Do Good Thursday: AUNTIES

New year, new energy, new good, concrete things you can do to change the world.

The pitch:

AUNTIES is a one-off publication written by women in Aotearoa about their experiences of political organising.

A collection of essays, interviews, visual art and poetry, AUNTIES channels the political power of women, offering rare insights into what it means to struggle and create change in the workplace, environment, local community and beyond.

Activists Nadia Abu-Shanab, Kassie Hartendorp and Ella Grace McPherson-Newton will be editing the project, which will feature the work of up to twenty writers and artists in a full colour, high quality publication. It will be launched on International Working Womens’ Day, March 8th, 2018.

This is an incredibly powerful project and it’s being organised by amazing people. They’re super close to their $5,000 goal – can you give them a little push to make it in their final week of fundraising?

Chip in to make AUNTIES happen here.

The year of living recklessly

That was the year that was.

2017 ended up being a bit quiet around here, but we had some good times, and it’s really important to remember what you’ve achieved even when things turned a bit shit.

So I’m kicking January off by revisiting the ten most-read posts of the past year. There’s some damn fine writing in there and some critical subjects which I know will come up again over the first term of our new government.

I think they also show what this place can become with a little more elbow grease and support from people like you – but more about that next week.

In the meantime, here’s to 2018, which I’m dubbing the year of living recklessly.

What does that mean? Well, I’ve got a mortgage and no full-time employment. That’s not how you get a front-page article on about how sensible millennials can build a successful property portfolio through sheer hard work and massive parental subsidies. That’s pretty reckless.

But more importantly, 2018 will be the year in which, if I earn any new regrets, none will be “why didn’t I …?”

So here at Boots Theory, 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.

Some will think I should keep my opinions to myself, or proper, private channels. Don’t air disagreements in public! Well, I think we’re better than that. We’re strong enough in our principles not to flinch when our opponents try to turn them into weaknesses. We have to be.

Some people will love seeing a dissenting leftwing voice because they think it can be used to undermine the left. And you can bugger right off back to your sham of a “union”, Jordy.

I’m writing for the people who want the world to be better but think they’re alone, or there’s no space to talk about what change looks like. (Don’t air your disagreements in public!) If not for the people who can be persuaded to join the good fight – they’re not really reading political nerd blogs – then the people who will do the persuading, but need some extra tools.

There’s a broader objective: we – the left, the progressive movement – need to be able to question and discuss and make political debate something anyone can be part of. As I said on NYE, in some quarters anything short of 100% enthusiastic support for everything the progressive parliamentary parties do is tantamount to voting ACT.

But we’re progressives. It is core to who we are to debate and discuss and not simply accept whatever authority tells us to do. And when we’re in government, especially when we’re in government, we need all those voices pushing the limits of debate, rebutting the right’s propaganda, creating the space for change. Continued change.

I know I can be one of those voices, speaking from the leftwing, feminist, campaigning side of things. I don’t cover all the bases by any means, and the left will also need the voices of people who are Māori and working-class and queer and trans and who have disability. Parents and grandparents and aunties and young folk, students and retirees. It will take all of us because leftwing politics is about all of us.

I have my voice, and I know change happens when I use it. So that’s what I’m going to do. And I will need your support – but more of that in a bit.

I have to believe real, significant change is achievable, and not in ten or twenty years’ time – now.

I have to believe there’s a place for my voice and voices like mine – and unlike mine.

I have to believe there are people out there willing to listen, and act.

I’m doing this.

So … what’s next?

Election night was, well, a bit anticlimactic, in big-picture terms. The utter loss of the Māori Party was a shock, and a few seats changed hands, and Labour thoroughly shook off its dismal 2014 and 2011 results, yes; but what fundamentally changed? After everything that happened, after three major parties changing or losing leaders in the twelve months before election day (plus Peter Dunne), after Jacindamania and the desperate search for a youthquake narrative …

National are still on 45%. Winston is the kingmaker. As all bar one or two rogue polls stated he would be. The status quo is pretty damn quo.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet money one way or the other on where Winston will go. In strict policy terms, NZF is much more aligned to Labour and the Greens than National, and polls showed NZF voters wanted them to go with Labour. But National are supremely pragmatic when it comes to retaining power, and unburdened by any broader principles which might get in the way of making a deal.

