Pākehā Invisibility: Why does ‘migrant’ mean ‘brown’?

complains

By Ani White and Kassie Hartendorp.

Note: This article was written directly before the 2017 General Election, so comments about party policy refer to that period.

Internationally, many white immigrants to non-white countries are not termed immigrants, they are termed ‘expats.’ Immigrant means brown, expat means white.

A similar dynamic plays out in Aotearoa. Pākehā immigrants1 do not describe themselves as immigrants. Many even object to the term Pākehā; we are simply “New Zealanders.”

Some may object that their family has been here for generations, but the same standard does not apply to brown immigrants. Asian people whose families have lived here for generations are assumed to be new migrants, not “New Zealanders.” At a candidates’ meeting I recently attended, a white woman asked an Asian candidate a question along the lines of “if you don’t like this country why did you come here?” She had no awareness of his family history; for all she knew, he was a third-generation migrant (as it happens, he arrived as a child, so didn’t have much choice in the matter). But his brown face marked him as a migrant, a ‘foreigner.’

Even though Europeans and Asians in New Zealand are both immigrants, Europeans are naturalised as part of ‘New Zealand’ and non-white migrants are cast as ‘outsiders.’

The New Zealand where Europeans are naturalised as the dominant population, and inheritors of land and resources, relies on a story that erases colonial history. Those who strongly defend the identity of ‘New Zealander’ very rarely acknowledge that before this region became New Zealand, it was Aotearoa. It was (and is) Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu. It was (and is) a Pacific Island in Te Moana-Nui-a- Kiwa before it became a British colony. Many Pākehā prefer to forget this history.

The colonial state of New Zealand, set up by Pākehā immigrants, gets to determine who can come into this country. Indigenous approaches to manaakitanga (values of welcoming and hospitality) were violated, replaced with a bureaucratic edifice which categorises and profiles people hoping to cross borders. Institutions enabled by mass European immigration presume to dictate who can come next.

Ironically, a recent survey indicated that whereas only 28% of New Zealand citizens strongly agreed with the statement “People who want to live here should have to declare their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, 40% per cent of recent migrants agreed (close to the 47% of Maori who agreed). The irony is underlined when ‘New Zealanders’ act offended at the thought of migrants ‘invading our country’ when many of their forebears actually invaded, at the mass detriment of Māori.

In certain respects, European migrants to Aotearoa have something in common with new Asia-Pacific migrants. We came here seeking a better life, with 19th century colonists escaping dire economic conditions. However, Asian migrants are not stealing land at gunpoint, as Pākehā did in the 19th century. Rather, they work in banks, cafes, on dairy farms, cleaning office buildings, their sweat oiling the nation’s economic growth, paid back in low wages and abuse. Even higher-paid, ‘high-skilled’ white collar migrants, supposedly more valuable than ‘low-skilled’ workers, still cop abuse.

Scapegoating of Asian migrants goes back to early colonisation. Chinese migrants during the Gold Rush were forced to pay special taxes, and chased out of places like Wellington. In the early 20th Century, the NZ Labour Party flirted with a ‘White New Zealand’ policy to match Australia’s ‘White Australia’ policy. More recently in 2014, Labour’s Phil Twyford controversially highlighted those with ‘Chinese surnames’ purchasing property. For all he knew, these people were long-term residents.

Yellow Peril scares are therefore deeply ingrained in New Zealand society. Noticeably, while many worry about Chinese investors buying up land, British and Americans who buy up land go largely unnoticed. International investors are also equated with migrant workers, as with the case of Twyford’s ‘Chinese surnames’, which again could either have been investors or long-term residents.

Rather than projecting all of New Zealand’s problems onto brown faces, perhaps Pākehā could reflect on the real sources of New Zealand’s problems. Migrant workers are not causing the housing crisis, or underinvestment in sustainable infrastructure. Labour is proposing to cut students and ‘low-skilled’ workers, not people likely to buy houses or clog up motorways. In fact, middle-class Pākehā are far more likely to buy property or use motorways.

In a recent minor controversy, National Party MP Paul Goldsmith implied that the slumlord problem was primarily an Indian problem. Yet about 80 MPs in parliament own more than one property. As a Pākehā MP in his 40s, Paul Goldsmith is a far likelier face for slumlord profiteering than the young Indian student he spoke to. As Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign spokesperson Gayaal Iddamalgoda said in the Herald article on the topic, “if we’re serious about addressing the [housing] problem, we need to understand it’s a problem caused by slumlords and other profiteers, regardless of their surnames or the colour of their skin.”

Jacinda Ardern has recently softened Labour’s rhetoric about migrants, but maintained the policy of cutting 10s of 1000s of migrants. In that sense she is actually spinning a policy that was introduced by a Little as a xenophobic populist tactic. If she’s really worried about migrant exploitation, she should call for the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme to be radically reformed, or the international tertiary sector to be vetted for quality, rather than restricting free movement. It’s easier to pity the brown dairy worker than to confront the Pākehā farm owner who benefits from the exploitative RSE scheme.

Even Pākehā without the structural power of a politician, or a capitalist, often buy into these narratives. Facebook comment threads regularly complain of ‘real New Zealanders’ being shafted by ‘mass immigration.’ But if working class Pākehā are being shafted, they are being shafted by the powerful, not by migrants.

Wages are driven down because employers prioritise their bottom-line, treating social impacts as ‘externalities.’ Migrant workers do not want shitty wages. If Pākehā worked together with new migrants – for example in the Living Wage Campaign, which is supported by many migrant workers, and has won a number of victories – they could improve conditions for all workers, rather than competing in a race to the bottom.

For Pākehā to make things better, we need to get over our investment in defending ‘Fortress New Zealand’. In moments where anti-migrant rhetoric is high, we have the option to reflect on how we came to be in Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa ourselves. We need to recognise our status as coming from a history of immigration on this land, acknowledge who came before us, and find solidarity with those who want the same things as we do – housing security, living wages, the right to flourish and contribute to Aotearoa.

1We have used the terms ‘immigrant’ and ‘migrant’ fairly interchangeably, the article primarily concerns those who come to Aotearoa to live.

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Free speech vs hate speech

greer foul mouth.jpg

By Ani White.

Recent months have seen a revival of debate about ‘free speech’ and hate speech. As readers are no doubt aware, antifascists in the USA mobilised to ensure white supremacists cannot march unchallenged. Mass mobilisation in Boston led to the cancellation of many white supremacist marches.

Commentators such as Chris Hedges declared suppression of fascism to be a violation of ‘free speech’ principles.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defended the right of fascists to ‘free speech’, prompting the Onion headline “ACLU Defends Nazis’ Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters.” Philosopher Karl Popper once addressed this self-elimination as the ‘paradox of tolerance.’ Popper said that tolerance of intolerant ideas would ultimately lead to its own elimination: “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”

The resurgence of fascism poses a special threat to democracy, the left, and to minorities. The contemporary US administration tacitly supports the white supremacist movement, so self-organised communities must defend themselves.

As an ultra-right movement, fascists perpetrate hate speech on every front; primarily racist, but also homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist, and so on. However, fascists are not the only propagators of hate speech.

It may be necessary here to define hate speech. Hate speech does not refer to anything inflammatory, or anything somebody disagrees with. Hate speech targets social minorities for abuse. Hate speech is violent, and nobody is obliged to tolerate violence, either psychological or physical.

