This year was the first time I ever voted and in all honestly I feel a bit ripped off. I knew the left would lose badly to the right, so it was not this which left me feeling short changed. It was the left’s behaviour after the fact.
Watching Labour cannibalise itself and witnessing some of David Cunliffe’s own MPs throw him under the post-election bus left me feeling pretty disillusioned.
So much for solidarity in tough times.
Megaupload tycoon Kim Dotcom bankrolled the Internet Party then stood on stage on election night crying and apologising for poisoning the Internet/Mana brand and declaring it his fault that Hone, Mana Party leader, lost his seat in parliament (self-awareness always comes too late). Dotcom’s ego eclipsed so many of the incredible policies the Internet Party had to offer. Greens co-leader Russel Norman had a public hissy fit on Waatea News and accussed Internet/Mana’s of stealing Green votes. As the saying goes “the right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.”
We lost the election for many reasons – it’s not just down to National’s dirty politics and right wing attack dog and political blogger Whale Oil. Many of our own left wing politicians have behaved dismally. The endless infighting within our left wing movements and Labours refusal to work in solidarity with other left wing parties played an epic part in our downfall. Journalist and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently wrote this in relation to the powerful uprisings in Ferguson against class warfare, police brutality, and racial profiling which offers a model for civil resistance:
“Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies.”
I had never voted until this year, as previously mentioned. Not because I am an apathetic millennial – as the stereotype goes, I just never really saw the point in voting.
I have been an activist since I was 19 and since I can remember I have cared deeply for other people and their welfare. But like so many young people I have felt completely alienated by the political process and establishment. I worked out early that most politicians do not give a fuck about my generation. Even the ones that do have no idea how to connect in meaningful ways with global youth.
It is so easy to forget where you come from as John Key so succinctly proves. This is how we’ve ended up with token gestures like ‘The Young Nats’ and ‘Young Labour’ whose members are millennials but they often fail to connect with a disenfranchised and angry youth.
It is hard to care about politics when you are struggling to find your first job thanks to a massive global job crisis. Youth unemployment in Britain sits at an all-time high of 21 percent and youths account for more than one-third of total unemployment in New Zealand. Around 40 percent of youths in employment are underemployed.
Governments all over the world took stifling austerity measures after the financial crash that adversely effected the young, vulnerable, middle class, and poor leaving the super wealthy untouched and unaccountable. Anti-capitalist activist Naomi Klein wrote
“The only kind of contraction our current system can manage is a brutal crash in which our most vulnerable will suffer the most.”
When the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded all over the world it was mostly young people leading the movement protesting austerity measures and the staggering divide between the super-rich and remaining 99 percent. I sat in Auckland’s Occupy camp three years ago talking to homeless kids as young as 14, who spoke of having no future and no hope. They were painfully aware of how little their government cared for their welfare or their futures. When I spoke on the phone to Corie Haddock Candidate for Labour and who is the co-chair of ‘The New Zealand Collation to End Homelessness’ he told me:
“We are one of the few developed countries in the world that does not have a national strategy to respond to homelessness. Homelessness has grown across the board since 2008. One of the specific areas of growth of homelessness is young people.”
Jan Logie, Green MP, visited Youthline a few days ago and created a Facebook update in relation to her experience there. She wrote,
“I was disturbed […] to hear about how big the youth homelessness problem is and how some of the very worrying issues I’ve seen around alternative education seem to have got worse.”
There are without a doubt some incredible MPs and political party candidates working hard in parliament for social change and who are listening to the voices of young people. But they are so often are minority, not the majority.
So why would young people, especially those living in poverty who have been pushed to the margins of society in New Zealand, put faith and trust in a government and political process that does not include them and has left them out in the cold? Why do so many people patronisingly tell the youth of today to “get out and vote?” Why should they? Can you even tell me why I should vote without using the words “civic duty”? As Danny Dorling wrote last year for The New Statesman,
“The prospects for young people have never seemed so bleak. No wonder they feel society is rigged against them and are so reluctant to vote.”
Left and right wing governments all over the world from Canada to England are hiking tertiary fees and making it harder and harder for people to access higher education. Unless you come from wealth and your parents can support you through under- and post graduate study you are likely to be lumped with massive, crippling student loan. The reality that 1 in 5 Māori live in poverty as compared to 1 in 10 Pākehā, means the increasing tertiary fees will acutely affect New Zealand’s indigenous youth and ethnic minorities.
Our higher educational systems are already racially and socially divided but with growing tertiary fees, a young person’s potential to attend university will increasingly depend on how much their parents earn, not how hard they work, or how dedicated they are to learning.
