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Something is brewing in NZ politics

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Contributor:
Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

In recent weeks a grassroots whisper has started, quietly, persistently, with the latent potential and power to become a drummer’s call.

 The few short weeks until the election are already revealing some uncomfortable things about our policies, our prejudices and ourselves that will have a lasting impact on our nation’s psyche – and especially on the minds of those who will be eligible to vote in 2020.

Something is brewing, and those who are reading this have only to talk, really talk, to one of the people adversely affected by one of the "hot button" issues to understand that it's going to keep brewing a good way past September 23, 2017.

Our politicians, the media, have something to say, as usual.

But here’s thing that is surprising, given the million people who did not vote in the 2014 election.

People are talking. Not politicians, not the media. People. New Zealanders of all stripes are talking, and are not ceasing to talk, about issues that affect them day to day, week to week, year to year.

But that’s not the really incredible thing that is happening right now.

We’re talking about the issues that don’t affect us as well as standing as witness for the ones that do, and the maturity, empathy and insight that is characteristic of these discussions indicates that unless politicians are able to meet us on this level, the election result is going to shock more than a few of the politicians sitting confidently and cynically by in the halls of parliament.

James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed, until it is faced.”

We’re facing it, with or without the current or ambitious political parties. We’re talking on social media, at our workplaces, over coffee, with our partners, our friends. We're seeking out both the stories of our neighbours, and the visionary minds of those who can see a future where their stories hold more hope.

How we can do better. How we can keep faith with each other when there are complex divides to overcome. How we can hold the systems we put in place accountable to the people that they are there to help. How we can stay accountable to our children, as well as to our neighbours. How our track record on many issues is the poorest in the Western world, and how we might change that.

We’re asking the questions, and if we don’t get satisfactory answers, we’re asking them again.

How do we change the way we treat women in New Zealand?

How can we change the way we treat children and teenagers in New Zealand, and cease to split them into the categories of “privileged’ and “disadvantaged?”

How do we ensure that our mental health system is given the support it needs to ensure that people stop falling through the cracks? How do we ensure that we talk about mental health in a way that de-stigmatises, and heals, not harms?

Something is brewing in New Zealand, and it’s happening at the tables of people who know what it is to suffer. It’s happening in the minds and hearts of the adult children whose parents are being vilified for loving their children enough to do whatever it took to feed them and keep them safe from harm.

It’s happening in the minds and hearts of the families who live paycheck to paycheck, and who sometimes have permanent, stable homes, and who often do not.

It’s happening in the hearts and minds of people who know, love, work with, are friends with someone who is not from New Zealand, and who are unable to stomach another election where those people are made to be straw men in order to avoid discussion of the things that people know to be true, like the length of their commute, or the coldness of their home or the coins that they count until they are paid again.

It’s like that saying, how you can tell the measure of a man, or woman?

By what they do.

Some of us pretend to care, some of us pretend to be outraged, but when push comes to shove we look after our own safety and security. We perpetuate the status quo because it benefits us, and fail to see that the very definition of a democracy is that everyone in that democracy has a right to feel safe, and secure, and to be heard when they speak the truths of their experience.

Some of us see that reality as no longer falling in line how they see their country. Some are asking the question: “Who do we want to be? Who do I want to be, and is that person somebody that my kids will be proud of in four years time, in ten years time, when the world that I built belongs to them?”

James Baldwin also said that “the paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

Something is brewing in New Zealand, and each of us is asking one crucial question of themselves and their peers:

If your house is burning, what do you save?

This election is going to be about asking, as a country, what we save, what we value.

Someone living on or below the poverty line. Someone who doesn’t have a home to shelter them. A person suffering from mental health issues. A person living in a home without insulation during winters that are only going to get colder.

The value of your closest friend, your distant relative, your colleague. You. Me.

Something is brewing, and the point, is of course, to vote.

Come September 23rd, vote. Vote for the party that promises the most change in the way that means the most for you, as determined by your conscience. Vote for the people in that party that strike you as able to understand their constituents needs and advocate for them.

Our country is only as strong as the least among us. And from all of those statistics, we’re doing the most harm to the people who would make us strong, if only we could decide what we value the most.

 

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