Wednesday, 9 November 2011

election time

As an overseas voter, I can now (as of today) download my voting papers and send them in... the NZ general elections are on, and I'm getting ready to cast my vote.

While I'm not going to turn this blog into a party political broadcast, because I know that some of you will make different decisions from me and that some of you aren't voters in the NZ elections anyway, I do want to be clear about the significance of voting.

People have fought and been arrested and struggled and cried and been marginalised and died so that I can vote in this election, so I'm not going to miss the opportunity now that I have it.

I have to be honest that it's not an instinctive vote for me this year... my party vote is easy, but my electorate vote (Te Tai Tonga - I'm on the Maori roll) is less so. The referendum about the political system? I want to think a bit more about it, but I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do.

The thing that will make me decide? A combination... but I've been influenced by hearing my Dad talk about his strategy: decide on the issues that matter the most to me and then see what each candidate is saying about them. I've found that this helps keep my focus on things and I've felt comfortable that I'm making a choice that is responsible and hopeful.

And that's the whole thing abotu elections, aye? They're about hope. About futures. About the possibilities of how things could be.

Last time NZ had a general election, it was a few days after Obama's amazing win in Washington. The contrast between the two elections couldn't have been stronger, not only in terms of the fireworks and excitement (oh if only Beyonce sang at our inaugurations! if only there was a poet who'd written a poem about the moment!) but also - more importantly, of course - in terms of hope.

Whether or not Obama's administration has achieved what we all envisioned in those heady days, the election gave many of us outside the US an opportunity to think about the possible ways that the face of politics might change in our own countries too.

A couple of months ago in the US I met a smug white man who took great pains to explain to me that the Black community was disappointed with Obama, and I wanted to slap him. Who was this self-appointed white guy, speaking on behalf of another community, to tell me about someone else's opinion? Did he have no sense of just how bizarre - and yet so predictable - the moment really was? Did he really think that all Black people in the US think exactly the same way? What an idiot!

What an idiot.

We've got a few idiots at home too. The ones who speak about, or on behalf of, all Maori people as if we al lthink exactly the same way about every single issue. The ones who smugly tell others about Maori hopes and, especially, disappointments in Maori leaders.

The ones who are happy to talk for hours on end about what's wrong with Maori people, as they continue with unethical policies which undermine, target and disproportionately afeect Maori. The ones who are committed to looking after their own people and making sure the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The ones who have been shown all the hospitality in the world at marae up and down the country and yet still can't be bothered even attempting to pronounce our language.

The ones who don't even both to speak our language at the opening of a sports ceremony, a moment which isn't really about a few words in a specific lanaguage but is about the revelation of a thought pattern in which we are constantly put to one side, ignored, invisible. 

I bring this anger and bitterness into my thinking about politics, but this only tells me who not to vote for. As I decide who to vote for, I'm going to be thinking about the idea of hope. All of the people who made sacrifices so I could vote in the elections did so because they were thinking about a future in which people like me (a woman, Maori, not a landowner) would be able to vote. So, I'm going to follow their lead and think about the future too. The audacity!

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