Category | Politics

Painting, Politics, and Power with Michael Soi

I was drawn into his work immediately because of its familiar color pallet and curious characters. Also the fact that I had just seen one in a bar the weekend before was, no doubt, influential in my curiosity.

Last year I spent 3 months in Kenya, primarily in Nairobi. I was there for a couple of reasons, but since I am an artist meeting other artists and learning about them and their work is, of course, always part of my travel. There are two main residency/art centers in Nairobi: The GoDown Arts Centre and Kuona Trust. It was at The GoDown that I met Michael. He was the studio mate of a contact I had.

Upon entering the studio, I recognized the cartoon-like gestures and the deliberate criticism of the normal happenings of Nairobian nightlife and other goings-on. Being my first time in Kenya, actually in Africa, I wanted to know more about the images/concepts and to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a contemporary artist in Nairobi.

I met and chatted with Michael a few times after that first studio visit, but never felt like I fully understood his work. I thought I would take this opportunity with Freerange to delve a bit deeper into the work with Michael, to hear from his perspective what were/are his motivations in the work, what are his influences, and where he is taking his work in the near future.

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NR: In your work you wittily comment on and, in a way, attack everyday activities of ordinary Kenyan citizens. How did you come to use your art work as a vehicle for these social and political commentaries?

MS: It all begun very innocently. It was work that revolved around children as an alternative audience to my work. I used animal characters like pigs and cat. At this moment, they had no meaning as such. it was just plain simple what you see is what you get but over time I looked at these two characters and realised there was a lot of similarities that existed between our politicians and these two animals. Greed and selfishness. I still create work that kids can relate to in a very simple way and at the same time use the characters to address a more serious problem in Kenyan society through my work.

NR: Why is painting now your main medium? And why is this the appropriate medium for your message?

MS: I studied fine art and art history in art school. After graduation I joined kuona trust in 1996. This is when I can say I begun my long career and I basically took an interest in sculpture by default. We were young and broke at this time. So the issue of subject and material was not in our control. We worked on what we had at the moment but honestly, I think after one year I was too engrossed in wood sculpture because I took it up as a challenge and just wanted to see how far I could run away with it. Over time, I realised that this wasn’t telling the story as I wanted it told. This is what got me back to painting in 1998. I had too many ideas on my head and wood was kind of limiting. This is when I decided to take on painting as the instrument that I wanted to use to get my story told.

NR: Your work has been widely shown both internationally and at home in Kenya. Has the reception been different in the various countries? And how has that influenced, if at all, how you approach new work? Basically, who is your target audience and what role do they have in your work?

MS: I have been luck[y] in a way because of a lot of international travel early in my career. By the time I was 30 I had seen a fair portion of this world. It enabled me to engage in a lot of what I want to call cultural dialogue and at the same time, having to work with artists from diverse cultural back grounds and all. My target audience in the people of the city of Nairobi. This work revolves around their everyday kind of setting in all aspects of social life. I will address the issues around graft, matatu’s, commercial sex work and everything that affects them. Over the years, I have to realise that I can get a lot of the inspiration here. The international travel for residencies in places like London, New York, Amsterdam and many other cities I have visited in the course of my career have given me the option of looking at things differently and being able to approach issues from a broader view. It gave me knowledge that i am still downloading up to date in my quest to become a better artist. I don’t know what the role of my work is at the moment. that doesn’t concern me much but the most important thing here is that I have given myself the responsibility of documenting my city and its people visually so that the next generation of Kenyans and anybody else who is interested can look at it 50 years from now and see what Nairobi was up to in the 90’s and in the new millennium.

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NR: Can you talk about how you see the role of women in Kenyan society and how that is translated in your work?

MS: I am not a social activist. I am a social commentator. Mostly, the use of women in my work is misunderstood. I believe in equality of the sexes and all. A lot of the work I made revolving around the strip clubs in Nairobi is about power. It has nothing to do with occasional look at a painting of a topless woman just for kick. It is about power in the sense of commercial sex work evolving to a point where the girls don’t have to stand in the streets anymore because there is social media now. Twitter and Facebook have provided a space where the girls will not have to freeze themselves to death by standing street corners and more.

Back to the issue of power, my strip club scenes are not about the pole dancer who is nude on the pole. It is always about them men ogling and drooling that surrounds her. One girl told me she doesn’t have to sleep with the men to make her money. All she has to do is give a lap dance for 4 minutes and she makes $7 and at the end of her shift, she has made $200 which is more than what the average 8 to 5 job going Nairobi resident makes in a day. This is power. She uses her body to make her ends meet. She doesn’t have to have sex with the client.

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NR: I noticed that almost all of your characters have the same expressionless face. Could you tell me about that decision?

MS: I am still developing my characters. It is an on-going process.

NR: Visually, your paintings remind me of 70s and 80s cartoons like Fat Albert and the Jackson 5ive. Was this a conscious decision? If so, why? If not, do you think that observation is valid? Why or why not?

MS: It came from a point of wanting to make my work self-explanatory. Make it simple as possible. I don’t let western issues influence any of my work…There is a tendency to compare artists from the 3rd world with a master somewhere in the states or Europe. I have created my own subjects and characters to my work. I am me and my art is mine.

NR: This visual aesthetic was very popular in Latin America in the 80s, in particular in Chile. In fact, it was used by the dictatorship, on TV and in music, to keep the people “happy and occupied”. What do you think about the use of entertainment to keep the masses happy and distracted?

MS: It can easily be used as a form of propaganda. And yes, it was used in Chile and to some extend in Argentina and we also see it in drug regions of Mexico where use of art is being used by the cartels. But for me, I think my work belongs to me in the sense that I want to see it as a visual diary of some sort. I am just documenting my city on the things I see and observe every day. it is an attempt to get someone in the west who has not been to this part of the world to know my city. It is stuff that the next generation of Kenyans will look at and see where they came from.

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NR: Could you talk about the method(s) of keeping the masses in line in Kenya?

MS: In Kenya, keep them talking. Use the media for that. Expose one scandal after another. They will keep talking.

NR: From my understanding, corruption in Kenya is widely understood and accepted. What do you seek to accomplish with your work?

MS: I try to address issues of political, religious and moral corruption. Audiences to my work need to look at where they fit in, whatever they do after that is up to them.

NR: And looking at the near future of Kenyan politics, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the elections in March, and how this might play out in your work.

MS: We will just have to wait and see. My take on it….They removed the crocodile from the river and put it in a swimming pool. It still remains a crocodile.

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What’s your take on Michael’s work and the ideas he has presented here? Feel free to comment, or send me an email (nic [at] nicolerademacher [dot] com).

 
Michael Soi is represented by Ed Cross Fine Art in London and The Little Art Gallery in Nairobi. You can see more of his work at michaelsoi.com or on his artist Facebook page.
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Black magic in the walls, and other things.

I’ve been thinking about the chief recently. The last time I saw him, I was sweating and cursing 10 kilos of mouldy plant specimens onto a small plane, taking off the island in Vanuatu after another long trip. He approached me as we were about to board, cuffed me on the side of the head (retribution for needing to be taken home in the island taxi – aka the wheelbarrow – after a kava session the previous night), and handed me a 4-liter plastic container. It was full murky of black liquid, and looked as though it had taken this trip a few times before.

‘There’ll be someone at the airport to collect it’, he said, and made sure I had a mobile number and address if the delivery fell through. ‘Tell him to wash the walls with this thoroughly, every wall, and to get out of the house for four days.’ Under no circumstances was the man to smell the liquid, and if the black magic wasn’t fixed when he got back? ‘Tell him to call me’, said the chief with a chuckle.

