Everything feels a bit shit
(But there's still hope)
We knew the election outcome was bad, but I truly didn’t think they’d burn the whole house down. Maybe I was in denial. Or naive. I think I just allowed myself to be buoyed by the success of Te Pāti Māori and the Greens - and the fact that more Māori voted in this election than ever before. Not only that, but three dudes trading marbles behind closed doors seemed like an irrelevant distraction while genocide has been raging relentlessly in Gaza for six weeks, and still.
But waking up last Friday was a reality check I wasn’t prepared for. Luxon, Seymour and Peters have in every way delivered on the promises they made to take back their country, reinstating failed experiments like three strikes, boot camps, benefit sanctions, not to mention a range of perks for landlords and employers at the expense of the basic needs, security and protection of the most vulnerable.
And that’s just the beginning. I can’t imagine ever going into politics for the sole purpose of preventing others from achieving equity. From the ashes of the Māori Health Authority, a new Ministry of Regulation led by Seymour will be birthed - never mind the irony of cutting public sector spending by creating a whole new Ministry.
And make no mistake, reducing regulation is about speed over consultation, profit over community. The very words “cut red-tape” is code for acquire land and resources for production by whatever means possible. They’ll do all this in the name of the “public good,” investing in developments and activities that are short-sighted for people and terrible for the environment. I am bracing myself for the years of resistance ahead, beginning with the need to defend the position of Te Tiriti o Waitangi itself. I never would have believed we could ever return to the days of a “simple nullity” and yet here we are.
Actually, I don’t want to talk about. Let’s not talk about it.
I will say this though: I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much outrage and despair politically. Coalition negotiations have been used as an excuse for New Zealand’s silence in response to the genocide in Gaza. Māori have collectivised and raised their voices and organised, but still I have found myself asking how we can distinguish between silence that is sanctioning violence, and silence that is sacred. Because language also feels like a site of battle. Words and their alternate meanings are weapons for sale by algorithm. I have found myself writing and rewriting my Spinoff column this month the way a person might walk across a minefield. Afraid of how everything is twisted and plied with violent intent.
Meanwhile I have had to keep working - as we all do. This is the reality, and another contradiction that feels weighty to hold. I’ve been traveling every week this month; deep into the forest blocks of Tairāwhiti, far up the Whanganui river, and next week I’ll be in Ihumātao. I’ve spent time with incredible people doing amazing mahi so it feels wrong to complain or express feelings of overwhelm, but I also can’t be two places at once.
Here’s an entry from my journal last week:
Wildflowers cling to the patch Tūī glides into Pōhutukawa’s arms alights, turns, looks me in the eye Son says: I know you’re working to pay the mortgage and your writing is important, but - do you ever think (and I held my breath while he picked out each remaining word) The cost is too high?
This is the same son who’s getting married in four weeks time. Four weeks! Where on earth will the time come from to get ready?
Meanwhile, my other son, 18, left home last week. So it’s been a big time, here. He departed at my request, for reasons only other parents who’ve been where I am will understand. I’m sure there’s quotes of wisdom out there for me, but all I could write to mark the milestone was this:
This morning I woke up and looked for you / on the other side of the fence Long spindles of fennel / dead in the ground / stand upright / tremble like an old woman’s fingers This morning I woke and listened for you / how those fennel cling on / black mould on the sills / rose papered walls Here in my chest / rain slips down the glass On the other side of the fence / your bed lies empty
On the same day the coalition agreement was announced, I went to pick up Mum from the mall. It was pouring with rain, freezing. As I was driving into the car park I noticed a woman struggling with her grocery bags. Just as I passed, her toddler, who was sitting in the trolley, yelled out as the blue balloon he was clutching was torn out of his hands. The ballon darted over the bonnet and took off across the car park. The woman tried to chase it, but gave up. This is Wellington. It’s dangerous to take on the wind in Wellington.
A teenage girl coming out of the mall saw the balloon coming towards her and reached out to pluck it from the gust, but her effort was half-hearted, self-conscious. She wasn’t going to tackle a balloon with all of Porirua Mall watching on a Friday afternoon.
Of course I was going to stop. Of course I was. I’d seen the boy’s face. The look of anguish he wore is one that has become too familiar to those of us trying to stay engaged in social media, while not ending up in the foetal position.
I pulled the hand break and flung open my door. I was wearing pink satin pyjama pants with black hearts. Because the P in p-town stands for Pyjams.
I left the car idling right where it was and gave chase. I sprinted. I chased that fucking balloon all the way across the car park and half way down the stairs.
When I circled back around, the woman looked at me in disbelief. I held out the balloon and she thanked me. She looked like she was going to cry. So did I.
Resistance takes many forms. What else can we do to escape a burning building but help each other?
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