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.

An uncomfortable conversation: Greens still wrong about immigration

justice-for-migrant-workers

‘Justice for Migrant Workers’ protest.

Article by Ben Peterson, originally published on leftwin.org.

The Greens new interpretation of their immigration policy has generated a lot of discussion on the left, both on this blog and elsewhere. James Shaw’s comments committing the Greens to halve immigration numbers have been controversial. In response, immigration spokesperson Denise Roche has offered a defense of Shaw’s comments saying that “The Green kaupapa on immigration is focused on people.”

I respect the work that the Greens have done to support international students and exploited foreign workers. And I respect the Greens when they say “we need to be able to talk about political issues that people care about, even when they make us uncomfortable.” Bring on the uncomfortable conversations!

Unfortunately, the discomfort isn’t leftists sticking to abstract principles. The reaction is caused by Greens new policy discussion being based on untruths.

“Issues people care about”

Roche’s article says that “We need to talk about immigration because failing to do so means that we let that conversation be dominated by fear, intolerance and misinformation.”

True. Progressives should be entering this debate, but lets not overstate its importance. Immigration is not the chief concern of Kiwis. Many times more people are primarily concerned by housing, wages and inequality than immigration. By dipping into immigration debates so publicly the greens have already failed to keep focused on the primary concerns of ordinary people and are turning to a small minority.

This is problematic in itself, but the issues go deeper. Rather than challenging the fear, intolerance and misinformation the Greens are reinforcing it. Instead of challenging xenophobic myths, Roche’s article accepts them.

“It is obvious that there are not enough houses in Auckland.”

Actually that’s not true. There are tens of thousands of empty homes in Auckland. The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s no options, its’ that investors are pricing many out of the homes that do exist.

“We need to build up houses, public transport, schools and hospitals to a level where they are a good fit for the population. After eight years of National’s dismal under-investment, there is a lot of catching up to do.”

I agree. Why are we talking about these problems and immigration in the same sentence? The selloff of public housing, and the degradation of public infrastructure go back to the neoliberal reforms of the 80’s. The trend of falling homeownership and rising housing costs likewise go back decades. When you know these are decades long trends, and only 5 years ago there was a net migration loss, why on earth would migration and infrastructure be part of the same conversation.

Put simply- It is an untruth to put the blame for these long term trends onto migrants.

The Greens are should know better than this- and trying to say they’ll cut immigration because of housing, but also saying housing is the governments fault, confuses the conversation.

Greens message makes no sense.

So Roche rightfully says “Immigration is – categorically – not to blame for these issues…
Bad Government planning is to blame.”

If immigration isn’t a social problem, why the new announcements saying the Greens are for a dramatic reduction? If immigration is going to be dramatically reduced, how do the Greens honour their commitment to raise the refugee quota, raise the family reunion quota and open up pathways for work visa holders to gain residency?

If immigrants don’t drive the housing crisis, why are the Greens bringing it up as a justification for dramatic immigration cuts?

Instead of providing a clear progressive alternative, the Greens position seems confused. A series of contradictory angles doesn’t challenge xenophobia, it fails to provide a coherent alternative..

A progressive alternative

Building a progressive political alternative is critically important and there has never been a better time to do so. The issues of most concerns to Kiwi’s is inequality, and the political mainstream has no answers on how to address this issue.

A progressive alternative has to provide clear answers on housing, infrastructure and inequality. A progressive alternative on immigration has to be clear and unequivocal- immigrants are not the drivers of the housing crisis or the reduction in work conditions.

This conversation on immigration should be uncomfortable. But this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation is not that we need to confront the gap between realpolitik and progressive principles. The uncomfortable fact is that some of our friends are suggesting that we accept and accommodate popular myths that are untrue.

That’s unacceptable, and we should expect more from the Greens.

Comments welcome below.

Leftwin seeks to host a discussion on building a new left politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Be part of that disscussion here 

Pasefika Issue: In/Visible

This article is also published as part of Fightback’s special Pasefika Fightback magazine issue. Article by Luisa Tora, luisa.k.tora@gmail.com.

I’ve been asked to discuss why the visibility of the Pacific lesbian community is important to me, and why I think this community is invisible. I’ve also been invited to speak about an exhibition that I am co-curating of emerging artists who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and queer. I feel it’s important to include the brief given me as I believe that sometimes questions inform us as much as the answers we receive. This is not in way intended to shame the person who asked me the questions. I appreciate this opportunity to unpack some of the themes and issues surrounding Pacific lesbian visibility.

I’d like to start the talanoa by placing some limitations on the discussion. Not to censor the talanoa so much as to sharpen its focus. I can only speak to my experience as 42-year old Fijian woman who has lived in Aotearoa for the last seven years.

I came out when I was a precocious 17 years old Foundation student at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. Even though I dived headfirst into my new lifestyle with my newly acquired girlfriend, I didn’t come out to my parents until almost two years later. It was my Mum who coaxed it out of me saying that she and Dad would love me whatever my sexuality was. My then girlfriend lived with us and our families were friends. Three decades later I can’t remember why 17 year old me didn’t just tell my parents. Perhaps I was afraid. Perhaps I thought it was obvious. Perhaps I thought it wasn’t anybody’s business. Perhaps I was just a self-centred 17 year old and it didn’t occur to me that I had to ‘come out’ to anyone.

Whatever the reason, I was out and my family and friends totally ran with it. My parents have invited scores of queer friends into our family home and their hearts. I’ve spoken on occasion about having a gay army in Fiji. We’re everywhere. I didn’t really think about it until I came to Aotearoa and had to start from scratch. (My sister and I were heartened to see these same people at both my parent’s funerals.) When my sister came out, they invited her girlfriend(s) and friends home. I remember my parents and I going to a girlfriend’s home once for a party. Mum told me later that she and Dad had a heart-to-heart with my girlfriend’s parents about their only daughter’s sexuality. She told them “You either love her as she is or you will lose her. It’s your choice.” I remember going to a drag night with a girlfriend and my Dad another time. My usually stoic father (unless you got to know him) told a homophobic heckler, “We’re here to enjoy ourselves. If you don’t like it you can leave.” Mum would introduce me and my girlfriend to new people – This is my daughter, and this is her partner – and embarrass us no end. My extended families on Mum and Dad’s sides also embraced mine and my sister’s lifestyles and girlfriends. When we both started volunteering then working with non-government organisations, our extended NGO family embraced us and the LGBTQI+ issues that we championed.

I share this brief insight to start to answer the first question about why Pacific lesbian visibility is important to me. My sister and I were blessed with a supportive family, social, and professional environment. Thanks to our parents, families, and friends, we were able to live open lives at home and to carry the confidence that comes with that grounding outside our home.

However, that sentence is not accompanied by a video clip of goat kids frolicking in a sun-splashed meadow as birds chirp in the sky as we eat mangoes and cast beatific smiles at people walking by. There’ve been some horrific break-ups and broken hearts, and girlfriends’ families haven’t always receptive to the idea of having a daughter-in-law instead of a son-in-law. Friends have been bashed and raped by male family members to remind them of their ‘place’ as women. Gay male and transgender friends and acquaintances have been murdered by homophobes. We’ve had to defend our constitutionally protected LGBTQI+ rights in the media, before parliamentary committees, in the international arena against an array of adroit Fiji governments playing political football. We’ve been kicked off and excluded from national HIV committees and called dissidents. All of this happened between and during cyclones, coup d’états, and so many poetry readings.

All the reasons above and more are why the visibility of the Pacific lesbian community is important to me. The love you find in relationships with lovers and family, the support and laughter and shoulders to cry on and lean on that comes from your community and those who support you, the role models and crushes that we make for those who are closeted or curious to pass on the street or read about in the newspaper, the good, the bad and the ugly poetry we write and inspire, just so you can say ‘cheers queers!’ at a party, not having to explain why you like girls or why you only like girls who wear fades and cable knit sweaters or girls who wear glasses and can’t look you in the eye, being able to speak about your own culture to someone ‘like you’ in your own language or bits of your own language, seeing someone from your own culture at a lesbian party even if you spend the rest of the night avoiding each other, because it’s nice knowing you aren’t literally the only gay in the village.