The chief was one of the most respected healers on the island, or indeed anywhere in Vanuatu. He’d grown up in the tangle of the island interior, moved with his parents to the mission on the coast, and had seen the first plane land on the rough airstrip (‘we got the hell out of there’, he told me of that day). He’d also become Christian, gone to school and raised a family. He became a healer early on, learning from his father and grandfather, and relying on the diverse medicine cupboard of the local flora. Independently, he had also developed his own techniques of stomach massage to treat all manner of complaints. He freely improvised – one of his best treatments for malaria was introduced by the Americans during the war – and was generous with his treatments. ‘It’s up to me’, he said of his patients, ‘there’s no one else here who can do what I do’.

The chief was also developing a thriving business. Given his position, this isn’t necessarily much of a surprise. The construction of mobile phone towers the year before, however, had been a boon, and he was now getting requests from far and wide. Although most islanders I met could find a bunch of plants to treat simple illnesses, traditional healers like my friend are important. On the one hand, access to hospital care is limited, and aid posts are typically missing basic medicines. On the other, there are a whole host of illnesses recognized on the island that can’t be treated with waetman medicine (as it’s known in the local pidgin) at all. Black magic, curses and witchcraft are all still around and still important, and can only be treated with traditional, kastom medicine. As far as I could tell the status, skill, and connections of the chief gave him a unique niche, and he appeared to be filling it with aplomb.

Despite the success of the enterprise, my friend sometimes appeared worried. The issue was the continuity of his skills, and the problem was finding find anyone to teach them to. He’d often say that formal education has had such an impact in his community that the kids had ‘no space in their heads’ any more. In any case, the values and ethics that the kids picked up in schools meant they didn’t care for communal village living in the first place.

It’s true that old folks railing against the ‘youth these days’ is hardly restricted to Vanuatu. But I think he had a point. Schools on the island are still taught in English and French, and local languages still banned within their walls. This is pretty incongruous – Vanuatu is per capita the most linguistically diverse place on earth, with over 100 languages in a population the size of Hamilton. Local history and social studies are still not taught, and kids typically miss out on all opportunities for learning traditional ways of doing things. The chief reckoned that this was causing the loss of a whole range of culture, knowledge and practice. In a country where land ownership is based on oral histories, where ceremonies mark every important stage of life, and hundreds of different plants are relied on for medicine, this is a pretty big concern.

In reply, the chief and his peers had had come up with a strategy. One of the most interesting things I saw during my time there was a grassroots education movement that aimed to corral the youth into schools of the community’s devising. These schools, kastom schools to the locals, were small and community-based places where the teachers were the elders and the curriculum was local language, medicines and food. They were to be compulsory education for the under 10’s, and in some places they were aiming to enlist everyone in the community under the age of 20 – everyone who they thought had been deprived of their kastom by the ways things had been done recently.

There is much more to say about these – after all, not everyone will share the elders’ vision about the way forward. But I think it’s hard to overstate their importance. For one, the chief and co. were placing their customs on the same level as the formal school, and promoting the importance of the local over the generic and western. The kastom schools are interesting too when you consider they’re a revolutionary way of ‘doing custom’. Teaching culture in a classroom setting is a completely new way of doing things, and is a complete update of what tradition is and where it should exist.

In short, I think the chief and others like him had designed an open, homegrown challenge to centralised education systems. They’d done this in response to a system that they felt to be profoundly damaging the knowledge and attitudes of the young. ‘We’ve got our own science here’, he told me once, and went on to say each language (there are no less than 17 on this one island) had different ways of doing things, each adapted to the local place. He was also adamant that this science not only shaped the way that things are used, but the way that those speakers see the world.

I got to thinking about all this as I was reading about the Idle No More movement the other day. A surging global protest that took off in the wake of more pig-headed policy from the Canadian government, Idle No More looks like something of an Occupy moment for global indigenous groups. It also seems to inherently reject centralised power and authority over traditional lands and peoples. In this context, the gentle, smart, and effective ways that my friend on Malekula was updating the role of tradition through medicine, education, and business seem especially valuable.

More broadly, I think his projects also promoted a model of development that stresses local solutions for local problems. Diversity of thought, healing, and learning are important threads in the fabric of society in the Pacific, and development and education policy would do well to remember the value of local solutions. This is especially true, I’m sure, if you need the right stuff to scrub black magic out of the walls.

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Reclaiming The Commons

I have felt for a while the creeping sensation there has been something crucial missing from contemporary political discourse and dialogue.  Until recently was not quite sure what it was. I was always vaguely aware of the idea of the commons but it previously seemed a distant and historical concept with little relevance today. However, recent developments such as the creative commons and open source movements and the occupy movement have led to a dawning realisation that this concept may in fact be the invisible link connecting these events. The idea of the commons is what so many of us in the developed and developing worlds have been fighting for. It is a new paradigm which has the power to unite disparate causes and peoples and to allow us to move beyond traditional discourses and divisions of left wing politics. I am now convinced that the concept of the commons is our best hope for achieving a world of freedom, justice, community self determination and environmental sustainability.

Commons academic David Bollier defines the concept as:

A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.
A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.
A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

History
The common resources of Earth were abundant and reasonably well managed at the time of the industrial revolution. Most indigenous communities had learned through trial and error to view land and resources less as a commodity than as a basis for identity for a particular community to be equally shared among living, dead and those yet to be born. The Native Americans as well as Maori and aboriginal Australians all saw themselves as connected to the land and as having a role as guardians of the land. Under this indigenous system, acquiring legal title to land was done through proof of occupation, historical connection and active use of the resources. Stewardship or guardianship was the key cultural concept which governed and prevented the over exploitation of these resources.

In pre-industrial England, rural communities also governed their common resources in a similar manner with complex systems of overlapping traditional rights governing activities such as mowing meadows for hay, gathering food and fuel from the forests and grazing livestock on land held in common by the local community. Enclosure of these once prevalent common lands into private land began in the 16th century This process of enclosure (often by violent bloodshed) ended many traditional rights of the peasants or non landowning people.

The 1215 twin charters known as the Magna Carta are recognised in the English speaking world as the source of the protections of rights such as trial by jury, due process of law, the prohibition of torture.  What is less recognised is that the second and lesser known Charter of the Forest in fact confirmed the right of the people or ‘commoners’ to subsistence from the common resources of the forests. Peter Linebaugh in his history, ‘The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All’ demonstrates how these ancient legal rights of the people have been repeatedly laid aside when the ‘greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state.’

Attention was also focused on the abundant common resources of the rest of the world by colonial powers. In the colonies, the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ was employed to justify the departure from the Magna Carta in order to facilitate the enclosure of indigenous lands and enslavement of peoples in the settler-colonial societies. As Chomsky states on the settlement of North America “According to this useful doctrine, the Indians had no property rights since they were just wanderers in an untamed wilderness. And the hard-working colonists could create value where there was none by turning that same wilderness to commercial use.”

The ecologist Garrett Hardin’s influential 1968 theory of ‘The tragedy of the commons’ has been used by Neoliberal economists to justify further privatisation and commodification of common resources such as forests, waters and land. This theory has led to massive land grabs and ultimately justified the privatisation of common assets, resources and infrastructure on an unprecedented worldwide scale. The dangers inherent in this dominant ideology of the ‘State/Market duopoly’ has been cautioned against by academics such as Bollier:
“Today, the commons – a vehicle for meeting everyone’s basic needs in a roughly equitable way – is being annexed and disassembled to serve a global market machine. Nature becomes commodified. Commoners become isolated individuals. Communities of commoners are splintered and reconstituted as armies of consumers and employees. The “unowned” resources of the commons are converted into the raw fodder for market production and sale – and after every last drop of it has been monetized, the inevitable wastes of the market are dumped back into the commons. Government is dispatched to “mop up” the “externalities,” a task that is only irregularly fulfilled because it is so ancillary to neoliberal priorities.”

This extreme economic ideology has heavily influenced today’s political elites who on the whole assume that common resources must be managed either through privatization or government management (or more recently a partnership of the two). The results of this approach are evident now all around us in what could be termed ‘the tragedy of the anti-commons’ in which communities across the planet are waking up to discover that there are very few common resources left with which to sustain themselves and develop their local economies.

