Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: a personal reflection

so, 2013 is pretty much over, and what an incredible year it has been.  well, for me personally, it has been a year of amazingly wonderful experiences, strengthening friendships and i guess it has also been a time for me to find out a lot more about myself.

i started the year hoping to help out with local body elections, then being asked to stand myself.  it took me a few months to lay the groundwork that would lead to my decision to be a candidate.  it meant consulting a whole lot of people, persuading a couple, and looking for support.

and i was lucky enough to find a lot of support, sometimes from places i least expected it.  but there were so many people who not only believed in me, but were willing to put their time, effort and money into my campaign.  it was so incredibly humbling & uplifting at the same time.  i've spent many years dabbling in politics, but crippled by a total lack of self-belief and self-confidence.  i've never felt i was quite good enough or that i had what it takes.  and i know that the confidence has to be built from within, but it sure does help to surround yourself with people who believe in you and won't let you believe anything but the best of yourself.

during the course of the campaign, i strongly felt like it was the right thing for me to be doing and that i was in my element.  i loved the experiences, and meeting so many different people, hearing about their issues and the ways they were struggling.  it became so clear that the best solutions come from within communities, and that they need the helping hand of government, both local and central, to make those solutions work.  it's people who work in a particular field or have lived experiences to bring to the table who are the most valuable in creating change.  the job of a good leader is to find those people, bring them together & facilitate their ability to achieve.  while remaining quietly in the background.  the latter is something not well suited to most people who are attracted to politics, and yet it's crucially important to step back & let others shine when you really want to get results.

then the campaign was over, and i had to learn to deal with failure.  not the first time, not at all.  but it was certainly a more public failure than any i've had so far.  however, it was another opportunity to develop strength & resilience, to keep my dignity and remember that there is still so much to fight for.  it was a time to for me to remember that i'd been so lucky to have so much support and so many positive experiences, and if the result wasn't what i was hoping for, well that wasn't the most important thing i'd gained from the process.  so i gave myself a few days to mope, then got on with other things that needed to be done.

part of which is work on the central government elections coming up next year.  there is so much going on, so many important decisions to be made & a government that must be changed.  we need a government that responds to the needs of the marginalised, whether that marginalisation is economic or as a result of personal characteristics like race, gender or ability.  we need a government that is prepared to be inclusive of all its citizens, and not prepared to denigrate them to score political points.  we need a government committed to ensuring people have jobs, jobs that pay enough to live on; to decent working conditions; to educational opportunities for people of all ages.  well, i could carry on, there are so many policies in so many areas i'd like to see put in place, so many things reversed and improved.

so i expect that's where the bulk of my energies in 2014 will be directed.  but not solely.  as with 2013, i hope to be involved in planning and organising various events, and working on projects.  this year, i was lucky enough to be involved in organising the regional interfaith forum, a community iftar, an interfaith service, a silent march against rape culture followed by a public meeting, a regional conference & fundraisers, & public speaking engagements (especially dear to me was the opportunity to speak at the rememberance for nelson mandela at rugby park).  on top of that were the regular board meetings for shama, free FM, becoming a trustee of a new trust called the ethnic nz trust, and helping to set up an ECE centre.  there were various media appearances, the most memorable of which (for me) was an appearance on 7 sharp to talk about the boston bombings.

most of these activities will be carrying on into the new year.  i find that i'm looking forward to 2014, and am expecting it to be as tumultuous, turbulent, challenging, exciting & rewarding as 2013 has been.  i hope the year goes well for all of you as well; wishing the best for you in whatever circumstances you're facing.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

the spirit of 45: what's missing

ah, it's been too long a break from blogging.  a couple of reasons.  mostly because my life hasn't really slowed down after the local body elections.  i think that's possibly part of a coping mechanism on my part - i cope with life a lot better when i'm busy & don't have too much time to think.  i do realise this is an "issue", a problem that i should deal with in some way, but who has the time for that, right?

