I will not be shamed.

When I was two years old I did not know.

When I was six there was treats and secrets.

When I was eight I did not understand why everyone was angry with me.

When I was fourteen I said no, I struggled and he raped me.

They told me I should know what he was like.

When I was fifteen I was drunk and he raped me on the driveway.

They told me I should not have been drunk.

When I was sixteen I thought it was all I was good for.

When I was seventeen I got married and I told him.

He asked me to stop, he didn’t need to know that shit.

When I was twenty a workmate told me I looked like I wanted it as he reached for my breast.

When I was twenty I woke up to find a mans balls in my face at a work conference.

I left my job.

When I was twenty two my senior put his hand down the back of my blouse and stroked my bare skin

I told my boss, he was spoken to and I was told to move on.I was a distraction.

When I was thirty one I found him masturbating in my lounge, I got him out of the house, he assaulted me.

I got angry, I went to the police.

When I was thirty two I gave evidence at the trial. They asked why I didn’t scream. He was found not guilty.

When I was thirty three I was face to face with my next rapist, I told him one of us would die and I did not care which one of us it was.

He called me a crazy whore and ran away.

I found my voice. I told my story to other women who in turn entrusted me with theirs.

I will not apologise for your discomfort.

I will not shut up.

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A letter to my middle-class, well meaning, professional, liberal friends and family.

You had to be hiding under a rock in a different hemisphere if you did not hear that the general election in Aotearoa was launched and had just moved from first to fifth gear in less than minute when Metiria Turei spoke about life on welfare at the Green Party of Aotearoa AGM and conference on 16 July, 2017.

What followed was three days of air where the thousands of people affected by, supported by and traumatised by the welfare system began to tell of their experiences as children of mothers parenting alone or as mothers. Hashtags were trending, conversations were happening and then beneficiary bashing, racism and misogyny found a haven within media commentary and opinion writers. Out of that seething mass of hatred, shame and stigma rose the hashtag #WeAreBeneficiaries a campaign that continues to remind us of why we must speak out for those who cannot.

I was there when Metiria spoke, I knew what was coming and I cried. I know you are all aware of it because you have all wanted to talk about it. Some of you have made parallels with my life, others you own, or your mums, aunts and recently seperated friends. Others have acknowledged your privilege and then negated that by expressing relief that it’s not you, or wanted to play devils advocate, or pondered the lengths one might go to on a restricted income or told me how everything would be ok if single mums just apologised.
Arguing the cost of helping people is a short term suppression of long term human rights.

Most of you wanted to talk about the economics of poverty and how education and healthcare could help. You spoke about wanting all children to have equitable access to all resources that no child should go without or be deprived of a healthy, happy life. You expressed concern that if welfare was too easy people would take advantage of your good will, you expressed concern that welfare would somehow have a greater negative effect than poverty if we somehow made welfare more accessible. 

The result of your concerned support for welfare policy is that it quickly became the thing that parties had but didn’t want to focus on. You see, your voices were the voices that got into the public sphere, your voices drowned out the voices of people actually living with poverty, working with poverty or wanting to share lived experience. 

In the broadest terms every political leader and commentator had a view (if pushed) that poverty is bad for families, few could or would extend that out to include that poverty is bad for Aotearoa. Your privileged worry helped maintain a status quo that focussed on the cost of the cure. Cost benefit analysis yet again proved itself a subjective and ideological term that stymies innovation and upholds tired and oppressive systems of patriarchal colonialism. A simpler and more easily understandable conversation was the one Metiria started, that compassion and doing the humane thing reaps the best rewards in the long term.

Many beneficiaries are working people, often undertaking a kind of forced labour which is reframed as flexible work.           

The connection between insecure precarious work with the struggles of beneficiaries was overlooked by many commentators.  There are no guarantees of on going work and the hours are unpredictable because they are casualised.  Casualised labour is not employment, it’s a form of flexibility that is the domain of those who can afford flexibility linked to the whims of an employer. There is no flexibility for people accessing welfare. Beneficiaries have no choice if they want the continued support of welfare. Precarious and casualised work means that beneficiaries are overpaid every other week.

