Round-up: how we will remember Metiria Turei as Greens co-leader

As a follow-up to my (incredibly, overwhelming well-read!) post from Wednesday, Thank you Metiria, I wrote this for Radio NZ: I will remember Metiria Turei differently.

I will remember people skiting on social media and fronting television broadcasts declaring it was their investigation, their dogged pursuit of the sex life of a 23-year-old, that got the scalp of a once-destined deputy prime minister – a very unfortunately loaded phrase.

I will remember how it became about whether she could really be hungry if she were fat, or really be poor if she were smiling in photos, about anonymous sources crawling out of the woodwork to declare, horror of horrors, that her family might have been supporting her more than was strictly allowed by a system that treats whānau as a mere accumulation of economic units.

I will remember that it was never about any of these ‘facts’; it was about sending a clear message that she would never be allowed to move past this, never be allowed to live in peace, and that her child and her family were fair game. The same message everyone who’s suffered and dares to challenge their oppression receives.

But I wasn’t the only person reflecting on the chaotic events of the past few weeks, so here’s a few of my favourite pieces by others.

Leonie Pihama wrote Māori, woman, mother: #IAmMetiria.

Those leading the right wing media attack were always going to ensure that Metiria Turei would never be treated with any level of respect because Metiria does not look like those privileged white male journalists that have made it their duty to ensure that she doesn’t ‘get away with it’. Everything about these past few weeks should serve as a reminder that racism, sexism and classism are alive, well and thriving in this current neo-liberal economic context and that we only need to look to what is happening internationally to know that this will worsen and deepen if we do not stand up and make change.

Yvonne Tahana wrote at 1News that Turei’s demise sends a clear message to Māori:

Hooray.

The great bloated centre can celebrate.

Its importance in political discourse remains pre-eminent.

Dr Claire Timperley made an incredibly important point: It’s all about class:

Beneficiary fraud is a uniquely class-based problem. The only people who are in the position of having to make difficult choices about whether to ‘play by the rules’ and by doing so risk not having the means to support their family are those who are in the poorest group of New Zealanders.

The fact Turei lied to the authorities demonstrates the very difficult position many beneficiaries find themselves in. Whether or not Turei made the morally or legally correct decision is not relevant to the issue I am raising (although there are undoubtedly important questions it raises about the beneficiary system).

What is important, however, is that by dint of her experience of this specifically class-based conundrum, she is no longer considered fit for high office.

Auckland Action Against Poverty issued a statement saying:

“The sustained attack on social welfare over the last 40 years enables people to blame the poor for their situation and justifies punitive policies which place people in further financial hardship.

“The wealthy have to justify poverty by blaming the unemployed for unemployment in order to mask the reality that the wealthy profit from poverty.

“Poverty is not an individual behaviour or choice. It is, however, a political and economic choice by the rich who continue to accumulate wealth at the expense of those who actually produce it.

Gordon Campbell wrote, on the Turei finale:

Instead of empathy, Turei mostly got finger pointing. Had she really been that poor, back then? Had she been over-stating how desperate her situation had been, back then? The media has condoned its quest for blood by saying that she started it – she had quote, opened the door, unquote on this issue. Yep, anything goes once you suggest your empathy is based on personal experience. Unless Turei could substantiate that her plight was the worst of the worst, she was fair game. (How poor and desperate exactly, did a solo mother have to be at the height of the benefit cuts of 1992, in order to qualify for a dispensation from today’s well-fed inquisitors?)

And the final word(s) to everyone’s favourite Kiwi Twitter account, Kupu Hou:

The great work continues.

Were we wrong about Trump?

A few thoughts expanded from my Twitter yesterday, on the number of leftwingers or liberals who I see saying things like “Oh, Donald Trump has calmed down since winning, he’s toned down the extremism, maybe he won’t be a total monster as President.”

The thing is, Trump’s behaviour may have calmed down. But the hatred and violence he deliberately fostered during the election hasn’t.

There were many, many factors involved in the US election result, and a lot of the narratives presume there was a massive surge in Republican support, to which I just keep referring to this graph:

But just because Trump didn’t get a huge stack of new voters doesn’t mean his aggressive, violent messages had no impact. Of course they affected the way people talk, and the way people are behaving now he’s won, and their sense that openly racist, xenophobic, sexist attitudes are acceptable now.