The no-platform tactic, where activists refuse to host hateful speakers (or pressure an organisation to do so), was originally developed to stop fascists. More recently however, no-platform tactics have been controversially extended to others, particularly transphobic ‘feminists.’

Critics like Angela Nagle (author of Kill All Normies) accuse pro-trans and no-platformist activists of “tumblr liberalism”, aswell as denying “free speech.”

However, notions of ‘free speech’ and ‘liberalism’ are not well-defined by critics. When European radical liberals first fought for free speech, they meant the freedom to criticise the state. This sense of ‘free speech’ is still relevant, as states continue to restrict radical critics. This is an entirely separate issue from whether private citizens should tolerate violent groups, or whether private organisations should offer a platform for hate speech.

There is a further complication to historical notions of ‘free speech’, and of ‘freedom’ more generally. Under the liberal regimes that emerged after the French Revolution, freedom only meant individual freedom from the state. Karl Marx argued that this limited notion of freedom meant, in part, the freedom of the “egoistic” individual, the freedom from social restraint:

None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man… that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community… Society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence.

Ironically, critics of “tumblr liberalism” such as Angela Nagle argue precisely for the egoistic liberal ideal of freedom from the social world. This crude liberalism tolerates abusive alt-rightists as they increasingly run rampant, poisoning the well of free discussion (Nagle actively mocks those who focus on fighting hate speech, fascist or otherwise).

Controversy over transphobic ‘free speech’ has played out in New Zealand. In 2016, trans-exclusionary feminist blogger Renee Gerlich was refused a platform at Wellington Zinefest. In 2013, the Queer Avengers ‘glitterbombed’ transphobic feminist Germaine Greer. Greer has often been targeted by trans activists internationally, leading to accusations of suppressing ‘free speech.’

Defence of Germaine Greer often implies that her transphobic comments are ancient history. Yet Greer has consistently promoted transphobia over the decades, from caricaturing trans women in The Female Eunuch, to attempting to exclude a trans woman from a Women’s College in the 1990s, to describing trans women as “men with painted faces” during her 2013 visit to New Zealand. If Greer renounced her views and apologised, that may open the door to forgiveness and tolerance, but her continuing and unapologetic attacks on trans people are intolerable.

Even when Greer’s defenders acknowledge her ongoing hateful views, they do so in a confused way. The Australian socialist website RedFlag made two apparently contradictory claims about Greer’s views in an article criticising no-platformism:

Greer’s comments about the legitimacy or otherwise of trans women’s claim to the label “woman” are indefensible and utterly disrespectful… we must be able to distinguish between errant ideological currents within the left broadly defined, and the ideological representatives of the oppressors, which Greer is not.

On the one hand Greer’s take on trans people is “indefensible,” yet on the other she must be defended as part of the left. Is transphobia left-wing? Is bigotry acceptable on the left? Why do many leftists support no-platforming Zionists, but not transphobes? With friends like these, who needs enemies?

RedFlag’s reference to “errant ideological currents within the left” raises questions separate from the tolerance of transphobia in wider society. What sort of discussions should be hosted in left-wing spaces, with the ostensible aim of liberation from oppression and exploitation?

There is a certain amount of ‘soft prejudice’ that necessarily must be debated. For example, nationalist opposition to free movement is dangerous, but so strong within the workers’ movement that internationalists must debunk it rather than attempting to suppress it in every instance.

However, outright abuse cannot be tolerated. Hard racists who happily use slurs are not operating in the realm of reasonable debate. Germaine Greer is a ‘hard transphobe’, with entrenched views that have led her to actively harass trans women. Her hateful views are well to the right of contemporary mainstream liberalism and feminism. Tolerating these ideas on the left implies that outright abusive bigotry is acceptable.

Debate can only be constructive if blatantly bigoted ideas are shut down. If the left is stuck debating whether oppressive violence is acceptable, this hinders more complex debates about how to actually dismantle oppressive power structures. Meanwhile those harmed by oppressive ideas may drift away from the left, exhausted by the tolerance of hate speech, ultimately undermining the unity needed to transform society for the better.

Migrant and Refugee Rights Issue Editorial + Contents

MARRC Header (TWO LINES) (TERMINAL DOSIS)

This is excerpted from the latest issue of Fightback magazine. To subscribe, click here.

Ani White is a Pākehā postgraduate student/tutor in Media Studies, a member of Fightback, and the coordinating editor of this issue.

In the lead-up to Aotearoa/New Zealand’s 2017 General Election, Fightback and others have co- launched the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign. In the context of rising international xenophobic populism, and the failure of NZ parliamentary ‘Left’ parties to take a consistent stand for migrants, we considered this an important political focus.

The following articles were initially solicited as a part of the campaign. However, as they came together, it became clear that this discussion must be broader and more multifaceted than the theme ‘Migrant and Refugee Rights’ captures; the struggle must be rooted in an understanding of colonisation.

Arama Rata’s excellent article which opens the issue, on the problem of euphemistic discussion of racism, frames the fight against racism against the backdrop of Aotearoa’s colonisation. Relatedly, The Guardian’s David Wearing argues that British xenophobia is inseparable from the country’s colonial past.

This broader post-colonial perspective must frame and inform the street movement for migrant/refugee rights, which the remaining pages focus on – with articles on Brexit, the German far-right, the meaning of the monarch butterfly symbol, and finally the fight against xenophobia in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The issue concludes with the kaupapa statement of the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign. Contrary to dominant discourse which pits migrants/refugees against the ‘white working class’, we argue that what’s best for migrant workers is best for everyone; universal cheap high-quality housing, Living Wages, the right to join unions alongside other workers.

You can find out more about this campaign at marrc.org.nz, or Facebook.com/marrc.nz.

Contents

  1. Watered-down biculturalism: How avoiding the ‘r-word’ undermines our liberation movement, by Arama Rata
  2. Immigration will remain a toxic issue until Britain faces up to its colonial past, by David Wearing
  3. Brexit, Democracy and Oppression, by Neil Faulkner
  4. The “Alternative for Germany”: A chronicle of the rise of a far-right party, by JoJo
  5. What do butterflies have to do with open borders? Migration is beautiful, by John Lee
  6. Migrants are welcome – leftist xenophobia is not, by Daphne Lawless
  7. Interview: Why Gayaal is standing for Wellington Central
  8. Myths about Migrants and Refugees
  9. Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign Kaupapa and Demands

The “Alternative for Germany”: A chronicle of the rise of a far-right party

 

Nationalism is No Alternative

German anti-fascist group Nationalism Is No Alternative/NIKA (Source).

By Jojo, a Fightback subscriber based in Germany.

22 April 2017: I am sitting at an intersection somewhere in Cologne, together with other antifascists. It is cold, wet and we had to get up early, but people are happy as news has reached us that other roads are blocked as well, and members of the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) are having a hard time reaching their party conference. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that the AfD will enter federal parliament after the elections this September. It will be the first time a party to the right of the Christian-Democratic party (CDU) and the liberal party (FDP) will enter federal parliament since the 50s. So how did we get here?

2013: The AfD is founded. From its beginning, it gets a lot of media attention that helps it to gain  support. Their focus is on financial policy: the AfD criticizes the government’s reaction to the Euro-crisis (supporting Greece with money, but only in turn for brutally enforced austerity). However, the AfD does not criticize this from a standpoint of solidarity with the Greek working class (as the leftist Blockupy network did), but from the standpoint of the German middle- to upper-class tax payer who does not want their tax money being spent on the Greeks. This program is also reflected in the party’s personnel: Its leader and founder is Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics.