Higher education should be a human right.
When students protested against massive educational cuts and the axing of student allowances at postgraduate level in New Zealand three years ago, our right wing leader John Key ignored their demands and flippantly told student protesters to “finish their degrees and go and get a job.” In a job market where in vocational qualifications such as teaching degrees in particular are almost not worth the paper they are printed on, this statement was not only dismissive, it was a lie by omission. As activist and journalist Laurie Penny points out,
“The message being sent to the next generation could be summed up with a second-person pronoun and any given expletive. You don’t vote for us; why should we care what happens to you?”
Representative democracy constantly disappoints.
The ruthless attacks on the poor and unemployed through the National government gutting the welfare state and Paula Bennett’s dangerous welfare reforms send a clear message to thousands of young people who are struggling to find work in a stagnant job market: we don’t give a fuck about you. As John Key gives ever increasing tax breaks to the super wealthy, our social safety nets are being ripped away. As Dorling states,
“When there is a dole, young people do not have to take any work, no matter how bad it is.”
Young people deserve to have job opportunities that are meaningful for them, and that pay them a living wage. Our youth are witnessing the collapse of our economy, the privatisation of their educational systems, the destruction of our social safety nets, and their very futures.
Russell Brand states in his book Revolution,
“I mean, if someone said they had a socio-economic system that creates a hugely wealthy elite at the cost of everyone else but it was ecologically sound, we’d tell them to fuck off.”
Russell Brand, spokesperson for the voiceless rage of a generation, infamously guest edited the New Statesman last year calling his issue ‘Revolution of Consciousness’. In his political essay ‘We no longer have the luxury of tradition’ he told everyone he had never voted and you shouldn’t either – it only encourages them. Brand referring here to politicians and those who benefit from funding their parties.
“I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for.”
Political pundits and journalists around the world threw their hands up in the air and declared Brand irresponsible for telling people to stop voting. In an interview with veteran journalist Richard Paxman, Brand was told he was in no position to call for a revolution and a radical dismantling of our current failed [capitalist] system if he had never voted.
Paxman told Brand over and over that he needed to vote or else he had no right to complain. Yeah, that old trope. Brand said over and over that he had no interest in participating in a political process that represents and serves so few. As Brand wrote,
“The idea that voting is pointless, democracy a façade, and that no one is representing ordinary people is more resonant than ever…”
Telling people not to vote may have been irresponsible, but what so many pundits and journalists failed to understand about Brand’s polarising political essay was that it was also a battle-cry – one that echoed the voices of many activists and protesters on a global level.
His essay, given his celebrity status, was a sonorous drum that called for people to rise up against disaster capitalism and rampant greed, and demanded revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony. If, however, you find Brand with his proud sexism (because LOL! Sexism is funny when he does it), whizzing around in a Rolls Royce being driven by his chauffeur, while telling rich people they are part of the problem a bit hard to stomach, rest assured that he is not the only one calling for such radical actions.
In an article written by Naomi Klein and published in Brands editorial debut last year at The New Statesman titled ’Science says revolt!’ she brought both the catastrophic consequences of climate change and a complex systems researcher named Brad Werner to our attention. Werner delivered a session titled ‘Is the Earth Fucked?’ at the American Geophysical Union’s autumn meeting where he used an advanced computer model to answer this question. He talked about,
“systems boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex system theory[…]”
wrote Klein. But as she pointed out the bottom line was clear:
[…] global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we fucked” question, Werner put aside the jargon and replied “more or less”.
There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered up hope as Klein powerfully points out:
“Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture.”[…] this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.”
“Mass uprisings, political protest, sabotage and direct actions along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – “represent the likeliest forms of friction to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control.”
Given the above, stop telling young people to vote. Tell them to fight. Tell them to protest against our ruthless National government that cares for profit not people or the planet.
Tell them to start the riot.
Tell them to be arrested if necessary.
Tell them the truth: they have been sold a fucking lie.
Tell them that getting degrees is unlikely to land skilled, meaningful work that will pay a living wage in our current social and political climate.
Tell them working hard at some low paid job, if they can find work at all, will barely afford them a basic standard of living.
Tell them this world has been stolen from them by corporate greed, by corrupt and lazy politicians who spend more time fighting amongst themselves than solving social problems, and by a failed economic model that works only for the super wealthy and then is sold back to them for more than they could ever afford.
Tell them it is up to us, the silent and silenced majority, to take this world back.
Tell them the revolution starts with them.