Elinor Ostram of Indiana University won a nobel prize in economics in 2009 for her amazing body of work effectively debunking ‘the tragedy of the commons’ theory by showing that communities all around the world actually had been co-managing commons successfully and efficiently for hundreds of years. Ostrom’s meticulous field work explored how people collaborate and organise themselves to manage common resources such as forests through a complex set of governance principles.

The Key to such effective management according to Ostram were eight ‘design’ principles of stable local common pool resource management:
1 Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
2 Local rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources
3 Collective-choice arrangements with inclusive decision making;
4 Effective monitoring the users;
5 A scale of graduated sanctions for violations of community rules;
6 Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
7 Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities;
8 Organization of larger common-pool resources, on a local scale

Ostram put into words what many of us instinctively felt all along – that a more community centred approach is the most efficient way to achieve a sustainable future. Essentially Ostram’s work confirms what many indigenous and pre-industrial communities had already known – that a culture of community based guardianship, self determination and a clearly defined set of cultural rules can lead to effective management of common resources.

Many examples of successful commons do exist in the post 2008 financial crisis world.
Maine, New England’s co-operatively managed lobster fishery is one example of a common resource which is managed sustainably and has positive impacts both environmentally and for the local fishing community financially. Where Industrial fishing enterprises have no connection to the fish stocks other than profit-making for shareholders, the Maine lobstering community has a legalised role and an economic interest in protecting and maintaining this resource as stewards. As a result, the fishery is thriving and can provide adequate income for both current and future generations.

The Via Campesina is a coalition of small-farmer and peasants rights movements from around the Global South and is based on a commons philosophy that people should have access to common lands with which to sustain themselves. The Zapatista movement is a movement of Mexican peasants who have gradually and under much repression and resistance from the Mexican Central Government been forming autonomous and independent municipalities complete with schools, common agriculture systems and courts of deliberative justice.

Another example of the commons resurgence is the recent proliferation of co-operative businesses worldwide. 2012 has been the UN International year of the Co-operative and has seen a huge rise in the number of this type of business being formed across the USA, Europe and other developed nations. The fact that Cuba is also looking seriously at allowing privately run co-operative businesses to take over from Government in many areas until now the preserve of government shows that the co-operative business movement may in fact be a middle ground between socialism and capitalism. If managed correctly this could decrease tensions between the two philosophies by allowing greater decentralisation of power and more self determination of communities,

Despite these inspiring examples, it will be a long and hard fought battle to wrestle back power over the commons from the hands of Governments and the private sector. This new approach to governance will require forms of land and resource management rooted in community and locality rather than one governed by profit margins, absentee shareholder owners and industrial farming. There are many legal and economic tools by which this can be done, land trusts, co-operative business models and open source software are just some of the commons based mechanisms which are currently driving a ‘commons renaissance’ in the post 2008 era. However, alongside these innovative work around solutions, more supportive Law and policy regimes from sympathetic Governments will greatly increase the viability of commons. As Bollier puts it:
“For this, the state must play a more active role in sanctioning and facilitating the functioning of commons, much as it currently sanctions and facilitates the functioning of corporations. And commoners must assert their interests in politics and public policy to make the commons the focus of innovations in law.”

This new discourse of the commons provides us with a way to get beyond the left v right and private v public debates by adding a third player of the commons sector. My hope is that the successes of commons and co-operatively managed enterprises both economically and in terms of creating happy and productive people will influence governments and private sector entities to support such initiatives and possibly to adapt their own methods to reflect a more commons friendly approach. There is real potential in the idea of the commons for a more collaborative future in which local communities and business are actively involved in and responsible for guardianship of our shared land and resources. Through the adoption of a commons based dialogue we can more effectively co-create a new vision for our future society. This vision is one of decentralised and democratically controlled industry and economy and a vision of a future in which we can all share in the benefits of and live in harmony with the planet.

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The Art of War – An Introduction to Austere Governance.

The article below is a very indepth response to a freerange post from last year, written by Beale Stainton on his site The Bealian.   Beale has kindly given us permission to re-post his article here.     To quickly summarise: I wrote an article about  the philosophical/economic difference between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ where the left sees full employment and its consequences as the desirable goal, and the right sees low inflation and its consequences as the desirable goal.   I suggest that the right accepts that a certain amount of unemployment is good for the country, in that it keeps inflation down, but then it becomes nasty when it attacks the unemployed for being lazy, a drain on the country, etc, when in fact they are, in this model, making a sacrifice that we all gain from.    Beale has responded with a very informative description of the economic demands on government and what they are and aren’t able to control, suggesting that employment is largely outside of the scope of the government to control.

START

The following analysis is in response to an article published by the good folk over at Project Freerange entitled “The nastiness of the mainstream right politics”, which you can read by clicking on the link here.

http://www.projectfreerange.com/the-nastiness-of-the-mainstream-right-politics/

This article argues that there is a fundamental difference between economic policy of the left and that of the right in New Zealand politics.  A press release of Michael Cullen’s policy back in 2002 aimed at, among other things, the creation of full employment.  The 2008 press release given by Bill English on the other hand does not make a mention to employment at all.  This is a very salient observation that has been made.  The Freerange article goes on to then link the employment negligent economic policy of the right with inflation.  It is argued that right wing policy aims to keep unemployment high for the purposes of controlling inflation.  Now we all know that Government policy is conducted with the purposes of engineering some greater master plan.  The question that this raises is how far would a particular government be willing to go in order to control inflation?  Would they purposefully keep employment rates down?

Now, I have written this article for two reasons.  The first reason is, because I wanted to return a constructive and critical response to Barnaby at Freerange.  The second reason is to show the world what the insides of a governments books look like.  In regard to the first reason I will attempt to build upon Barnaby’s valiant attempt at an economic argument.  It does indeed appear as if employment levels could be engineered in order to control inflation.

The current National Government has been, for the most part, conducting itself in a fashion, which it can be argued, goes completely against the unwritten rules of civilized public relations.  They have, through their overly assertive reforms, taken very few prisoners, if any.  They have, time and again, come up against mass public opposition to their policies.  They have expressed a certain culture of authoritarian disregard so to speak, perhaps an arrogance even.  In the opinion of many in our country they have quite simply been rubbing people up the wrong way.  They perhaps have contributed to further backlash by the mere fact that their leader gained the nick name “Smiling Assassin” while employed as head of foreign exchange dealings at international banking powerhouse Merrill Lynch.  He earned this nick name, because he continued to smile while making some hundreds of redundancies in the wake of the 1998 Russian Financial Crisis.  It is no wonder that there is a certain air of mistrust and disillusionment coming from various parts of New Zealand society.

For this reason I hope I can lay down a few reasons as to why such policy has been implemented.  I would like to start off by saying that, in my opinion, this is not so much a matter of left or right wing.  For example, the former Minister of Finance under the Helen Clark Government, Michael Cullen has a past life and so does Helen Clark herself for that matter.  If you go back in history to the Labour Government of 1984-1990.  You will find an up and coming Cullen in the position of Associate Finance Minister plotting away in the shadow of Roger Douglas, the prophet of the New Right.  So it can be argued that Michael Cullen himself contributed to the genesis of the policies of the New Right in this country.  In my opinion Government policy is, for the most part, reactive rather than proactive.  Muldoon’s National Government was forced into extreme national protectionism and regulation by way of reaction.  Lange’s Labour Government was then forced to go extremely open and in pursuit of the free market by way of reaction.  Helen Clark’s Labour Government, post 2001, was the lucky one, because it got to react to good economic times.  It was lucky, because as a result of the success generated on the international free market it was able to oversee a speculative rise in property, financing and construction, which like Spain and Ireland brought a lot of money and jobs into the economy.  2001 was also the defining year for New Zealand in that China joined the WTO and Fonterra was established.  If you want to get a grip on why things are so in New Zealand at the moment then we only need to take a look at Spain, Ireland and many other parts of the world that too heavily depended on property, finance and construction to fuel their economies.

