De-marginalising progressive politics



Recently I spoke at a political meeting taking the opportunity to inform people of the ethnic breakdown of voter data; using that information to unpack ideas on why indigenous and migrant communities felt disengaged and therefore weren’t voting. In my own area of the Otara subdivision, only 29 per cent of eligible voters returned ballot papers – well below the greater Auckland average. And the data speaks for itself: older, wealthier, housed and white voters had a much higher rate of ballot return. That’s what the data tells us so our challenge is to encourage a better ballot return from younger, poorer, transient and brown voters. Quite simple really. The theme of my talk was premised on a basic point – don’t leave our future and destiny in someone else’s hands.

The international evidence looking at the experiences and preferences of Black communities in the US, First Nations people in Canada and Aboriginal communities in Australia have some stark similarities. Many “disengage” because they fear being identified as indigenous; they choose not to vote consciously as a protest to their ongoing marginalisation or they’re so pressed in the circumstances of life that registering to vote and voting itself becomes either a very low priority or mammoth mountain to overcome. And these are just a few of the reasons and put in very simple language without the space here to offer a deeper analysis.

So it was with some disappointment (although not really given my experiences whenever I speak at conferences or give lectures) that I received a few complaints from white people who said I had made a personal attack on them. That my comments about the election data made them feel as if they were forcing their will on the rest of us. Whilst its not my style to make personal attacks, this type of complaint comes as no surprise to me as its not unusual for people who don’t have a means to critically reflect on real-life data and information to react this way. In critical race theory this is the case when the so-called liberalised privileged person realises that they may need to cede some of their privilege; some of their power. Of great fascination to me though, is why these people don’t just come up and talk with me about their objections rather than going thru other people who tell me days later. Mind you, politics on the left is renown for this kind of behaviour.

Talanoa is a Pasifika qualitative methodology that invites us to approach research in a culturally specific and sound way. Similar to the tenets of critical race theory it can challenge the pervading norms in society by telling and re-telling your story, your experiences and your realities. As a researcher a key skill required in this form of research and inquiry is the ability (and humility) to listen. And herein lies the issue for me. That if we’re to be given the space to participate in progressive politics, the very least required by those who’ve been in the business for a long time, is to listen. Because all too often as I’ve observed in just one 3-year term of local govt politics, the enemy to those of us on the margins participating, has been the imperial arrogance and refusal of those at the so-called core, to listen.


  1. “That my comments about the election data made them feel as if they were forcing their will on the rest of us.”

    Well, that’s a bit of a disconnect right there. Of course voters who vote for a party like National, without thinking of the consequences of implementing right-wing policies, are forcing their will on the rest of us!!

    National’s cutting of ECE funding means precisely that National voters are forcing their will of reduced services on to the rest of us.

    If those people can’t understand that concept, they are thicker than I thought, or simply just plain stubborn.

  2. Funny how some people get mighty defensive when we talk about privilege vs the powerless and dis-enfranchised.

    It’s like they have something to be ashamed of. Otherwise what’ve they got to be defensive about, eh?

  3. nice piece Efeso, short too! white privilege is a hard one to crack, different from post colonial denial though similar, it can be closer to obliviousness and straight out lack of empathy and enquiry

    call me old fashioned, but imo class power figures large in all relations between people along with culture and the gender spectrum, once you are dealing with suits and uniforms–lookout

  4. I sympathise with what your saying. However last time I looked we all had an equal vote. Maybe people need to have someone to vote for. Obviously the same old same old we have at the moment are not doing it, for a large proportion of your and other electorates. I would suggest letting whichever party you want people to vote for know this. They may wake up. If they knew that there are seventy percent of the electorate that didn’t vote for them and this proportion of people were motivated to getting rid of them, i”m sure they would see to protecting their position and do something about it.
    I know none of this will happen however.

  5. Maybe younger, poorer and transcient people don’t vote because they are lazy? Perhaps you should check there work ethic and motivation?

  6. You come across as quite the racist, but I bet you’re unaware of it.
    Don’t sound awfully bright either…your views are so stereo typical & cliched.
    You know what mate? The Govt is BOUGHT. Voting is just a GAME.
    Your folks in Otara are smarter than you because they know that National or Labour…just 2 sides of the same coin.