The AfD has already developed a program on immigration, demanding stricter rules, but this is not yet the main focus. In the federal election this year, the AfD gets 4.7%, but because of the 5% threshold does not enter parliament.

May 2014: The AfD enters the European Parliament with 7.1%. During the year, they also enter several regional parliaments in Germany.

October 2014: In Dresden (a town in what used to be the GDR or East Germany), 350 people rally under the slogan “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Pegida). They continue demonstrating every Monday, like the opposition in the GDR from whom they also take the slogan “we are the people”. Their numbers will grow to over 10,000 in December. Though they are not formally connected to the AfD, these are also people who would self-identify as ordinary citizens and not as Nazis, but who nevertheless promote a racist agenda. If the AfD is the parliamentary wing of the shift-to-the-right in Germany over the last few years, Pegida is the extra-parliamentary wing. However, they present themselves as a bit too radical for large parts of the AfD, so the party has no clear position on Pegida and will continue to argue about this issue during the coming years.

4 July 2015: At a conference, the party votes for Frauke Petry as the new leader, replacing Bernd Lucke. Lucke leaves the party and founds another one, which will not be as successful as AfD. This split marks a shift in how the party presents itself: While Lucke wanted to have a serious, bourgeois party and his focus was mainly on currency-politics, Petry represents the new AfD, which is far more populist and more openly xenophobic, racist and anti-feminist. With this shift, the party’s electorate also changes: While they still have cross-class support, more and more working-class voters vote for the AfD. Their support also grows in the former East Germany.

August 2015: Thousands of migrants, many of whom have fled the civil war in Syria, come to Germany over the Balkan route. Crowds of people welcome the migrants at the train stations and many organize in networks of refugee support, filling a gap left by the state. This shows that there is still a big portion of people that do not see migrants as potential enemies – is this a basis for a successful struggle against the AfD?

29 September 2015: The federal government reacts to the summer of migration (which is also called the “refugee crisis” in  mainstream discourse) and to far-right mobilisations with the “asylum package I” – speeding up the asylum process, declaring more countries “safe” (so people can be deported to them) and stopping the announcement of deportations (now refugees will be arrested and deported without any prior notice). In 2016, package II follows. Just like in the 90s, the centrist parties (now including the Greens) react to the far-right by adopting its policies.

New Year’s Eve 2015/2016: In Cologne, groups of young men sexually harass women in the main train station. Many are of North-African or Arab nationalities, which will in the following weeks and months be used in racist discourse to portray North-African and Arab men as sexual predators. The far-right including the AfD, that is otherwise strictly anti-feminist, discovers women’s rights for their agenda – these rights can now be defended against migrants. Feminist and leftist groups will answer with a demonstration on International Women’s Day under the motto “our feminism is anti-racist”.

31 January 2016: The communist alliance “Ums Ganze” (“everything is at stake”) has called for a nation-wide meeting of anti-racists and antifascists in Frankfurt. Activists discuss what to do in this situation – so far, many antifascists have felt rather paralysed by the rise of the AfD which they could not prevent. After the meeting, UG launches the campaign “Nationalismus ist keine Alternative” (NIKA, “Nationalism is no alternative”). NIKA is an open campaign and a label that groups can take up to relate to each other. NIKA instigates a lot of small creative actions that do not need many activists but are good for publishing on social media.

The hope that those who showed solidarity for migrants in summer 2015 could be mobilised to join the struggle against the AfD and against asylum packages I and II will only partially be fulfilled. But at least there is now an effective campaign that organizes antifascists and anti-racists.

The AfD’s election campaigns this year are interrupted by these actions and others, but that does not prevent the party entering several more regional parliaments and reaching results far over 10%. The party’s rhetoric radicalises further, e.g. AfD politician Beatrix von Storch suggests shooting refugees to prevent them crossing the border. In the Saarland region, the AfD cooperates with the neo-Nazi NPD; an attempt to kick out this regional branch fails.

3 September 2016: In Berlin, a nation-wide demonstration against the AfD takes place, organised by the alliance “Stand Up Against Racism”, but the participant numbers are below expectations. The intention of “Stand Up Against Racism” was to form a broad alliance including trade unions, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. However, the inclusion of these organisations does not lead to a bigger mobilisation. It remains mainly the job of the radical left to challenge the AfD.

New Year’s Eve 2016/2017: As a reaction to last year’s New Year’s Eve, the police in Cologne now use racial profiling to prevent every North-African-/Arab-looking man who is single or with a group of other men from entering the square in front of the main station. Once again, the state adopts far-right policies.

17 January 2017: Björn Höcke, a far-right politician of the AfD in former East Germany, holds a speech in front of the party’s youth organisation. He demands a “180 degree change” in the politics of commemoration concerning the Holocaust. He says: “We Germans are the only people in the world who have planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital”. He is criticised for this blatant anti-Semitism by members of his own party and the leadership tries to expel him. This debate is part of a bigger clash between factions within the party. After Frauke Petry took over from Lucke who was too moderate for her in 2015, now her faction fears that  ultra-radical politicians like Höcke could endanger the party’s image.

On 22 April, we at least succeeded in delaying the AfD conference for more than an hour. After the blockades, there are several big demonstrations in the city. As Cologne likes to present itself as an open city, it is easily possible to mobilise big parts of civil society here, including the Carnival committees. This day was a success for us, but the AfD seems to carry on despite their inner disputes. The leading duo for the federal elections will consist on the one hand of Alexander Gauland, who supports Björn Höcke and has similar positions, and on the other hand of Alice Weider, who was in favour of Höcke’s expulsion but said she would support his election campaign if he stays in the party. So the different factions seem to get along with each other. The prospect of ending the election success of the AfD in a short term is thus unlikely. While it is important to interrupt their election campaigns, the radical left needs long term strategies on how to go onto the offensive, push forward its own leftist politics and get rid of the basic problems in society that make the success of far-right populism possible.

Economic apartheid: The ongoing ethnic cleansing of central Auckland

Daphne Lawless is a writer, musician, political activist, football player, e-cyclist and mother living in Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland. She is the content editor for this issue of Fightback.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To subscribe, click here.

In any country with a past as part of one of the Western empires, you can’t sensibly talk about any part of society without discussing the ongoing legacy of white supremacy and racism. Urban geography and the right to the city is no exception. The most famous examples of racism in urban geography are of course the legalised segregation carried out under the names of apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow in the United States, where white and non-white peoples were separated by law and by force. But the destruction of the Pasefika communities of historic central Auckland by a combination of motorway madness, economic segregation and gentrification is also an example of how capitalist racism feeds into how our cities are built – and how the Pākehā middle-class have benefited at the expense of other sectors of society.

Pasefika migration

Aotearoa of course began its colonial era with the forcible removal of tangata whenua from most of their land by the armed forces of the British Empire. For a long time, the cities were more or less restricted to Pākehā of various social classes, due to an informal “white New Zealand” immigration policy which was almost as effective as Australia’s more formal version.[i] This changed after the Second World War, when the economic boom meant suddenly New Zealand’s industries were short of labour. This not only led to the migration of younger generations of Māori to the cities looking for work, but government and business also targeted the peoples of the Pacific Islands – Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and elsewhere. Generally speaking, the jobs these new migrants were those that “a self-respecting British immigrant or Kiwi wasn’t prepared to do” – unskilled and low skilled jobs in expanding manufacturing industries and on the wharves.[ii] The Pasefika population of New Zealand climbed from 3600 in 1951, to nearly 94,000 in 1981, and was 266,000 at the 2006 Census[iii].