it's also because central government elections are on next year, and a lot of the preparatory work for that is happening right now.  and i find that at the moment, i care too much to just sit quietly on the sidelines and let things happen, the way i did for the 2011 elections.  i felt strangely unmotivated at that time, by politics or by very much else.  but now, i care and it feels good.

but also, i go through periods of time when the words just don't flow.  but now i'm on holiday, and i have a bit of space to write again.  so here goes.

a couple of weeks ago, i was involved in a fundraiser which was a showing of a documentary film called "the spirit of 45".  it was about the labour government in the UK that took power in 1945 headed by clement attlee, and won another term after that.  wikipedia's summary of the film is as good as any:

Relying primarily on archive footage and interviews, and without a narrative voiceover, the film recounts the endemic poverty in prewar Britain, the sense of optimism that followed victory in World War 2 and the subsequent expansion of the welfare state, founding of the National Health Service and nationalisation of significant parts of the UK's economy. The film documents the extent to which these achievements, as Loach sees them, have since been subject to attack in the decades that followed, particularly under the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

and here are a couple of reviews, one from nz.

it was definitely an interesting film, providing a vision of a different way of organising society and the economy.  a vision of equitable distribution and full employment, centralised services that weren't based on profit.  an alternative, if you will, of the capitalist model, and particularly the neo-liberal version, that we live in today.

as an accurate portrayal of british history, well i can't comment if it is one.  not having any particular ties to that country, nor an particular interest in its post-war history, i'm not in any position to judge.  i certainly heard comments from those who came to see it, who do have those ties (one even voted for mr attlee in that election), that many things were left out & that it wasn't entirely a full picture of what happened at that time.

certainly, the portrayal of the depression and the issues of poverty were all too real.  i found it pretty sad that the major issues covered by the film are all still major issues we are facing here in nz today.  housing.  employment (or lack thereof).  access to healthcare.  decent wages.

there is no doubt in my mind that government has a crucial role to play in these areas.  the policy of building houses, of centralising the rail transport system & having a strong public health systems are all policies that are as relevant today as they were in 1945.

however, there was one thing that really stood out for me as i watched this film, which was based on historical footage & modern-day interviews with people who were born in the 1930s.  it was the absolute lack of people of colour.  there was only one shot of a black man, as part of an audience shot, and no-one of colour who had a speaking role.  no-one interviewed, none of the experts, none in the archival footage other than this one unnamed black guy.

i really noticed it, probably because i'm a person of colour, but also because i know that poverty and low pay are issues which affect people of colour.  a lot.  the lowest paid professions in this country - cleaners & the aged care sector - are dominated by women of colour.  they tend to have some of the lowest standards of living, not just because of class but because they are often shut out of better paying jobs due to direct discrimination.

that the voices of people of colour are totally absent makes the rest of the film suspect for me.  even though i appreciate the ideas that were discussed, and the real life stories of people who had no safety net.  i just can't imagine what would make a person so colour-blind, so oblivious to the fact that there was a whole section of society who was missed out of this telling of history.

which then makes me wonder: perhaps those policies enacted by the attlee government didn't benefit people of colour.  those new houses might not have been available for those people, access to health still wasn't as good, access to jobs non-existent.  now i'd like to see a black person's telling of that history, to see if that government provided any hope for them, any substantial change.

this disappearing of people of colour struck me as well, because there are many political commentators on the left today who would also like us to be invisible and to stay invisible.  any mention of issues around race (as well as gender & other markers of identity) are dismissed as "identity politics", because those issues aren't important & don't affect the lives of the ones who are urging us to be quiet, to sit back and wait for the more important issues to be solved.

it may be coincidental that i found this quote at blue milk today, from martin luther king:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice… who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait.

but it seems so relevant to the idea that identity politics are a distraction and irrelevant.  and i can't help but conclude that a film which completely leaves out the narratives of people of colour is hugely incomplete.