I think about why lesbian Pacific islanders aren’t more visible around Auckland. I’m not the most social person, but I try to be conscious of the people around me when I am outside. Also, I live in South Auckland so the chances of me seeing Pacific anything is much higher in my neighbourhood. But still, we are few and far between. Or we are really good at blending in? Which begs the question: what does a Pacific lesbian look like anyway? I once read a paper about migrant lesbians who live with their families in the diaspora and how their sexuality is subverted by their dependence on their families for family, immigration, financial, and language support. Many women either decided to conceal their sexuality or did so under threat of being ostracised or being sent ‘home’ if they didn’t conform to heterosexual norms. The struggle is real for ethnic minorities who are also sexual minorities living in the diaspora.

This in a small way brings me back to the question or the framing of this conversation. My experience aside for now, is it necessary for people to come out or to be visible? Is the lesbian experience enough? Do we need to be visibly and audibly lesbian? I am intrigued and a little disturbed by pressure from some LGBTQI+ circles for people to ‘come out’ as well as shaming people who don’t or can’t come out and therefore live life on the DL. If some of us are happy to stick our necks out, does this somehow make up for those who draw theirs into their shells?

Which brings me to the exhibition I’ve developed with Molly Rangiwai-McHale and Ana Te Whaiti featuring artists Tasi Su’a, Jamie Berry, Sangeeta Singh, Emma Kotsapas, and Kerrie-Anne Van Heerden. The exhibition statement states: “‘When Can I See You Again?’ offers a public invitation into a private, contemplative space. This multimedia, multicultural, and multi-regional exhibition of emerging artists explores female sexualities, desire, power, and safe spaces. This collectively curated gathering is an attempt to build what bell hooks calls “a community of resistance”1. A “central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives” (206).

Women’s voices and bodies are privileged and amplified in new works created by Ana Te Whaiti, Emma Kotsapas, Jamie Berry, Kerrie Van Heerden, Luisa Tora, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Sangeeta Singh, and Tasi Su’a. ‘When Can I See You Again?’ is strategically aligned with Auckland Pride Festival 2017.

‘Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness’ from Yearnings: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Routledge, 1989).”

To bring it back to the talanoa before, another aim of this show is to ‘build our own archive’ as discussed by Dr Teresia Teaiwa. If you are missing from the narrative, write your own then share it with others. If you are missing from the landscape, insert yourself into it. I am reminded of a young woman I met once when I was neck-deep in the LGBTQI+ lobby in Fiji. She quietly introduced herself and told me that she’d read an interview I’d done in the local media. She said it was the first time she’d seen the word lesbian discussed in a positive way in the newspaper. We hope that this show will provoke some interesting dialogue about all things lesbians. I would be happy if a quietly lesbian woman of any ethnic descent inputted gay woman/lesbian/queer/LGBTQI in Aotearoa/New Zealand into a search engine and quickly pressed enter – and then she found us. Kia kaha!

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Pasefika Issue: Half Cast Away

This article is also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

When I think back to my childhood, I am a Mowgli-like child sitting crossed legged in my Uncle’s living room. Second hand furniture surrounds me; a clutter of memories piled high in every corner of every room. My cousin’s 21st keys, family photos extending back to the Islands, dusty records and old radios. The room is a mixture of adult chatter, laughing Samoans, the smell of chop suey, corned beef, and roast chicken. My Nana sits atop her throne, the only comfortable chair in the house, laughing without her dentures in. She, a 4ft something Chinese/Sāmoan woman, silver hair always tied in a bun, wearing a tree- bark brown mu’umu’u. She calls me over with a wave of her arm, speaking to me in a language I don’t understand. She sizes me up, pinches my tummy and cheeks, says something in Sāmoan, laughs and kisses my baby face. I laugh with her, because it is polite, because she’s given me a cue. She nods at me and I take it as a sign to leave now, her cheeky smile watching as I run off to play with my cousins. This interaction happens every time we meet; she speaks and I do not understand. I laugh and she laughs, then she nods for me to leave.

Only now am I realizing the vastness of the space that was between us. The disconnect between two bodies of water, like she must have felt venturing to Aotearoa. Scooped her five kids under her arms and rowed to white shores for a better life. At 10 years old my Nana passed away, taking with her the Sunday lunches at Uncle’s house, the language so effortlessly spoken, and the best source of finding out where I come from. My mama tries to remember, but was too young to recall the villages, or the names of the people that might serve as a compass. She, a 5ft Chinese/Sāmoan woman, breathes compassion and fire. Her long, straw like black hair frames her gentle coconut skin. She married a white man and spent 25 years trying to abolish the myth that his family held about the brownness of our skin. Buried her culture in the barrels of their loaded shame, trigger tongues sit upon ivory towers. Made my mama ‘prove’ herself, whatever that means. It looked like a forgotten language and the trimming of branches, cutting limbs off in order to grow new ones. Her body, a patchwork of pride and shame stitched together by the taro leaves she tried to outgrow.

My parents’ marriage died the same year my Nana did. I ended up being raised by my father, who spat poison back at the Pacific, damned us all. So as I grew, my culture became strangely foreign land. Hidden behind shame, a spitting image of my mother. Always too white for the brown kids and too brown for the white kids. Our legs were planted in taro patches and everything that helps the plants grow. Only to be uprooted and forced to watch as the fields went up in flames. Burning the landscape of my Nana’s eyes, and all she called home. I refused the stars when they tried to lead me back, told them I don’t know where I belong. Forever searching for a safe place to lace my work boots.

My mama says I got warrior’s blood in my veins, but I’m just a worrier these days. It’s funny how it all comes 360, now I’m ashamed of that which I do not know. I couldn’t tell you anything my Nana said. I could not. Tell you. Anything my Nana said. My village stokes the fire to light my way home, laying out blankets of food, and sweeping the fale in wait of my adventurer feet. I still can’t see that welcome mat. I could not read any signposts leading back. Every year that passes, those stars seem further away to navigate, almost an impossible feat. Standing at the base of a mountain trying to will myself up. When the debris falls and the dust clears, what will be left? A silly boy who never seized the opportunity to go home? Who never sat at his Nana’s feet long enough to hear her speak? I have learned that it is no good to sit at a table offering no food to eat. Saying grace through a lazy English tongue. Cut it out so I can start again. Let me lash back at the forgotten war crimes waged on the bodies of my grandmothers. Let me sew my language to the roots of my spine. Let me learn the stars through my mama’s outstretched palms. She’ll smile and tell me, you belong here, little one, and whatever you are is enough.

Pacific Panthers and International Solidarity: An interview with Teanau Tuiono

Fightback sat down with educator and Pacific Panther Teanau Tuiono to discuss his experiences, and lessons, as a political activist.


How has your whakapapa factored into your political work?

I had a bicultural upbringing. On the one hand I’m a first generation pacific islander in Aotearoa: my family migrated here from the islands for work and educational opportunities. I am also tangata whenua from Ngāi Takato and Ngāpuhi with connections throughout the Tai Tokerau including Ngati Hine.

Within our own communities we are the norm. We have our languages and our cultures. But I am acutely aware that I am from two minorities. So I’m quite used to comparing the differences and similarities between the two cultural groups that I come from. Moving between them is something I’ve done my whole life. People who are both Pasifika and Māori will know what I am talking about. Navigating how you interact with the majority culture is something that you must learn as a minority. My grandfather would tell me stories about when he first came to NZ, and how tricky it was because he could not speak English well.

Sometimes when you are a minority you try and find the corners and the cracks to hide. It’s the whole idea of the Other, something Edward Said talks about. Othering in colonialism is habitual between marginalised peoples and colonisers. The Other is seen as inferior and in need of “educating or saving”. Colonisation seen through that lens is benign, as opposed to being incredibly violent to indigenous peoples. This is something that Gramsci also touches on when he talked about cultural hegemony.

 

What have you learnt from the experience of the Polynesian Panthers, and what is new about this project? Tell us about the Pacific Panthers.