Anyway let’s move on.

The next point I would like to make is that there is not much a Government can do to keep unemployment low.  It can, to a certain degree, in the case where a Government employs a lot of people.  The Government would only need to lay off a required number of civil servants in order to meet a certain measure for the purpose of meeting a particular target percentage of unemployment.  The National Government has in deed been doing this, however this has been done for other reasons, which I will get to later.  In the private sector, demand for labour is unregulated.  When the private sector needs labour it simply takes it.  This is what happens when an economy is picking up.  When it is slower then the private sector doesn’t so much demand labour and so unemployment increases.  As I’ve stated.  This is an unregulated market Government cannot interfere with.

Another point of criticism I would like to make is in regard to the correlation between employment and inflation.  The man who officially argued the connection was the New Zealand born economist William Phillips.  He has, as a result, left to the world the “Phillips curve”, which states that when unemployment is high then inflation is low and vice versa.  This is evidently so, because as unemployment increases the supply of money decreases and therefore producers will be forced to put their prices down.  However Phillips argument was based only on research done in the United Kingdom between 1861-1957.  It has been apparently disproved by the many economies which have both high inflation and high employment.  However I would only take the rebuttal theories with a grain of salt, simply because they are argued first and foremost by Milton Friedman.  I’ve looked at Friedman’sstagflation theory and to be honest with you all, it stinks.  It stinks of the modern financial system and perspective engineering.

Friedman’s stagnation theory argues that when unemployment lowers this triggers a rise in wages and a rise in wages eventually means that unemployment will return to its previously higher level, so far correct, but then he goes onto say that inflation will remain high.  This is how the Phillips curve was disproved and forced to give way to Friedman’s theory ofstagflation.  Philips argued that inflation would eventually reduce too.  Now in pure theory, I’m going to go with Philips on this one, because in a self-regulating market, producers would bring their prices down to match the reduced supply of money in a high unemployment economy.  However we no longer live in a self-regulating market.  We now live in a market regulated by financial systems and the domination of credit.  If cross border credit didn’t exist then the pure theory of Phillips would prevail, but in a world where cross border credit is the main regulating force behind an economy then it is sadly Friedman’s version of events that will prevail.  What I have just discovered is actually quite brilliant and deserves to be written into a doctorate.  Anyway, I’ll come back to that in my own time.  We need to move on.

So there we have it Barnaby and others.  I have successfully altered the direction I was sending this article.  Friedman, being the worshiped economist that he is, was meant to be right and then I was going to proceed to make my final points.  However I’ve just proven him wrong and as a consequence, my further points wrong.  Or have I?  Perhaps I am still on the right track.

Let me just state that the reason unemployment is high at the moment is not so much due to a political engineering campaign by the National Government to keep inflation steady.  Employment is high, because there is a whole bunch of debt to pay off.  This situation has in effect squeezed the life blood out of the economy.  The situation is complicated, but I will try my best to explain it.

Government is not something that renews itself every three years.  It is an ongoing entity.  All that changes is the party or the leadership voted in to manage and direct it.  Debts and surpluses incurred by one government will be inherited by the next and so on.  In the same way, long term debts incurred now, let’s say in the form of a 10 or 30-year bond issuance, will be paid off by future tax payers in 10 or 30 years time and not the current ones.  The current taxpayers reap the benefits, so to speak, for what their children will be forced to pay off.

Now let’s look closer at Government.  It is such a beautiful monstrosity.  Government has revenues and costs just like any enterprise, whether that be yourself, the corner dairy, Telecom or whatever.  As such, just like most other enterprises, it needs to prepare a number of statements and plans.  Let’s start with the statements.  The first statement is the “Statement of Financial Performance”.  This statement records its revenue against its expenses.  The next statement is the “Statement of Financial Position”.  This one records what it owns against what it owes.  The third is the “Cash Flow Statement”.  Now this one is fairly self evident.  Now the important thing to note is that what appears in these statements, generally becomes the basis for preparing the next very important document.  That next document is the “Budget”.

It is likely that bad news in the 3 above statements over a period of previous years will most likely contribute to the publication of a bad news “Budget” for subsequent years.  The “Budget” then gets translated into policy and policy gets translated into execution, which is the responsibility of the party in power.  So hopefully the chain is now obvious.  Bad news in the statements, will lead to bad news in the budget and subsequent bad news in policy and as a result, in execution.

Now, as a result of the sudden contraction in the global economy, the private sector took one hell of a hit.  Let’s not go into too much detail.  It was a bust.  A bust is a cataclysmic event and everyone gets hurt.  Even Berkshire Hathaway stocks went from $150,000 a pop down to $60,000.  A raging private sector is fueled by a need for two things.  It needs labour and capital, the two main inputs of business.  The banks provide the capital and the people the labour.  As such, capital and debt markets boom and unemployment drops.  As a result Governments will receive more taxes and spend less and Reserve Banks will lift interest rates to keep inflation steady.  Up until 2008 the NZ Reserve Bank had the OCR, the primary interest rate of the economy, set at above 8%.  At the moment it is down at 2.5%.

When the private sector is booming there is money left, right and centre, which means prices will go up causing inflation.  Reserve Banks react by lifting interest rates so that people get enticed by the returns to be made simply by putting their money into Government securities.  This takes money out of the economy and keeps inflation steady. When economies are stagnant like now then Reserve Banks react by lowering interest rates making it cheaper to borrow and thus causing an inflationary effect of sorts.  However this gets countered by the lack of economic activity and therefore money.  What I want to describe to you in the boom picture, which lasted from 2001-2008 is how easy the Labour Government had it for that time period.  There was absolutely no need for austere measures.  Their Reserve Bank needed to do the opposite and reduce the amount of money. They were lucky the private sector was booming, takes the weight off their shoulders.

Since 2008 and the arrival of National, Government experienced a reversal.  Their revenues decreased and their expenses increased.  This was a direct result of the bust, not the arrival of National in and of itself.  Remember this is the same Government as always, just under new management.  Not only did tax revenue fall, but the taxpayer had to bail out the broken economy putting further pressure on spending.  As a result the weight got put on the shoulders of Government.  In the performance statement of 2009 there was a surplus between revenue and expenditure, but an overall decrease from 2008.  In the performance statement of 2010 there was a deficit of 2.1%, by 2011 a deficit of 3.3% and this year a deficit of 8.4%.  The large deficit recorded this year was mostly a result of an increase in the “insurance expense” column between 2010 and 2011 of some $8 billion.  It’s all recorded in the books.

Now what these widening deficits do is they force Governments to draw up budgets and policies which will cause a good deal of pain and frustration when they are executed.  Think about it.  If you record a 2.1% deficit this means that the budget for next year is going to come down to either one or two options.  The first is to adjust income or expenses.  The second is to put down a bond issuance and borrow in order to cover your costs for the next year.  The second move means that you need to borrow now, but as a result, future tax payers will be hit with the bill.  Not only that but your credit rating could be effected, which means that the cost of borrowing money next year will go up.  This means that you will hit the pockets of future tax payers even more.  Borrowing more also means that you are creating more expenses.  These expenses get recorded in the books as “interest expenses”.  The more debt you take on the higher this expense column climbs.  This will likely increase your deficit even more.  As a result it is best to resort to the first option than to resort to the second one.  There is a third option.  You can sell some assets, but we go into that.