Those people are now doing the work for him, of terrorising people who might resist, of shutting down honest debate about democracy, and of marginalizing even further the people already on the margins. They are harassing, attacking, abusing, vandalising, threatening, and inevitably they will be killing other people because of Trump’s message.

It’s entirely convenient and cynically, strategically smart for Trump to chill out and start acting like a grown-up for the cameras now. Because the violence will carry on regardless – they got the message – and our “oh it’s not so bad, he’s stopped screaming racist abuse” reaction means it will go unchallenged.

If we say “oh but violence is terrible, I deplore violence” yet do not actively resist the root cause of that violence we might as well say nothing at all.

Trump’s newfound “mature” demeanour gives people – especially privileged liberals with access and resources – an excuse to step back and stop being angry. Stop elevating the voices of others who don’t have our privilege. Stop caring about violence and abuse targeted at people who don’t look like us.

After an election in which so many marginalized people already felt like (and have plenty of data to support the notion) middle-class liberal white people sold them out, we simply cannot double down on ignoring their needs.

We cannot take comfort in the fact that Donald Trump has taken off the red baseball cap of the disruptive threat to the status quo and put on the trappings of a normal, safe white male politician. Because then all we’re doing is saying fascism is okay as long as it’s not too shouty.

The Kermadecs and racist environmentalism

I did a bit of a tweetstorm earlier today, inspired by seeing friends embroiled in frustrating conversations like this one and the decided slant of articles like this about the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

My thoughts resonated with a bunch of people, so here they are in post form, but I’m going to stick up at the front something which I tweeted late in the piece: I’m just a Pākehā woman with a Twitter account and a reflexive critical analysis of political discourse. I’m not an expert in this area. I refer you to far wiser people like Morgan Godfery and the reportage of folk like Maiki Sherman at Newshub.

So. This week has been a revelation in the racist imperialism of mainstream (white) environmental organisations.

We’re not even arguing about meaningful consultation around establishing the Kermadec sanctuary, we’re talking about ZERO consultation by white politicians who assumed they knew best. National are literally in coalition with the Māori Party but didn’t even pick up the phone to give them a heads-up, probably because like every other Pākehā handwringer they just assumed they knew best about whether there’d be an issue.

That’s problem 1: Pākehā assuming they know everything about a complex historical/legal issue which gets really shallow coverage in the media and frequently is only lightly discussed in school, if ever.

Problem 2 is the (very Pākehā) environment lobby’s outrage that anyone might stand in the way of an ocean sanctuary. “Think of the planet!” they cry, which is appallingly arrogant coming from the ethnic group which has done the vast majority of screwing up the planet to start with.

But no, now we know better so let’s do things our way, it’s for the greater good after all!

This also brings in the horrible racist undertones of the Pākehā worldview being more ~sophisticated~ than Māori.

We have to take a hard look at how environmental organisations and Pākehā liberalism exploit indigenous culture. When it suits us, we happily draw on the notion of indigenous people being ~more in touch with the land~ and having a ~spiritual connection to nature~ and painting with all the goddamned colours of the wind. When it helps our agenda, we happily retweet the hashtags opposing oil pipelines and trumpet the importance of honouring the Treaty.

But scratch the surface and all the smug superiority is there. We know better; our thinking is more advanced because we care about ~the whole planet~.

It’s very easy to care about the whole planet when you’re on the team who took it by force.

The third problem I came to is broader than the current debate: it’s the hate-on Pākehā have for the idea that Māori dare to operate in a capitalist framework. Like, we came here, smashed their culture, took their land, tried to destroy their language, imposed capitalism on them, and when we offer a pittance in compensation for what they have lost, we get OUTRAGED when they set up “modern” business structures with it.

Do people have justified concerns about the decisions and operating practices of some Māori corporations? Probably. There are issues with every capitalist construct run for profit. But we treat Māori ones very differently – we treat everything Māori do differently (remember the foreshore and seabed? Remember how nobody seemed to have a problem with rich white people owning whole beaches and islands, but the idea of Māori just having the right to test ownership in court was the end of the world?)