The Polynesian Panthers are an inspiration, particularly for us NZ Born Pacific Islanders. Staunch Islanders with leathers and afros – standing up for our communities. I fucken love that shit. Their political activism, running of food co-ops and homework centres, advocating for tenants and promoting Pacific languages are things to continue to aspire too. I was a kid during the Springbok tour protests of 1981 and I lived in the inner city Auckland. The polynesian panthers were active in those protests in the patu squad challenging both the racism of the apartheid regime of south africa and the racist NZ muldoon government.  In those days the inner city suburbs like Grey Lynn and Ponsonby was full of immigrants and minorities it was alive and bustling with diversity. These days it has gone completely to the dogs and is full of rich white yuppies sipping on $20 lattes. The Pacific Panthers came out of a fono we had out of Palmerston North it was to learn about the past struggles and look at how we can move at Pacific peoples in our activism.


The Polynesian Panthers drew inspiration from the Black Panthers in the US. How do you think the interface works between international inspiration and local adaptation?

 

I can’t speak for the Polynesian Panthers and I was a child during that time period. I imagine that they saw themselves in that struggle. Poor brown kids getting kicked around by the government – much as it is here. For myself most of my activism has come from meeting the people themselves either while travelling or being with them in their homelands and learning from them directly. I guess you can learn a lot of this stuff from books but you can’t pick up every nuance, the smell and feel of a place or the hospitality of people if you go there and meet them. The interface then is when you see yourself in each other’s struggles – not the appropriation of other people’s struggles – because that’s just going to piss someone off sooner or later, but rather a genuine recognition of mutual solidarity and respect.


You are a climate change activist. What is the intersection of ecological violence and colonial violence in the Pacific?

 

I don’t think there is an intersection as such – it’s the same bunch of wankers really. People may remember news headlines from last year that focused attention on Ioane Teitiota, a self-identified climate change refugee. Teitiota was imprisoned in Aotearoa, where he had sought refugee status after fleeing his home on Kiribati.  

 

As a part of the Cook Islands diaspora living in Aotearoa I am acutely aware that the borders separating the Cook Islands from Kiribati are a part of New Zealand’s colonial history in the region. Teitiota’s ability to stay or not stay in the country is dependent upon who drew the colonial borders around our Pacific nations. The government ultimately deported Teitiota back to Kiribati. The question of movement of peoples is also a question of decolonisation. Our assertion of our whakapapa (that is our connections with each other) and the need to dismantle the borders and barriers that separate us. We need to understand why those colonial lines have been drawn and at the same time erase them.


Can you tell us about your time in Cuba? What did you learn during your visit?

This was 20 years ago so the memory is a bit fuzzy. I had just finished uni. I had been staying with First Nations people just North of Albuquerque. I made my way down to Texas and walked into Mexico. I remember crossing the border over the Rio Grande which was more concrete and barbwires than river – and there was a massive mural of Che Guevara painted facing the American side with some anti-imperialist slogan. I figured I was going the right way. I made my way down to Mexico City met up with Communist comrades from Aotearoa and we flew into Havana. At that time Cuba had just come out of the special period – the Berlin wall had fallen just 7 years or so before and with the collapse of the Soviet Union – Cuba’s dependant economy collapsed with the US embargo still in place since the revolution they had to be heavily self-reliant particularly with nothing coming in and out of the country in terms of imports and exports. I had a job one day straightening nails because they had to reuse them – no hardware store up the road where you could buy straight nails. They also had all these old classic cars still running on the roads – no one makes parts for them so every time something broke you had to find someway to fix it. The people I met were proud of who they were, hardworking. I learnt about their struggle, drank rum, and smoked cigars with all the other politicos I met there. They took us up to Sierra Maestra mountains where they based the revolution in its early years – the rich history of the place is something to be appreciated.  One of the most interesting conversations I remember was with a Cuban diplomat, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, he heard that I was a Māori and was interested in the Treaty of Waitangi – all the way in the Caribbean and we were talking about Waitangi. Cool. He talked about ‘the old man’ Che Guevara. His boss when he was younger was Che Guevara. It was 2 years or less after NAFTA and the Zapatista uprising. He said the British used to talk a century or so ago about the ‘Freedom of the Seas’ and that’s because they had the biggest navy,  same thing with trade. Those that push ‘Free Trade’ or advocate for some freedoms over other types of freedoms do so in line with their power interests.

I bumped into him years later in Geneva at a UN meeting. At the United Nations he was a founding member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. He wrote an influential document called the “Study on treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and indigenous populations.”

 

 

 

How does capitalism impact on Pacific communities?

Well when I lived in the Islands for a short time as a child – I went there after the Springbok Tour – it was an agricultural economy – plantations that sort of thing. We’d go to school and then work in gardens after the disaster that was the 4th NZ Labour Government – the relationship with agricultural goods disappeared. Suddenly the Cook Islands had to change into a tourist industry. The impact on our communities both here and back in the Islands are dictated by the whims of the white settler states of NZ and Australia. I hate that shit.


Green Vomit and statistical nonsense: the lies you hear about immigration and the Auckland housing crisis

hanson-farage-trump

Uncomfortable bedfellows: NZ Greens’ James Shaw joins Pauline Hanson (Australia), Michael Gove (UK) and Donald Trump (US) in an international trend of xenophobic scapegoating.

 

Article by Tim Leadbeater. Reprinted from the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/NZ).

A few days ago the Labour party announced a new policy of increasing police numbers by 1000. I groaned at this news but it didn’t really surprise me. Then yesterday I heard of the new Greens policy on immigration, with James Shaw calling for a drastic reduction in numbers. Is New Zealand First calling the shots here, aided and encouraged by a compliant and uncritical media happy to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon? The Greens and Labour will almost certainly need the support of NZF to form a government next year, and Winston really just hates those hippy-dippy lentil munching do gooders. James Shaw knows this, yet needs to send a very clear signal to Peters that the Greens are willing to compromise. Immigration is a hot topic, and Shaw can easily frame the issue in terms of “sustainablitity” and “infrastructure”. No need for racist dog-whistles or Chinese sounding surnames, this is Sensible and Practical Greens policy, easily digested by sensitive liberals turned off by the crude nationalistic appeals of NZF.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

“You’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1 percent the country is set up to absorb that,” he says.

“Suddenly double that number, and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment, where you actually can’t meet the demand.”

Hmmmm. Sounds sensible enough. It’s not that we are racist or anything mean and horrible like that, it is just that we have looked at it very carefully and the numbers just don’t add up. One percent is all that the infrastructure can handle – just look at the housing crisis for proof, even if we wanted to we just couldn’t build enough new houses that fast. The government isn’t switched on like we are, they are letting in huge numbers and now people are sleeping in their cars! Etc, etc.

Curious about this one percent growth claim, I searched for the population data on Statistics New Zealand and came up with this graph:

population-graph

It is sort of true that the New Zealand population has grown at around 1% per year, as you can see for the period from the 1990s up to 2015, the line fluctuates above and below 1%. If you were a statistician paid by Winston Peters you could cut the time period to 1980 and onwards, and very easily draw a steadily increasing trendline through the periodic peaks and troughs. Look! The line is going up, we don’t have enough houses! The line must be flat, we must flatten the line! One percent is an absolute maximum!

The really strange and scary thing is to consider just how New Zealand survived throughout those extreme and rabbit-warren like years after the second world war. Those baby boomers were just popping them out without any consideration for New Zealand’s fragile infrastructure, pushing 3% for a couple of years and then a period of about 20 years with that line well in the red zone (and it was so sudden! How did they cope?). Then there was that period in the late 60s and early 70s when the line went into the 2% Danger Zone for about 3 years. Those damn hippies, what were they thinking?

Cheering for the Greens new anti-immigrant stance, Martyn Bradbury from the Daily Blog conjures conjures up some even more gratuitously false statistics to make the case:

Here is the grim truth about our current immigration settings. It’s not the 70,000-90,000 who become permanent residents that we need to be concerned about and it’s not their families joining them that we need to be worried with either, the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passports.

These 250 000 work hard jobs, many on less than minimum wage and pay tens of thousands for education schemes that are glorified english courses all for the promise of becoming permanent  residents.

A quarter of a million students paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn English, and getting exploited at the same time by ruthless bosses! And all of them putting massive stress on our infrastructure! They’ll never ever go back to where they came from because their bosses have stolen their passports!! We’ll be doing the country a favour as well as fighting for worker’s rights if we just stop them staying here! A double whammy:

We need to stop exploiting these people and stop promising them permanent residence via education. If they wish to come here for education, fine, that’;s their decision, but putting in place the pathway from education or employment to residency is exploitative and creating huge pressures on an infrastructure that can’t take anymore.

