Friday, 6 November 2015

Parts of the Job Part 1 - Decision-making meetings (Nominate 2016)

Part of the series Nominate 2016, hoping to open up local government a bit so y'all will at least think about running in 2016.  

There are many parts to the role of an elected member in local government in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I hope to get through the ones I consider most important over time.  First up I'm going to focus on what is sometimes referred to as "the shop front" - decision-making meetings.

Skills you need to be effective:
As you read through this list don't be put off.  You will likely already do a lot of this in other contexts (I'll suggest some in brackets) and if not then with commitment and application you can learn much of it.  These aren't ranked numerically, the numbers are more for discussion reference if you want me or others to expand on that point.

  1. Listening (bet you do that lots already)
  2. Reading (you're doing that now!)
  3. Analysing and thinking critically (the best analogy I have come up with is spotting plot holes.  If you are the kind of person who notices them, and is at least a bit irked, then you can probably do this already)
  4. Asking good questions, and good follow-up questions (what a good question is will depend a bit on context - but in this case I'm talking about asking questions to enlighten you and others in the room, not to score points, but to progress the discussion.  You will likely already do this a lot in low level conflict resolution, eg with family members: "I heard you say you don't like it when I fart in bed, does that mean you also don't like it when I burp in bed?"  "Hmmm, what about if I did it silently?")
  5. Controlling your own reactions (Not to the point of being a mask, but enough that you don't butt in or derail things.  Just like any family gathering really, or parenting, or probably some of the meetings you go to in other contexts)
  6. Actually wanting to do this, or at least being able to pretend that you want to (people can tell really easily if you don't want to be there and that's not really good enough for democracy imho, see also Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness.  You don't have to love every minute but you need to be into it enough to do it properly)
  7. Verbally articulate your views honestly, clearly, succintly (another one you do a lot in writing already especially if you spend much time on Twitter, a five minute opportunity to state your opinion seems excessive after 140 characters!  And this is something you can learn to get better at too, starting with writing up what you want to say, practicising [which I do in the car and the shower often].  To start with it is enough to be able to say, before the actual vote, "I will be voting this way because X" and you can totally do that.)
  8. Debate, somewhat.  (This is the scariest one for most people, but the reality of standing orders [the rules for the meetings] is that the kind of cut and thrust back and forth debate people imagine is actually quite rare.  Usually it is more a case of putting forward your views [as in 7] and then others may put forward opposing ones, and then sometimes you get a chance to reply [which is like updating your 7] but often you don't during the meeting itself.  A lot of debate happens through other forums which is both a plus [allows for less formality, more reconsideration of positions, time to come back to it after thinking and getting more information] and a minus [not always transparent to the public as it ought to be])
  9. Vote.  (Either raising your voice to say a single word at the appropriate moment, or indicating by hand or on a ballot - you do that for reality TV, you do that for the general election, you have totally got this one already).
There are other skills I could mention too that make the work at decision-making meetings effective away from that table, but I'll cover those elsewhere in the series.  

Names for decision-making meetings:

  • Business meetings
  • Public meetings (not to be confused with actual public meetings, ie meetings called by someone / some group to discuss X and not usually empowered to make formal decisions)
  • Board meetings (eg Community Board, Local Board, District Health Board, Board of Trustees)
  • Council meetings
  • Committee meetings (eg Auckland Development Committee, Funding Grants Committee)
  • Monthly meetings (although some bodies meet more or less frequently so might call them something else that reflects time frame)
  • Committee of the Whole (aka COWs, yes COWs - usually a committee that includes all the elected members of an authority, not a subset)
  • Governing Body meeting

Don't let the plethora of names put you off.  In Local Government these meetings generally follow similar formats even if they have different names, and some of them will be the exact same meeting referred to slightly differently by different people, eg all of the above bullet points could be used to describe the Puketapapa Local Board decision-making meetings, except for the last one.  

Time commitment:
This varies greatly from body to body.  It is the key thing you need to be able to commit to doing most if not all of the time, so you need to suss it out carefully.  For the Board I'm on we usually meet one evening per month for up to four hours.  Occasionally we have gone longer, usually we go between three and four hours. 