It does not matter who forms the government, what matters and what we must respond to is the demand from communities that welfare is reformed to become a safety net and not a sentence. Given the outcomes of the general election and the potential coalition weightings, I think it is reasonable to say that no government alone will secure improvements for beneficiaries and low wage earners, this is going to take people and their communities. Real change takes organisation, voices and communities. Political discussion does not end on election night, nor does it end once a government is announced. Politics is ongoing engagement, agitation, education and organisation.

Your silence will not protect you – Audre Lorde.

Now, we the public, the privileged, those who have survived the welfare system and the resulting trauma, those who have no need of the system right now, must be the ones who step up and amplify the voices of beneficiaries. The one thing we have learned well since July is that welfare recipients are and will be punished for challenging decisions and by extension the system and being trespassed from the offices of Work and Income can mean both hunger and homelessness.

My friends, you are the Nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, lawyers, youth workers and community based volunteers working with the impacts and trauma of poverty everyday. You have a responsibility to advocate for change in a visible way.  Mutterings in the staff room maintain the status quo and agreeing to be silenced by threats to funding means you are failing those people whose lives you are paid to improve, your claims to feel good about the work you do are hollow without advocacy.  We all have the capacity to be allies for social change by standing up for others.

Change those mutterings to conversations, talk to your peers and find allies who will keep the conversation going. Yes, help out with food collections and then look at how you can effect change with them.  Grab a friend or some workmates and take those hampers down to your local work and income office, stand outside and hand them out.  Accept that circumstance has driven people to come here for help and simply offer that help.

Become a advocate, attend some training and volunteer your time to support people at Work and Income.  It makes a difference, if you have never had to access support like this, the experience will change your life. Share information online, take responsibility for the conversations you have with others, agitate for social change and compassion. Remind people that while charity is helpful in the short term, long term solutions are needed.  

Finally, stop being so discreet, stop worrying about appearances, show your anger at the injustice, show the people who need your voice that you are an ally, join with others to agitate, rally, protest and protect. Imagine if you and your social networks boldly organised a rally outside Work and Income offices across Aotearoa and demanded welfare reform that is compassionate, that lifts the income of the lowest paid people and creates a future where dignity and respect are the cornerstone of healthy lives.

Your admiration and respect for people who have been leaders of change around the world is well placed, for without those troublemakers great things would not have happened. Whether your favourite troublemaker is Dame Whina, Kate Sheppard or Nelson Mandela, now is your time step forward and claim your title #Troublemaker.

Food and success on a shite income.

 

This is not a conversation about fresh fruit, vegetables, organics, consciously consuming, sugary foods, fat or obesity.  It is a conversation of eating while you can, and when the opportunity arises, eating until you are full. This is a conversation about pride and dignity and wanting to offer food to your visitors and skipping meals to stretch out what’s left. This is a conversation about Food Security.

There is a rationale to food choices on low incomes, it is quite simply the largest number of individual food items that be purchased for the sum of money left after rent and utilities. With three kids at school this is about packing lunchboxes with numbers of items because the fear that someone will think you cannot feed your children is real. Filling is far more important than nutritional value.

Weeks with canned baked beans, creamed corn or spaghetti for 89cents are akin to unexpected winnings.  These are the weeks that the loaves of the cheapest bread will be eaten with something other than jam.  The ability to enter a supermarket and leave with six bags of groceries instead of two bags for the week defines success for parents raising children on low incomes in Aotearoa.

This is where you discover that adults can get by without breakfast, hell there’s people out there who choose not to eat breakfast or choose to restrict their food intake by measuring calories and then there are people who choose not to eat in order to ensure there will be two meals a day for most of the week. This is a privilege check not a health check.