At that stage in history Auckland’s industry was clustered around the central city, and cars were a luxury which only the upper classes had access to. At the time, the well-to-do population of Auckland were using this new mobility to head towards the new-built “outer” suburbs of the slowly spreading urban sprawl. So, the suburbs that the new Pasefika migrants settled in were the working-class suburbs of those days – Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Newton, Herne Bay, Freemans Bay, Parnell – which were within easy tram or bus distance of inner-city factories. These suburbs offered “cheap rental housing, much of it consisting of run-down old villas and workers’ cottages with no hot water or inside toilet.”[iv]

Someone who’s not familiar with Auckland’s history might be amazed at that list of suburbs, most of which are now on Auckland’s “most overpriced” list. Just recently, Herne Bay’s average house price reached a staggering $2 million. And it’s no coincidence that its Pasefika inhabitants are mainly long gone.

Motorway madness

The Pasefika community of the inner suburbs quickly put down cultural roots which still make their presence felt today. Today’s huge Pasefika presence in New Zealand rugby, for example, began with the first all-Samoan rugby team playing for the Parnell and Ponsonby clubs.[v] Many of the churches which were the centrepieces of Pasefika communities, and offered valuable social support to those “fresh off the boat”, are still visible in the area.

All this began to change in the mid-1950s, when the first parts of Auckland’s motorway network – including the Harbour Bridge – were built. By the mid-1970s, the suburb of Newton – between the Karangahape Road ridge and Mt Eden – had been almost totally destroyed for the creation of the Central Motorway Junction, aka “Spaghetti Junction”, the heart of the new motorway network. Meanwhile, half of Freemans Bay was replaced by a motorway connecting the CMJ to the Harbour Bridge – perhaps a lucky escape for Ponsonby Road, which was an option initially considered for this route.

As Chris Harris says, there was no need for a Central Motorway Junction at all – Adelaide, a city about the same size as Auckland, gets on fine without one.[vi] It would have been more efficient from a traffic point of view to build a motorway route from Manukau north around the western end of the Waitemata Harbour, avoiding the urban area altogether – something which will only happen this year with the opening of the “Waterview Connection”. Instead, all northbound traffic was sent over the inadequate Harbour Bridge – and right through what used to be Auckland’s working-class and Pasefika suburbs. Quite aside from the impacts on these communities, Auckland has paid the price for these short-sighted decisions with decades of traffic congestion and sub-standard public transport.

In 1951, the Government of the time declared that 96 hectares of Freemans Bay was to be “totally cleared and redeveloped”.[vii] Originally the plan was to replace the old slum housing with modern high-density developments. But as the 1960s and 1970s wore on, it became clear that the ideology of Auckland’s local and national planners was to clear the existing working-class communities from the central city altogether, towards peripheral suburbs along the motorway network. From 1976 to 2008, the Pasefika proportion of Auckland’s inner suburb dwellers fell from 23% to 10%.[viii]

Gentrification

The expansion of the motorway system meant that factories no longer had to be near the CBD to transport goods to and from the wharves. The manufacturing jobs which used to sustain the inner-city Pasefika community began moving to the city fringe as well, to places such as Penrose or East Tamaki. Understandably, many of those Pasefika communities displaced by motorway madness followed their work southward – where, it must be said, the new houses being built were usually of higher quality than the old Newton slums.

This new housing was built on what was then the southern fringes of the urban area: Mangere, Ōtara, Papatoetoe, and other areas which were part of what was known (before the “Super-City” amalgamation of Auckland) as Manukau City. Meanwhile, with Newton gutted by the CMJ, Karangahape Road – which used to be its prosperous shopping strip – began to decline. The big department stores and the Pasefika churches began to disappear, their place being taken by strip joints and sex work establishments – the origins of “K’ Road” ‘s reputation as a “red light” district.

But the decay of Newton and Ponsonby was also the beginning of the process of “gentrification” of the city fringe which gave us the million-dollar suburbs of today. Gentrification is “a socio-historic process where rising housing costs, public policy, persistent segregation, and racial animus facilitates the influx of wealthier, mostly white, residents into a particular neighborhood.”[ix] Ponsonby and nearby suburbs thus had their Pasefika population replaced by young Pākehā “who began to buy and renovate the relatively cheap houses available … to the west of Auckland’s CBD. They have been described as ‘young, socially liberal, tertiary-educated Pakeha’ whose motives went beyond the relatively cheap housing to include a desire for ‘new ways of living’ in an area which had an ethnically diverse population, and a reputation as a centre of counter-cultural lifestyle.”[x]

The “counter-cultural lifestyle” meant, in part, access to inner city nightlife and drugs brought in from the wharves. Notoriously wild-living rock bands such as Dragon or Hello Sailor got their starts on the streets of (what Dragon called in one of their songs) “Rock’n’Roll Ponsonby”. The gay community – social outcasts at the time – were also a vital part of Ponsonby and K’ Road’s new community.

What happened as the hippie era ended and the Rogernomics era began, though, was very different for the Pasefika and Pākehā populations of inner Auckland. As the long post-war boom ended and unemployment began to rise, suddenly Pasefika labour became surplus to requirements. “Overstayers” on temporary visas who were tolerated while jobs were plenty suddenly became the targets of “dawn raids”. The Polynesian Panthers – inspired by the Black Panther Party in the United States – were founded in Ponsonby and became the spearhead of resistance to this increasing tide of racism.

Meanwhile, as the level of owner-occupiers in inner Auckland increased, renters were squeezed out – there was an increasing level of “discrimination against Pacific people attempting to rent a house and many were forced to relocate to state housing in peripheral suburbs”[xi]. Conversely, owner-occupiers who held on until the revival of Auckland’s CBD from the 1990s onwards made massive capital gains as the housing market exploded. A villa in Grey Lynn which might have been available for sale in the mid-80s for something like $50,000 would fetch something in the range of $1 million these days. Thus – without even having to move house – the drop-outs and hipsters of the 1970s became the extremely asset-rich upper-middle class dominating Auckland politics today.

Apartheid

The upshot of all these social changes – caused both by world-wide economic trends and the specific housing and transport decisions of New Zealand’s and Auckland’s rulers – has been economic and ethnic apartheid. The old inner-city suburbs that survived motorway madness have become extremely valuable and sought-after residences for professionals. While 40 years ago Ponsonby Road was a grimy suburban shopping strip catering to the counter-culture and the remnants of the Pasefika communities, today it is upmarket, glitzy and dominated by privileged Pākehā. (Even the gay community, with the exception of what’s known as the “pink bourgeoisie”, have been largely priced out.) A house that a Samoan wharfie might have lived in in 1975 is now likely to be a million-dollar investment property owned by an older Pākehā person – who might never consider that their unearned wealth is the product of a whole ethnic community being displaced.

Meanwhile, the newer Pasefika suburbs south of the Manukau harbour have become a byword for poverty and social decay – 1970s Ponsonby without the rock’n’roll chic. Auckland’s manufacturing base remains in south-eastern Auckland; but in the modern, de-unionised and deregulated economy, manufacturing jobs are no longer associated with security, income and pride. The area of big employment growth is in technical and communications work – which, inevitably, is increasingly based in the central city and the old inner suburbs.