So the first option is what governments will resort to.  They can increase revenue by hiking tax rates.  However this move is further bad news for the economy.  What they should do is increase taxes on mega profits, however this move causes big business to kick up a fuss and threaten the government with relocation to another part of the world or some other form of rebellion.  This eventuates into further bad news for the economy.  What the current government is doing is they are looking at other sources of national income such as the taxes and royalties generated by mining operations and other economic operations in the long run.  On the other side there needs to be a reduction in spending.  This is evident by the reduction in staff in the public services, a lowering of the teacher to student ratio and a tightening up of welfare services.  For the record, social security and welfare currently costs the Government $2 billion a month.  Education and Healthcare both come in at $1 billion a month, only half that of welfare, but in times like this the welfare is needed.  These three cost centres out shadow all others.  It’s all there in the books.

So I hope I have explained how increasing deficits and spiraling debt forces reactive governance.  It is usually the Finance Minister, who is also the automatic Treasurer, who holds the purse strings.  It is their responsibility, in their role, to create a long term plan, in this case a three year or five year one, to get the books back into surplus.  In order to do this the Treasurer needs to sit in his office, study the statements and a whole host of other reported information from his departments and as a result draw up, to begin with, a budget. The budget will most likely be produced, in a time of deficit, so as to reduce expenses and suggest increases in revenue sources, without needing to borrow too much.  The budget is then communicated through to ministers.  They will be told that they need to cut spending by such an amount.  The minister will then set about turning the expenditure reductions into policy.  The policy will be communicated to the public and, in a time of forced fiscal austerity, they will not react too kindly to it.  The appropriate ministries will then set about executing policy.

Budgets are limited, but relatively precise in that they only look upon the next financial year.  The next level of planning is what is known as the strategy.  Strategies look over periods of three to five to ten years.  They cannot be as precise in their financial estimations and therefore provide only rough projections of future Government revenues and expenditures over, let’s say, a five or ten year period.  They provide direction more than anything.  For example, the Petroleum Action Strategy of 2009 estimated that the mining of New Zealand’s minerals reserves could turn a $3 billion per annum industry into a $30 billion per annum industry by the year 2025.  As such Government would be set to earn from both taxes and royalties and the economy will be boosted.  Now we know that these figures are such an extreme estimation, but they at least provide guidelines to get the ball rolling, develop policy and debate the costs.

The sale of state assets is also set out in a strategy as opposed to budget.  The financial return on the assets will be estimated from, for the most part, an uncertain future.  The estimated return for example might come to $10 billion over four years.  This $10 billion will then be calculated into an estimated budget and performance scenario of Government four years into the future.  The Treasurer will then make a rough estimation and let’s say he concludes that Government will be back in surplus in four years time provided all policies and strategies have been successfully executed.  He will no doubt in include margins of risk to strengthen the estimations.  If the figures add up then Government will go about putting plans into action and when the chain is a result of bad news inputs, like they are at the moment, then there will be bad news outputs.

So there we go everyone.  This is how austere governance works.  Perhaps, after writing this, I now feel quite austere myself.  My main argument is that austere measurements, just like liberal ones are a result of reaction to a given economic environment.  It does not matter if you have a Labour or National party in power.  The boom of 2001-2008 allowed Labour to be liberal, but the dire economic situation of 1984 forced the then Labour Government to be austere and same with Muldoon.  My other argument is that keeping unemployment low is not so much a tool Governments use to control inflation.  If the private sector needs labour then there is nothing Government can do to stop this.  Labour is controlled by the market.  High unemployment usually means that the private sector is not demanding so much or that Government itself is forced to cut back on spending to reduce its deficits.  On the other hand there is a correlation between unemployment and inflation, which Friedman denied, but as I showed you guys I suspect Friedman’s theory of being subject to a regulating factor and that is cross border credit.  Therefore his theory of stagflation should not qualify as pure economics and the Phillips curve should be given its rightful position at the top again.  My final argument is that austere and unpopular policies and executive consequence are the result of bad finances caused by external economic conditions.  This is evident by the way continuing deficits, as a result of a bust, causes certain reactive policies to bring the books back into the black without having to borrow too much.

That is where I will finish.  Barnaby I certainly enjoyed reading your article and, as has been obviously displayed, it did make me think a great deal in order to give you a response you can seriously consider, warts and all, not the pretty picture anyone wants.  Monetary and fiscal policy, when the going gets tough, is not a place for the faint of heart.  However I will leave with a final thought.  What I have given you is my honest description as a result of my education and research.  Austere governance is austere governance.  There are no two ways about that.  It has its place and its time.  The power and influence of fiat money or credit creation on the other hand is a whole completely different set of bad news.  This system likes to pretend that it acts in the interests of deregulating economies, but the truth of the matter is that it has itself and is fast becoming, the ultimate and central power of regulation.  In this sense it is now the state being regulated.  There has been a fundamental shift in power and dominance.  Think about that for a second and the consequences it spells for the future of economy and government.  They will both be locked into cycles of boom, fueled by credit creation and cycles of bust, fueled by credit crunches, which Governments will be forced into taking the rap for.  It is the simple system of credit, which is what we need to look out for.  This is a game John Key and the rest of us are all pawns in.  It is a system people like Friedman have argued into the academic literature as being the way it is.  This is something I can’t quite grasp without speculating and making up conspiracy theories.  So for the moment it is best we keep silent about it and only think on it.

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UP THE PUNKS 2012: The City Seen Through Thirty Something Noisy Years of Wellington Punk Culture.

 
 
 
 
 
“Not in the habit of saving things for posterity or thinking themselves as history. Not caring about the past, not seeing too much future to look forward too. Whether or not that was really true, it was definitely the understood attitude and mood… I’ve just started on this book and already I’m on a tangent…”

Aaron Cometbus

 

Time. It’s treated quite strangely in the world of punk rock. Most people arrive as though they were the first. And they leave out the back door to make way for a younger, more energised generation. Aaron Cometbus, of the Bay Area fanzine Cometbus, nailed it in a retrospective on his first 20 years of zine-making. When it came to cultural self-awareness, he claimed that punks were decidedly evasive. Whether fueled by  idealism or nihilism, they were preoccupied in a haze of the ‘spirit of the times’. The view from the blazing vehicle of punk rock is framed by a combination of radical ideas, growing pains and fast guitars. Vision under such speed is surely fuzzy. Beyond the ‘here and now’ getting a cultural perspective to the past (or future) is hard. But the last decade or so has seen a renewed interest from within and without Wellington’s punk community with a call to explore the vestiges of time and uncover the recesses of the city’s nearly forgotten punk past.

Enter Wellington’s own unique and peculiar cultural time-machine – UP THE PUNKS! It travels to depths of 35 years ago and up to the active present, exhibiting the stories and artefacts of a vibrant, living underground community. The ongoing documenting and open source archiving initiative provides an important means of linking together a body of diverse works such as music, arts, literature, activism and various aspects of DIY culture, which would otherwise seem disparate across generations past and present. Youth culture is rarely this prolific and broadly expressed. It is a showcase of spirit – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

 

Original poster for UP THE PUNKS 2002 designed by Kerry Ann Lee

 

To claw back the history of an obscure society, obsessed with its very obscurity, is not an easy task. Works can be as fleeting as youth itself, leaving little trace, if any at all. But memory will still prevail. People still fondly recall the legendary performance of influential bands which never lasted long enough to produce more than a rough demo and play at some house parties; rants from a younger version of someone-you-know found in a photocopied zine which was subsequently lost to time and a small print run; piles of old screen-printed posters and merch; dusty records and cordially exchanged mixtapes now warped and stretched; abandoned film negatives of rallies and hangouts with cherished friends. Interesting and unexpected things happens when returning to these places.