Collecting day old food rescue bread from the community house means there is another $8.40 to spend. The bread is always hard though and pretty tough to eat but it doubles as dinner when you pull out the insides and bake a can of cream corn in it. That $8.40 really matters.

Food security walks hand in hand with the abuses perpetrated against people accessing financial support from Work and Income and the abuses of employers who refuse to commit to regular permanent or even full time hours for their lowest paid and most vulnerable staff. The abuses committed by those employers who claim they can only afford minimum wage pay rates and a guaranteed 6 hours a week of work. It’s the predecessor to moving house, to going without shoes, to almost any financial decision that could give away the real struggle going on at home.

As the rhetoric on poverty 2017 is being tested by politicians and variations of the usual soundbites are being rolled out, “poor people are druggies who don’t want to work, poor people are dirty and unable to care for a home, there’s work out there if you really want it and the perennial millennial favourite that young people just don’t want to work”. These pre-election narratives that repeated often enough will be believed as true,  setting up the shared belief that there is a common enemy – people who are unemployed or impoverished.

This year it’s more important than ever that we challenge the narrative – affordable $400k homes will not help us.  Decent affordable rentals, state homes, secure jobs with decent wages and ensuring the Social Welfare Act upholds the dignity and respect of people in Aotearoa are the short term necessities. Deliver a government that delivers these, then we can talk about the longer term possibilities of Universal Basic Income – not before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who are the Beneficiaries?

It’s time to stop labelling people who are entitled to WINZ benefits, pensions and allowances as beneficiaries.
The term beneficiary indicates a person or group that receives a benefit as in either a profit or advantages from a benefactor, insurance policy or inheritance. In other words, it infers a windfall that is not the product of my own labour and that I will benefit from whatever I receive. I have yet to meet anyone accessing entitlements from WINZ that has benefited from that arduous interaction and the subsistence to which WINZ condemns them.
The effect of labelling people as beneficiaries contributes to the construction of a social identity that supports a story of freeloading and profiteering and in turn upholds the neo liberal rhetoric which describes people accessing support as lazy bludgers who are somehow advantaged. This rhetoric also disregards the working poor who are reliant on allowances and supplements in order to maintain their own subsistence in Aotearoa.
Separating beneficiaries from low income earners sets up a relationship tension that pits low income earners against beneficiaries and deflects away from the shared experience of income inequality. This means that dominant power relationships are sustained as class constructs that define the deserving poor and the poor. I define low income as any person earning less than a full living wage because regardless of where that income comes from, subsistence and the inability to fully participate in society is the shared reality of low income people.
Bonnie Robinson wrote a paper for the Foodbanks conference of 1996 titled “Some Attitudes about Poverty in NZ.” The paper identified four attitudes towards poverty and each of those attitudes still exists and is expressed and perpetuated in political discourse and media commentary, both dominant influencers of attitudes. I recommend the article as a poignant reminder of how little progress has been made in the twenty years since that paper was written.
Robinson wrote of the plight of low income people and described the day to day live reality as “For such people, poverty is not a character-building activity. It is a daily and constant reality that wears their financial, physical and emotional resources to zero.”
I’m musing on this subject as a beneficiary advocate who worries that the very language we use to advocate on behalf of beneficiaries could further stigmatise and perpetuate attitudes and constructs about poverty and how that connects to low incomes. Beneficiary is an inaccurate label, these are people that subsist on low incomes and there are no benefits to living this way.

References:
http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/jbl04712.htm

Pride and Protest

Pride marches and events are rooted in protest. They are the LGBTTIQ* version of “Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me”.

The controversy surrounding the greeting of the National party representatives at BGO has been responded to by a number of representative groups, media commentators and individuals on social media. The presence of TPPA protesters, the participation of ‘straights’ and then the Prime Minister’s post BGO comments which focussed on Greens and Mana representatives discounted “gay and lesbian” participation and have provided a perfect opportunity to talk about how we report on and uphold our democratic right to protest as LGBTTIQ* communities.