Chris Harris argues that Auckland’s geography combined with its perpetual transport bottlenecks (signs of the failure of the motorway project) have surrounded the central Auckland isthmus between Avondale and Ōtahuhu with “a kind of moat”, which the inhabitants of South and West Auckland find it very difficult to cross. In the current economy, this means that these communities are “isolated from the opportunities offered by good jobs, which are mostly in areas they cannot reach because the transport to get there is non-existent, too crowded or too expensive”[xii].

Karlo Mila has the grim figures on what this has meant for the Pasefika communities of Auckland:

72% of Pacific people live in the most deprived neighbourhoods (deciles 8-10) and only 7% in deciles 1-3. 40% of Pacific children live in poverty… A high concentration of the Pacific population is clustered in overcrowded, substandard housing in low-income neighbourhoods…

The creation of concentrated low income neighbourhoods has had social consequences for the people who live in these locales, and particularly for the young people who form their expectations from the world they see around them… One-third of the Pacific population lives in the area that was Manukau City. There, every ward has the lowest level of community resilience possible and the highest community need. Local council surveys show that fewer than half of Manukau City residents feel a sense of pride in the way their city looks and feels…

More than a quarter of Pacific female high school students feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods. A quarter of all students in Manukau City leave school without achieving credits for basic numeracy and literacy… The Pacific population has the highest growth rate of any ethnic group, with 38% of the population under 15 [while] no groups are as unwanted as Pacific and Māori young people.[xiii]

Although Pasefika people moved from the slums of 1960s Newton in search of a better life, clearly not much has changed – except that privileged white folks no longer have to pass through their deprived suburbs on the way to the CBD. The workings of the market and government policies have therefore shifted Auckland’s working-class Pasefika community “out of sight and out of mind” of the central-city chattering classes, almost as efficiently as South African or American legal segregation did. Moving social problems away makes it much easier to pretend that poverty, drugs and urban decay are someone else’s problem – a particular pathology of a racialised “South Auckland”, rather than the outcome of the same social changes which have massively enriched other sections of the population.

Ironically, since many Leftists opposed it, the Auckland “Super City” may help Pasefika communities to regain some ground. Representatives of South Auckland now once more get a say in the affairs of the parts of town from which their previous generations were excluded.

Our lessons

The lessons for leftists in this are:

1) Housing and transport are exactly the same issue. Choices about what kind of houses we build intimately reflect the kind of transport we build. Quarter-acre single-dwelling houses sprawling across former farmland go along with motorway madness, and vice-versa. On the other hand, dense housing built around urban centres and places of employment encourages public transport, cycling and walking, and vice-versa.

2) It must be our priority to fight social apartheid. It would certainly be easier to build high-density, eco-friendly housing in the working-class suburbs where land is cheaper. But this will do nothing to help working-class communities break out of their geographical isolation from the central areas of town which are richer in cultural, educational, and employment opportunities, and will in fact reinforce economic apartheid. Affordable high density housing must be built in the pleasant, liveable, central suburbs, while rapid public transport links must be built to connect these places to outer working-class suburbs, so that all can benefit from the increased wealth and opportunities that the rebirth of central Auckland brings. The City Rail Link taking 10 minutes off the train journey to West Auckland – and also enabling another light or heavy rail link to the airport, connecting Mangere and Onehunga to the CBD – would, as Chris Harris says, “repair part of the broken social contract with south and west Auckland”.

3) Likewise, we must fight the stranglehold that the beneficiaries of central Auckland’s gentrification have on the politics and development of our city. Daniel Older argues that gentrification is in fact “violence couched in white supremacy… the central act of violence is one of erasure” of working-class communities and their history. In this way, it replicates the colonial expropriation of Aotearoa which set up New Zealand’s unequal and racist society in the first place. The asset-rich beneficiaries of this deeply unfair and exploitative process now self-righteously stand against any developments which might re-open the central city to young people and workers. They must be politically defeated.

4) We must also support the actually-existing organisations in the new working-class suburbs – the spiritual descendants in many ways of Ponsonby’s Polynesian Panthers. Community groups in Glen Innes have been at the forefront of resisting the dispossession of State house tenants and the forcible gentrification of their suburb; while the “Respect Our Community” coalition, based in Mangere, have not only blocked a new motorway extension which would have demolished many houses, but are leading the fight against turning ancestral Māori lands at Ihumatao into more housing sprawl. Older argues that a central narrative of gentrification is a “discourse that imagines neighborhoods of color as pathological and criminal, necessitating outside intervention for the good of all.” But initiatives like the above prove that working-class communities in notorious “South Auckland” can fight back.

[i]               Misa, Tapu. “Auckland: The Pacific comes to Auckland”. New Zealand Herald, 2010 August 27. Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1andobjectid=10667079

[ii]              Mila, Karlo. “Only one deck”, in Rashbrooke, Max (ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2013. pp. 91-101

[iii]             Misa, op. cit.

[iv]             Misa, op. cit.

[v]              Misa, op. cit.

[vi]             Harris, Chris. “A divided Auckland?” in Rashbrooke, Max (ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2013. pp. 102-4.

[vii]            Friesen, Wardlow. “The demographic transformation of inner-city Auckland.” New Zealand Population Review, 2009, 35:55-74.

[viii]           Friesen, op. cit.

[ix]             Older, Daniel José. “Gentrification’s insidious violence: The truth about American cities”. Salon, 2014 April 9. Available at: http://www.salon.com/2014/04/08/gentrifications_insidious_violence_the_truth_about_american_cities/

[x]              Friesen, op. cit.

[xi]             Friesen, op. cit.

[xii]            Harris, op. cit.

[xiii]           Mila, op. cit.

We need to stand for Niki, because she is standing up for you

niki

Source: Stuff.

Vanessa Cole is a member of the Tāmaki Housing Action Group.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to City. To subscribe, click here.

Elderly tenant Ioela ‘Niki’ Rauti has made headlines for refusing to be moved from her house on Taniwha Street, Glen Innes. While she has received support from many people, the backlash from some commentators have tried to derail her struggle by framing her as selfish for holding on to a three-bedroom home during a housing crisis. Niki’s struggle is not an individual struggle, but a struggle of people against the processes of capital accumulation and its manifestation in the state-led gentrification of Tāmaki.

In The New Zealand Experiment, Jane Kelsey shows New Zealand’s historical habit of blindly following economic ideas that had never been trialled elsewhere in the world. The Tāmaki experiment is much the same – adopting urban planning and privatisation which have failed internationally. The transfer of 2,800 state houses in Tāmaki (Panmure, Point England and Glen Innes) to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) is privatisation by stealth. The insidious language used by the TRC frames this transfer as urban ‘regeneration’ – a grand project which will see the building of more homes and the revitalising of a community which embodies the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty.

The experiment in Tāmaki is a well-orchestrated campaign. The reality of these policies, without the spin, is mass privatisation of state housing, the displacement of the poor through state-led gentrification processes, and destruction of working class communities by private developers into a desirable and attractive landscape for an incoming middle-class. If Tāmaki was the experiment for the rest of Auckland, and for the rest of New Zealand, then it is a failed experiment. While the redevelopment has received public attention and criticism, the discourses and myths produced by the Government are powerful in justifying and dampen the violence of dispossession.

