Years ago, I was with a mate in a shop, and he was treated dreadfully by the person behind the counter. As we walked up the road I said, “I wouldn’t have put up with being treated like shit by that woman”. His reply has stuck with me forever. He said, “you’re not a Māori”.
I was reminded of this conversation when last week I linked an article from the Sunday Times https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/300440848/covid19-vaccination-how-mistrust-shadows-the-rollout-in-a-time-of-crisis. about a Black Power member aged 26. She has been harassed all her life by the state and its agencies (she has never had a conviction) in little, and often, big ways. When she was 6, she remembers being forcibly removed from her screaming mother. It’s a sad fact that State agencies misuse their powers constantly despite checks and balances.
This made me think about those who are in the “hard-to-get” final group of New Zealanders who are either resisting, or can’t be bothered, getting vaccinated. My family has told me off for being intolerant toward vaccine avoiders. I just look at what they will cost to the health system in this country if they get Covid 19.
I know that there are a variety of people who are resisting having a Covid vaccine. Some have become distracted by the nonsense on social media, which they then believe. I have watched some of these social media videos and am staggered that anybody finds them believable.
However, one thing which caused me to pause with my judgement toward the non-vaccinators was the article above and that young woman quoted in it. It made me think about how large numbers of people in this country are either ambivalent, or even hostile, toward the government and its agencies, and society in general. During the week I have been troubled by this article. I raised it in my conversations with many.
There will always be people who wish to remain as isolated from the general population as is possible. People who have been hurt and live constantly in the state of feeling rejected. Then there are those who have never engaged. The question in my head is how did this happen?
As I travelled through the part of the North Island I grew up in last year, it staggered me at the little towns which have all but died since I last visited in the 1970’s. This happens to small towns when the main source of their economy moves on. These towns often had serviced the railways. As you enter Taihape from the North there is a row of railway houses still intact. Built for when railway was king. Every one of those houses housed a railway worker and their family. Now they don’t. When corporatisation happened in the 1980’s these people were paid a redundancy payment and their house was often put on the market. Or pulled down.
Let us just think about Railways, or the Forest Service, or the Ministry of Works. Each day thousands of New Zealanders got up out of bed and went to work in these departments. Their kids saw their parents as having a purpose in life. “Dad/Mum works for the railways” etc. Then dad, or mum, had nowhere to go. Their town rotted. So did they. Many picked up traps and left the towns. I know. I worked with many of them as they battled unemployment as sections of government “corporatized”, and then were sold. To the Business Roundtable’s mates.
Many of those families have never recovered. In many cases there will now be three generations of people disconnected from our society. The dignity of work has bypassed them. We have filled the prisons with young people who have found solace in gangs, where they are welcomed.
So, instead of feeling angry with these people not feeling part of our society and not getting vaccinated maybe we need to look on them as indicators of a lack of love in our economy. We have adopted words like “efficiency” and “market forces” and treated them as gospel. Money is God. Society so often measures somebody’s worth in financial terms. If you are a “beneficiary” too often you are portrayed as making little, if any, contribution to society.
So, why should these people feel anything but despair and alienation? They have no dignity of work. They don’t own their house. They move from place to place often. What do they get from society? Just enough money to fail. Their landlord is propped up and rewarded for their tax-free capital gain, supported to the tune of $2.3b by the state every year with accommodation supplements. Ruth Richardson saw to that. Where Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble and Labour’s financial crew ended, Ruth Richardson finished it up.
Chris Trotter recently wrote:
“To have any reasonable expectation of producing social cohesion, it is first necessary to ensure that as many people as possible have jobs to go to, houses to live in, easily accessible educational and health services for themselves and their children, generous support in old age, and the ability to participate meaningfully in the political and cultural life of their country. Provide these things and social cohesion will emerge naturally. A population which feels secure in its material existence has little incentive to exploit or harass its weakest and most vulnerable communities.”
My mate Vivian Hutchison recently wrote a book called “How Communities awaken”, where, amongst many other things, he discussed the need for society to have a Commitment Conversation. Here’s the quote:
- What I have learned is that lip service does not really want you to have the Commitment Conversation. And it is the way that our major systems are structurally kept in denial of their need for transformational change.
- Lip service is so highly developed in our culture that it comes smartly dressed up is marketing messages, policy advice, and political talking points. There are entire job descriptions and economies in contracts based on this avoidance of the need for real change.
- Lip service is essentially an instrument of power and one of the dark arts of privilege. And it is toxic to our communities because it occupies the space we need to act and to make a real difference.
That’s where we have got to. Get people into jobs and into their own homes. Nurture their whanau. Stop the spending on negatives and make this an inclusive society. Then people might get their Covid jobs. That will take time.