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.

Applying lessons: the way we talk about the TPP

Anyone who knows me in offline life has heard me raving about the awesomeness of Anat Shenker-Osorio this week. She was on Q&A yesterday (video requires Flash, sorry) and she’s been talking to a lot of union folk about how we communicate our ideas and what we need to change.

One of her messages is that facts aren’t enough. Evidence doesn’t work. Consider how the overwhelming evidence, across the world, is leftwing governments = economic prosperity and rightwing governments = economic bad times. If people voted based on evidence, our job would be done. They don’t. There are more factors in play. (And as the left, we really shouldn’t be surprised that people aren’t pure rational economic automata.)

I’ve been thinking about this and reading reactions to the TPP announcement. We’re worried because we don’t know the detail. We’re concerned because the estimated returns are so damn low. We have plenty of evidence that this is going to be bad for New Zealand. So why is it considered inevitable that it’ll be ratified without much fuss?

It illustrates a wider challenge for the left: re-tooling our thinking away from the surety that we’re the good guys and people are rational and therefore telling them the facts about how good we are will work!

will ferrell science

But facts alone don’t sway people. And even if they did, facts aren’t immutable, objective things. We’re all political nerds around here and gods know we love to have arguments about whether mean household income or median weekly wage is the technically-best way to sell the issue that people are underpaid. Your average voter, who doesn’t have time nor inclination to get knee-deep in gritty statistics, won’t engage with that.

Your average voter – who doesn’t understand GDP (*I* don’t understand GDP and I’m way nerdier than average) who doesn’t have perfect recollection of all our previous trade agreements (*I* barely remember any of them) and who probably operates on the basis that our leaders must at least sorta know what they’re doing – isn’t going to erect barricades in the streets over a disappointing Treasury forecast.

The It’s Our Future campaign has done a great job mobilising and organising opposition to the TPP. They’ve done it by saying this is a secret deal which will hurt New Zealand, our environment and Pharmac (I’m willing to bet most people don’t know how Pharmac works either, beyond “it’s a system that pays for my medicine”.) They’ve appealed to our gut – secrecy sounds sneaky; corporations don’t have our best interests at heart; we’re a special little nation and we have to protect our future.

There’s detail in there as well, but the core statements aren’t about plain, arguable facts. Yet a lot of us are hung up on them. And so people see Tim Groser shrugging, “It’s not perfect but we did our best and we’ll make it better down the line” and the opposition replying “Well the devil’s in the detail.”

Saying “the devil’s in the detail” really only reinforces that overall, it’s a good deal. It emphasises that our objections are nitpicking technical weirdo political nerd objections – not important ones which normal people would care about.

30 rock nerd rage

There are probably reasons for that beyond a simple failure to have read everything Anat Shenker-Osorio has ever written. There may be disagreements within the Labour Party which make it impossible for Andrew Little to just stand up and say “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this free trade agreement!” There may be people who actively want to encourage a little ambiguity, or hope this issue will go away if they don’t make too much fuss about it. I don’t know, and unlike certain rightwing folk who get columns in the NBR, I shan’t pretend to know.

taylor swift wink

But it’s an interesting study in how we talk about issues that we do genuinely want people to be engaged with. People need a reason to be engaged – and a big pile of facts or a long technical argument won’t do the trick.

No, YOU get a sense of humour

Henry Denton: You Brits really don’t have a sense of humor do you?
Elsie: We do if something’s funny, sir.

– Gosford Park

Two stories popped up on my Twitter feed simultaneously yesterday: a defence of Tim Hunt’s sexist “jokes” about women in science, and the news that Eagle Technology felt compelled to apologise to the attendees of an event it sponsored after guest speaker Maurice Williamson made unspecified sexist “jokes”.

I had some thoughts on the matter which I tweeted out, but wanted to record the ideas here for posterity!

If you’re part of an oppressed group, you’re used to being the butt of the joke. You know it’s a joke. It’s still about you, and it’s mean.

Privileged douchebags already get plenty of passes for their privilege and douchebaggery. They don’t need another pass.