Paula Bennett promised that freeing up public land by removing state homes in Tāmaki and building more houses will help alleviate the exorbitant increases in house prices and build more houses for those in need. Yes, more houses have been built, but providing public land to private developers has led to exploding unaffordability. The median land values in Glen Innes, one of the first areas to be redeveloped, have increased from $400,000 to nearly 1 million since the redevelopment begun in 2012. The housing market in Tāmaki demonstrates that increasing supply and density of housing does not necessitate affordability. One reasons is that our existing affordable housing (state housing) is being replaced by a large amount of private housing, and property developers are not interested in the reduced profits of “affordability.” State housing once functioned to stabilise the housing market in particular areas, meaning that surrounding rental properties were cheaper. Very few people will be able to rent an affordable house in Tāmaki once this project is completed, particularly if landlords continue to capitalise on the increasing land values in the area.

As for the argument that “mixed-tenure communities” will provide better access to resources for the poor and solve the social problems facing unevenly developed communities. Most of the international research suggests that this new urban planning logic does the complete opposite. The logic of social mixing is built on classist ideas of middle-class neighbours teaching the poor how to behave and providing aspiration for mobility. This is a logic which ignores the economic processes which occur when capital moves into low-income communities, processes which lead to displacement and social cleansing.

Developers in Tāmaki have to build a certain proportion of social and affordable houses as part of the deal of buying and accessing cheap public land. Their main goal, however, is to profit from speculating on land value increases. While the TRC have promised tenants that they can remain in the area, this was a reluctant concession following years of community resistance, and does not account for other forms of eviction through the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) which begun in 2013.

The establishment of a social housing market by means of transferring state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) is occurring under the rhetoric of efficiency. Tāmaki Regeneration, a company set up to regenerate and redevelop Tāmaki, is now one of these new ‘social’ landlords, given 2,800 households to manage. As part of the company Tāmaki Housing Limited Partnership manage the tenancies, and Tāmaki Regeneration Limited are in charge of redevelopment. The Government will argue that this is not privatisation as the TRC is currently owned by the New Zealand Government (29.5% Bill English, 29.5% Nick Smith) and Auckland Council (41%). The TRC, however, was set up in the interim period to manage the properties and the tenancies. Soon, however, the tenancies will be transferred to various different social housing providers and the land will eventually be sold to developers and investors to build the mixed tenure housing.

If we look to the UK, this process of transferring management of public housing stock to private organisations lead in many cases to privatisation. Without sufficient subsidies to support management of properties, private developers are the only organisations that can withstand the costs. The Salvation Army have already backed down from taking on state housing stock for this very reason. The most concerning issue here is the foreshadowing of large scale privatisation in which the private market is held as the sole supplier of the basic human right to housing.

While we are promised to reap the benefits and efficiencies of privatisation, history has shown that the private market does not provide affordable and secure housing for the working class and unemployed. Housing is a right, and an essential material need. To sell it off to private developers or transfer it to private housing providers is to commodify something that should be for living. When Niki is standing up against the redevelopment of her home, she is standing up against the economic processes by which capital dispossesses the poor for the profit of the rich. We need to resist the narratives of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and fight for the right of all to affordable, secure and public housing. We need to unite to dispel the myths of regeneration and to fight the historical and continual dispossession of people by capital. We need to stand with Niki, because she is standing for you.

Migrants are welcome – Leftist xenophobia is not

refugees-migrants-welcome-here

By Daphne Lawless

When I was a young Alliance activist in Wellington in the 1990s, I knew Frank Macskasy well as a staunch colleague in the fight against the neoliberal assault on workers. It’s very sad to see him now promoting the xenophobic agenda of Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, known as the “Breitbart of the NZ Left”.

TDB is part of the current which I’ve called the “conservative left” – those activists who have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude to the rise of Right-wing populism worldwide, including the Brexit movement in Britain and the Trump movement in the US. I’ve argued that many activists, having spent so long fighting neoliberal globalization, have ended up in a position where they think that anything neoliberals want must be bad. Most unfortunately – in the NZ context – this has turned into a belief that since neoliberals want more immigration, the Left should want less.

Frank’s TDB post harps on the idea that the National government is encouraging immigration as an easy way to “artificially stimulate the economy” (an argument heard recently out of the mouth of New Zealand’s master of xenophobic politics, Winston Peters). The first obvious question should be: if it were that simple to grow the economy, what would be wrong with it? What is wrong in principle to allow anyone willing to come here, work hard and be part of our community to do so? In particular, no Pākehā New Zealander should have the bald-faced cheek to suggest that migration to this country should be treated with suspicion.

Frank skates over the contradiction between the idea that immigration “stimulates the economy” and the idea that it’s problematic “at a time when unemployment was still high.” A stimulated economy means more work available… right? Leaving aside this little problem, Frank goes on:

“The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.”

Both Frank’s links go to NZ Herald articles. The first is a column concerning the last Budget, which contains the comment:

“The rise in net migration, on top of natural increases, is putting pressure on the health system, schools, housing and transport.”

I’ve underlined the bit that Frank seems to have missed out. The issue is that population growth is putting pressure on our infrastructure. In Auckland in particular – despite the scare stories from the xenophobic Left and Right – “natural increase” (that is, people having babies and not dying) is a significantly greater contribution to population growth than migration. So where is Frank’s worry about that section of population growth? Why is he not calling for a Chinese-style one-child policy, if the issue is really just about “more people” – rather than the murkier issue of “more people not born here”?

Frank’s second link goes to a report on advice given by Treasury – not generally considered a reliable source of good economic advice by Leftists (except when it confirms their prejudices?) There is of course a real problem with cheap migrant labour. But it’s nothing to do with “New Zealanders being priced out of low-waged jobs”. Firstly, just like it’s always been in this country, migrants tend to do the low-status jobs that New Zealanders don’t want to do – fast food workers or security guards, who might be qualified professionals in their own country, can tell you about that. Secondly, the reason migrant labour is cheap is because of employers cheating the system. We’re talking about migrants having their passports confiscated, and forced either into virtual slave labour, or work of a kind they never wanted to do (such as sex work).

These are real problems. But they are not problems caused by migration. It is caused by migrant workers not getting a fair shake on the basis as all other workers in this country. Get rid of the incentive for human trafficking provided by the current immigration scheme – by giving all those who want to work here the legal right to do so, cracking down on unfair labour practices, and encouraging migrant workers to join unions and fight alongside all other workers for their rights.

Frank and his colleagues at TDB are irresponsibly stoking the forces of racism and xenophobia in this country. Some may be doing so out of nostalgia for a simpler, less culturally diverse New Zealand of the pre-neoliberal era. Some may be doing so out of cynical calculation that migrant-bashing is a way to defeat the hated National government. But it’s a slowly growing sickness on the Left in New Zealand. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has been set up by socialists, unionists and migrant communities who want to stand up and say unashamedly that we are pro-immigration, and pro-worker, and we can’t allow the conservative left to speak for the rest of us.

Pasefika Issue: The Unbearable Lightness

Poem by Faith Wilson. Also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

My mum will always lose your mama jokes

cos they’re true. Your mama’s so poor

she mixed tomato sauce with water and pretended it was soup.

Your mama’s family so broke they break

into neighbours houses but they don’t steal

TVs and radios they steal food.

Your mama’s so damn poor that 11

people live in their tiny Tokoroa state

house and they didn’t get a car til she was 14.

My Papa, worked long hours at Kinleith

that made his heart and brain think

that happiness is just pulp fiction. He milled

paper but he didn’t make any and he died

of a brain tumour the size of eight

kids and a mortgage yet they will call

his labour unskilled. This ain’t a show

without punch I’m just telling you to go to Tok

and feel the poverty and try tell me that it comes down to

‘just get off your arse and get a job’.