The Prime Minister’s comment that, “with all due respect, the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) is not a gay and lesbian issue” is a common example of the way everyday citizens silence or reduce the needs of LGBTTIQ* communities to a single issue minority voice. “With all due respect” is an adverb politicians and debaters use to signal that they are about to disagree or in this case criticise an action or statement. It’s akin to that person that says “some of my best friends are trans* but . . . .” In the context of the Prime Minister’s comments this was an example of a heteronormative world-view that excludes LGBTTIQ* communities from having a view on anything other than marriage equality and HIV/Aids in healthcare.

We do it ourselves too. LGBTTIQ* representatives responded yesterday and made a connection with HIV/Aids drugs in order to make it easier for the mainstream media to get the ‘relevance’ to LGBTTIQ* communities. While this is an issue for our communities, so are homelessness, youth suicide, access to healthcare, workplace discrimination and exclusion, access to affordable education and living everyday in a fixed societal gender binary that excludes, silences and torments so many people within LGBTTIQ* communities.

The Prime Minister also neatly inferred that the Mana and Greens representatives were out of place, just a few straights, troublemakers who had no place at the BGO. The failure to recognise MP’s from the LGBTTIQ* communities alongside the importance of straight allies in regard to the advancement of rights is both disrespectful and divisive. One could be excused from thinking that it was a homophobic strategy to close down the voices of LGBTTIQ* activists and their allies.

The Prime Minister went on to say “there’s a hell of a lot of people there who are celebrating their sexuality and who are celebrating the gains that have been made for gay and lesbian rights”. We should be concerned that the elected leader of our country has an expectation that communities will annually celebrate historical movements in the achievement of gay and lesbian rights and not seek to improve the rights and everyday challenges faced by Trans*, Intersex, Bisexual, Queer and Takataapui communities.

The TPPA, Climate Action and all changes to the laws and acts that govern this country are not and never have been sexuality issues, they are issues of citizenship and democracy and if the rights of the LGBTTIQ* communities are as advanced as the Prime Minister would have us believe we would not be protesting alongside our straight allies and other concerned citizens of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The gain of legislative equality has done little to protect LGBTTIQ* from either overt or subtle discrimination and bullying from families, work colleagues or other aspects of day to day life. The shock and horror responses that ‘it’s illegal’ do nothing to creating a more inclusive society that respects and accepts diversity in all of it’s colours, shapes and forms. What the Prime Minister has achieved is an illustration of how our communities continue to experience homophobia and oppression through both language and heterosexual privilege everyday.

This weekend the Pride March will take place in Auckland and the idea that Pride is a celebration of the gifting of rights to the LGBTTIQ* communities will be promulgated in all of the mainstream media. There will be screams of anguish from the sidelines as community activists use this one day in the spotlight to try and improve the lives of those who the Prime Minister and our heteronormative society make invisible every day by upholding their right to protest.

Protests did take place at the Pride March and unsurprisingly the media appears to have been selective in their sourced comments. The protest group led a successful inconvenience action that won some media coverage and  encouraged wider conversation among queer activists in Aotearoa. I look forward to being a part of progressing the Pride, Protest and Inclusion discussion.

I Voted Today

Kasey's Blog

As a registered elector in New Zealand at the age of 18, I cast my first vote today. Today I got to have my say on the issue of the New Zealand Flag and whether we should change it or keep it. As someone who has been excited about voting for a long time, I was pretty stoked to get a voting slip in the mail when I got home.

When I opened the packet, there was information about voting, how to vote written in most languages, images of the two flags in the same contexts flying proudly as emblems of New Zealand. There was a simple piece of paper that had two big boxes, one of which I would eventually tick. Emphasis on eventually.

Voting is tough. It’s official. It’s very real. When you cast a vote you set in stone that in the moment you ticked a box this…

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