Ko Wai Au? I am Pākehā.

The vote is in, the voices have been heard and the loser on the day has been representative democracy for Aotearoa-New Zealand. Pākehā had nothing to lose by voting for the creation of māori wards and increasing representation at a local government level, yet we either offered nothing to the conversation or we actively campaigned against it.

Racism is catatonic.  Just try gently suggesting to an educated middle class Pākehā that the opinion they just shared is maybe racist. Watch rigidity and stupidity set in because you see,  perfectly nice well mannered, educated pākehā cannot possibly be called racist, not even when in hushed tones “I do not want to appear racist, but . . . .” is uttered.  

The ‘but’ here is that we tend to lack the energy, compassion, empathy and compulsion to reflect upon our own contributions to the perpetuation of colonial systems, structures, laws, attitudes and rhetoric in Aotearoa-New Zealand. The fear of appearing racist undermines our ability to participate in the conversations that could change these structures and lead us to actively engage in acknowledging our colonial past. Or in simple terms, if we dropped the fear we could work through how we reduce and overcome the negative impacts of colonialism and whiteness on our treaty nation. 

And don’t be throwing about the #notallpākehā crap at me.  The claim “I don’t see colour” is a racist diversion. The thing we don’t see is our own whiteness and the ability of whiteness to destroy the vibrancy that could be Aotearoa. Many of us are not even conscious of this whiteness, it is invisible to us. Bell Hooks (1994) described this as the reason that we perpetuate a lack of understanding or knowledge of difference which is the root cause of oppression. Whiteness is a combination of political and economic levers which māori have been excluded from.

For those of us who profess to be allies, the racist mantle will stay for as long as our families, colleagues and our  friends claim that our māori whānau have equal access to opportunity in our democracy. You see it’s like claiming in a group made up of three girls and seven boys that democracy is equal. It gives the appearance of fairness until the boys decide that they will move to exclude girls from the meeting table by a simple majority vote. Yes, that is a system of democracy, it is not and can never be a representative democracy. It is also like how we talk about the over representation of māori in statistics and continue to talk about māori issues rather than refer directly to our failures as treaty partners.

Those of us who campaigned against māori wards created and played a fear that pākeha would lose out, that we should take a stand against a group of people who are trying to create a separatist nation, they called the vote a system that would discriminate against pākehā and likened it to apartheid. We worked hard to divide people and block kotahitanga, unity and togetherness and pākehā completely fell for it. Perversely our failure to support the call for kotahitanga means we actively upheld a system of representation that discriminates against our treaty partner which in itself could easily be likened to an oppression such as apartheid.

Finally, I proudly identify as pākehā.  We have a strong history and a space in the evolving cultural landscape that is Aotearoa, we are also treaty partners in a treaty nation. Today I have represented pākehā voices as a single homogenous group or collective identifier purely because we expect every person who identifies as māori to be representative of a māori worldview. I thought I would give it a go because I am pākehā and I am pretty sure that I can choose to do that and call it free speech.

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Union Women

“As we go marching, marching

We battle too for men

For they are women’s children

And we mother them again

Our lives shall not be sweetened

From birth until life closes

Hearts starve as well as bodies

Give us bread, but give us roses”

(Verse from Bread and Roses).

On this Labour day I am celebrating a change of government because I feel brave, like suddenly what lies ahead is possibility. The hope that possibility brings is one where change is no longer tied to the emotional labour of arguing and campaigning for fairness.  Labour day is the celebration of an 8 hour day followed by 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest, a concept worth celebrating and one step closer as a new government pursues the implementation of living wages and industry bargaining. What Labour day has always ignored is the unpaid work of women as carers and nurturers.  unionwomen

For me the tales of the union movement are filled with the stories of strong women leaders who have spoken out, agitated and led action to improve the lives of working people and future generations. It is union women who have spoken out for paid parental leave, the rights of women to work once married, the rights of women to maintain employment while pregnant, the rights of women to return to work after childbirth, the rights of women to be free from workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, and the right to the same pay for the same work. Generations of union women have struggled for these rights to be both acknowledged and embedded in law.

The change of government does not negate the struggle. What it does is give us an opportunity to tell our stories of hope and outline our expectations for the future. Yes it is important that the minimum wage is lifted, it’s equally important that it is set at two thirds of the average wage and that the formula is embedded in law.  The change platform of this government includes increased parental leave, equal pay, additional sick leave to care for young and elderly dependents. The recent #metoo social media outpouring has shone a new light on the seriousness and frequency of sexual harassment in the workplace and created a new awareness amongst both women and employers.

These changes are important for women and for a fairer more just society.  I am absolutely sure that they will not happen unless the voices of strong union women are at the forefront of holding our government to account. 

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.

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