But my mama’s different cos she got out of there.

Ooooh gumma mumma! Yeah my mama’s so smart

she married a white man built a house from wood.

My daddy’s so smart he sent us to a white school

and we suffered cultural dislocation but as long

as we’re educated it shouldn’t matter, right?

And now I’m so smart because I got so much

debt but some o dat paper

that says I can write about it.

And I’m so smart because I finally figured

out irony even if I’m a generation too late

so my understanding is more like a self-discovery.

O! If only breaking the cycle were as easy

as an existential crisis or the flip of a coin

or as smooth as a crisp bill rolling out of an ATM.

Because you care about breaking the cycle.

You care about poverty eh?

You care about what I’m saying.

But I don’t care about you.

And this writing isn’t for you.

And you, you will continue to care

in the face of blatant rejection.

Give me a penny for my sorrows

and I’ll give you a burden to bear.

Pasefika Issue: Decolonisation unplugged – my meeting with West Papuans in Indonesia

This article, by Shasha Ali, is also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

This article is not easy to write. We live in a world with less than 8% of the global wealth distributed amongst the poorest, with indigenous women and children being predominant victim statistics of violent crimes and the impending crisis of climate change in the Pacific. Specifically for us in a post-TPPA signed Aotearoa New Zealand, it is clear that more than ever New Zealand as administered by the current Key government, is facing our own backyard crises from the most basic rights to clean water and shelter to widening income, access and opportunity disparities by gender, class and race.

So why should we care about West Papua?

This question resounded in my head when a rather random Facebook faceless-profile person from an Auckland-based Indonesian student cultural group messaged me during my shared postings of the West Papua campaign calling for peaceful demonstrations and observances to commemorate the Broken Promise of 15 August 1962, when the UN administered Dutch colonialists to hand over West Papua to Indonesia. The controversy remained as to whether a democratic voting process was fairly held with Indonesian government claiming they did things fair and square and a huge proportion of West Papuans who claim otherwise.

“You’re not even of Indonesian nationality,” this troll says to me in Bahasa. “ Why do you care so much about West Papua?”

Okay, obviously sophisticated notions of diaspora and cultural identity is not to be discussed here. In many activist spaces I can talk about identity from a longer memory, my longer Java-Malay tribal origins across Madura and Bandung whakapapa, my subjectivity as a tauiwi person in Aotearoa, and as an indigenous person deprived of her own indigeneity in her birth country of Singapura. However, that kind of talk will fall on deaf ears to people like this, because as long as I wasn’t born in Indonesia, apparently I’m not Indonesian enough to speak with any authority about Indonesia.

I try talking to him instead about Dutch colonialism, and how we can view Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua as a version of imperialism perpetrated by Indonesia. “Isn’t it enough that our forefathers and foremothers had to go through that? All the heroes we lost in the revolution for independence? Shouldn’t we try to make peace?” I typed out, attempting the most diplomatic version of my usually impatient, radical self.

Interestingly, the conversation halted. In the larger Facebook group where this thread began, 32 comments emerged very respectfully posted by a mix of Indonesian youth and mature postgraduate students in response to my call for solidarity for West Papua. There is consensus that this topic is a “very sensitive” issue, and that Indonesians would “kindly request” that I post instead a “legitimate mainstream media article” covering the situation on West Papua such as the Jakarta Post, as alternative and social media sources are “unreliable”.

At this point, I do not think it would make any difference for me to tell these 32 online commenters that when I was in Yogyakarta two weeks ago, I actually met with a young West Papuan who witnessed his uncle killed by the Indonesian military, and whose footage of his uncle being beheaded is in the end minutes of Run It Straight film. If the words and accounts of those who survive are not ‘legitimate’, then how exactly are we to dialogue further beyond the mediated catchphrase to ‘agree to disagree’.

It is promising to remember however that while I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, there were actual Indonesian activists, from Muslims, LBGT, women’s rights and human rights advocates who care and work in solidarity with West Papua freedom movements. You see, Yogyakarta has a very interesting and special history of being a state for thinkers, artists, academics and creatives of all kinds – from the traditional artisan to the contemporary. You can witness the city unravelling itself with its political graffiti art and tagging amidst short dwellings and rickshaw traffic, a type of punk attitude to life and society at large. The demographic is fairly youth-dominated with a huge student population and it is known to be historically the breeding ground for many famous artists, activists and left-leaning politicians.

But apparently 2016 is the year things started to look less than cool in Yogyakarta. I spent four days on a visitor internship at this non-profit social and environmental justice group called EngageMedia who told me they could not disclose their physical address to increase security since the Police attacks on LBTQ groups and West Papuans whom they support. I am so grateful to this organisation for without their support, none of what am about to share here would have happened. It started with a small morning tea for me to meet with the West Papuan student activists that were caught in the Police arrests in the city prior to my arrival.

That morning tea became an entire day spent until the late hours of evening! I met three young men, and two of their friends who somehow couldn’t make it (but was constantly on the phone saying they are on their way) to the office. Interestingly, they are more fluent in Bahasa Melayu (my first native tongue) than Bahasa Indonesia (the national language of Indonesia), and for a moment I felt immersed in a strange world of seeing them alike my cousins.

We watched the film “Run It Straight” directed by Tere Harrison, as a resourceful opening to introduce myself as an activist from Aotearoa New Zealand. Of course, luckily the EngageMedia facilitator realised that there was no subtitles so between her super-Bahasa skills and my average-Kiwinglish skills she amazingly translated and subtitled the entire film on their platform prior to the morning tea session!

I presented to them a ‘kia kaha’ pack of vegan-friendly peanut butter cookies, the tacky “New Zealand breakfast” tea set, music commemorating October 15th Raids in Aotearoa, and some West Papua Action Auckland-made stickers and flyers. They greeted me back with honour, “Wah Wah Wah” and video’ed the entire moment like it was to become history.

Our conversations were very fluid. These young men, postgraduate students in International Studies, Broadcasting and one doing a course in Agriculture, were highly competent in video advocacy and started showing me their footage from the demo, including how the Police arrested their fellow member Obby who was released on conditions, during the time of our meeting. “What exactly did Obby do that singled him out?” asked the EngageMedia group facilitator. The young men shook their head and said, “Same thing that we did – just walking to our campus.”

I watched how the Police pushed and tightened their hold on Obby, who was unarmed and was not resisting the arrest. Several people with cameras and mobile phones recorded the entire proceeding from different angles. Later I was told that two of the journalists there who were Indonesian, were also arrested.

We needed to make sense of this entire madness, and it was hopeful to know that these young activists are aware that this is only one of the many challenges they need to get used to if they were to continue their struggle for freedom and Independence for West Papua. I have to admit, it was so energizing to hear this. My heart fell so hard just thinking about the atrocities their families and relatives are facing back in West Papua land, while they are faced with racial abuse slurs, being called “monkeys”, “dogs” and “blacks”. However the worst deragatory remark they are currently trying to campaign against, is being called separatists.

“This is the new dirty word by Indonesian religious extremists and attackers,” says one of the activists Johnny. “This is the dangerous word that makes us look like we are trying to stir up trouble.”

While I listen to their stories, I interrupted and asked where the Papuan women at. The boys said, no no, they are part of the movement, there are quite a few of them, and Johnny suddenly remembered he forgot to ask two of them to come to this meeting, and started calling someone named Maria. Myself and the EngageMedia facilitator (both of us cis women) laughed at their sudden panic to remedy the situation.