When I first read this blog I was struck by the twisted moral “logic” of Bradbury’s anti-immigrant stance. Like James Shaw, he wants to save the ‘infrastructure’ from the hordes of foreigners swamping our fair land. But he wants to present this as simultaneously saving the immigrants from exploitative bosses. If only they knew how exploitative and nasty kiwi bosses were, they would never have come in the first place. (Working conditions in places like India, of course, being obviously superior). I started pondering the strange and only barely coherent motivations for this ‘argument’, then my head started to hurt so I gave up. What then struck me was Bradbury’s figures. Where on earth did he get that figure of 250,000 ‘desperate students’?

He links to another blog by Mike Treen, which states that “250,000 people are granted student or temporary work visas each year.”. There are no sources given for any of these numbers, so I dug around the Statistics New Zealand and MBIE sites for up to date data. Treen’s figure of 250,000 is most likely based on data for the 2014/2015 year, in which 84,856 international students were approved for New Zealand courses, and 170,814 people were granted a work visa.

Let’s start with the temporary work visas. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these people are or were international students. There are several categories of temporary visa, and a set of complex rules and regulations surrounding each category. I didn’t spend enough time on this problem to come up with an exact number, but I did take note of the clearly spelt out fact that the biggest single source country of those gaining temporary work visas was the UK. And the fact that the biggest visa category (61,404 people) was ‘Working Holiday Schemes’ (think backpackers). How many people were granted visas in the ‘Work to Study’ category? Exactly 13,688. There are other categories international students might have applied under, but this is the most obvious candidate.

How about those 84,856 international students? Again I didn’t dig long enough in the data to work out how many of these students worked, or intended to work after studying. Fairly obviously the 18% of them who were under 16 will not be working, which leaves us with 69,582 who might get part time work alongside their studies. There is no denying that for a significant chunk of these international students (and ex-students), exploitative and often illegal work practices are a major problem. But the numbers involved are nowhere near the idiotically false figure of 250,000 which Bradbury confidently puts forward without any reservations.

Are these just careless mistakes made a by blogger who thrives on the hot air of passing controversies, or is there something else going on here? I’m aware that Bradbury operates a blog rather than an academic journal, but the brazen sloppiness regarding statistics is surely a big issue. The internet allows you to check numbers very quickly and easily, so why not back up your statistics with actual sources?

There are definitely some impressive numbers out there which at first glance appear to back up the argument for cutting immigration. According to Statistics New Zealand, surely a source far more credible than Bradbury’s blog or Green Party press releases, Auckland’s population grew by a massive 2.9% in the 2014 – 2015 year. This growth accounted for over half of the population growth for the entire country. Alongside these facts it would not be a difficult task to present a series of familiar and undeniable truths about the problems with Auckland’s infrastructure: the housing crisis, inadequate public transport, congested roads and so on. Shortly after the release of this data in July 2015, there was a Stuff article with the headline “NZ migration boom nears 60,000 a year, as Indians and returning Kiwis flood in”. Like many other similarly hysterical media reports, immigration is presented as a major causal factor of the housing crisis. With almost no attention given in the mainstream media to alternative points of view which question this received wisdom, the truth of the claim ‘immigrants cause housing crisis’ has apparently become established through constant repetition. In this environment, it is possible to make outlandishly false statistical claims about immigration without stirring any controversy.

The most insightful piece I have read about this issue is Peter Nunns’ transport blog article ‘Why is Auckland Growing?’. Nunns points out that net migration is extremely volatile, being dependent on both the numbers of Aucklanders leaving for places such as Australia and the numbers of people coming in from overseas. Much more constant and statistically significant is the natural population increase due to Aucklanders having babies. If we can get past the hysteria of the 2015 figures and look at the past 24 years for a broader and more robust view of the situation, the statistics tell a different story: in 18 of those 24 years, natural increase was a bigger contributor to growth than net migration. The significance of this is that even if regulations on immigration were tightened considerably, overall long term population growth would be roughly the same as if the status quo rules remained. Nunns demonstrates this with a simulation comparing a projected Auckland population growth with a 50% reduction of net migration to one without such a reduction. His prediction is that by the year 2043, the 50% reduction version of Auckland would have a population of about 2.1 million, whereas the status quo Auckland would have a population of about 2.2 million. The conclusion he draws is that Auckland faces some major tasks around preparing its infrastructure for population growth, so it needs to do things like build more houses. Cutting immigration is simply not a solution.

I can’t resist another conclusion: none of this pedantic analysing of facts and figures really matters all that much. What does matter is all those times you get on board an Auckland train in the morning and there are no seats left, and you are surrounded by lots of Indian and Asian young people. When you get on the bus and have to listen to all those conversations in Chinese. Then you get off on Dominion Road and basically every sign is written in Chinese, and they don’t even bother translating them into English. All those bright and hard working Asian students who get most of the academic prizes in the secondary schools. These very pertinent experiences and anecdotes build on each other, so when you read the outlandish and ridiculous sentence “the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passportsyou don’t even blink, it just sounds about right.

As a socialist I am for internationalism, solidarity and a world without borders. In this article however I have restrained myself from using any of the perspectives, values or arguments which inform these positions. The mainstream left in New Zealand appears to be lacking in both statistical literacy and the spirit of the famous phrase ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’. If we can’t communicate to them the spirit of solidarity, the least we can do is point out their mathematical failure.

Auckland’s no-choice elections: blue-greens and conservative leftists

ponsonby-auckland

By Daphne Lawless

The election of former Labour Party leader Phil Goff as mayor of Auckland on October 9, by a margin of 75,000 votes over his nearest challenger, will at best have provoked “half a cheer” from people who want a sustainable, equal, democratic and liveable future for Auckland.

The mayoral election was probably a foregone conclusion once the Auckland right wing failed to agree on a challenger and ran three separate campaigns for Mayor. But even if you added all the votes together for business figures Victoria Crone and John Palino and career National Party hack Mark Thomas, Goff still came out with a clear majority.

Phil Goff was one of the eminences grises of the neo-liberal takeover of the Labour Party in the 1980s. As Minister of Education he was the first to impose tertiary tuition fees. He spent 30 years as a reliable but inoffensive member of the right wing of the Labour Party caucus and caused the National Government no problems during his single election as Opposition Leader in 2011.

Goff’s campaign to succeed the centre-leftist Len Brown as Mayor of Auckland was similarly marked by carefully avoiding taking any stands. In Labour-leaning areas of Auckland, his campaign signs carried slogans like “Let’s sort out transport”. In the National-leaning zones, they said “Let’s get council spending under control”. Goff’s honestly described his campaign strategy to the NZ Herald on September 9, distancing himself from the sex scandal which dogged Len Brown’s second term:

“I’ve slept with one woman for 45 years – that’s all,” he declares when Sainsbury asks him about potential scandal. “Why am I so boring?” should be the question, he suggests.

The sole element of interest in the mayoral election was the late run of 22-year-old Chloë Swarbrick. A qualified lawyer running on a left-liberal platform which took clear stances where Goff fudged, she was initially ignored by the mainstream media for whom her age was considered an obvious disqualifying factor. Nonetheless, a groundswell on social media eventually propelled her to 3rd place in the election, beating two of the mainstream conservative candidates. The Wireless website reported on 9 October:

Chlöe doesn’t own a home, she takes public transport and she’s in $43,000 of student loan debt. “I’m not just some rich kid from Epsom. I’ve had no financial support since I was 17,” she says.

As @tiredsounds put it on Twitter: “Swarbrick shows that soft-left but sensible ideas, if not attached to someone with a rap sheet that makes NZers hate them, can feasibly contest elections.”

Auckland’s growth: UP or Out?

Leftists and socialists might have wished for more candidates like Chloë Swarbrick in the elections for the Council Governing Body and Auckland’s 21 local boards. Not only because of her appealing personal qualities, but because her youth-focussed campaign drew attention to the fault-lines in Auckland caused by the ongoing housing crisis. As Simon Collins reported in the Herald on April 14:

Young people in their early twenties are now the most likely age group to be living in overcrowded conditions, as Auckland’s unaffordable housing crisis bites hardest for young adults. A quarter (25.2 per cent) of all young people aged 20 to 24 in Auckland are now officially considered to be in “overcrowded” housing in the 2013 Census, up from 23.6 per cent in the previous Census in 2006.