I advise checking out some of the minutes from the body you are considering running for to get a sense of how often they meet and how long the meetings go for.  Going to these is absolutely crucial; you are a human being, so don't think you have to be at every minute of every one, but going in you should be looking to try, and to either actively want to or be prepared to.  More about my views on how politicians aren't robots when it comes to decision-making meetings here (2011 post).

Format and culture of the meetings:
Again this will vary.  My observations to date (almost exclusively in Auckland) have been that they are reasonably formal, ie there will be someone chairing and they will have a set of rules they run the meeting by (sometimes needing to check with staff for what is and isn't in the rules), often people will not use first names or use titles (Member Smith, Councillor Henare, Your Worship), there will be a place for the decision-makers and their staff and another place for everyone else, those kinds of things.  Most other parts of the role run less formally, some much less formally, than this bit.  

The culture is set by the group, and led by the person chairing to a certain extent.  These are things you can work on consciously away from the meetings themselves too, so how you start doesn't have to be how things always are.  And how they are now, if you go watch one (which is a good idea) isn't necessarily how they might be with different people at the table.  You'd be surprised how much even changing one or two people can change things.  

The format of the meetings is laid out in the standing orders (rules) for that body.  Items covered will include (not necessarily in this order but often):
  • Welcome - sometimes a prayer or message to start the meeting, sometimes just literally "welcome"
  • Introductions - usually part of the welcome, letting those watching know who is at the decision-making table very briefly by name and role
  • Apologies - who isn't there and why - this is usually voted on for accepting or not (and usually accepted)
  • Minutes of previous meeting - in some bodies this will involve scrutinising the past minutes to find any errors, but in local government that is done away from the table before the meeting, so this is usually v quickly accepted too
  • Public input - there are a number of formats for this:
    • Petitions - actual presentation of an actual petition, with signatures and stuff
    • Deputations - longish presentation allowed, followed by questions and sometimes discussion
    • Public forum - short presentation allowed, followed by questions and sometimes discussion
  • Elected member reports - there are lots of different approaches to doing this, some bodies don't do them at all, others do written ones, some allow resolutions (decisions to be voted on), many are verbal updates.  In another post I'll write about how I do it, and other stuff I've seen, as I see this as an important part of the democratic part of the role, but be aware YMMV greatly.
  • Notices of Motion - these are motions (resolutions) that have come directly from elected members and are usually to get a decision on a political matter.  Notices of Motion I have done included seeking a Board position on the Sky City Convention Centre deal, Living Wage and strongly supporting local board input to resource consenting.  Lots of people don't seem to use these much.
  • Agenda reports - these are written by staff (council officers) who are subject matter experts and generally give information and advice and then state recommendations (proposed resolutions/motions) for the decision-makers to debate, change and vote on.  This will form the bulk of the meeting items.  Some items will come up every month (eg we get a montly report from Auckland Transport), others on a regular cycle (six monthly update from Panuku Development Auckland, annual parks renewals work programme), and some in response to earlier resolutions asking for that report so you can then make some formal decisions on a matter.  Check out some agendas to get an idea - sometimes the longest reports actually have the short decisions as they will be providing a lot of background information or updates that don't require political input.  You get good at working out what you do and don't need to read closely.
  • Administrative items - these will vary from body to body, but may include accepting workshop records (who was there, topics discussed), noting when the next meeting will be, passing the progress of the list of resolutions or action items from past meetings.
  • Confidential items - these will usually be at the end of a meeting (for practicality) and may involve commercial sensitivity but most commonly so far in my experience they have been about giving input on things that can't be discussed publicly yet (because the price would go up, or someone might demolish a building, or there is a legal issue).  This is sometimes referred to as "in committee".
For more information on how these can work the body involved will have past minutes and agendas up online.  For example the Auckland Council ones are here (don't be dismayed if things take a while to load, that's not unusual!).

Decision-making meetings are the shop front of the job, not the only important part but definitely one of the most important parts.  You need to be committed to doing them.  Pretty much all the skills you will need to start with are transferable, ie you probably already have them in other parts of your life, eg parenting, other paid work, voluntary commitments.  Don't be scared of this bit, you can do it!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Chris Brown and fairy dust

What to make of Chris Brown being so well supported by a handful of Māori women, some with history of working to prevent family violence, that he's tweeting them to say thank you?