 

Punk was always positioned in relation to a wider context, differentiating itself from mainstream society. But over time, as we all know, things change, the mainstream changes too, and so each generational iteration of punk rockers bear traces of that change too. I can’t help but recall the backdrop of a transitional Wellington city in the 1990s, its people waking up from the quiet slumber of economic downturn. People were crawling out of brutalist buildings determined to paint over the grey walls that had only served to compliment the depressive color of the sky.
Whether or not these are actually my own memories, I’m reminded of something geographic, something spatial and material, tangible and almost graspable; squats on the waterfront as Te Papa was still in construction; un-refurbished flats with remnants of 70’s décor; walking home after school via The Freedom Shop, the local anarchist bookstore which was housed in a rustic shed on upper Cuba St before being squeezed out by the Bypass; the hired-out community halls; picking bottles off the street during shows; skinhead encounters in Newlands; skateboarding with mates in the Hutt; the patience required to order records and zines from overseas…

 

The Cure jamming at a house party in Mount Victoria, August 4, 198.1

 

UP THE PUNKS presents a case for continuity between generations otherwise fragmented and disjointed. In doing so it proves, in my mind at least, that the past 35 years wasn’t just an excuse for playing silly buggers after all (although there was a great deal of that too). It’s evidence of a sustained cultural activity. In such a hotbed for ideals put into action, ideas can last a long time, or burn out alongside musical trends, fashion, and haircuts. I’m curious as to how punk – peripheral by nature – has extended and adapted to other aspects of society, or whether (in many cases I imagine) it is left to the embarrassments of youth. It would be interesting to know what happened to those kids as they enter different areas of society, as they develop skill-sets for new contexts and responsibilities. It is contributions from these people that keeps the UP THE PUNKS online archive lively. I can think proudly of punk friends who are now educators, union organisers, lawyers, academics, artists, health care professionals, engineers, innovators, activists, musicians, amazing parents, and just all round good people.

 

A film made by Chris Knox on the punk and post-punk ‘Wellington Scene’ otherwise known as the ‘Terrace Scene’ in 1980. 

 

Without continuing to sound like a back-in-the-day-old-timer, it has to be said that a big aspect of the UP THE PUNKS effort is to present Wellington punk culture as a living community, uniquely localised and continuing today in full force. It stands in contrast to the picture painted by a Te Papa exhibition ten years ago that presented punk as a petrified historical nomenclature that only happened elsewhere. The ongoing spirit of participation from enthusiastic new blood will ensure that punk respond to a changing world, ultimately securing the promise of it’s future.

 

And because of the open sourced, participatory nature of the UP THE PUNKS archive, we now have a means of looking back through the noise of time. With the raw information available to all, the historical narrative of punk in Wellington can be constantly rewritten and contested.

At 16 years and counting, Punkfest is New Zealand’s longest running annual punk event.

 

UP THE PUNKS proposes one last important thing; that this living history is also a slice of the city’s history. It’s “the Wellington you didn’t know you didn’t know” as aptly put by John Lake in the Pledgeme fundraising campaign. The minor stories told here reveal the material culture of life in Wellington as told by the people themselves. It is also relevant for the story of independent music in New Zealand. These stories are our history and it’s a history to be shared by all.

 

 

A Pledgeme campaign to fund UP THE PUNKS 2012 has just started. Come along and check it out if you like!

UP THE PUNKS 2012 exhibition and celebrations: November 6-10

 

Exhibition Opening Night: November 6, 2012, 6PM, Thistle Hall
Gettin’ Worse: Punx Still Angry, November 7, San Fran Bathhouse. Check out the new breed with Numbskull, DILFS, Influence and more…

 

Closing Night Party, November 10, Thistle Hall Upstairs
All ages gig expanding the definition of punk with So So Modern, Rogernomix, All Seeing Hand, Mr Sterile Assembly, Johnny and The Felchers and more…

 

www.upthepunks.co.nz
www.facebook.com/upthepunks.wellington

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Online Organising – Harnessing People Power

Anyone who occasionally glances at a computer or even a news report these days will no doubt have come into contact with the phenomenon called “online organising”.  The term is a relatively crude one which encapsulates everything from a facebook petition campaign started by a 13 year old to see their favourite band play in their town to an efficiently organised multi-national advocacy campaign targeting the United Nations by international groups such as ‘Avaaz’.  Like it or not ‘online organising’ is fast becoming a vital piece of democratic infrastructure for the 21st century.    A new wave of organisations has emerged in over last decade in an attempt to harness and co-ordinate this power for real change offered by new technology.  However, the community behind such movements are their real source of power and the more such organisations can do to engage communities, the more effective they are in achieving their goals.

The fact that there is a proliferation of such online organisation worldwide really indicates a strong desire among citizens to increase their engagement with traditional democratic structures.  We find ourselves in 2012 in a moment of political turmoil, across the world citizens have challenged entrenched power, inequality and the erosion of their standards of living. These events have inspired a hunger for more meaningful opportunities for citizen engagement and a thirst for open, dynamic, and truly progressive politics in 2012.  Effective online organising has helped Barak Obama to the US presidency in 2008 and assisted with the organisation of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements in 2011.  The widespread sympathy to the many online movements around the world indicates that there is at present a serious disconnection between the will of the masses and the actions of the Government and corporations.   Such a disconnection suggests an endemic lack of citizen involvement in decision making which effects us – a key tenet of the concept of democracy as originally conceived.

We as responsible citizens of democratic nations must use all the tools available to us to ensure that our collective voice is heard and this connection between our desires and the actions of our leaders is re-established. The traditional tools with which progressive individuals and movements have attempted to impact society in the past have been political parties, trade unions and NGOs.  However, political parties’ are losing members and relevance at alarming rates – for example in Australia online organisation Getup.org claims over 500’000 members which makes it a larger political force than either of the major political parties while Avaaz with over 10 million members is the largest NGO in the world.  Trade Unions in Western nations have been in crisis for years after the affects of globalisation and competitiveness have to weakened labour laws and decreased their power.  Most traditional NGO’s are issue specific and generally use a large chunk of their budget (often sourced from Government or corporations) on maintaining the organisation and justifying its relevance.  Some notable exceptions are emerging with Greenpeace and 350.org effectively using online organising tools to mobilise the masses and source funding for actions in their areas of interest.

In contrast to most traditional organisations tools, the key aspects of the new generation of online organisations are that they are multi-issue based, nimble, flexible, people powered and most importantly independent.   These organisations allow activists and ordinary people to come together and share knowledge and to assist to directly decide and fund the operations of the organisation.  The best online organisations and movements are essentially acting as a rallying point for citizens who aspire to a society which values social justice, economic fairness and environmental sustainability. They are Independent and democratic, and co-ordinate both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ action to hold governments and business to account. The fact that such organisations are decentralised and independent of Government and political funding means that they are highly independent and responsive to their members’ collective voices rather than those of external funders or governments.

These organisations effectively enable tens or hundreds of of thousands of citizens to pool their efforts to create progressive change in politics, business and society by providing honest information and strategic leadership.  The underlying assumption is that the majority of citizens wish to be more engaged in democracy, but face three major constraints: With busy work and family lives, they don’t have much time to give, with so many problems, they don’t know where to begin, with so many different interest groups and points of view, they don’t know who to trust.  The benefits of online organizing is that is can provide citizens with a way to effect change that will require only a small time commitment, focus energy by targeting the worst problems in the with effective ways to impact them at moments of great opportunity and can earn the trust of its members by not being manipulative or only presenting one side of the story.

Successful online organisations

Arguably, the most successful organisations so far have been those following the ‘New Organizing model’ which started in 1998 with MoveOn in the USA and soon spread to Australia with GetUp! Launching in 2005.  In 2006 the first truly Global online organisation ‘Avaaz’ launched  internationally and now has over 10 million members.  In 2009 38 Degrees launched in the UK    and there are currently well advanced plans underway for launching such organisations in NZ, India, Canada, France and Ireland.

MoveOn www.moveon.org

Since its founding in 1998, MoveOn has mobilised more than 12 million people to affect political change. Over 10 years MoveOn volunteers have organised more than 100,000 local events and contributed over US$200,000,000 to fund various progressive campaigns. In 2008, MoveOn members endorsed Barack Obama in the Democratic Primary, raised over $58,000,000 for his campaign, recruited over 933,000 volunteers, and registered over 225,000 voters to help secure his historic nomination and ultimate victory.