  7. I did some work a few years ago trying to get people to enrol to vote.

    Brown people were highly resistant and made all sorts of excuses, ‘…. I don’t live here …’ yeah right.

    Seemed to me the main reason for avoiding being on the electoral role was benefit fraud or just not wanting the authorites to be able to find them.

    Try going around brown areas with registration forms and see how you go….good luck.

    Be warned there was a fair amount of threats and aggression so it can get a bit scary and dangerous.

    If you are game to get out of the office and knock on doors remember safety first.

    Let us know how it goes.

    • I don’t believe you have ever tried to get people enrolled to vote in the Manukau East Electorate. I have done so many times at the Otara Markets and have also door knocked for the Labour Party and I have never had nasty, rude or aggressive reactions. I have always found people to be courteous and polite. I am a middle aged pakeha woman.

      • It was part of a Government initiative, I can’t remember what department paid us.

        We went around areas in Whangarei (I assume people were recruited for other areas) with registration forms to get people on the electoral role, people could choose the general or Maori role.

        Being in a semi ‘official’ role is a bit different from what you were doing perhaps, were you going around as a volunteer or paid, did people fill in the registration form and hand it back to you??

        Of course some people were happy to give their details and get on the role but a very significant number of brown people were not happy to have a visitor like us.

        I went with another person but we knocked in the doors separately.

        We were instructed not to argue and to just walk if anyone refused, or we felt threatened or if anyone was less than friendly.

        As I recall, being on the role is not optional it is a legal requirement, in practice in some areas it’s optional because no-one is going to enforce the law, certainly not me, it was only short term casual work.

        • Good point worker. I was not in an official role. I guess that was a difference. People who are marginalised will push back at people who are telling them to do something because it is the law.

  8. “That if we’re to be given the space to participate in progressive politics”

    It doesn’t work like that. ‘Given the space’. You don’t have to go hungry, do gaol time, die for the ‘privilege’ as so many others have, but it is about time you put in the effort, like the women in Afghanistan, for example, who walk for miles and wait for hours to vote.

    “may need to cede some of their privilege; some of their power.” You must be joking. If it has to be given away… nagged for…without the necessary work and effort on the part of those who ‘want’. It’s not ‘lollies at the checkout’. It matters a lot more than that.

    And when do YOU ‘check your privilege’? Because you have it, too, don’t you. Would you like to be guilt-tripped into ceding it to others? Think on.

  9. Let’s go for the Australian model where it is compulsory to vote in general elections, by-elections and referendums.

    • “Let’s go for the Australian model where it is compulsory to vote in general elections, by-elections and referendums.”

      Isn’t coercing people into voting (by threatening to punish them for not voting) when they’d prefer not to a bit… um… authoritarian, and thus not very… um… democratic?!? Besides, the Oz system offers people the option to vote No Confidence. Our system allows people to vote No Confidence by enrolling and not voting. Different system, same outcome. No point in changing it.

      I would be keen to know where the statistics on the “missing million” come from. Are they all people who registered but didn’t vote? Or are those stats derived by subtracting those who voted from the voting age population as established by census data (or other data)?

      BTW it’s lazy to accuse those who don’t vote of being “lazy” (or the more polite but equally patronizing “apathetic”). I know many people who don’t vote because they don’t support representative government (eg a lot of anarchists and many advocates of tino rangatiratanga) or because none of the parties who are likely to get in represent their views.

      Also, are those of us who voted for parties that didn’t get over the 5% threshold (or win an electorate) counted as “voters” or “non-voters”? It’s dispiriting when someone votes for a small party that really represents what they want for our country, and they get enough votes in theory for 1 or 2 MPs, but don’t get represented because of the threshold. If it’s ok for the likes of Dunne, Seymour, and Flavell to prop up National for 3 terms despite their parties getting tiny party votes, it seems profoundly unjust to stop a party that gets 3-4% getting some MPs. If there’s anything we should change about our electoral system to increase participation (and not just in voting), it’s getting rid of the 5% threshold.

  10. PS: not sure of the relevance but since you mentioned it, I am white, the woman I was with was Anglo-Indian.

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