Quite a lot, actually.  It's damn good publicity for Mr Brown to be talking about "strong women" about now, when his ability to tour the world is threatened by his use of violence towards other "strong women."  Some might say his livelihood may depend on his ability to reframe himself, since he's been banned from entering the UK, Canada and most recently, Australia.  While touring isn't the biggest money spinner for musicians these days, it's not looking good for Mr Brown, is it?

So you've beaten up your partner, been caught, hit and run another woman, been caught, beaten up male fans, been caught, threatened to kill a queer man, been caught, beaten up a man on the basketball court, been caught.  These incidents span a period of six years, most recent just last May.

Let's get this straight.  I firmly believe people can stop using abusive behaviour.  That's why I've spent nearly twenty-five years working to end gendered violence.  Violence is social behaviour that people LEARN - it's not inevitable or natural or boys being boys.  It's also not an accident, it's the logical conclusion of all the ways femininity and women are reduced to less than by dominant cultural values.   

Changing violent behaviour - and changing the ways you use power more broadly - is hard work.  It requires honesty, self-reflection, feeling the pain of causing others harm.  Listening to people you've hurt and taking responsibility for never doing that again is about the hardest process I've ever tried to participate in.  Many men who use violence don't seem to have the stomach for it.

The men we look up to matter.  They are part of what stitches together gendered violence, misogyny and sexist oppression.  Does Chris Brown teach young men to treat women, and all other genders with respect or disdain?  Is he the kind of man we want young men in Aotearoa to learn from, emulate, hold up as a role model?

Hell no.

I have no doubt that part of Tariana Turia and other high profile Māori women's support of Chris Brown is disgust at the different ways men of colour and white men are treated when it comes to using violence.  She's right about that, and not just at the immigration border.  I went to a Refuge hui once where Māori women were talking about criminalisation of Māori men, and Pākehā women were talking about not being able to get adequate police responses to white middle class male perpetrators.  I've personally seen the police not charge white men who have knifed their partners, and put their partners in hospital after beatings - even when they knew he was the perpetrator.  The reality is, whiteness is like a magic cloud of fairy dust in all kinds of ways, and when it comes to causing violence, it's the best way to avoid consequences, particularly when combined with middle class belonging. 
But the answer's not extending the white fairy dust to Chris Brown.  It's extending the calling out of the use of violence - with associated sanctions - to white entertainers too.  The flip-side of constructing men of colour as scary violent thugs - racist and damaging as this is to Black masculinities - is the invisibility of white men's violence, in all kinds of ways.  So next time the Rolling Stones tour, let's have just as much public discussion of Bill Wyman's acknowledged statutory rape and their lyrics promoting raping Black women as the publicity Mr Brown has attracted this last week or so.  That would be progress around ending gendered violence.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness (Nominate 2016)

Part of the series Nominate 2016, hoping to open up local government a bit so y'all will at least think about running in 2016.  

Fairey's Theory of Awesomeness
Some elected people think they have been elected because they are awesome.  For those who think this, all they will likely do, once elected, is continue to radiate their awesomeness.  Avoid members of Team Awesome; please don't be one and please don't vote for one.
I've noticed there are really two main kinds of people who are politicians, by which I mean elected people like me.  There are those who think they are elected because they are awesome, and those who have a broader understanding of why they are elected and what the role is.  In my opinion you do not want to vote for the former, and if you run you do not want to be the former either.  

How can you pick who is on Team Awesome?
Those on Team Awesome will of course differ in their individual practice but can often be discerned by markers such as:
  • Low attendance at meetings, briefings and the like that are part of the elected role, particularly if formal minutes are not being taken or the public are not present and/or it is a consultation process where listening and answering questions is key - why would they need to go, they already know how to be awesome!
  • Often very quick responses to public scrutiny such as angry constituent emails, but then no actual follow through on the issue raised - the very fact that they have shared their awesomeness with you by replying is sufficient!
  • A lack of detail in their reporting, or possibly even just no reporting at all - they don't need to prove their awesomeness to anyone, yo, it is self-evident.
  • Confusion between governance and management/operational and also potentially quite a removed idea of governance - their role is to be awesome, that's it!
  • Good blurb and soundbites - because of the awesomeness!
  • Inability to have a detailed dialogue about an issue beyond soundbites - detail and knowledge is for people who aren't awesome!
  • Few completed projects, few if any with much complexity - the awesomeness does not fit well with persistence and consistency, two qualities essential to getting projects done in a democratic environment, sadface.
If you think the above is acceptable once you are elected then please don't run.  This isn't what being a politican is.  For some posts I wrote much earlier (2013) on what being a politician is and can be see here and here.  I'll be revisiting that theme later in this series.

