Nicola Young’s scary “solution” to people begging in Wellington

[Content note: dehumanizing language about homeless/poor people, classism]

As we stand there are four candidates confirmed running for the mayoralty of Wellington – and one of them is Nicola Young, whose claims to fame thus far have included being the only 2013 mayoral candidate not to support the living wage and trying to gull people into joining her mailing list by pretending the Kate Sheppard lights were under threat.

Well, just in case you were still wondering whether she’s really a Dickensian villain, wonder no longer. From her Facebook page:

As Mayor I will introduce a bylaw banning begging in the CBD and near cash machines – the most lucrative spots in our city – as part of a larger strategy involving the Police, WINZ, the DHB and charities. This will help guide vulnerable people to a more secure existence. It will require extra resources from the Council – but I’m confident these can be found when we dump some of the profligate municipal expenditure for which Wellington has become famous in recent years.

The kneejerk reaction is “wow, banning people who beg? Dickensian villain much?” but Young has responded to many critics asking that they understand it’s a broad policy and that exiling people to the outskirts of Panem is just “part” of the solution. Read the whole post, she says.

I did.

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Sorry, Ms Young, but the whole post is a shocker. The first sentence summed up: “There are lots of beggars in Wellington.” The second begins “It’s a terrible look.” You aren’t going to get very far convincing me that you’re really just concerned about the people and making sure they have support when literally the first problem you identify is “they look gross when we have cruise ships in town.”

The second paragraph is the classic Tory smear: “They made bad choices so we have to boot them out.” The third paragraph is an excuse to bag Celia Wade-Brown, another tune Young has been singing since 2013. In the fourth, Young talks about working with agencies to help vulnerable people, and the first two she lists are the Police and WINZ. As one commenter puts it:

Ah yes, you’ll work with the police and WINZ. Two organizations famous for their compassion and commitment to helping to poor people.

Then there’s this Orwellian fever-dream of a sentence:

This will help guide vulnerable people to a more secure existence.

At the point where you’re actually typing a sentence like that, surely you have to ask yourself:

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The core of Nicola Young’s campaign is convincing people she’s not a nasty Tory, which is why she says things like “the council already helps people with genuine homelessness issues”. She’s trying to draw a line around certain “undesirable” people – people whom surely no one would stand up for – in the same way the right always talk about “the working poor” (not those lazy bludgers) or “genuine hardship” (not those families who live in a car because it builds character).

She’ll deny this till she’s appropriately blue in the face, but the proof of the hate-pudding is in the eating, and the supportive comments Young’s Facebook post reveal the tune of her dogwhistle.

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(Comment in between these two posts removed)

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It seems a little early to pull out the Trump comparisons, but what can you do? You’ve got a conservative using marginalized people to stir up hate in her fanbase. Nicola Young’s going to build a wall around the Wellington CBD, and you can be sure she’ll try to pretend Celia Wade-Brown paid for it.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, like the candidates who think it’s more important to ensure Wellington’s night shelter gets emergency funding instead of driving out the unworthy.

Language is power

Two otherwise-unconnected stories tell us a lot about how our perceptions and attitudes can be deliberately manipulated with the use of language:

At The Intercept, The Orwellian re-branding of “mass surveillance” as merely “bulk collection”:

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal).

At Ars Technica, NYPD caught red-handed sanitizing police brutality Wikipedia entries:

IP addresses linked to the New York Police Department’s computer network have been used to sanitize Wikipedia entries about cases of police brutality.

One of the edits changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.” Another line that said “push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” The word “chokehold,” Capital New York discovered, was twice replaced to “chokehold or headlock” and to “respiratory distress.”

In both cases, you’ve got clear-cut examples of the people at the top of the heap using their influence to rewrite history and law – at least, in the minds of enough people that it suppresses criticism and resistance.

There are many other examples of the power of language in NZ politics, like the “Taxpayer’s Union” co-opting the democratic, mass-member language of the labour movement to sell a few extreme rightwingers’ free market/small government ideology or “Mum and Dad investors” co-opting the idea of hardworking families getting their fair share to sell, well, sales of strategic state assets into private, mostly overseas, hands.

The challenge is to keep saying it like it is and refusing to buy into their framing.