Stop making it the duty of people who are already oppressed to burn mental energy ~being okay~ with your terrible jokes.

And stop demonizing our anger/upset/contempt/exasperation at shitty jokes just bc we express it on Twitter or Facebook. (The defence of Tim Hunt in particular complained of “Twitter outrage”, as though modern social media is the only place people have ever got together to express their anger collectively in the history of human communication.)

Also, understand when marginalized people DO laugh at your shitty oppressive jokes, it’s a survival mechanism. And you’re not really funny.

I spoke at a National Council of Women meeting the night before last about sexism and discrimination in the workplace, and one of the points I really hammered is that there’s a hell of a lot of pressure on marginalized people – particularly women, because we’re meant to be nurturing and caring and emotional – to carry the burden of other people’s behaviour.

In the context of work, that’s about your “Lean In” school of thought: “just stand up for yourself and make some noise (and hope you aren’t blacklisted as too abrasive)”. In any context, when somebody – especially an older dude – tells terrible, hackneyed sexist jokes about women crying too much or having PMS, the burden isn’t on him to just not tell the joke in the first place. It’s on us to either not get offended too easily or accept his apology and let it go.

Even when, like Maurice Williamson, he has form for telling terrible hackneyed jokes about marginalized groups of people.

Here’s a radical notion: if privileged white dudes want people to stop ~taking offence~ at their pitiful attempts at humour, they could try telling jokes which don’t punch down on women or ethnic minorities or people’s sexual orientation.

Or just accept that you’re not really that funny, chaps.

A glitch in the Matrix

 

I’m sure there are rational explanations for the hilarious similarities between John Key (or at least, his office) stating that there is “no factual basis” to his allegations that the Snowden documents are fabricated, and a Republican senator called John Kyl excusing his allegations against Planned Parenthood by saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement” – explanations which don’t involve all human life being a computer simulation occupying our brains while robots leech our neural activity for a power source.

But that’s not nearly as much fun.

As the late, lamented Terry Pratchett wrote in The Truth,

‘A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

Some politicians have always dealt to people or organisations they don’t like by smearing them. It’s even easier in our ridiculously fast-paced media and online environment, where the damage is done almost immediately, and any retraction or fact-checking is left trying to catch up.

But the tide seems to be changing on Key. Whether it’s journalists (and bloggers) buying into the narrative of third-term arrogance and unconsciously reinforcing it, or whether the disastrous start to the year – Sabin’s resignation, the Northland by-election, Amanda Bailey, the unnamed Cabinet Minister with a brother facing sexual abuse charges – really is just that disastrous, Key’s shine isn’t as shiny as it once was.

Just look at how painstakingly the media are transcribing him now:

“Well, I hope not. I mean we live in a global world where you know all sorts of stories do actually go round the world in varying form. I mean I didn’t pick up any single newspaper in any country I was in and saw it. So, the fact that something goes round the internet is quite standard these days.”

Paraphrasing cannot save you now, John.

And journalists like Tova O’Brien are getting a lot less forgiving when Key brushes them off with non-answers, as in this report on the Cabinet Minister’s brother. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone goes full Ed-Miliband-on-striking-teachers on him. (Hope I didn’t blow your election chances, Ed.)

It’s hard for anyone to look credible when all their weasel words and nervous smirks are just being put out there, unfiltered. Even the clearest speaker can look like a numpty in such circumstances, and John Key – whether by nature or design – has never been the clearest speaker.

But is this the beginning of the end? Is the “honeymoon” finally over? God only knows, but I’m of a similar mind to @LewSOS. The end never comes swiftly. The polls never shift 10 points overnight on the basis of one story (or four). But he isn’t getting those free passes any more.

lew on key(Original tweets start here.)

QOTD: Mansplaining in Macquarie

Macquarie Dictionary has declared “mansplaining” to be its word of the year, and some people aren’t happy about that. Amy Gray responds in The Guardian:

Of course there are criticisms of using the term mansplaining to excess, and they’re most likely valid. But that isn’t sexism, that’s people stupidly overusing words they don’t understand, like “bae”, “budget surplus” and “minister for women”.

Oh snap.