I returned home from South America in January to help change the government, but didn’t expect that I would actually stand for a party and run for government.
Although I have supported and worked alongside Labour, the Green Party and the MANA Movement in various campaigns in the past, I have tended to stay away from becoming too involved in party politics for a number of reasons. The advent of the Internet Party changed that for me.
To be honest, when I first heard about the Internet Party I had no idea what to think as my information about it came from the somewhat scathing mainstream media. I should have known better. I was curious about it and pleased that we had a new party to mix things up in the election, but when I heard that MANA was considering allying with it I was sceptical. Indeed, I supported Sue Bradford in her decision to walk away. I still tautoko and admire Sue for her stand. I don’t agree with what she says about the Internet Party and the strategic alliance, but she is a strong and admirable woman who stays true to her values and beliefs.
A few days after the Party’s launch I had the potential of the relationship explained to me. It is pure genius. MANA would be helped in its campaign and none of the votes for the Internet Party would be wasted with the 5% threshold we currently have in our version of MMP. The alliance would also model to other parties that two seemingly different groups can work together effectively for a common goal. The alliance could be what we need to push the progressive parties over the mark and take back our country in September.
On the same afternoon of this revelation I went to a rally against the TPPA. I was happily astounded and interested to see a number of young people there wearing purple Internet Party t-shirts. I bee-lined for a group of them for a chat and asked how they got involved in the party and why they were at the protest. My initial conversation with this group of young men was a fundamental turning point in my journey towards the Internet Party. One of them told me that he had never been interested in politics before, but “the Internet Party speaks [his] language”. These guys were also able to articulate their concerns about our potential loss of sovereignty if we signed this trade deal. Through them I saw how this new party was engaging directly with young people and informing them about complex issues that will define and shape our generation’s future.
This is what I have been waiting for. Finally we have a political party that purposefully and meaningfully engages with young people. Not in a token effort to gain their votes, but because it demands greater representation for our generation who are too often left out of the political conversations and decisions about our own lives.
Intrigued by this possible strategic relationship, I decided to go to the MANA Movement AGM in Rotorua a fortnight later. Kim Dotcom was invited to speak, and I was impressed by not only what he had to say, but also with the hard questions that were put to him by the different rohe of the Movement and the deep level of debate that followed late into the night. I joined the Internet Party immediately after this hui (both Internet and MANA allow multiple party memberships) and posted the following statement on Facebook:
“Yesterday’s Mana Movement AGM was one of the greatest days of my life, and I’ve had some epic days. I have never seen democracy in action like this. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the love and dedication that the leaders and activists in Mana have for their values, kaupapa and people.
I loved the day so much not because of the outcome of the decision making process, but because of the process itself – every single person there had their chance to have a say, and every single person there was listened to and respected. I would feel so impressed regardless of what the decision was! Just the fact that they really want to get as much input from the people as possible from it – that high level of democratic participation is hard to create but Mana does it really well.
The people are the ones who will ultimately decide on this, and that’s just the way it should be.
Whatever you think of Kim Dotcom or Hone Harawira, this possibility was brought to the people to be pulled apart, discussed, debated and decided on. I think it’s a very brave move of the Internet Party and Mana to consider it. After hours of deliberation and thoughtful, logical and emotional responses to the idea, the Mana AGM voted unanimously only to continue to negotiate the deal and consult Mana branches in more detail. This alliance will only go ahead if further talks can prove that the two parties share enough policy in common and that the people are happy with it. There are issues still to be clarified. Either party can withdraw at any time and keep their integrity in tact.
Whatever you think of Mana or the Internet Party, this move could be a game changer for the people who need change the most – Maori, workers, the poor. I’m personally not completely convinced by the proposal, but no one should be – we should always question so that we can ensure our vision isn’t sidelined or twisted. But Hone is the only person in Parliament who really speaks for these people – the Maori Party and Labour Party have done very little for tangata whenua, workers and the poor over the last 6 years. He shouldn’t be there alone. Imagine how amazing it could be if Annette Sykes was in there too, with John Minto!? Three of NZ’s most experienced and dedicated activists to fight for feeding our kids and tackling inequalities – keeping whichever government we have in check. This alliance could possibly see that happen. WOW!”
At the time of these talks, the Internet Party had no leader, candidates nor released policies so it was too hard for me to comment on them with any authority. Therefore the above statement is more MANA-centric than something I would write now, but the message is much the same. Internet MANA brings two vital and different constituencies together to find solutions to today’s andtomorrow’s challenges.
This is what I have been waiting for. Finally we have a political party that wants to break down the traditional tribal barriers of party politics and work with a seemingly very different group towards a shared vision. One major problem we face this election is that some voters do not feel confident to vote for an opposition party because they cannot see how we can work together. *Cough Labour*, *cough Greens*, *cough NZ First*. This is being played on by Key and Joyce in their fear-mongering rhetoric about the “hydra of the Left”. Yawn. The Internet Party celebrates the diversity of our constituents and knows that democracy is about variety and collaboration.