GetUp www.getup.org.au

In 2005, the MoveOn model spread to Australia. GetUp launched at a time when the conservative party of Prime Minister John Howard had gained control of both houses of Parliament for the first time in decades. Within two years, GetUp had grown to over 230,000 members. It ran the largest independent electoral campaign in Australian history, helping return balance to the Senate and sweeping a progressive government into power in Canberra for the first time in a generation. Since the 2007 elections, GetUp members have successfully pushed Australia’s largest bank to drop financing for an environmentally disastrous new pulp mill, put serious reconciliation with the indigenous population at the centre of national debate, and developed a ‘People’s Agenda’ to hold the government accountable to progressive priorities.

38degrees 38degrees.org.uk

38 Degrees launched in the UK in 2009 and now has over 800,000 members working together for change. 38 Degrees members use a variety of different tactics to bring about change, like signing petitions, emailing and phoning MPs and donating to fund newspaper ads about campaigns. Among other achievements, 38 Degrees has helped to stop the government’s plans to privatise ancient national forests, and encouraged the government to sign up to the EU Directive on Human Trafficking

Avaaz www.avaaz.org

Avaaz launched in 2006 with the aim of using the new online model to empower people across the world as global citizens. Since launching, Avaaz has grown by an average of over 20,000 new members a week, with over 10 million members now spanning all 192 countries. When the Burmese Junta launched a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy monks protesting in Rangoon, Avaaz members leapt into action. Massive global pressure squeezed the Junta’s few viable international relationships and forced them to scale back the violence. Avaaz raised over $2.4 million online to help Burma rebuild the democracy movement, and to support monk-led aid efforts to help victims of the cyclone that devastated the Irrawaddy Delta.

Criticisms

Online orgainsing have not been immune to criticism with many commentators simply writing them off as promoting ‘clictivism’ or ‘slacktivism’, meaning that they do not really engage people but simply detract from real action.  In its simplest form this is true, as simple online petitions as run on facebook and many online petition sites arguable have very little effect outside of awareness raising.  Such approaches are more of an online communications tool than real organising tool.  In his article Engagement Ladders: Building Supporter Power, Steve Andersen describes this core difference between online communications and online organising as moving a supporter toward bigger goals and ideally toward unlocking their greater potential.

Probably the most coherent criticism of online organising has come from Malcolm Gladwell in the article Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted which poses interesting questions for the future direction of such organising.  In examining the grassroots tactics that have historically triggered major political change, Gladwell concludes that online organizing has no role in facilitating comparable activism today. He argues, all Internet-enabled activism only “makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”

However Ben Brandzel of Citizen Engagement Lab (CEL), offers an excellent deconstruction of Gladwell’s arguments in the article “What Malcolm Gladwell Missed About Online Organizing and Creating Big Change”  Brandzel points out that Gladwell suffers a serious misunderstanding of how people actually use online tools and confusion about the theory of change behind the historical tactics as well as their modern equivalents. According to Brandzel this article misses the facts that social media tools allow people to communicate and collaborate with entire networks of close friends much faster than ever before.  He also states that by making it possible for just about anyone to receive and broadcast information about personal choices, social media makes our personal networks a far more focused and powerful source of power and courage than ever before.

The future of online Organising

Brandzel does agree that the phenomenon Gladwell and Anderson describe is a real, growing and serious problem and that while the Internet is great at enabling action through information-sharing, it is quite poor at pushing people to do anything they do not want to do.  Brandzel states that a ‘service’ oriented approach to such organising, can greatly increase member buy-in and enable leaders to engage in far more ambitious planning than would otherwise be possible.  In this approach, campaign guidance emerges from membership through carefully measured response metrics and formal input channels.  Taj James and Marilen Manilov also state in their article Movement Building and Deep Change: A Call to Mobilize Strong and Weak Ties that while social media platforms offer new ways of engaging and sharing organisational, national or global stories, they are no substitute for face-to-face engagement and community building.

A growing number of motivated organisations and individuals are starting to treat engagement as a science and really getting serious about finding ways to engage citizens both online and offline. For example groups like the New Organizing Institute (NOI) and Citizen Engagement Laboratory (CEL) now offer a range of excellent trainings, evolving curricula and project incubation resources. NOI, for instance, convenes an annual “Roots Camp” where practitioners honestly share results and refine strategy.

People all over the world are realising that the democratic systems we have inherited are not necessarily built to solve our problems and that change will have to come from either a dramatic reform of this system or from outside the system altogether.  The reason these fundamental flaws in our democratic systems are unlikely to be corrected in the short term is that our elected officials are reluctant to legislate to essentially limit their control and relevance in the modern political sphere.  By decentralising power over everyday decision making, we as citizens would gain more democracy but the traditional political complex would lose all relevance and is naturally doing everything in its power to prevent such decentralisation.  However, withstanding a complete global technological meltdown or serious limitation of online freedoms, online organizing appears to be set to play a huge part in the re-growth of citizen involvement in politics and society.  The key matter to be kept in mind as we move forward is that the technology enabling such movements is simply a tool or a means to an end and that the real power behind such movements is the people themselves.

Further reading on online organising available here:

http://www.echoditto.com/blog/looking-what-works-best-online-organizing-reads-2010

 

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a-Pathetic

In a weekend of depressing news, the discovery that around 1 million New Zealanders failed to cast a vote on Saturday really takes the cake, no matter your political persuasion. So many attempts have been made to get to the bottom of voter apathy and yet no single explanation seem capable of shedding light on the phenomenon. Certainly in this election it can be assumed that the surety of National’s success and Labour’s demise kept some people away, thinking their vote would make little difference either way.

I must also not be alone in despairing at the almost complete lack of political coverage during the Ruby World Cup, save for the odd scandal or new polling data. From memory it wasn’t until the Wednesday following the nail-biting final that a combination of grinning jocks and slippery handshakes disappeared from the front page news, to be replaced by the sudden realisation that the election was a mere six weeks away. Is the turnout so surprising when so few could muster the energy to talk politics over the deafening roar of rugby fever?

Young people have come under even more fire for their particularly dismal turnout, an outcome that the Electoral Commission sought to avoid with its campaign to highlight the low enrolment rate of 18-24 year olds. In 2005 the Commission released a research document on young peoples engagement in political life, finding that a combination of disengagement, naivete, and distrust prevented young non-voters from making an effort. While there is not much to be done about the percentage who thought harder about the weekend than they did about their future, the dismaying revelations that many of those surveyed felt that making no choice was better than making the wrong one (or an ill-informed one) speaks to the scale of the problem.

Veteran commentator Brian Edwards had a thing or two to say on the subject earlier in the election cycle, making a strong case for the relationship between apathy and the glaring lack of civics education in the New Zealand high school curriculum . Having tutored first year politics, I can attest to the astonishing lack of knowledge that many of my fresh-out-of-school students displayed about elections, parliament and the whole democratic shebang. Many were eager to learn but it was certainly an uphill battle for those coming from a position of surprising ignorance. For the vast majority who don’t take a path through law or politics, that basic political education may never arrive. This year’s double whammy election choice (parliamentary and electoral system) may have been the final straw for those who feel overwhelmed by the many choices before them, and perhaps we can’t blame them.

Even as someone who was always going to vote, some of the commentary on this years electoral contests was off-putting to the point of nausea. Specifically, the ‘Battles’ between so-called blokes (John Key and Phil Goff) and babes (Jacinda Ardern and Nikki Kaye, in Auckland Central). It’s almost too depressing to dissect. Key and Goff’s attempts to ‘man up’ – recalling fist fights, revealing an unlikely love of Tui, claiming superior navigation skills –
merely reveal the tragic absurdity of the bloke stereotype. As Marianne Bevan over at Eleven Hours Ahead pointed out, these ‘real men’ which our would be PM’s are desperately trying to mimic never really existed. Moreover, their attempts to buy into this outdated cultural trope serve only to entrench the most harmful stereotypes for men that do linger- be strong, be the everyman, don’t think too hard about anything. Or else. It is difficult to back up my suspicion that few, if any, New Zealanders respond well to this kind of targeted pandering. Even if they did, there is zero justification on the part of both the leaders and the media for promoting the bullshit values that bloke culture perpetuates, at the expense of a legitimate discussion on real challenges that face the nation.