A side note: The repeated line of questioning about whether there’s a rule, convention, or expectation around the largest party forming the government demonstrate how we’ve really failed to grasp the core function of MMP: delivering a balanced one which is the most appealing to the broadest number of people, not an all-powerful one based on arbitrary geographical lines. Whether we end up with a National/New Zealand First government, or a Labour/Greens/NZ First one, or Labour-plus-one-with-the-other-on-the-cross benches, our country will, at least theoretically, be governed and laws determined by politicians representing a majority of voters.

Of course the theory all gets very messy once you’re dealing with real human beings, and especially when the one holding most of the cards is Winston Peters, but that’s politics for you.

Anyway: it feels like there’s little to do but wait.


Now more than ever, we need to remember that parliamentary power is far, far from the only power there is. Whoever forms the next government, they answer to the people.

It was people who forced the government to pass proper health and safety laws, abolish zero hour contracts, shut down the sealing of Pike River mine, deliver equal pay for aged care workers. It was people who made mental health and our horrific suicide rates a key election issue.

People coming together with a common cause – in unions, in neighbourhoods, in the streets, in the courts, and yes in goddamn Facebook groups too – wield, or should wield, the real power.

Be suspicious as hell of anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

No matter whether our next Prime Minister is called Bill or Jacinda, it is on us to hold them to account. Hell, especially if it’s Jacinda, because the centre-left did not serve the country well by spending all nine of the Clark years going “shush, don’t make a fuss now we’re in government!!!”

Whatever campaign is close to your heart, it doesn’t stop now. We can’t hit pause for three years before talking about these things again. So many people spent the campaign lamenting the lack of education, engagement, how ill-served voters were by the parties or the media or the education system (because introducing compulsory civics would magically fix everything, obvs). So keep it up. Push the issues that matter to you. Rock up to your new MP, if you’ve got one, and demand they represent you. It’s their job.

At some point in 2018, after the next census, there’ll be a Māori Electoral Option, so if you qualify to be on the Māori roll and want to switch one way or the other, you have to do it then.

In 2019, there’ll be local body elections, which are even worse in terms of engagement, turnout and public interest, even though local councils have immensely important responsibilities. Run for office! Get your neighbours rarked up about a local issue! For god’s sake, vote!

In 2020 we get to go through this malarkey all over again. But we can achieve a hell of a lot in the meantime.

Here’s an old favourite to wake you up.

Sometimes talking IS the work

This post was inspired by recent events in online/NZ/Twitter-based conversation, but it’s also part of wider thinking I’ve been doing about activism and policing other people’s behaviour. Remember: if it’s not about you, it’s not about you. If it is about you – that’s on you.

It confuses me when people attack activists for “just” sitting on Twitter doing “nothing” but talk.

I’m not puzzled about the inaccuracy of it – no one I know “just” confines their activism to Twitter. Besides, activism doesn’t always mean organising a rally or printing a zine or starting a hashtag. In a society which is doing its utmost to drive you mad or kill you – and that’s the reality for many people – surviving and thriving is political activism in of itself. But that doesn’t matter to the Twitter-deriders: their goal is to shut down criticism and demonize the people who dare to say “you screwed up”. Even if it’s a load of tripe.

I’m puzzled because they’re erasing the value of talking.

At its most basic: how do you build any kind of action without talking? Without discussing the situation, defining the problems, creating solutions and spreading the word?

“Just talking” is probably the single most important step in activism. Even if you’re “only” talking to yourself – even if surviving a society which hates you is the grandest goal you have. Even more so when you want to change the whole world.

There’s a passage in Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time, a history of (part of) the second-wave feminist movement in the USA. (Big disclaimer: there are many things the second wave messed up on.) Brownmiller talks about attending her first “consciousness-raising session” run by New York Radical Women in the late 60s:

Saying “I’ve had three illegal abortions” aloud was my feminist baptism, my swift immersion in the power of sisterhood. A medical procedure I’d been forced to secure alone, shrouded in silence, was not “a personal problem.” My solitary efforts to forge my own destiny were fragments of women’s shared, hidden history, links to past and future generations, pieces of the puzzle called sexual oppression. The simple technique of consciousness-raising had brought my submerged truths to the surface, where I learned that I wasn’t alone.

For those feminists, talking was the most powerful thing they could do. When society normalized ideas about getting married and having kids, and pretended no one else ever got divorced or had abortions or questioned their paycheck, just talking got the ball rolling.

And when they began to organise “real” events, what were they? Speak-outs. Talking. Lifting their voices in public on issues like abortion and sexual violence.

Talking wasn’t just part of the work. Talking was the work.

TWhen you talk, others hear. And hopefully, some listen. Because no one ever changed their mind about how society oppresses other people, whose lives they will never experience, without some kind of external stimulus.