One reason for the overall dullness of the election might be that the most controversial and important issue for Auckland’s future – the Unitary Plan – was endorsed by the Governing Body before the election. There has been a lot of misinformation circulated about Auckland’s Unitary Plan on both sides of the political spectrum, so it’s probably worth setting out some facts.

The purpose of the Unitary Plan was to replace the jumble of old zoning schemes and development plans left over from the previous Auckland city, district and regional councils into a single “rulebook for Auckland development”. That is, the Unitary Plan was never going to build a single house – it was solely a question of setting rules on what houses and other buildings and infrastructure could be built, where. As urban design student Niko Elsen explained on The Spinoff:

The Unitary Plan lifts up and loosens that web of rules so more homes are allowed to be built. It doesn’t actually build homes – that’s for architects, developers and the Government, but it’s a super important step to let them get on with it.

Unfortunately, given New Zealand’s centralised political system, radical measures which could actually reduce housing costs – such as the 50% “crash” in house prices proposed by Green Party leader Metiria Turei, or a massive build of State housing for rental and not for speculation – were not among the options for the Auckland Council. The question that the Unitary Plan was to solve was more a question of urban form. Given Auckland’s continued exponential growth, to the point where it now embodies something like 1/3 of the population of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Unitary Plan could have decisive influence on what kind of city it will become. Would it continue its current growth pattern of low-rise urban sprawl, with single-dwelling houses on “traditional Kiwi” lots spreading out north and south over productive farmland? Or would “high-density” living – apartments and townhouses – become more widespread?

In a previous Fightback article, I made an argument that urban intensification and an end to sprawl is not only the pro-worker solution, but the pro-environment solution. Energy-efficient housing close to reliable public transport routes not only requires less infrastructure but has a much lower “carbon footprint” than Auckland’s traditional housing model – or would do so, given proper planning and design. This analysis was matched by lobby groups in the election such as Generation Zero and Greater Auckland, the latter being the advocacy group behind the popular Transportblog.

Left-Right bloc against intensification

As I said in the article referenced above, it is to be expected for the traditional Auckland right to oppose intensification – both because of the downward pressure on their property values, and because of the influx it might cause of “undesirables” into the “leafy suburbs” which they traditionally monopolise. And certainly this was the position of such traditional-Right councillors such as George Wood (North Shore), Cameron Brewer (representing the Remuera and Kohimarama areas) and Dick Quax (Howick).

It might be surprising, then – if you don’t follow Auckland politics – to know that, in the Council debates and in the election that followed, the spectrum of opinion generally considered “centre-left” ranged from deep suspicion about the Unitary Plan to outright opposition. Daily Blog supremo Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury called the UP a “scam”; perennial mayoral candidate Penny Bright described it as the “Lunatic Plan” and accused Generation Zero of being “the youth wing of the Property Council”.

More seriously, left-leaning politicians representing the central suburbs – in particularly those attached to the City Vision ticket – were in the forefront of those opposing the Unitary Plan’s vision for a more intensified, compact Auckland in its planning stages. City Vision councillors Mike Lee and Cathy Casey both voted for the Council to withdraw its initial submission to the Independent Hearings Panel calling for more intensification. While Cathy Casey eventually supported the UP at the final vote – saying she wanted her children to be able to grow up and live in her local area – Mike Lee kept up his opposition to the last, voting against more aspects of the UP than any other councillor. This UP-critical stance was supported by other City Vision candidates in the election, like Casey’s running mate Peter Haynes. In contrast, Labour-aligned councillors in western and southern Auckland were generally supportive of the UP.

Mike Lee – the King Canute of the Auckland Left

So what exactly was City Vision’s problem with the UP? For a lot of traditional, older leftists, the answer was simply a personal preference for the low-rise sprawl which characterises today’s Auckland. In one Facebook discussion I had with an opponent of the UP, their position eventually summed up to “I don’t like those apartments downtown”. Clearly, radical urbanists need to work harder to promote the ecosocialist case for high-density housing against the arguments of what I have previously described as “the conservative left”.1

But is personal preference for things the way they’ve traditionally been really the reason for the anger against the UP on the central Auckland centre-Left? Let’s examine closely a few of Mike Lee’s posts on his own blog, reprinted in the glossy freebie Ponsonby News. From February:

The council’s massive un-notified change to zonings is essentially another example of business deregulation, which would make Auckland even more of a free-for-all for the development lobby. Interestingly some young ‘climate change’ activists lined up with big business to support the changes. ‘Generation Zero’ argues that the all-out assault on the historic garden suburbs of Auckland is a good for young people, taking as an article of faith vague promises from the developers of ‘affordable housing’ close to the desirable city centre. They also believe a further round of intensification will force more people to use public transport. Sadly they have bought into the endless growth ideology and are not too bothered about the wider environmental impacts of overcrowding (sewage disposal for instance) nor indeed, as they freely admit, about the loss of people’s democratic rights and due process.

Lee goes on to criticise “the weird assumption that unsustainable growth and urban overcrowding is the formula for quality of life and better public transport”. In the second article from May, which concerns his opposition to a Government Special Housing Area (SHA) in the suburb of Herne Bay, Lee argues:

In regard to Auckland’s housing problem, government policies stoking up immigration into Auckland (demand) and its reluctance to build state houses (supply) are also contributing factors…

While population-driven pressure on the property market is a feature of cities in other countries – the difference is that in New Zealand a disproportionate amount of growth is loaded onto one city – Auckland. And Auckland ratepayers are expected to pay for more and more for increasingly expensive infrastructure.

While I support intensification over suburban sprawl (subject of course to the availability of adequate infrastructure) the current debate assumes that Auckland must continue to grow disproportionately. …

With State Highways and motorways increasingly congested on the suburban fringes and sewerage capacity under pressure in places like the historic western bays, such growth is neither environmentally sustainable – nor in the end affordable. An intelligent government-led balanced population and development policy for the whole of New Zealand is what is needed.

There are several issues that need unpacking here. Firstly, Lee makes some nods in the direction of being opposed to “deregulation” and “property developers” – phrases which would evoke an instant knee-jerk response as Bad Things among traditional leftists. We might wonder firstly how “property developer” got the same emotional loading as “drug dealer”, why this particular sector of the capitalist economy is being stigmatised, especially when housing is the number one issue facing us. (Penny Bright’s jibes at Generation Zero show the same scapegoating move.)

But let’s look more closely about what is being deregulated here. Lee claims to be defending the “property rights” of his constituents. But he’s not. Rezoning under the UP actually gives property owners more rights about what to do with their own property. What Lee is defending is restrictions on what can be built and where. These restrictions on property rights act to maintain property values – and the personal preferences of Lee’s mega-wealthy constituents.

Herne Bay is probably the most “exclusive” suburb in the central Auckland region, with an average house price now at a whopping $2 million. The expensive suburbs are that way because that’s where people most want to live – central, with good public transport, with views of the sea and in walking distance of cultural and work opportunities. It is precisely in these areas where people want to live the most, that intensified housing is most needed! The argument that “leafy” suburbs must be defended by restricting them to existing residents and property owners is nothing but a defence of unearned privilege. The benefits of such suburbs should be available to all social classes.

Similarly, Lee’s argument against the Herne Bay SHA is ostensibly based on the inadequacy of wastewater facilities for fitting any significant amount of new homes in the Herne Bay region. But infrastructure can be built and improved, given sufficient funding and political will. As one US Twitter commentator put it: “Something’s fishy when people oppose new homes within walking distance of jobs and transit on environmental grounds.” Lee takes great offence at being accused of being a NIMBY (someone who wants development “not in my back yard”). But the question arises – if intensification is not to happen in Herne Bay, then where?

