they won’t face a backlash over this. But either way, this will be a massive lost opportunity for Labour. And I worry it won’t be the last.