Brent Tinkle is a Wellington local in his second year of his Bachelors of Social Work at Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Porirua.
What do we see as real or legitimate activism and why? How do we challenge negative narratives around youth activism? Why are older activists so cynical about youth activism and the future of activism in Aotearoa?
Activism comes from the Latin word actus, meaning ‘to act, deed, to drive through’. I like to break activism down into ‘act’ and ‘vision’ – acting to change what you envision to be better for society.
Activism has its own unique history in New Zealand, a history changed forever by people of mana who were steadfast, unapologetically radical and passionate. Whina Cooper launched Te Rōpu o te Matakite o Aotearoa and led the Māori Land March in 1975. Between 1975 and 1978, Eva Rickard led the campaign for the return of the Raglan Golf Club to Māori ownership. In 1977, Joe Hawke led the occupation of Bastion Point reserve, a protest against the sale of land that had been wrongfully taken from Ngāti Whātua.
Tame Iti, whom the media has smeared, burned and twisted, still stands unfaltering. Hone Harawira spent his youth passionately rallying with Auckland based groups including He Taua and the Polynesian Panthers. The ‘Patu Squad’ as they were called, went toe-to-toe with the police’s ‘Redsquad’ in the suburbs surrounding Mt Eden during the ‘81 Springbok tour protests.
These activists and the legacies of those who have fought injustice before them have inspired and encouraged Generation Y’ers to this date. As millennials, we produce our own methods. Often activism acts from outside the confines of the system because you can try to create change from within, but often being a conformist means the system ends up changing you. As activists, we must fight to change the system itself.
One thing is certain – we live in a complex world with ever-changing ways to acquire information. The age of the Internet allows global sharing of information to almost anyone and everyone who lives in a democratic state with access to a computer. The Internet has drastically decentralised and eroded power of traditional media within society. It has given ways for many outside the majority consensus to share their views and opinions. With mobile phone recording, images and videos of events hit the web every minute.
The internet has been a tool, not a cause of change. It has made it easier for people to see the truth that the powerful would rather hide, to learn from activists on the other side of the world, to co-ordinate campaigns without hierarchy and to expose governments and corporations to public ridicule. It has also helped those same governments and corporations to spy on activists, to disrupt campaigns, to spread their own messages through well-funded advertising and to create an illusion of popular support. (Hill, 2013, pg 6)
In essence, it has provided an alternative means for Y-Gens being informed on current events. It provides sanctuary for those wishing to avoid the verbal diarrhoea that pours from Mike Hosking’s mouth most weeknights on dumbed-down tax-payer funded mainstream media. There are those of earlier generations who are cynical about our use of the Internet, suggesting it hinders our ability to actively protest in person. They must be reminded that it is just a contextualised form of the printing press used in Britain in the 17th century – printing allowed for the mass distribution of information. It is the equivalent of anti-war pamphlets handed out on the streets during the Vietnam War. Now, activists have their own arsenal of techniques ranging from hashtags and tweets, to my personal favourite, the Internet ‘meme’.
Many of New Zealand’s working class are so concerned with surviving our society’s capitalist system and putting food on the table that economic freedom and socialist democracy is unfortunately beyond their rationale. The first step for Generation Y activists should be to challenge the structural systems in place. A focal point should be to rally and engage with workplace unions. Through working in solidarity with unions, the goals of better work conditions, higher wages and job satisfaction can be achieved. A misconception is that millennials do not think favourably of unions but recent studies suggest the opposite to be true as highlighted in Frontes & Margolies (2010). This will not be easy, and historically the government has made sure of this. Evidence of this is the Waterfront Strikes of 1951, and the legislation the National Government put in place at the time that prohibited any citizen from aiding workers financially with fines as a punishment. The Labour opposition also have a tainted history with unions, making the Carpenters Union illegal in 1948 and the Boilmakers Union illegal in the 80’s.
The major obstacle with young workers is that we now live in a society that fails to provide proper opportunities for workers to acquire union membership. Very few workplaces make it easy for millennials to find information or access appropriate unions. Activists should be working against such practice, highlighting the need for workers to unite and challenge their employers and unions to ask whether they wish to join. Through unions, it is imperative that the rights of workers are met and that unions serve the goals of the employees. All activists who aim for a more equal society should join their appropriate union.
Another approach to activism should be the encouragement of collective and transparent communication between groups. An example could be feminist groups working alongside socialist organisations. It is understandable that feminists might be hesitant to work alongside groups that historically have side-lined their causes. Classism in its very essence facilitates sexism and racism; therefore, some common ground may be found. In doing so, socialists may also gain a better understanding of feminism and become more active in advocating for its cause.
Another example may be the plight of tangata whenua and New Zealand Cook Islanders. Many do not know that New Zealand Cook Islanders fall lower than tangata whenua in some statistics pertaining to poverty. By working alongside tangata whenua, they may have a stronger voice when asking for their fair share. If New Zealand is to treat its indigenous and rightful owners with contempt, how can it be accepted they will treat those from the Cook Islands any better. Likewise, tangata whenua may benefit by extending its hands to our Pasifika brothers struggling for racial equality. Millennial activists should also have a greater understanding of Kaupapa Māori theory. Te Reo initiatives should also supported and compulsory in every school across Aotearoa. It is one of New Zealand’s official languages, therefore should be treated as such. Activists should be encouraging each other to learn Te Reo Māori and challenging our society’s European epistemology and the hegemonic forces that push its colonising consensus on iwi by doing so.
George Orwell said “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.’’ No doubt the generation that comes before us will read about how we as a society could of done more about certain events such as the West Papua Genocide, and think of us in a negative light. It is with hope that they too may forgive our ignorance and give us a chance to right our wrongs. Until then, the fight is ours and we must use our strengths to combat the neo-liberal agenda of the right. We must protest the systemically racist structure of institutions across Aotearoa. We must unionise, organise and resist. It will never be easy and at times you will have to work from outside the system. To the activists of older generations who look upon us millennials with disregard, the words of Huey P Newton should be remembered: “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.’’
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