It’s true that, absent other interventions, intensified housing in the most desirable suburbs would still be unaffordable for most working people. But as mentioned above, the affordability issue cannot be solved at the level of the UP, which only controls types of development. If the UP were to leave the “leafy suburbs” alone, then any intensified housing would have to be concentrated in existing working class/affordable suburbs. This would of course replicate the phenomenon of British “estates”, French “banlieues” and US “projects” – all of which have become bywords for terrible slums. The socialist approach should surely be one which breaks down social apartheid – as the original NZ State Housing project of the 1930s did by “pepper-potting” affordable housing rather than concentrating it in single areas.

Lee’s final and most basic argument – to which his special pleading on behalf of his super-wealthy constituents takes second place – is an argument against “Auckland’s disproportionate growth”. That is, that the problem would not exist if Auckland were not growing so quickly. To show that this is not just one individual talking, this concept was endorsed by another elected official from City Vision – Albert-Eden Local Board member Graeme Easte – in a comment on a Transportblog post:

I advocate a national population strategy to share growth more evenly throughout NZ. …The so-called ‘zombie towns’ are very real, as I have personally discussed with the despairing mayors of a number of them. I fully realize how difficult it will be to incentivize more business activity (jobs) in the provinces but this is the only realistic way to persuade more people, especially the young, to remain in or relocate to the smaller centres. I have been attacked on this blog for previously suggesting such policies but remain firmly of the view that this would be a win-win for all concerned … Auckland would be better able to address growth if there were just a bit less of it while the rest of New Zealand would actually have some growth.

There is room for argument as to whether Auckland-centric urbanisation is preferable from an ecosocialist point of view than encouraging similar intensified urban living elsewhere in the country. But the more immediate question is – exactly what do Lee or Easte think can be done about this at local body level? The problem of population growth will not go away if Council simply refuses to allow intensified housing. At best, we would end up like San Francisco – where no-one who works in the central city can afford to live there, with available housing monopolised by privileged tech-workers who commute 2 hours down the road to Silicon Valley. In this respect, Lee and Easte are like the ancient English King Canute, said to have attempted to order the rising tide to turn back.

Kill your children

Peter Nunns on Transportblog has convincingly demonstrated that “local governments do not represent the young, except occasionally by accident or in a mood of generosity.” This is certainly borne out in both turnout figures and the ages of candidates in Auckland’s recent elections – which is why Chloë Swarbrick’s quixotic tilt at the mayoralty was such a hopeful sign. But it became increasingly important as the young became one of the major targets for the wrath of conservatives from both Left and Right railing against Auckland’s urbanisation.

One disturbing manifestation of the anti-Unitary Plan movement, noted by several commentators, has been its outright ageism – older, asset-rich people expressing their contempt for younger people who complain that traditional urban patterns in Auckland would lead to them not being able to afford to live in their own city. At a hotly contested hearing on the UP in February this year, which was packed out with older anti-UP protestors from the “leafy suburbs”:

Flora Apulu from the council’s Youth Advisory Panel told the council she and her colleague Alex Johnston were “probably the only young people in this room”.

Oh, poor things,” called out someone at the back.

But this anti-youth attitude doesn’t just come from the traditionally selfish Right. On the conservative left wing, Penny Bright described Generation Zero as “wolf cubs” and “the youth wing of the Property Council”, while Martyn Bradbury railed against “blue green millennials” and elsewhere repeated the argument that Millennials are lost to the left as a generation as they have only ever growing up knowing neoliberal values.

Our old friend Mike Lee, writing on The Daily Blog, continued in this vein:

It is rather sad and unfair that the generation of Aucklanders who bought run-down villas and bungalows in Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Westmere etc., and lovingly did them up, often with their own hands, are now meant to feel guilty.

Of course, the “generation” he speaks of were beneficiaries of racially-biased gentrification. Grey Lynn and Ponsonby were heavily Polynesian working-class suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. They were pushed out of the area in the 1980s, as industrial jobs shifted to the outer suburbs such as Mangere or Ōtara, and young, “hipster”, Pākehā took advantage to buy up cheaper housing in what were then insalubrious but culturally rich suburbs. This generation subsequently benefitted from the massive neoliberal housing boom. They may have “done up” their Ponsonby villas, but no amount of “doing up” can justify a 2000% increase in capital value over 30 years.

Gentrification of previously working-class suburbs can be seen as an act of violence against their inhabitants – a modern echo of the colonial dispossession of the indigenous people of Tāmaki Makarau (whose rights are, sadly, still not recognized in the final Unitary Plan). Lee’s statement shows a lack of awareness of his and his constituents’ privilege which should disqualify him from being considered part of the “left”, if we consider that to be the political movement for social equality.

Immigration: the conservative left’s dirty secret

We saw above that young people were one of the scapegoats of both traditional Right and conservative Left for the changes in the face of Auckland they are resisting. We saw Mike Lee above put forward what we might call a “populationist” argument, that if Auckland’s growth threatens his constituents’ privileges, then growth should be slowed or stopped. But, almost as an afterthought in his blog spots, he touches on another scapegoat – immigration.

This is the traditional domain of the conservative right. An organisation called the Public Transport Users Association has combined advocacy for reform of Auckland’s mass transit system with arguments from its leading figures that Auckland’s issues can be solved by cutting immigration – which is what you would expect from people associated with the NZ First party.2

But let’s return to one of Mike Lee’s blog posts already mentioned above, this time with emphasis added:

In regard to Auckland’s housing problem, government policies stoking up immigration into Auckland (demand) and its reluctance to build state houses (supply) are also contributing factors.

If Lee were a consistent opponent of Auckland’s “overpopulation” (which, as Transportblog has consistently argued, is a natural consequence of its pre-eminent position in the current New Zealand economy), he might find out that natural increase – simply put, people having babies – is a larger component of Auckland’s population growth than all migration from overseas and from elsewhere in New Zealand put together. Therefore, if Lee (or Graeme Easte) were really worried about Auckland’s population growth, they might more fruitfully consider putting contraceptives in the drinking water.

Sadly, this goes along with the reprehensible recent embrace of immigration-control rhetoric by both the Labour and Green Parties. Phil Goff himself decided to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment as part of his all-things-to-all-constituencies campaign. But every socialist and social progressive must draw a hard line against any such scapegoating of immigrants or immigration as a problem. Lee might well argue that by “immigration” he meant all migration to Auckland, including that from other parts of the country, such as the exodus from rural areas which worries Easte. But whether a migrant is from Tehran or Tokoroa, freedom of movement is a basic human right. A left-wing politics which makes sense in the globalised future must argue strongly that all migrants are welcome here, especially in our most multicultural city. Rebuilding our cities to sustainably welcome those who want to live here will surely be cheaper than building a Donald Trump-style wall along the Bombay Hills.

It seems only fitting, finally, that the population/anti-migrant stance of the conservative Left is mirrored by an open or tacit reliance on emigration to maintain the status quo. Like Ireland, New Zealand has historically encouraged its young, ambitious troublemakers to go overseas to make their fortune and express their creativity – only returning here to retire, or perhaps to bring up their children in a carefully insulated environment. But the radical Left has an interest in making Auckland, and all of Aotearoa, a place fit for young people to live and work – and build a better tomorrow.

Whose Left is it anyway?

This article has concentrated on Mike Lee’s blog posts and public statements because he’s the loudest and most prominent promoter of anti-urbanist ideas on the Auckland centre-left. Of course, as his defenders at The Daily Blog loudly proclaim, he has a good track record in Auckland local body politics, defending public assets and promoting public transport (though Transportblog have argued that he has also pushed through some blunders)3.

Marxists have a saying that “being determines consciousness” – simply put, that how you live your life determines how you think. Mike Lee’s main achievements for the Left were as chair of the Auckland Regional Council, when he was elected by all the people of the old Auckland City, from Avondale to Remuera to Otahuhu. His anti-Unitary Plan stance, however, has been as the councillor for the Waitemata/Gulf ward – including the central city but dominated by the gentrified, superwealthy suburbs of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Herne Bay et al. The other City Vision councillors are elected from either that ward or the less-gentrified but still well-off Mt Albert/Mt Eden/Mt Roskill area. One does not need to be a Marxist to point out that a good elected politician promotes the interests of their constituents.

