For f**k’s sake please vote in the local elections

(Asterisks included above for the sake of content filters on work computers. Is that still a thing? It used to be a thing.)

The sun is out, the buds are on the trees, and every main road is suddenly lined with signs showing unfamiliar faces saying VOTE FOR ME! You know what that means: it’s local election time!

Soon an envelope will arrive and you will put it on the stack of things you will definitely get to, and then SMASH CUT to like two months later and you find the envelope again and you never even opened it, and you have a little chuckle at yourself because, hey! It’s only local government, right?

Well I have something to say: NOT THIS YEAR, BUDDY-O! Heck no! This year you’re gonna open that envelope and vote! Because this year your local government elections are the front line of a crucial fight!

Your local elections vote has never had as much riding on it!

You will of course have noticed that things have gone a bit… weird in the last few years. Like, David Bowie died in January 2016 and it all kind of went wrong from there? Of course things were quietly going wrong a long time before that, but in 2016 the wrongness got hold of a vuvuzela and now it’s Blaring Loud Wrongness, Keeping You Up At Night.

And all that wrongness is going to smash right into your local government. Unless you stop it.

Here are two urgent, crucial problems that show why voting matters extra bigly this time.

Problem 1: The allies of fascism are infiltrating government

That description reads like hyperbole, the kind of overheated claims you’d find in the weird corners of Indymedia in 2001. It is honestly a bit hard to accept that this is where we are now.

But we are. If you haven’t already, take the time to review the Stuff Circuit investigation by Paula Penfold & colleagues, Fire and Fury: Disinformation in New Zealand. The hourlong documentary is an intense and sobering watch.

Image from Fire & Fury (Stuff)

A very active set of agitators are busy every day spreading disinformation, fomenting hatred, putting violence on the table. They are chewing on the table legs of our society.

Standing for local election was an idea that circulated widely through these networks, with the explicit aim of making the country ungovernable. As a result, many candidates aligned with conspiratorial views, or worse, have entered local election races. Most of these have kept their affiliations secret.

If elected, they will haul water for this country’s rising ring of fascist agitators. They will disrupt government and provide a platform for fascist recruitment and organising.

We have to vote to keep them out.

(Again, I can hardly believe that I am typing this as a fair description of what is taking place in this country, but that’s where we are. The long 2016 is a deeply weird time to be alive.)

Problem 2: Climate change is local now

Climate change has been a challenge for a long time (I’ve been writing about it on this blog since it was an email newsletter, way back when email newsletters were a thing, oh hey they are a thing again) but we are in a new phase now. Unprecedented weather disasters are finally dragging top-level political actors to the table – heck, even the USA has successfully passed a major climate action bill!

The new urgency is this: dealing with climate change at street level. All those slips around the Hutt and Wellington are a portent of things to come, unexpected trouble all over. We need to build resilience! Our councils need people who are prepared to be prepared.

Image from this Stuff article, Why are there so many slips in Wellington?

But that’s just a side issue compared to the real challenge ahead: massive community transformation!

We need to redesign our towns and cities into new forms. For example, we need a completely new approach to transport. Public transport and active transport have to become the easiest and best ways to get around our communities!

Local and regional government will be forced to make some very big calls, soon. (In fact they are already doing this!) Over the next five years, decisions made by your local body will decide the future shape of your community.

These will be some of the most consequential and far-reaching decisions ever made by local government! Your council needs people who are prepared to be brave.

We have to vote for them.

Heck yeah I’m gonna do the thing, except how??

You’re gonna do the thing! You’re going to vote! So… what now?

  • START A TEAM-UP! You probably have a few trusted friends who live in the same electoral area as you? Ask if they want to team up on figuring out who to vote for. Many hands make light the work, and more fun the work too. Small group action: this is the way.
  • IDENTIFY THE ROCKING GOOD CANDIDATES! You can’t downvote the infiltrators, so you have to help the super-sweet candidates to out-compete them! This election guide covering all candidates is essential: plug in your address and it tells you who is standing for what in your area.
  • TELL YOUR NETWORKS! Personal recommendations are THE most powerful thing in local body elections. People will generally pay attention to what they hear from friends and neighbours, much more than from any other source. So don’t do the hard work of figuring out who to vote for, only to keep it all to yourself! Instead, get the word out!