On the flipside, Nikki Kaye and Jacinda Ardern seem to be doing their best to rise above the tidal wave of insulting references to babes, jelly wresting and their martial status’ that have featured so prominently in coverage of their electorate. One particularly appalling article by Johnathon Milne at the Listener insisted their good grooming obviously meant they were vying to out-babe each other, and the only reason he was writing the article (and why we read it) was because the candidates were both young and attractive. And we wonder why female candidates still only make up 33% of Parliament?

Dodgy attempts to generate political controversy are not new. Nor, obviously, are double standards: me strong, you sexy. But let’s not pretend that by accepting shitty reporting and lazy stereotyping we aren’t doing more and more to turn off young people (and old, for that matter) from a crucial process that does so little to include them as is.

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Why I’m voting Green in the New Zealand Election.

(Disclaimer: I’ve been doing a small amount of unpaid volunteer work for the Green Party this election.)

In less than one week in New Zealand us citizens get the chance to share in the once-every-three-year opportunity to action on democratic right to vote. This is important. Representational democracy has lots of problems and is far from perfect, but if nothing else it plays a critical rule in ensuring we don’t ever have to live in a dictatorship.

Compared to going out and ‘doing good things’ in the world around you, voting probably isn’t the most important democratic thing we do. But it is the most symbolic, and like the occupy protests occurring around the world, you somewhat lose your moral right to have an opinion if you don’t participate.

There is a bunch of freedom’s that we have and often forget about, one of these is the freedom to express political views. I think in New Zealand political discussion is treated a bit like religion, something we avoid so as not to accidentally offend. Today, I’d like to use this freedom to write about why I am voting Green.

I’m deeply suspicious of branding, and the green brand is like any other in that one needs to scratch beneath the nice posters, smiling politicians, and nice niceness that branding creates. The Greens are a made of people whose reason for getting into politics is because they give a fuck about certain issues and since these issues are the volition, the reason for them acting, they continue to take precedent. A journey with the Green Party has never been a journey to the seats of power so the lure of ‘being-on-the-end-of-the-phone’ is a lot less powerful. So, yes the Green brand is a brand, but fortunately when this is brand is examined there is a healthy depth of knowledge and policy below the surface.

There are three policy that important for me at the moment, and the Green’s Position on these that is deciding my vote.

1. Urbanism.

Design literacy in this country is sadly lacking. It’s the curse of being a frontier country without thousands of years of built precedent and trial and error of built form. As the Green party is part of an international movement, it understands that public transport and well designed public space are integral parts of the good citiy, healthy society, and an innovative economy. The often cited need to choose between cars and public transport is a false one. We will always need and use cars, however the last 40 years of international research and precedent (London, Copenhagen, New York) show us that planning cities around cars instead of public transport is a failed idea. We fail to recognise this because we alway view the problem from the viewpoint of the individual rather than the city. There is an idiotic article in the NZ Herald today arguing that rail will always fail in New Zealand. What this fails to appreciate is transport decisions don’t just respond to the present needs of a city, they powerfully alter the behaviour of a city in a future and how it grows and changes.   Increasing roads, esp to marginal areas of land leads to low density of housing, which leads to inefficient infrastructure, high rates, destruction of important agricultural land, and an unsustainable reliance on cheap oil to move around the city.   Improving public transport, through all means, bike, bus, rail leads to increased density, this is better for business, and more diverse business, more efficient service delivery, protection of agriculture and natural systems.   All the cities in the world need to re-invent themselves in the next 50 years, and the battle for Auckland and Christchurch is very much on at the moment.

2. Child Poverty.

That a country as rich as New Zealand has a significant poverty problem is an outrage.  That this problem is allowed to affect thousands of children is even more outrageous. That the large majority of these children are Maori and yet we claim to be a healthy post-colonial country is outrageous.  That the solutions to the problems of child poverty exist and are evidenced based and affordable and not enacted is even more outrageous.  This isn’t a political issue, it’s a moral one.   A curse on the houses of both Labour and National for allowing this to happen, and good on the Greens for having the most comprehensive strategy to work with this issue.  For more in depth information about this topic please visit the Every Child Counts website. 

3.    Other

I was going to discuss that I like the Green movement because, popular to contrary belief, it basis it’s humanist policy on evidence and research not by fulfilling the wishes of cashed up lobby groups like the truck, farmer, and alcohol lobbys which write most of the current governments policy.  But actually, I’d be happy if a government could just fix the first two no-brainers on this list.   If we can get agreement on things like 21st Century transport and Child poverty issues, then after that perhaps we can start talking about the more difficult areas of governance, until action is taken on the easy and important issue the Government is a farce.

The fact that the Green’s consistently and patiently argue for these sensible solutions to  long term problems is why I am voting for them on Saturday.

 

 

 

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Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street

Below is a copy and paste of an Official statement from the Occupy Wall Street Protest   We at Freerange Press whole heartily endorse the messages below , the cause, and the enthusiastic use of their right to protest in public space.

Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street – this statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

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Journalism?

New Zealand Herald Columnist Deborah Hill Cone triumphed US billionaire Julian Roberston and the Teach for America programme he backs through one of his charitable foundations in her recent column. Hill Cone says that Robertson is set to bring the re-named American programme Teach for All to New Zealand. This is not the case and misinformation may have come from New Zealand Herald reporter Audrey Young’s interview with Robertson while she was in New York trailing Prime Minister John Key.

Young stated the Robertson Foundation, his charitable vehicle, were planning to set up a version of Teach for America in New Zealand – Teach for All. This is not the case Teach First New Zealand have confirmed with the PPTA that Teach for All will not be coming to New Zealand. The charitable vehicle Aotearoa Foundation is one of Julian Robertson’s many foundations. Robertson has little direct involvement with it and the foundation did not know he had an interview with Audrey Young, thus the information he gave about Teach for All coming to New Zealand was incorrect. Teach First New Zealand have also confirmed that the woman who established Teach for America and developed a “rock star-type reputation”, Wendy Kopp would not be coming to New Zealand.

The proposed Teach First New Zealand is a collaboration with Auckland University’s Faculty of Education. If approved it would recruit a new group of teachers to work in hard-to-staff low decile secondary schools for two years. Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Education told the PPTA the scheme proposes an initial six-week residential summer intensive for top graduates. The scheme is not closely modeled on Teach for America but draws closely from the Teach First Britain scheme which has the backing of a university.

When the PPTA were asked by Deborah Hill Cone about its position on her volunteering in her daughter’s school we replied that we had no issue with this as a qualified teacher would be supervising. Hill Cone claimed the PPTA were against members of the community “chipping in” to help schools. This is simply incorrect. PPTA president Robin Duff said it was problematic when unqualified members of the community started teaching in a core capacity, full-time as this would see a return to the 1960s and 70s when there was no policy to have trained and qualified teachers.

Hill Cone misquoted and stripped the context out of PPTA’s response with little regard to the consequences, she revealed a blatant disinterest in understanding the factual details that lie behind Teach First New Zealand and failed to make contact with them to clarify how they intend to operate their programme if approved.
She dismissed the PPTA’s attempt to help her understand and clarify that Teach for All is not coming to New Zealand.
She failed to mention that PPTA work alongside Teach First New Zealand and that we’ve commissioned a literature review to find out what is working well nationwide with similar schemes and what is failing countries.

The New Zealand Herald have conceded that they made a mistake and have agreed to publish a correction and give the PPTA space in the paper to state its position accurately.

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