Why does it matter?
Sadly some do operate on the basis of their own awesomeness, and often times they get re-elected too, and they not only give all politicians a bad name, more importantly they fundamentally undermine what can be achieved through the democratic process.  They short change constituents by having a limited vision of the role, of what local government can achieve, and also by spending the time and resources they have access to on being awesome instead of Getting Stuff Done.  (More on what Getting Stuff Done can look like in another post!)  Often they get in the way of people who are trying to get on with the Getting Stuff Done, sometimes deliberately (especially if they are a small government advocate I have found, aka a small c conservative), sometimes accidentally by diverting attention and resources, and other times by the sheer amount of will to live they suck out of other people around them.

TLDR:  It is better to get awesome stuff done than to be seen to be awesome.  If you care about this and want to be involved in making it better then nominate, if you want to be awesome then find somewhere else to do that please. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

This isn't trolling, this is abuse

Anita Sarkeesian is a brave woman who speaks out about the misogyny of video games and the abuse directed at her as a result.

"Women are much more likely to be harassed in online spaces than men, and the harassment is much more likely to be sexually violent. A 2006 study by the University of Maryland found that when the gender of a username appears to be female, the user is 25 times more likely to experience harassment. That same study found that those female-sounding usernames averaged 163 threatening or sexually explicit messages a day."

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Nominate 2016 - A series of posts encouraging you to run for local government

Hello there folks,
I am intending to write a series of posts about local government politics, with the aim of enlightening and also encouraging people, particularly the kind of people who read this blog, to run for the 2016 local government elections.

Why?  Well it is a great opportunity to work with others to make change in your community and your region.  Yes it can be incredibly frustrating, and not everyone is suited to the work.  I'm hoping that through writing this series you'll get a sense not only of what is possible to achieve in local government if you are elected but also if you don't run but are interested in making local change working alongside those who do.  There should be some helpful bits that will assist with assessing candidates for your own 2016 votes as well.

Why now?  Because even though the voting doesn't happen until September/October 2016 if you are going to run it's a good idea to start thinking about that now.  I don't know a lot about the tickets (groups of candidates usually with common policies) in areas outside Auckland (and even in some parts of Auckland), but I do know that many will be turning their minds to who to ask to run for them next year now and over the next few months.  One ticket in Auckland is selecting their candidates shortly! (the Labour team for the Henderson Massey Local Board).  While you may not need to make a definite decision about running until as late as July 2016, if you want a good shot at getting elected then a bit of time put in now and over the rest of this year is a good idea.  Not a lot of time, mind, just a bit!

Why run?  I'll go into that in more detail in a future post.  At this point what I want to say is that I never imagined I would be a local government politician - this was an accidental career change for me - and I had no idea of the potential of the role and what councils can achieve, alongside the community, if they have elected people who operate with respect, vision and principles rooted in democracy and embracing the possible (rather than the small c conservatism that seems to dominate much local government thinking and makes change really hard).

Put briefly I am a relative rarity in local government (under 50, a woman, with young children, openly feminist and left of centre); I want to see more people like me running, and even more people who aren't a bit like me running.  We desperately need diversity at the table, not least because that will result in better decision-making and new ideas.

This post will serve as an overview of the series and also an index - I'll put links to new posts up here as they go up.

I hope this series turns out to be useful, and I'm very open to suggestions for topics (I have canvassed social media and have a long list of suggestions now but feel free to add more in comments or through my other available means.)


Take Back the Night - AKL - 28th Aug

What:  Take Back the Night
When:  7:00pm, Friday 28 August 2015
Where:  Meet Corner of Symonds St and Alfred St, Auckland Central

The march will conclude with a rally in Aotea Square with awesome speakers, poetry and music.
This year as we celebrate our communities coming together to reclaim our right to walk our city at night - indeed all the time - without fear, we are mindful that the Law Commission's report on sexual violence trials is due to be released in September. Let's bring the issue of sexual violence and rape culture to the forefront!

