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.