Lee’s “grumpy old man” stance on the UP provoked the liberal, pro-urbanist blog The Spinoff to endorse his main rival in the election – former broadcaster and traditional Tory Bill Ralston. Ralston’s stance on the UP – expressed in a tweet as “Pass the Plan and move on guys” – was the only thing to recommend him, and third candidate Rob Thomas would have been a much better choice for progressive voters in the Chloë Swarbrick mode. This endorsement led to a predictable storm of condemnations by Martyn Bradbury, Chris Trotter and other older leftists on The Daily Blog. This went as far as “shill-baiting” – accusations that The Spinoff and Transportblog had actually been paid off to take their position.4

The outrage that any progressives might pose a threat to their existing social and institutional circles is a recurring feature of what I call the “conservative left”. Similar anger was raised among supporters of Phil Goff at the Swarbrick campaign, arguing that “a vote for Chloë is a vote for Victoria Crone”. But in the case of Bradbury, Trotter, Lee et al., we seem to see simple anger and incomprehension of a challenge by a younger generation to their prejudices, and their old mates. Those who jumped to Mike Lee’s defence should have remembered that when an “old Leftie” defends the rights of the wealthy and privileged, that doesn’t make it a left-wing position.

A Left which writes off the next generation, which distrusts the ways it wants to live, work and shape its future, is simply doomed. 30 years of globalised neoliberalism have ended the optimism of the baby-boomer generation that their children would have a better future than they did. Now it is an asset-rich generation which, ironically, has itself internalised the tenets of neoliberalism – in particular, that of ignoring the future in the interests of defending current privilege.

Is this the future?

One amusing point in the campaign was where Bradbury smeared Generation Zero and Transportblog as privileged “blue-greens”, even though he himself had argued two years ago that there was no such thing. However, one notable feature of the election might have been precisely the emergence of a blue-green constituency – that is, economically privileged voters supporting the concepts of sustainable urbanism. Rightist mayoral candidate Victoria Crone uncovered this when, at a candidate’s meeting on the solidly blue North Shore, she argued that Auckland desperately needed a new car tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour. To her apparent surprise, this didn’t go down well. Under Len Brown’s carefully centrist promotion of public transport and intensification, North Shore voters seem to have been won to the need for prioritising a cross-harbour rail connection. This was borne out by the North Shore ward giving both its Council seats to liberal pro-urbanist candidates Chris Darby and Richard Mills.

The very close result on the North Shore may have tipped the balance on the Council. It seems that the incoming council will have a similar 11-9 split between progressives and conservatives on the interrelated issues of housing and transport. Two of the most negative right-wing councillors have gone (Wood and Brewer), while Mike Lee beat Bill Ralston back by a small but comfortable margin, Rob Thomas coming a creditable third. Of course, the previous council was marked by the sometimes erratic but generally progressive leadership of Len Brown. Whether the beige man Phil Goff will carry on this tradition, or skew towards the conservatives, can’t be predicted right now.

So – to raise the inevitable socialist question – what is to be done? The most important task of radicals in reactionary times is to swim against the stream – to continue promoting unpopular ideas until such time as the tide turns. To call Generation Zero, Transportblog and The Spinoff “blue-green” is a slander, but neither are they red-green ecosocialists. Discussions on Transportblog of placing tolls on motorway driving, for example, have shown a blindspot as to how road pricing would hit the most vulnerable in our society – such as cleaners who have to travel from the outer suburbs to the CBD. What is needed is for socialists to engage with the “New Urbanists” who congregate around such organisations, to challenge these blindspots and to make sure that an environmentally sustainable Auckland is also socially just – while rejecting the conservative leftists who, in The Spinoff’s memorable phrase, are “intent on trapping Auckland in a 1950s time prison”.

Ideally, by the time of the next local body elections in 2019 – or even for the general election of 2020! – we might hope for a new, radical political vehicle which would stand on something like this, as suggested by @tiredsounds on Twitter:

1) open borders, with full legal protection for migrant workers, encourage unions to work with migrants and the unemployed to ensure labour is not undersold;

2) intensification of cities – higher density housing, light rail and forms of electric based mass transit.

To this, we might simply add a new programme of public housing – intensified, environmentally sustainable, located in the desirable parts of the urban area rather than new ghettos, built for occupation not speculation. Such a simple project would at once challenge the conservative left to stop their grumpy scapegoating of young people and migrants, while challenging the “blue-greens” to take issues of social justice seriously. Could it be that the people who supported Chloë Swarbrick and Rob Thomas are keen to take such a challenge on?

1 I developed the concept of “conservative leftism” in a previous article. It refers to the trend for activists from the traditional left to take up reactionary positions in opposition to neoliberalism, which include the anti-urbanist and populationist/anti-immigration positions discussed in this article.

2 PTUA leader Jon Reeves was a NZ First candidate at the last election. Anti-immigration comments from PTUA members can be found regularly on posts on Transportblog.

3 Chief among these would be the tourist tram loop at Wynyard Quarter and the siting of the future Parnell railway station – see comments on this post for more.

4 See Trotter in previous note on The Spinoff, and Bradbury on Transportblog. It was reported that Mike Lee had made similar accusations about The Spinoff on Twitter, but we can’t find references for that.

One Nation legitimises fascist ideas – The time to stop Hansonism is now!

racist-hanson

This article by Debbie Brennan was originally published by the Freedom Socialist Party (Australia).

Debbie represents Radical Women in CARF and is a community member of the National Union of Workers.

Contact Freedom Socialist Party of Aotearoa at freedom.socialist.aotearoa@gmail.com or Freedom Socialist Party of Australia at freedom.socialist.party@ozemail.com.au.

“I’m back — but not alone.” Pauline Hanson, leader of the extreme-right One Nation party, made a parliamentary comeback in Australia’s federal election this past July. These taunting words are from her “maiden” speech to Parliament on September 15.

In 1996 Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives, but lost her seat two years later. Back then, she said Asians were taking over the country. Twenty years later, she warns, “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims”—who, she claims, will commit terror and impose sharia law.

It gets worse. As Hanson says, she’s not alone. She’s one of four newly elected One Nation Senators: two, including herself, from Queensland and the others from New South Wales and Western Australia.

Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party she formed in 1997 are notorious for their racism. In her first 1996 parliamentary speech, Hanson went on the attack against First Nations people, who, she stated, are privileged over whites. Asians were not only “swamping” Australia, they weren’t assimilating. She praised Labor Party leader, Arthur Calwell, who said in 1955: “Japan, India, Burma, Ceylon and every new African nation are fiercely anti-white and anti one another. Do we want or need any of these people here? I am one red-blooded Australian who says no and who speaks for 90 percent of Australians.”

Fast forward to 2016: Asians are replaced with Muslims. In 1996, Hanson called for a “radical review” of immigration and the abolition of multiculturalism. Today, she demands that Muslim immigration be stopped and the burqa banned.

More than racist. The notion of race was invented in early capitalism to justify slavery and plunder. In times of class conflict—like now—racism has been indispensable to capitalists as a weapon to split the working class and destabilise resistance. Islamophobia is that weapon now. But sexism, nationalism and anti-unionism are also instruments of control, and Hanson’s oratory is full of it.

Hanson’s close connection with men’s rights groups is reflected in One Nation’s policies. Since 1996, she has called for the scrapping of the Family Court—claiming a bias toward women who “make frivolous claims and believe they have the sole right to children.” She further blames the court for pushing non-custodial fathers into poverty and causing many to suicide. One Nation would force women to stay in miserable, often violent, relationships. Hanson instructs women to “put your differences aside, make your peace and come to agreements outside of the law courts.” If not, any woman going to court for custody better be ready to pay all costs if she loses.

She slams people on welfare, especially single mothers for “having more children just to maintain their welfare payments.” One Nation would deny payment increases to women after the first child. In Hanson’s words: “Get a job and start taking responsibility for your own actions.”

Hanson calls for an Australian identity card to access welfare, healthcare, education or any other tax-funded service, and she defies “do-gooders” to “complain about people’s privacy.”

In September, Hanson gave a thinly veiled attack on unionism when she accused “overpaid public servants” of bludging off the budget. Throughout the country, public sector workers have been in a tough three-year battle against the federal government over wages, which remain frozen, and the shredding of hard-won conditions. Community and Public Sector Union members in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are planning another week of industrial action (See: Trans-Tasman Union Beat, page 9). The potential power that public workers hold in their collective hands is massive. This fight is historic: these unionists are taking on the State, and the government wants to crush them. No wonder the rabidly anti-union Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash hugged Hanson at the conclusion of her speech.

