Sunrise Dawn near Whanganui
Photo: Getty

OPINIONPoliticsJuly 27, 2020

Dispatch from an alternative Aotearoa

Sunrise Dawn near Whanganui
Photo: Getty

In a week marred by parliamentarians and their neverending raru, the Alternative Aotearoa hui was a timely reminder that politics is more than what happens in the Beehive and that it is social movements that create real change, writes Laura O’Connell Rapira.

On a sunny winter day in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, 150 or so researchers, advocates, union organisers, freshwater scientists, NGO workers, teachers, lawyers, students, councillors, dreamers and doers gathered at Pipitea Marae to talk about solutions to the biggest challenges of our time.

The event was organised by long-time political activist John Minto of Halt All Racist Tours fame and was geared toward shifting our economy to something more loving and in line with nature than the one we have now. It was also the anniversary of Hart stopping the 1981 Springbok game against Waikato in an act of solidarity with our whanaunga from a South African maunga.

Participants gather at Alternative Aotearoa. Photo by Nicole Hunt.

The 2020 New Zealander of the Year Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand and justice transformation advocate Julia Whaipooti were the MCs. The line-up was jam-packed full of folk who work tirelessly across issues of justice, health, climate, education, income and housing. With 34 speakers giving eight to 20 minute speeches each, it was an ultra-marathon of progressive and radical thought.

For the purposes of brevity and equity, I’m going to focus on the wisdom that was shared by some of the Indigenous and Pasifika speakers. In my view, they were the best and our social movements have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, if we choose to be led by Māori and Pasifika aspiration.

South Auckland councillor Efeso Collins opened the day with laughter and tears. He talked about the challenges he faces as a Samoan man on Auckland Council who navigates multiple worldviews and cultures daily. He shed tears as he shared his inauguration story where his wife and mother were asked to leave the seating area for family members of councillors, the racist assumption that a Pasifika whānau don’t belong in the VIP section.

Efeso talked about how he is driven by his pain to build a better future for his daughters. A future where they don’t experience this kind of racism and can expect to earn as much as a white man or white woman. In a country where the median Pākehā has $114,000 of net wealth and the median Pasifika person just $12,000, this vision of an inclusive and equitable future is one we should all get behind.

Tiana Jakicevich from Te Ara Whatu took the stage and reminded the jaded climate activists in the room that Indigenous people make up only five percent of the world’s total population yet we protect over 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

Unequivocally, she named that Indigenous people need “action, not empathy” and “reparation, not aid” when it comes to climate justice and sovereignty solutions. She talked about how Indigenous communities in Aotearoa are facing the damaging effects of government neglect of our taiao right now. In her hometown, 53 tupuna are being excavated from an urupā due to rising rivers and soil erosion.

She talked about the need for polluters to pay for the mess they’ve made and how in New Zealand that means getting the dairy and meat industry to contribute their fair share. Almost 50% of Aotearoa’s greenhouse gas emissions are created by the agriculture industry. Given that most dairy and meat farms are built on stolen Māori land, the link between colonisation, capitalism and climate breakdown couldn’t be more clear.

If we want to solve the twin crises of colonisation and climate breakdown, Tiana says that all decisions that affect Indigenous people need to be made by iwi, hapū and haukāinga.

Tiana pointed to Matike Mai as a governance model that we should be moving towards. Photo by Nicole Hunt.

Brooke Fiafia from Auckland Action Against Poverty talked about the need for a political and economic system that prioritises the land and each other. She shared AAAP’s aspiration that all power sources should be natural and free and we should be pushing for 100% renewable energy by 2025.

She talked about how redistribution of wealth, resources and power to communities would ensure people can have more control over their lives and futures. She said that all unpaid and voluntary work should be valued whether it’s care, community or creative. And that we need to de-commodify the essentials so that all people may enjoy secure housing, food, water, energy, health, education, public transport, internet and childcare.

Kassie Hartendorp, a community organiser at ActionStation talked about the importance of rangatiratanga, or people weaving, for creating enduring social change.

“What the union movement knows is that when you fight and win, you never forget how to fight and win,” she said. “What the Indigenous movement knows, is that our struggle is ancestral and we never do anything alone. What our researchers and academics teach us, is that we live in a man-made system that has names and methods that we can challenge. What our queer movement teaches us is that we can find and create love and joy when the world will not give it to us. What our healers teach us, is that we feel injustice in our bodies and we need to move to create change. We have so much to learn from each other, and so much to teach each other. Imagine what is possible when we are truly woven.”

Laura O’Connell Rapira addresses the crowd at Alternative Aotearoa. Photo by Nicole Hunt.

In a week that has been marred by parliamentarians and their neverending raru, the hui was a timely reminder that politics is more than what happens in the Beehive and that it is social movements that create real change. It is the web of relationships that we weave with one another and the shared vision that we paddle our waka towards that will bring to life a flourishing future for all of us.

Our job now is to weave ourselves together in imagination and action to make it happen.

Keep going!