I don’t believe I’m perfect (another dismissive line that gets thrown around.) But there are things I’m conscious of which others aren’t. And as a more-privileged woman, I can call my peers up on those things – not leaving it to women of colour, or people with disabilities, and so on, to always do the work of correcting others.

These aren’t problems I face. I didn’t intuit their existence. They are issues other people talked about, and when I listened, I learned.

I say “when” because believe me, there were times I did not listen. I have been the ignorant ally who said “well actually” to trans women. I have been the person getting personally offended because yes I know some white women try to compare their hair issues to black women’s but I don’t, tell me I’m good!

… And I am so, so sorry about that.

But me being sorry isn’t the point. The point is that, eventually, I listened. I got better. Not perfect. Better.

But that would never have happened if all the trans women, queer women, women of colour, indigenous women, or women with disabilities had sat down and kept quiet because I always deserved the benefit of the doubt. If their real allies – the other white cis women who probably re-explained everything to me because I was too pigheaded to believe women outside my peer group – had just said no, Stephanie’s one of the “good” people. If I had been given a pass each and every time because I meant well and everyone who knew me thought I was really respectful and right-on.

When we talk, we create solidarity. There’s massive value in knowing that out there in the world is someone else who totally gets why you’re angry or how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. That kind of bond doesn’t just build movements, it literally saves people’s lives.

If you don’t think that counts as constructive, righteous, progressive social justice work, you need to go back to a dictionary and look up every single one of those words again.

Some recommended reading on related themes and those recent events:

The base is what you build on

all your base

An easy way to dismiss the success of a staunch leftwing candidate (like Jeremy Corbyn, who is evidently providing all the inspiration for my posts this week) is to write off their internal supporters as “just” party diehards – not real people.

The local “centre-left commentator” peddling this line will not surprise anyone.

The basic tenet of centrist politics is the centre is fixed; we must move to occupy it. The left disagrees: we think the centre can be moved; the question is how.

That’s where the base comes in.

We’ve all heard the eye-rolling dismissal of bloggers and Twitterati and “social media echo chambers”. And it’s correct, to a small extent. There’s a certain type of person who has the resources, time and inclination to gabble on about politics online. They aren’t legion. They don’t represent ~the average voter~.

But for Labour, they’re the base. They’re the people who talk politics away from their keyboards, with friends and family and coworkers. They’re the people who give up evenings running phonebanks or weekends door-knocking or putting up hoardings or waving signs at the side of the road.

The National Party provides an interesting comparison. We’ve only recently started to see the rumblings from their base (at least, the Auckland chapter of it). But they can’t be happy. Key’s popularity is built on slick media management, invisible dirty politics, and swallowing plenty of dead rats. He hasn’t been benevolent, by any means, but despite our worst fears, he hasn’t gone all-out on the privatisation/extinction of the public service/strip-mining the economy for foreign interests front either.

That’s got to be pissing off the kind of Tory who after nine long years of Clark’s rampant socialism longed for some union-smashing poor-bashing environment-obliterating vengeance. Instead, classic National policies like Jami-Lee Ross’ strike-breaking bill have been shut down out of sheer pragmatism: it threatened the reasonable, even-handed facade they used to push through unfair employment law reforms.

Why doesn’t National worry about annoying their base? What they have, and Labour doesn’t, is money.


National can buy every billboard in the country. They can run super-slick ads all over the place (even if they don’t apparently pay musicians for the use of their intellectual property.) They can hire as many local halls and drive as many branded buses around the streets of their electorates as they like. They can pay off stale old MPs to ensure lots of fresh faces are coming up through the ranks.

Visibility isn’t the only thing that matters in an election, but it does matter. And where National can get its message across with money, Labour has traditionally done it through sheer, well, labour.

It’s basically a metaphor for the whole left/right worker/bourgeois struggle, innit?

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Here’s another thought: more and more Kiwi voters aren’t showing up on election day. Maybe they skew left, maybe they align with the voting population as a whole. But they need a reason to turn out, and turn out for Labour. Unless someone dies and leaves a whopping bequest, the people giving voters that reason will be Labour’s base. They’re going to work a lot harder for a leader they believe in, who gives them a reason to be proud of their party and hopeful for the future of their country.

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has seen 15,000 new members join the UK Labour Party in a single day. Maybe he will have a big job ahead convincing ~average voters~ that he’s not a dangerous threat to national security. I doubt it, but if so, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier with that many people to help him.

And now, a song that got unaccountably stuck in my head while writing this post.