Towards the end of the meeting, we finally got to meet Maria. She was quiet, shy and reserved at first and also tired, as she rushed to the meeting straight after work at a local cafe. I asked her what she was studying: English Literature, she responded. I felt so happy to hear of this, and she started telling me about her hopes to become a teacher and her passion for environmental issues as her hometown, a seaside village in West Papua has been deforested for palm oil industrialisation.

And then she told me, “You know when I was in West Papua, I was told I am Malay.”

I was confused. “What do you mean?”

“We have been brainwashed since birth to think we are Malay peoples, like Malaysians, like..”

“Like me?” I smiled.

“Yes,” she smiled back.

“It was only when I went to college here, that someone said you are West Papuan, that I suddenly realise, oh my god, I am West Papuan?”

That revelation to her, was heartbreaking for me to hear too. It brought me back to my own self-awakening, the memory-realisation that I am indigenous too , something I only truly confidently asserted, after being exposed to te Tiriti history and tino rangatiratanga movements in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I suppose in many ways, we are a family. An Asia-Pacific networked family of indigenous peoples in their own right. But in any family, our differences mark how we relate to each other and how we grow into our own being. We are brown, we share Austronesian roots, yes. That is a great source of potential for solidarity but it should not form zealousness to override our role as supporters for each other’s diverse histories, cultures and unique processes for self-determination. I think this is the bit that makes certain people forget why West Papua rightfully deserves their Independence from Indonesia. I also think this is why finding solutions for the West Papua-Indonesia divide, needs to emerge from a framework of restorative justice of sorts – this is about two colonized peoples, hurting socially, economically, politically and spiritually, through a long history of Western colonialism-white capitalism. The dialogue needs to be deeper than a black-and-white analysis of decolonisation that we are so used to applying, when situated in western settler nation-states like New Zealand.

We continue to bond, all of them keen to know more about Maori activism in New Zealand, and the other young men joined us to discuss future projects and activist solidarity actions that we can plan together on. Advocacy was a priority, and EngageMedia also informed of the funding challenges they face with international agencies. “Nobody wants to fund projects on West Papua,” the facilitator said. “They don’t mind Indonesia human rights stuff… but West Papua… no money…” she said, disheartened but hopeful that we should find a way to keep going and support these grassroots activists to organise their advocacy work sustainably with their own organisational status.

We exchanged contact details, had some food, took photos and promised to keep in touch, adding each other on Facebook instantly.

One of the key ideas we left with was setting up a youth/artist exchange programme where West Papuans can visit New Zealand and New Zealand indigenous youth can visit West Papua, to share experiences, build knowledge and explore strategies for movement/community building. Yes, the thought may already cause alarm bells about security risks for all, but we will need to look at ways to make this happen if this is what it takes to support their self-determination process. We imagine it will be a long term Asia-Pacific programme that will need the crucial involvement of the Pacific community. We can begin with awareness raising in our own home countries, increasing the profile of campaigning across all sections of society. And of course, we can make as many efforts to fundraise for projects that these amazing young Papuans need to do to strengthen their capacity for movement-building into their futures. As allies and supporters, I hope that is a promise that we can at least work to keep, while these courageous activists continue their inter-generational struggle against all odds, for the right to be free, independent and sovereign in their own nation.

Pasefika Issue: Untitled

This article is also published as a part of Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

When the first European ships travelled through the Pacific, their sails cut into the clouds of the skies. Papalagi, ‘cloud breaker’. In the lands of Samoa, our people prayed to these sailing gods, that they may not enter our shores. We prayed for them to pass us over, because they would bring death and disease. These papalagi would bring the death of our people and the death of our ways. And so it was foretold.

A couple hundred years later, we live across the world, within and away from the homeland – our languages, our systems, lost and polluted. We no longer need well-meaning missionaries to instill shame in our people. It is built into society. The savagery and simplicity of the ignorant, the illogical, the delusional, the uneducated heathen. This image, this idea is sewn into every institution, every system, every tool and every product of colonisation. As we come to confront the great power that is colonisation, we need to understand that it is a process. A process that has spanned countless generations, a process that we often blind ourselves to in our struggle to overcome its institutions. Without recognising and holding ourselves accountable for the ways in which we participate in the colonisation of tangata whenua, we cannot begin to overcome or deconstruct colonisation – we can only change our roles and relationships within the model of oppression. And so, because we all have a role in this system, we must first understand two things: first, the goal of colonisation (of any form), and second, the accountability of we, the settlers.

We have all, at some stage, lived in complicity. We have all participated and harboured attitudes and behaviours that continue and uphold the colonisation of tangata whenua. We are made aware of our own oppression, and the forced assimilation of our communities instills a very specific anger. We learn, through institutions of the coloniser, about our oppression. Hurt, we come to blame his systems for withholding what we should be entitled to. While fighting him, we employ his methodologies, prioritise his systems, his frameworks – and still carry with us, the image of the uneducated savage. This is how the process works. These ideas, attitudes, behaviours, value systems – this culture of complacency, complicity and removal of accountability (sometimes referred to as ‘settler colonialism’) becomes natural to us, because we, like the missionaries, have found bibles in academia. We have been enlightened, we are the product of advancement. We understand and will bring to pass the greater good. We refuse to ‘look back’ because we think they are gone. They do not exist anymore. Assimilation succeeds, colonisation prevails because his knowledge is higher than the savage’s.

Whether we do this to survive, whether we do it to maintain the comforts settlership offers us, our assimilation brings us in closer proximity to the coloniser. We may not have the power he has over us, but our willingness to compromise the welfare of indigenous people and systems places us in his role. We are his products, we are his tools. But, we get to choose. All things are imposed on us, but once we are made aware, we must understand that an ability to choose our attitudes, our behaviours means we can choose to resist white culture. We can decentre white structures and cultures, prioritising the knowledges and systems of indigenous peoples. We can also choose accountability. Our belonging to oppressed communities does not remove our ability to oppress. Convincing ourselves otherwise is an attempt to distance ourselves from the nasty connotation of ‘oppressor’, from accountability.

fa’apalagi. In the way of the palagi. In the way of the cloud breaker. In the way of the white man. whiteness.

In the context of stolen land and settled colonisers, whiteness pertains to the adoption of the colonisers’ worldview. In the context of colonised indigeneity, white is the other. The other is white. fa’apalagi. Culture is complex, but what is very simple is that we choose the ways in which we fight or uphold colonisation. When we are made aware of our assimilation, our internalised whiteness, we have a choice to make. What we choose is up to us, but we must be honest about it. Because when you claim to fight against racism, against colonisation, while refusing to hold yourself and your white colonial ideologies accountable, you are manipulating the oppressed. You offer false notions of trust and solidarity, placing these ideas in the hearts of the vulnerable, whose power and mana have been taken from them. They will entrust you with their hearts, their souls, their spirits and your dishonest solidarity will break them. Your dismissal of accountability will shield you from critique, from reflection and you will never know, simply because you do not care, that you will replace the well-intentioned, unaccountable coloniser – you will become the missionary who violated and destroyed the mana of the people. The arrogance of whiteness, of colonisation, lies in the fundamental belief that your white frameworks and methodologies can more successfully overcome colonisation than systems that predate it.

In the beginning, there was the word.

And the word was with We, the Settlers.