Category Archives: Activism

Writings from the past

I was just looking for a resource I wrote many years ago and came across this. It is the preface I wrote to a book by a British ecosocialist friend of mine, Derek Wall, called “Babylon and Beyond”. I thought I’d post it here in the off-chance someone found it interesting

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Human beings face the greatest challenge in the history of our species. We face the destruction of the life support systems on which our very existence depends, and we face it because of our own activity.

There are some who deny or diminish that threat. They mostly either retreat into fairy tale thinking – that technology, or the “free” market, or UFO’s will save us – or hope that by closing their eyes they can it go away.

Yet the evidence is mounting almost daily that the threats are very real and are gathering momentum. A new report from the UK is saying that if we don’t turn carbon emissions around in the next decade, we will not be able to stop runaway climate change whatever we do.

Authoritative voices are warning us that we are very close to the point where world demand for oil will outstrip the capacity of the oilfields to supply. Our total dependence on fossil fuels, the use of which has provided the energy for an enormous expansion of human activity and population, is like a chemical addiction. And as the USA has recently confirmed in Iraq, strip a junkie of their supply and the temptation to turn to crime can be irresistable.

“The American way of life” says George Bush the First “is not negotiable”.

A time of crisis, however, is also the time of greatest opportunity. More and more people are waking up to the need to change, to change at a fundamental level, and to change right now. People are waking up to the fact that the institutions of society that so many have put their trust in are failing us. Government won’t do it. Big business can’t do it.

Because the challenge we are facing is about more than changing a few policies or practises. It requires a fundamental rethink of what it means to be a human being. Government and business can become allies, but the power to make real change lies in the hearts and the lives of ordinary people.

It is already happening. The international people’s movement against genetically engineered (GE) plants and animals has demonstrated how the reckless agenda of multinational corporations, aided and abetted by our own governments, can be stopped in its tracks and rolled back. One conglomerate has been outed bribing government regulatory officials in Indonesia, GE companies are pulling out of the EU and Australia, and GE agriculture firms are facing massive stock market losses. The promised gold rush is proving to be a fantasy, largely because of global consumer resistence.

While the campaign has significant support in the scientific community, for many ordinary people it began as a sense that something just didn’t feel right. That feeling is often quickly backed up by investigation, but the sense of something being fundamentally arrogant and wrong about GE is the key – it is our humanness talking to us.

What is it to be human? Western society, at least, defines us as individuals whose value can be judged by what job we have, what colour credit card, what kind of car we drive and the label on our clothes.

Yet beneath these displays of status, real people are emotional, social and spiritual beings – intrinsic characteristics that cannot be considered in isolation from each other. We seem to have forgotten that our relationships – with one another and all the other beings with whom we share this beautiful planet – are fundamental to who we are.

There is a passage in the Bible that says “where there is no vision, the people perish”.

The inability to step back and clearly see and understand the “big picture” is the central problem that we face in the world today. The main motivations for Western industrial society for the past few hundred years – belief in unlimited growth and technology as the solution to all problems – are the very things that are killing us.

We cannot grow forever on a finite planet. If we continue to assume that endless growth and consumption is possible, and disregard the biosphere’s capacity to meet our greed, and if we continue to neglect social justice and fair and sustainable wealth distribution, we will reap a bitter harvest.

Neither will technology on its own fix the problem. Yes, we need better technology, more efficient technology that uses non-polluting cyclical processes and that does not depend on fossil fuels. But just more technology will not do, because the problem is in us and the way we see ourselves in the world.

We humans think that we can own the planet, as if fleas could own a dog. Our concepts of property ownership are vastly different from traditional practises of recognising use rights over various resources. A right to grow or gather food or other resources in a particular place is about meeting needs. Property ownership is about the ability to live on one side of the world and speculate on resources on the other, possibly without ever seeing it, without regard to need or consequence.

The ability to “own” property is fundamental to capitalism. Since the first limited liability companies – the Dutch and British East India Companies – were formed, we have seen the kidnapping and enslavement of 20 – 60 million African people and the rape, murder and exploitation of indigenous people around the world. Colonisation was primarily about mercantile empires, not political ones. It was all about forcing indigenous, communitarian people to accept private individual ownership of resources, which could then be alienated, either by being bought or stolen. The subsequent political colonisation was just about how to enforce that ownership.

Today property rights are being extended through GATT and TRIPS agreements and through institutions such as the WTO and the World Bank. Private property rights are being imposed over public assets such as water, intellectual property and, through genetic engineering and biopiracy, on DNA sequences. Even traditional healing plants are under threat. In Aotearoa – New Zealand we have had multinationals attempting to patent piko piko and other native plants. This is all part of the “free” trade corporate globalisation agenda – to create tradeable rights over our common wealth, accumulate ownership and then sell back to us what is already ours.

This is only possible because we have lost our place in the scheme of things. We think of the environment as something “over there”, as something separate from human activity, something to either be exploited or protected. The reality is that we are as much part of the environment and the planet as the trees, insects and birds.

It is time to relearn what it means to be human.