As a new member I wanted to get involved, so I began observing the way that the Internet Party developed its policy. It is revolutionary in the way it crowd-sources from its membership. The Green Party began something similar with Gareth Hugh’s Internet Policy, but the Internet Party has taken democratic participation through the Internet to a whole new level. The Internet Party’s Policy Incubator on Loomio is a fascinating place to observe and participate in discussions and vote on proposals about policy ideas, and the Policy Forum allows members to contribute to policy in a Google doc from the comfort of their own beds. Awesome. Nearly 300 people helped to create our newly revised Environment Policy that was released last week. We are harnessing the expertise of our membership to create solid, evidence-based policy through the easily accessible and immediate medium of the Internet. We don’t tell people what they think, we ask them.
This is what I have been waiting for. Finally we have a political party that is utilising the knowledge-sharing and communication capabilities of the Internet to enhance our democracy and encourage participation in a meaningful and practical way.
I haven’t dared to delve into our policies here because I’m so excited about them that I could write a thesis and I have a word limit that I have already flouted (sorry Martyn). I would encourage you all to read our Action Agenda and the policies that we have released, and to take part in their development through these online forums.
The Internet Party and its strategic alliance with the MANA Movement has made this election the most interesting one in my lifetime, even before I was personally involved.
In the first few months of its existence, a few of my friends suggested that I should run for the Internet Party. I initially laughed them all off. I was very happy in my teaching job and I wanted to focus on supporting non-partisan work to get out the youth vote and create an avenue for progressive parties to collaborate in the lead up to the election.
This changed when Laila Harre was announced as leader. Laila is probably my favourite NZ politician in history next to Michael Joseph Savage and Norm Kirk. Someone told me that I reminded them of Laila once and I nearly passed out from hubris. The idea of working with and learning from her made me begin seriously considering what I had once dismissed.
The day after Laila’s leadership announcement I went to the Electoral Commission’s Valuing Our Vote Conference. The conference helped me to realise that even though non-partisan get out the vote campaigns are essential in reaching the missing million, we need our messages presented and amplified on all platforms available. The Internet Party could make this possible. I ran the idea past my family and some close friends, all of whom told me to get over myself and just go for it. The next morning I went through the initial interview process and later that week I made it through to the final round of the Candidate Challenge.
Although the media took the piss out of this Candidate Idol type event, it is one of the things that drew me to the Party. The Internet Party is creative and determined to find innovative ways to make politics more engaging and fun. We were given four minutes to speak about ourselves and a policy we were interested in. We then took part in a mock debate with joke questions to defend the indefensible. It allowed us all to present ourselves in a public forum and show our members how we react under pressure and under scrutiny. Members in the Q Theatre audience and those watching at home through the live stream were able to vote in real time through an app. These votes were compiled and taken into serious consideration by the executive committee which made the final decisions about our placings.
This is what I have been waiting for. Finally we have a political party that realises that something as important as politics should never be boring.
On a personal level, this is the first party I can see myself fitting into. None of our candidates have had any political experience. I have probably had the most, but I’ve never worked within a party before. We are a diverse range of normal people and I am proud to stand alongside my colleagues. Our uniqueness is celebrated. I can wear my cat tights at speaking engagements and no one blinks (though they do tweet about it). We even have a “Don’t Mess With the Internet” tee shirt with a cat on it to match my tights. I can keep my nose-ring and show my tattoos. I can be me. We all come from different backgrounds but we’ve all ended up in the same place because we recognise the urgency to build a movement based on a vision of optimism and empowerment. It is scary, putting oneself in the public view like this. People love to hate politicians. But we want to bring a new kind of politician. We want to show others that if we’re able to stand as candidates for our collective future, then they can do something as simple and important as voting for theirs.
We are progressive, young and educated, and we’ve figured out that the future doesn’t lie in old models, nostalgia or in running away from transformation. This means being brave. The Internet Party can be brave because we have no previous baggage. The Internet Party must be brave because what we represent is too important to shy away from.
It takes bravery to speak up and be heard. It takes bravery to overhaul a welfare system to provide an effective and compassionate service. It takes bravery to stand up to the US like we used to. It takes bravery to innovate an education system. It takes bravery to open up the internet. It takes bravery to unleash the potential power of the digital generation. It takes bravery to make a strategic alliance to change the government. It takes bravery for all of us commit to working together to change more than just the government. It takes bravery to making a real, tangible and meaningful difference.
This election is about people, promises and participation. The outcome will be decided by the people that you reach and mobilise through your networks. Your participation will make a real difference. Their participation will allow us to make a new, collective start. With four and a half percent of the Party Vote, I would join Hone Harawira, Laila Harre, Annette Sykes, John Minto and Chris Yong in Parliament. We will work with David, Metiria, Russel and their teams to make this difference. Are you ready? Because we are.
This is what we have been waiting for.
Miriam Pierard has been an activist since her high school days. She was most recently the spokesperson for Aotearoa is Not for Sale and is currently an Internet Party candidate.