Karen ‘Kaz’ Yung – photo from the election guide website

Here’s who I am backing in the Hutt City Council elections: Karen Yung, a.k.a. Kaz.

Kaz is standing for council in the city-wide field, not tied to any specific ward. So she’s going to be on the ballot paper for everyone here, all across Hutt City.

I’m going to give her a tick because I am impressed by her commitment to ground-level community engagement, and because I like her focus on addressing the challenges of climate change.

I voted for her last elections too. She almost got into council then and I am confident her reputation has only increased since. I have followed her on Facebook over the last few years, while she has continued to be very active in the community and has served on the Petone Community Board. She’s just a really good candidate and will be an exciting new voice on council.

Check out Kaz’s entry in the election guide mentioned above.

And you can see what she’s up to and where to meet her on her Facebook campaign page.

If you’re in the Hutt, make sure you consider Karen Yung at voting time!

Safety & exclusion at the Dowse

The Dowse Art Museum here in controversial Lower Hutt is hosting an exhibition with a video component that only women will be allowed to view. The video shows Muslim women getting ready for a wedding. Limiting views to women is a condition of display, in accordance with the wishes of the subjects.

This has got people talking, unsurprisingly, but most of what is being said is dumb.*

As far as I can tell, sitting under this issue are two contrary positions, and I don’t think they’re self-evident. Here’s my take on them:

“A public gallery must not share an artwork if some people will be excluded from seeing it.”
“A public gallery can share an artwork even if some people must be excluded from seeing it in order for the subjects to feel safe.”

Now, the way I’ve written that second position is important. I think most people who align with the first position think they’re arguing against something different, namely this: “A public gallery can share an artwork even if some people must be excluded from seeing it because another culture says so.”

This is a spectacularly unhelpful framing, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because it treats culture difference as the final word. Their culture is just different to ours, and in this case, it’s offensively different! But culture isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning. Look under the hood, and you find that cultural differences are almost always just different expressions of values that are shared across cultures. Here, it’s about safety, and about how people in different cultures feel safe. In the culture shown in this video display, safety is heavily gendered in a way it isn’t here.

If you accept my framing that talks about safety, then you have a discussion on your hands, a proper ethical conundrum. Does safety justify exclusion? Can exclusion ever be justified? It would be nice to have that discussion. I see no signs of it so far, though.

My personal view right now? I have to say it doesn’t bother me. Here’s why:

I want New Zealand to be a multicultural society, and that means one that accepts cultural practice that is not consonant with our own expectations. If we want to welcome people from other cultures, then we have to give them space on our turf to do things their way. It’s that simple.

(What’s not simple is figuring out exactly how far that goes. FGM is not to be blithely welcomed in my multicultural NZ, for example. Where to draw a line has to be carefully, probably painfully, argued out over generations; but the starting point and the principle is nonetheless clear.)

So I’m totally cool with an art gallery following an other-culture’s ideas, including a public-funded gallery as a small part of its ongoing work. Violating my cultural norms for a short time seems like a small price to pay to give space for, and access to, another culture.

And yes, the norm here is involves gendered discrimination. The idea of gender equality is awesome when it’s used to attack the concentration of social power in men. But that just doesn’t apply here; this is about protecting the social power of women. I think I support this inequality for the exact same reasons I support equality in the vast majority of contexts.

Also: there’s an idea that allowing this exclusion weakens the general principle of equality in our society. I don’t buy it. Maybe someone could convince me, but I just don’t see how you can get there from here.

Also 2: yes, there might be legal issues – if this is non-compliant with Human Rights legislation, then it’s gotta go, because that’s the law. But it’ll seem to me like an exercise of law that isn’t warranted, a false positive on the spirit of the legislation.

That’s where I’m sitting right now. Totally open to being pushed or pulled around on this, should a sober exploration of this ethical situation ever eventuate. Ha ha.

* Really dumb. There’s a lot of talk about political correctness, obscenity, Sharia law, thin edges of wedges, and numerous tangential comments on Maoris and playdough. The complainant getting media is a perfect example of this type, and I think it’s obvious his opposition is bound up with some unpleasant stereotypes and fears.