We’ve put Māori in a catch-22: imposing Pākehā capitalism on them, but acting appalled whenever they dare use it to survive.

So this is how it goes. Pākehā make a decision to eradicate fishing rights without consulting Māori, because we know better. Then we decry them for not caring about the environment – which we stole from them and exploited for over a century – and imply they only care about money – which is a good thing if you’re in business but not if you’re brown.

And so we pat ourselves on the back for being More Enlightened About The Environment while literally confiscating land & resources from Māori again.

~

A tangent on industrialization, climate change and the environment: let’s consider how all the “first world” “developed” nations got to where they are – by pillaging and strip-mining every piece of the planet we could get our hands on – but now we’ve hoarded all the money and resources and built “sophisticated” economies, suddenly we want to scold “less developed” nations for doing exactly the same thing.

Blade Runner and The Fifth Element knew exactly what they were doing when they showed the working classes living beneath the smog layer, is what I’m saying.

On the M.O.U.

I’m a bit late to the party on the Labour/Greens M.O.U. but letting the dust clear a little before passing judgement is perhaps not such a bad thing.

The M.O.U. had to happen. And the sooner the better. Not because it means a lot in terms of the Green and Labour working more closely – they already were – but because that relationship is now publicly codified and it’s now very clear that there’s a forty-percent-plus block that balances out National’s vote.

Some in the commentariat have made a big deal about how this is Labour giving in.

It isn’t.

If anything it’s Labour getting stronger. It’s a given now that not only will Labour’s machine work to make Andrew Little the next Prime Minister, but the Greens’ machine will as well.

Effectively Little is now leading a voting block that is within striking distance of becoming Government.

And that’s something Winston Peters is now going to have to deal with.

Because despite the pundits claiming this makes Peters stronger, what it actually does is put him into a corner. When, for example, he dogwhistles against a minority such as Muslims, he’s whistling in the wind – because whatever argument he’s making goes nowhere if it’s not backed by either Labour/Greens or John Key’s National party.

A Labour party at 29% could feasibly kowtow to Peter’s cynicism (I don’t think they would, but desperation makes anything possible). But a Labour/Greens block at 43% doesn’t have the same pressure. When you represent nearly half of all New Zealanders it’s much easier to say no. And it carries a lot more weight.

That creates an uncomfortable situation for Key. The numbers are most likely going to mean a fourth term National Government will be a National/NZ First coalition – that’s received wisdom.

That means that if the Green/Labour block – particularly Andrew Little – knock back Peters’ headline grabbing, there’s going to be more and more pressure on Key to engage with it. That’s pressure Key doesn’t want or need – he’s busy enough trying to put some shine back on his ailing liberal brand without getting caught up in debates about Muslims, or Asians, or Māori or whatever drum Peters is banging for attention this week or next.

Now I know there’ll be some within Labour who are afraid of upsetting Peters by pushing back on him occasionally, but they need to get over themselves and start thinking like price makers instead of price takers. Headline-grabbing cynicism aside, New Zealand First’s policy platform aligns a lot more closely with Labour and the Greens’ platform than it does with National. And Peters is a professional – he’s been around and he’ll make the decision on who he goes with based on the numbers post 2017 and what leverage they give him to get what he wants.

Anyone who doubts that should remember that it was only a few years ago that John Key’s dirty politics team ran a rabid and personal attack campaign on Peters that saw him exit politics for a term. A campaign that presumably had the Nats’ sign off. Key’s people humiliated Peters yet Winston can’t and won’t rule out going with them – if he did he’d lose the illusory power he has.

Things have changed with the M.O.U. They’ve changed because Andrew Little has re-staked his claim as leader of the opposition and has brought together a power base that rivals the Prime Minister’s in terms of the number of New Zealanders it represents. Having watched Little throughout his time in the union movement and in politics, I’m expecting he’ll use that power well to create change – it’s something he’s always done.

What that all adds up to, despite what some pundits have claimed, is a harder time for Winston and bad news for Key.

Rob Egan is an ex-senior advisor to two Labour leaders and co-owner of public relations firm Piko Consulting.