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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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I've been thinking about politics a lot lately. So I decided it was time to blog about it.

This year is election year in New Zealand. I haven't been very actively involved in any political parties in New Zealand. I am more of an "outsider" when it comes to my approach to politics. I've worked with human rights groups in New Zealand to try to put issues on the political and public agenda but I've never joined a party.

At the last elections I came close. I was very excited (and I still am) about the Maori Party, and I got a little bit involved (distributing flyers and attending meetings was about as far as it went). But I didn't join.

Earlier this year I wondered whether this was the year when I should throw my hat into the ring as an active party member and get on the campaign trail. But I would have had some problem deciding which party to join and campaign for, which was the first obstacle.

The second obstacle is that I have in the past worked as an advocate in Wellington, and it seems likely that I will be working there again soon in a similar role. My job has been to help human rights and social justice organisations effectively lobby government and business to make changes on key human rights and social justice issues. In the past these have been as far ranging as disability rights in New Zealand to fair trade in the Pacific.

Lobbying works in different ways. There are lobbyists who are within one party and who rely on lobbying the politicians of that party. But in New Zealand that approach is increasingly ineffective. In a proportional representative parliamentary system there are always a number of influential parties within parliament, including smaller parties with particular interests (like the Maori Party or the Green Party). These days a government is likely to have been formed by one of the larger parties either through coalition some of these smaller parties or through agreements about support.

So effective advocacy in Wellington today, especially on social justice issues, requires new approaches. One of those approaches is mine, which includes not being clearly politically alligned with any single party. I think it helps me to be able to approach any party that may be able to exert some influence on a policy issue.

Some days I wonder whether I'm making a mistake, especially with an election coming up that seem likely to be a tough fight.

Politics matter deeply to me because in the end it will be our elected representatives who make the laws and policies that will decide whether children like Tristan (above) can continue to access kura kaupapa Maori (full immersion Maori language and culture-based schools) and whether those schools will have the resources they need to provide Tristan with the best possible education.

I've been reading, as part of my studies, about the research into indigenous youth suicide. One of the common findings around the world is that positive cultural identity and competence and confidence in both the indigenous and 'dominant' culture are strong protective factors. So schools like Te Kura Kaupapa o Mangatuna, where I met Tristan, are helping to build a new generation of young Maori men and women who will be healthier, happier and safer because of their solid grounding in their own culture.

The party that wins enough seats to form a government after the next elections in New Zealand will get to decide whether to make it easier or much, much harder for these schools to continue their work. So remaining politically uninvolved gets harder for me every week.


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4 Responses to "Politics"

  1. melissa says:

    I can feel your passion as you write this. It sounds like you are doing the right thing!

  2. amy says:

    this post really resonated with me. i asked myself some of the same questions before the last federal election here in Australia. i’ve never gotten involved in party politics before but felt very, very strongly about what the result of the election needed to be. i decided that i was most comfortable trying to make an impact by helping an advocacy group rather than getting involved with a party. but i do wonder what will happen if talented, passionate people don’t take those seats in the parliament. i’m sure you will make a significant difference whatever path you decide to take. take care.

  3. ash says:

    having come from a family that is heavily passionate about their political beliefs, and working in an industry where politics is the top priority…i have come to find myself muddled and disoriented w/ them, though i know their importance.
    but i believe that it is more important to back “causes.” you believe in something…promote, lobby for it, go after it…i don’t think it will matter which “party” you’re part of b/c it may or may not be on the platform. besides you may find yourself, and it seems you have, b/t the platform of both parties or among several …and may disagree w/ other aspects of the political speeches…
    only you can decide, but i see you dilemma.

  4. Kerstin says:

    I admit, politics confuse and frustrate me. I don’t really trust politicians these days to do the right thing, and certainly here in America they seem to be more concerned with fighting each other, rather than for what is right for ‘the people.’ Now that I am older I understand much better that politics are important, but overall I feel mostly out of my depth when it comes to political activism. You, on the other hand, are a very experienced and extremely smart woman, who knows which matters are close to her heart and who will be able to make a difference, whichever way you chose to.
    It is interesting what you say about cultural and social identity. When the wall came down in Berlin almost twenty years ago the people of former East Germany “lost” their identity over night. And for many a huge struggle ensued as they tried to adjust to the changes and the values of their former “enemies” who had now become their fellow countrymen. Ironically, many young East Germans have turned to the political opposite: right wing activism. Having just traveled through central Europe I witnessed another interesting trend. Despite the opening of the borders, both physically and economically (European Union, the Euro, the Schengen Agreement), the countries of Europe are NOT moving closer and slowly becoming one entity, but the opposite is happening. In an effort to preserve and strengthen their own cultural identity many countries, who had previously been merged with others (usually through wars) have broken off and declared their independence: Slovakia, Slovenia, Belarus, Latvia etc. This recent trip has also made me think a lot about my own German identity and its black history. The events during Hitler’s regime have resulted in a collective post-war guilt that spans across many generations and erases the kind of pride that so many other nationalities feel and display.
    I hope that the future NZ government will take the Maori cause into the consideration that it deserves and needs. Adaption, assimilation and the preservation of cultural heritage and values should not be mutually exclusive.
    It is good to see you posting again! 🙂

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