Babylon and Beyond, the economics of anti-capatalist, anti-globalist and radical green movements by Derek Wall. Printed by Pluto Press

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Civics education workshop outline

This one day workshop explores the nature of citizenship and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. It begins by developing a broad understanding of the constitution and then progressively narrows in on the details of Parliament, the select committee process and, finally, voting. It aims to empower participants with a comprehensive understanding of both the formal processes of governance as well as practical tools for influencing change.

The workshop is interactive and uses brainstorming, small group discussion, video and roleplay to draw out the knowledge of participants and build on it. It is suitable for teenagers to adults.

Learning objectives:
Develop an understanding of New Zealand’s formal systems of governance
Develop an understanding of how political processes work in practise
Understand the arguments for and against an adversarial system
Develop the confidence to participate in the democratic process
Develop lobbying skills, including the ability to make effective parliamentary submissions
Develop an understanding of how MMP works and the difference between your two votes

WORKSHOP OUTLINE:

Introductions and Ice-breaker

Talking about the constitution
Sources of political power.
Does New Zealand have a constitution?
What about the Treaty of Waitangi?
Should New Zealand become a republic?

Understanding Parliament
Government, Parliament, Judiciary and the separation of powers.
What does Parliament do?
How laws get made.
How to influence the legislative process.

Focus on Select Committees
What they are.
What they do.
How to make a great submission.

Roleplay a Select Committee process

How MMP works
Why vote?
How voting works
Coalitions and coalition agreements

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Not voting is an own goal

In 1990 I put an election billboard on my fence that featured a sinister looking silhouette in a business suit saying “vote for No-One, because No-One cares”. People’s responses ranged from amusement to furious anger, with one person even climbing the fence to vandalise it at night.

It was a bit of fun, but with a serious intent. I wanted to express my dissatisfaction at a system that trades a vote every three years for meaningful participation. I wanted to show my disgust at the co-option of governments by corporate lobby interests. I wanted to demonstrate my belief that the parliamentary system is unable to comprehend, much less find a solution to, the real issues facing our world.

All those statements still hold true for me today. Looking back, though, what strikes me is my dismay when New Zealand elected a National Government. I could see on election night that things were going to get much worse for ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, that Government soon introduced a range of regressive policies that remain in place to this day, including the end of free tertiary education, vicious welfare cuts, attacks on workers’ rights and asset sales that even the previous Labour Government had balked at.

A year or two later I found myself at a huge march in Auckland to oppose the policies of a Government that I had encouraged people not to vote against. That contradiction, and others I experienced at a variety of street demonstrations and occupations during those years, led me to question much of my political ideology and dogma. As a result of this on-going self reflection my ideas about strategy and tactics have become more responsive, while my principles have become clearer.

My views on engagement in parliamentary politics changed with the introduction of MMP. In 1999 I was elected as an MP for the Green Party and just under nine years later I resigned from Parliament. In my final speech I spoke about many of those same themes that had concerned me in 1990. Perhaps more than most, I am well aware of the limitations of parliamentary politics.

There are two main reasons that progressive thinkers give for not voting. The first is that it makes no real difference. The second is that voting legitimises an illegitimate system.

It’s true that you can’t vote for revolution. That doesn’t mean that revolutionaries shouldn’t vote. It just means they should vote for more practical reasons. Voting is a tool, and like all tools there are some things it is good for and some things it is not.

The outcome of this election will make a lot of difference. Not in fundamental ways perhaps, but it will have direct impact on people’s wellbeing. Whether National or Labour leads the next Government – and just as importantly, how much influence the Greens have, or the Conservatives, ACT, the Maori Party, Internet Mana and NZ First – will determine how much the lowest paid workers will get to take home each week. It will determine whether our coastline is opened up for oil drilling and maybe whether we end up having a catastrophic oil spill. It might decide whether the Maui’s Dolphin becomes extinct. It will decide whether housing will be more, or less, affordable. It will make a clear statement about whether as a nation we are concerned about child poverty or whether we really just don’t care as long as we get a tax cut.

My aims in voting this year are modest. I don’t expect radical change from politicians because they couldn’t deliver it even if they wanted to, at least not without massive changes in public opinion first. I don’t expect the big problems to be solved or to see congregations of the wise inhabiting the Beehive. I vote to make some government policies a little better and to stop some others getting worse. I vote so that at least some of my most important issues are amplified. I vote so that there is someone in there to call out the bullshit when they see it. I vote because the National Party’s lies and deceit just went too far this time. I vote because trying to make the world a better place is easier when we have allies in Government. Given the minimal effort involved, it seems like an own goal not to.

Finally, if you are worried that ticking a voting form will somehow legitimise the system, don’t be. Your vote will have absolutely no impact on that. All it will do is make it more or less likely that John Key and the National Party is re-elected.

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Archive of my writing 2009 – 2012

Most of what I wrote after leaving Parliament in mid 2008 until 2012 can be found at rasnandor.blogspot.co.nz. This includes copies of columns for the Waikato Times and the original Monkeywrenching column for the TV3 News website

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