Welfare protest - back to the cells

Arrested for the first time in over a decade in protest against welfare reforms - a response to the critics - and I also stage a return to Pundit

Yesterday I was arrested on a protest action for the first time since before I was elected to Parliament in 1999. It’s been a while.

There has been heaps of support coming in from people  all over the country who understand why  Auckland Action Against Poverty mounted an occupation of the regional Ministry of Social Development office in the wake of Paula Bennett’s latest welfare announcement.

At the same time, there have, of course, been complaints arriving as well, particularly via social media. I’m going to respond to a few of these, for the benefit of those who don’t quite understand why some of us chose to protest yesterday, even at the almost certain risk of arrest and prosecution.

‘I don’t get how tying yourself to a desk at MSD does any good.’

Five of us chained ourselves around a pillar in the middle of the MSD office, two others scaled the roof and draped a banner from it, while the rest of our group held a rowdy picket outside.

The reason for this action was to highlight the anger and desperation so many people feel about the National Government’s ongoing welfare changes  and the impact they are having on hundreds of thousands of unemployed people and beneficiaries – and their children.

On Monday night Campbell Live screened a segment comparing school lunches in two different parts of Auckland. Many people, including, I believe, hardened journos, were saddened by what this revealed.

The current tragedy is that the changes being so enthusiastically promoted by Paula Bennett will only lead to even more children going without lunch – or dinner, or decent clothing – or even a home at all.

By using sanctions that cut people’s benefits by 50% or 100% for not following all sorts of new rules, the outcome will be that even more children will go without.

Many people on income support are in too vulnerable a position to speak up or protest, especially in the climate of fear generated by the Natasha Fuller case

I believe that it is vital that those of us who care and who are in a position to take action do so.

These reforms in their totality are brutal and pointless, aimed simply at cutting beneficiary numbers as fast as possible, rather than taking any account (apart from the human costs) of what the taxpayer will have to pay downstream – see this recent calculation that current child poverty levels already cost us $10b a year.

Non-violent direct action which highlights and confronts Government policies which endanger peoples’ wellbeing is as valid a tool of political action as becoming an MP,  possibly even more so, given the current Parliament’s inability to deal with the endemic and deepening poverty, unemployment and housing crises.

'How many people were denied help yesterday because WINZ staffers couldn’t do their jobs?'

Our group is well aware of the risk of disrupting Work & Income offices. We had no intention of making life harder for people coming in for assistance. This is why we chose to occupy the regional head office of MSD which is not a place where members of the public come for help.

‘Sue, grow up … get real and stop being a victim.’

Actually, I rather think I grew up quite a long time ago, when I realised in my early teens that we live in a world where the only way to channel sheer anger at injustice, war and oppression was to organise with others to fight back and change our economic and political system to one in which every child that’s born has a chance of a decent life, not just some of us.

I don’t see myself as a victim in any way whatsoever, nor do I pretend to be one for some unfathomable reason.

While we’ve got a Government which delights in waging war on its most vulnerable citizens I think the most mature, un-victim like response is indeed to work with others to expose and oppose what’s going on.

And to those who might say that our actions are all about oppositional politics and not about solutions – in fact, I have since 1983 done a lot of work, with others, on putting up alternative solutions to unemployment and poverty, and even went to Parliament for 10 years in the hope I‘d get a chance to implement them.

Failing that, I've returned to the streets… and the cells… and to university, where I’m  a full-time doctoral candidate in public policy.

'Having an iPad on a protest?"

Well, fancy – yes, you WhaleOil.  Yes, I took an iPad into yesterday’s occupation so I could communicate via facebook and twitter about what was happening – at least until the police seized all our belongings.

I can’t quite see the problem here – after all,  we live in a world where right and left alike have lauded the Arab Spring protesters for their use of  social media.

Seems as though in some people’s eyes such lauding only applies when it’s in someone else’s country.  

Some of you may have noticed that it’s over a year since I last posted a blog for Pundit.

I took time out when I was selected to stand for the Mana Movement in last year’s general election, as this forum certainly isn’t a suitable vehicle for political party platforms.

We are now well out of the election zone, so I’m back.

It’s good to be here, and I look forward to re engaging with all you Pundit crew and readers.