Just over three weeks after making an emotional admission at the Greens conference, Metiria Turei has resigned as her party’s co-leader. Young Greens co-convener Meg Williams pays tribute.
I’ve had messages from friends this evening who are sitting in lectures, driving in cars, sitting at their desks at work, walking on the street, trying to stop themselves from crying at the news today of Metiria Turei’s resignation. We’re all full of sadness and rage and love. Sadness at the loss of one hell of a co-leader. Rage at the reasons she made the decision to resign. And absolute love for an amazing woman whose politics were guided by principles of care and compassion.
The Green Party seems to try to avoid the dogmatic idolisation of a single leader that we so often see blinding worshippers from leaders’ flaws – hence the co-leadership structure. Since my involvement in the party, I have not been witness to a culture where leaders are blindly followed. But Metiria is something special, and that’s why she’s loved. She’s hilarious, honest, kind. She’s genuinely a nice person to be around. She fought for our most vulnerable people.
In 2014, my first year of university and the first time I was able to vote, I was pulled in by the Green Party’s campaign. They were the only party I could see who said, ‘look, poverty is a problem, it exists, and we need to fix it’. Sure, the campaign had a focus on children, perhaps as a way to make fighting poverty something more palatable to the public – ‘think of the children!’ etcetera. But still, the Greens were having a conversation other parties were too afraid to go near, and however you frame it, it was about class and inequality.
As a leader, Metiria challenged the status quo in ways she knew she might be crucified for (recent events a case in point). She knew that a different world was possible. She fought for our most vulnerable. She reached out to the working class and spoke out about our economic system, despite Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson having tied the hands and taped the mouths of future governments with New Zealand’s ‘fiscal responsibility’ regulatory management regime. She was a voice for Māori women. She was a champion for the earth and for the poor.
And we’ve lost her.
The loss of a leader that we love, though, only makes up one part of our devastation. Metiria shared her story of her struggle with living on the benefit, with the fact that she had to mislead WINZ in order to receive the amount of money she actually needed to be able to feed her child and live life with her dignity intact. But people were self-righteous, patting themselves on the back for how much respect they had for the letter of the law, and called her a fraud, a liar, a thief. She was beaten down relentlessly by the media and commentators, to the point that it became too much for her and her family and she decided to resign for their protection. All this vitriol, all this hate and disgust, because a politician was bold enough to say what needed to be said about poverty and inequality: we are not doing enough.
What she did this year has been so important to the fight to end poverty. Poverty exists. It’s in the here and now, and it’s killing our people. It’s pushing people out onto the streets and leaving them to die in the cold. It’s drilling a hole down into a pit of depression that people can only escape from, temporarily, by using drugs and alcohol to make them feel like everything’s OK for just a while. It’s driving people to take their own lives. It’s forcing children to live in homes that damn them to a winter of illness. It exists, but we can’t end poverty without shedding light on the current economic system, and by sharing her story Metiria paved the way for the general public to have conversations about how horrible our welfare system is.
Metiria knew that inequality is preventable. She knew that we could do better. She knew that politics of compassion and love for others isn’t some airy-fairy nonsense that belongs only in manifestos about an ideal world, but can be real and can save people’s lives and dignity. Metiria fought for a world where solidarity guides our decision making, not profit.
We understand why you resigned, Metiria. But don’t worry, there are so many of us who are furious – these conversations you’ve started won’t lead to a dead end. Kotahitanga ake ake, first and foremost. We will keep fighting against those you have clearly shaken.
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