A former fish and chip shop owner, Hanson typifies small capitalists’ contempt for workers’ rights and hatred toward militant unionism. In a recent media interview, she said, “we need to protect the small end of town, the small contractors and subbies so that they have a chance to get jobs and not be bullied by unions.”

The nationalist fantasy. Hanson’s style may not be Donald Trump’s, but, like him, she appeals to prejudices to answer why life for most people has become so insecure and hard. As the global economy disintegrates and the capitalist class foists the burden onto workers and the oppressed, these far-right demagogues offer up scapegoats—served with a big dollop of nationalism.

Hanson paints Australia as expanses of farmland and infrastructure, Australian owned; a land of families, nuclear, Christian, Australian born and assimilated. The school day starts with raising the Australian flag and singing the national anthem. TVs in homes and pubs across the country show Australian athletes competing for their country and saluting the flag from the victory podium.

She condemns “foreign” capital, especially Chinese, which she says is buying up Australia’s farms, real estate and resources. These investors, she claims, put housing prices beyond Australians’ reach. She denounces big business for being behind Australia’s intake of immigrants.

The illusion she constructs is of a hardworking nation exploited by foreign capital. This idea isn’t new—fascists used it in post-World War I Germany and Italy to deflect attention from local industrialists who backed the unleashing of jackboots on a working class that was in revolt. Today, Hanson directs the attention of those attracted to her vile ideas away from the source of their problems: the global capitalist system itself.

Understanding the threat. Hanson’s September parliamentary speech had the eerie ring of fascism. Her inflammatory calls to strip women on welfare of their rights to independence and reproductive choice, her anti-union comments and demonisation of Muslims and immigrants are classic far-right speak. But is this fascism?

Fascism is more than a vicious ideology. It’s is a movement, built to destroy the capacity of the working class to organise and revolt. Fascism’s social base is the middle class—small business people like Hanson—which, caught between the two powerful classes of capital and labour, will flip to whichever side looks likely to win over the other.

In her speech, Hanson was appealing to the middle class as well as less conscious working class folks looking for scapegoats to blame. In so doing, she legitimises fascist ideas, creating fertile ground in which a jackbooted fascist movement can take root and grow. One Nation is well positioned to coalesce the far right, inside and outside of Parliament, including neo-Nazis forces, which until now have been fragmented.

Hanson is well connected with this milieu. She has spoken at Reclaim Australia rallies. Leading members of the neo-Nazi United Patriots Front campaigned for her in the federal election. UPF even offered to be her bodyguards. Hanson is also friendly with the fascist Party for Freedom. These are the known connections.

If this leads to the cohering of a mass movement aimed at crushing the ability of the working class to organise, we’re dealing with fascism. While such a movement has not yet emerged, the danger is all too real. And Hanson is a contributor, encouraging more assaults on Muslims, immigrants, women and unionists—legislatively and physically. The need to countermobilise in our streets and communities—as we’ve done from Melbourne to Bendigo—remains urgent, because the threat could escalate.

Build the united front. Since Reclaim Australia first attempted to rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square in April 2015, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) has countered these ultra-right and fascist groups whenever and wherever they’ve gathered. This united front of unionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists and Aboriginal justice activists has successfully prevented them from growing into a movement.

As the global economy continues to sink and the need to resist intensifies, a fascist movement could materialise—unless there’s a strong working class-led movement to stop it. The time to build this anti-fascist movement is right now. The CARF united front needs to grow into a force of today’s and tomorrow’s scapegoats—Muslims, women, First Nations, LGBTIQ, refugees and immigrants, unions, radicals, welfare recipients, the homeless and unemployed.

 

Life after sexual assault

stop sexual assault

Fightback stands for liberation for women and gender minorities, including appropriate support for survivors of sexual assault.

This piece on one survivor’s experience of sexual violence, and recovery, was submitted to us by Hannah Beatie.

When FRIEND asked me why I was giving away all of my stuff, I replied that I

needed a change.

Actually, I had been planning for weeks to slit my wrists in a little field a few

blocks away from my house; not a significant place, nor a creative cause of

expiration, but it was somewhere where my flatmates would not find me.

A month earlier, I had been raped by a boy whom I had a crush on; a musician

with nice fingers and a charming, hesitant smile. He had asked me questions and

made me feel interesting⎯ Then he had forced my thighs apart, as I said “no”

and “stop” and every word that is suppose to protect you.

When I told my ex about the rape, our nine month relationship did not prevent

him from being too busy to discuss it; he was moving houses and doing an arts

degree, and he just couldn’t deal with it right now.

I began to cut myself.

In the days that followed there was a lot of drama, crying and attention; after

witnessing so many of my friends experience assault and quietly disappear, I was

determined to resist the role of invisible statistic.

I grieved loudly, without inhibition; indignant that someone would use my body;

consume me and discard me, like a doll or a tissue.

Some things I had expected; the deep sense of shame, the feeling that this was all

somehow my fault, the sense that my body was now ruined and I was unlovable.

What I had not expected was the rejection which followed; suddenly, I was a

walking crime scene and people whom I had previously been friendly with,

seemed to find my presence uncomfortable and regard me with a strange

combination of embarrassment and pity.

I had been raped by someone popular, someone whom everyone knew, and my

presence at gigs and parties represented an ugliness that was all too close to

home.

I stopped eating. I filled myself with emptiness and became as small and invisible

as I could. If this had been a punishment for my being too loud and too big and

too full, then I would occupy as little space as possible.

If I grew thin enough, perhaps I would be too ugly to rape.

I threw away every bit of colour in my room.

My memory of the next few weeks is foggy; I cried a lot. I would dream about

what had happened and have to wake up and remind myself that this was not

that night.

One day I told FRIEND about it.

I did not know him well; Beyond the fact that I had drunkenly attempted oral

copulation with him once, in a churchyard, but I sent him a message, saying that I

was terribly sorry to bother him, but I thought that maybe I had been raped and I

didn’t know what to do.

He was at work and responding on his bathroom breaks; He was sympathetic

and caring and told me not to apologize, that he was my friend and he would help

me.

What is more is, he did.

Long after my assault was salacious and interesting, when I was worn out and

exhausted and other friends became weary of my continued mood swings and

glum expression, FRIEND was there.

He would meet me outside of doctor’s appointments and bring me groceries

when I did not eat. He offered to lend me money and stay at his parent’s house

and when I panicked at parties, he was the one to walk me home.

We would spend nights watching goofy YouTube clips or serenading one another

with comical songs and gradually, as time went on, I began to feel more human.

It was FRIEND who saved my life.

One day, when he was giving me a ride home, he told me that I mattered and that

he loved me and I ought to live; not for him or for anyone else but because my

life was one worth living.

It was peculiar; I felt so unlovable, yet FRIEND cared about me.

I mumbled embarrassedly that I loved him too and thank you.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I stopped wanting to die quite so badly.

Recovery from depression is slow and not a simple upwards trajectory. One

moment you can feel fine, and the next you are sinking and it feels as though all

of your hard work has been levelled.

FRIEND had gotten me to write a ‘manifesto for happiness’ that had numerical

steps to follow if I felt down. Simple things like ‘hydrate, eat chocolate, watch a

cat video on YouTube’. At FRIEND’s suggestion I had pepeppered the list with

breathing exercises and emergency numbers that I could contact too.

It took months of therapy and constant adjustments to my antidepressant

medication, but I was getting stronger.

I celebrated the small victories; one week free of self-harm, the first time I had

sex after being raped, eating high-calorie foods and wearing colour.

And through all of this, FRIEND was there for me; as weeks became months, after

I had sat on my bed ruddy faced and weeping, with stalactites of snot dripping

from my nostrils and as I learned to smile and laugh again, he was there.

I am lucky. I survived.

I have a good support network and a magnificent doctor.

Depression is and always will be, a part of the way in which I experience life but

it is not what defines me.

If I never heal from this completely, if I still have nightmares years from now

and see my body as somehow less, I am thankful for what I do have and how

strong I have become.

Mostly, always, I am grateful to the friend who saved my life.