Thursday, 19 August 2010

day 9: politics

being aware of your privilege and taking care about making sure that you don't hurt or exclude others because of it, well that takes a bit of work. it means having to think about what you say or do, and to choose appropriate language or to modify behaviour. there is a section of society who thinks such effort is a waste of time, and one way they choose to express this or to deride the efforts of others is use of the phrase "PC nonsense" or its variant "PC gone mad".

by doing this, they hope to belittle the fact that other people try to be sensitive and empathetic, while trying to make themselves feel better about the fact that they just can't be bothered to do the same. they are trying to reframe a situation so that they, who have often just been cruel and unfeeling, are actually in the right while others who refrain from doing the same are somehow wrong. it's a strange form of orwellian doublethink, and i have to admire the mental gymnastics involved in taking such a position, even while i abhor the position itself. personally, i can't think of a person or group of persons who aren't worth the effort, even these people who can't seem to grasp the concept of privilege and how it impacts on their behaviour.

the topic for today is political freedom, and it's a huge one. i don't think i can do it full justice in one blog post so i'll just cover the main things that come to my mind.

i'm grateful to live in a country where we get to choose our elected representatives - for the most part. the exception being the sacking of the environment canterbury board and the cancelling of elections to that board, which is actually one of the greatest affronts to democracy in this country. but other than that, we get to choose our local and central government representatives, which means that when things get really bad, we have the power to change the government.

i'm also particularly grateful for our proportional system of voting for central government. while it has some drawbacks, it is a much fairer system that means my vote actually counts. back in the 80s & early 90s, my vote didn't count because i came under the electorate known as waikato, which was a safe national seat. no matter how i voted, a national MP would always represent that electorate. even so, i have never missed voting, because i regard it as one of my most important civic duties. given that so many people around the world don't get to choose, or who have to face violent riots or coercion to vote a certain way, i think it's unconsionable to not vote.

MMP has also been great in increasing the diversity of parliament, so that the make-up of MPs begin to more closely resemble the make-up of the country.

i'm lucky to live in a country where i'm pretty free to criticise the government. however, in the last year or so, that has become an increasingly risky thing to do. especially since hon paula bennett decided to publish personal details of two single mothers who dared to criticise her decision to scrap the training incentive allowance, resulting in significant personal harassment for those women. similarly, the young workers who have taken part in the CTU campaign, sharing their stories of unfair dismissal, are also being subject to intense scrutiny which would act as a deterrent for many other young people. also, by attacking the people involved, politicians and activists are attempting (sometimes quite successfully) to divert any public discourse from the actual issues that have been raised. that the media seems to focus on the personal attacks more than the issues only helps to silence opposition.

still, at least i am free to join an opposition political party, to organise and take part in political meetings, and to disseminate information that promotes particular policies or criticises the government. i can and have taken part in public demonstrations, and as yet haven't had any fear of state violence against me. quite different to what was experienced by protesters against the springbok tour of 1981.

i can write what i like on my blog, without censorship, and it is available to anyone who lives in a country that doesn't exercise censorship of the internet. i can discuss my criticisms of government policy without fear in any gathering i choose. i know that i won't be secreted away by some wing of the police or army, and held & tortured because i dared to express my views.

i can stand for office. i can form my own political party or movement, though i'm unlikely to be successful unless i have some serious money behind me. government of the people and by the people is getting to be increasingly difficult in western democracies. and small parties are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, even with a supportive MMP system.

i can take part in political campaigns, and donate money to any party i choose, without fear. i'd like to take a moment recognise and appreciate all those who spend their time and effort campaigning, whether it's the people who put up billboards or deliver leaflets, who voluteer for phone canvassing or door knocking, who organise events and meetings, debate and promote policies. it is this small army of volunteers who ensure that our democracy functions, and they do it for no reward other than the hope of a better society. they are often derided and written off as political junkies, but actually it's everyone else who doesn't get involved that is freeloading off the work of this group of people. imagine if they didn't do that work and take the time to ensure that successful campaigns happened? the end result would be that only the very rich could afford to advertise, they would get elected and would only implement the policies that benefitted their supporters. there would be no effective opposition, no effective representation for a large section of society and certainly poorer quality decisions being made.

with local body elections happening now, i actually think it is every citizen's duty to take part in a campaign and to be part of the process. if we were all politically active, which would have the side-on effect of ensuring we were all better informed, then our democratic system would be so much more robust. what i really hate is people who aren't going to vote in the local body elections because they don't know who the candidates are. who's responsibility is it to find out? yours, and if you're too lazy to do it, then you really have no right to complain when bob parker gives $17 million of ratepayer's money to a property developer, which you now have to pay for. or any other stupid policies that leave you poor, unhealthy, unemployed, uneducated etc etc.

i'd also like to appreciate those people who put themselves forward for election - the candidates. these are people who spend time and money, and are prepared to face the possbility of public humiliation if they lose and also to face increasingly intense scrutiny into their own private lives and the lives of their families. an appalling example of the latter was hon phil goff's daughter appearing in the news for a very un-newsworthy issue, simply in an attempt to embarrass and discredit him. a person's past history and every public pronouncement is scrutinised, and it can be an extremely harrowing experience. the fact that there are people who are willing to do this is, again, a huge benefit to us all.

though it's not perfect here (but then where is it perfect?), i know that i live in one of the most peaceful and least corrupt countries on the planet. i think of those people who brave the worst horrors when they are courageous enough to speak out against the leadership of their country. i think of people who have been silenced and live in fear and without freedom, like aung san suu kyi and the millions of others who haven't come to the world's attention.

if you wish to support political freedom, i'd suggest getting involved with amnesty international and human rights watch. i also think it's vitally important for every member of society to take the time to inform themselves about various policies and their implications for society as a whole. it is also important to learn as much as you can about political candidates and to question them critically, so that you are able to make informed choices. it is important to hold our representatives to account, not just when we vote but in between electoral cycles. we can do this by giving them direct feedback or through other forms of activism. being politically active is the duty of every citizen, but it is vital that action is based on sound knowledge and access to information. i'd also strongly recommend joining a political party that is closest to your own values - none will be a perfect match, but find one that is close then advocate within the party for it to be closer.

today i think of those who have been denied their political rights and freedoms in any way, or who have been persecuted because of their political beliefs and actions. my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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