Organised by Auckland Feminist Action.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Biphobia and Radio New Zealand

Dear Radio New Zealand,

Thank you for investigating the impact of marriage equality on sexuality and gender diverse communities (which I’m going to call “queer”) in your recent news article.  It’s most welcome to have ongoing attention to the ways in which discrimination and oppression are experienced by queer people in Aotearoa.

Many of the speakers were interesting, thoughtful and eloquent.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Elizabeth Kerekere as centring takatāpui experience should be part of any conversation of queer rights in Aotearoa.  And I loved the use of “queer” as an umbrella term by Radio NZ, though I know it's a contested term.

I missed any acknowledgment of issues for intersex people, particularly when Aotearoa is the home of one of the most internationally respect intersex human rights advocates in Mani Mitchell. Intersex people face unwanted and intrusive health practices throughout their lives as a result of binary understandings of sex. These things have been completely unaddressed by marriage equality.

I also missed any investigation of changes for queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, since in all those communities, queer activists raised issues and pushed MPs to vote in support of queer rights, with varying degrees of success. I wondered what, if anything, those conversations have opened up for queer people in those communities.

The concern I'm best placed to speak to though, as a Pākehā cis bisexual woman, relates to the biphobia and bi-erasure in the article. From the very first sentence in both the news story and the podcast, we were told queer rights were about “gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.” But bisexual people were not just absent, like intersex people and queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, we were completely erased. The “B” in LGBTIQ is too often silent, but this article took it to new levels.

You said:
"A study published by University of Auckland researchers last year found one in five same-sex attracted youth had attempted suicide in the past year - a rate five times higher than their straight counterparts.  Nearly half had thought about killing themselves, and just short of 60% had self harmed."
FALSE: That study is about same and both-sex attracted young people.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

You mentioned in the podcast that international research shows homophobia is experienced by “gay and lesbian” sportspeople in Aotearoa.

FALSE: That study is about bisexual, lesbian and gay sportspeople.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

The article referred to marriage equality repeatedly as same-sex marriage. This invisibilises both bisexual and trans people. There were gains for some trans people from this legislation, because for some it meant marriages that had been legal before transitioning but not after can now be legally recognized. And for bisexual people who have been able to marry different gender partners but not similar gender partners, this was a significant gain, and one which our submissions often explicitly discussed. "Marriage Equality" as a phrase in Aotearoa was about making sure this issue did not hide queer community people who do not identify as lesbian or gay. 

The word bisexual was not mentioned once. The word biphobia was not mentioned once. I understand both were used by at least one of the people you interviewed, but this was edited out.  Just like bisexual people.

You might not be sure why this matters, I guess.  So let me tell you.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the poorest mental health outcomes of all sexualities, and we hold onto those poor mental health outcomes for longer, because when lesbians and gay men get older and find community, that can be protective for mental health. That’s not always true for bisexual people.

Biphobia and bi-erasure also mean bisexual people have the highest rates of substance misuse of all sexualities. We use alcohol and drugs differently, and in more problematic ways.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the highest rates of sexual and partner violence of all sexualities.  This is true for bisexual women and bisexual men. We are targeted for violence because of our gender and sexuality identity, and biphobic attitudes often form part of partner violence for us.

Biphobia and bi-erasure often make queer spaces very uncomfortable for bisexual people, and this impacts on our health and wellbeing.

None of these vulnerabilities – unlikely to be impacted much if at all by marriage equality – have anything to do with what it means to acknowledge attractions and loves for more than one gender. They are to do with the ways bisexual lives are invisibilised and stereotyped in mainstream culture.

Please do this better next time. Bisexual people have been active in campaigning for and writing rights based legislation for queer people in Aotearoa for decades. We deserve to be included and have our distinct issues treated with respect.

Yours truly,

UPDATE: 11 August 2015.  The response received from Radio NZ said:

Thanks for your feedback.  I absolutely take your point and will pass on your message to my editor - as a broadcaster you'll understand we're constantly trying to get our scripts as tight as possible but I see the issue of erasure apparent here. I've taken it on board, and will ensure to be more inclusive and clearer in the future. Again, I do appreciate the feedback, as it really makes a huge difference in how I tell stories and explore issues going forward.
I asked if they could edit the online print story to include the word bisexual where it's appropriate (which they have done) and note the erasure and omission at the end as a problem (which they have not done).  The journalist concerned was gracious and has reiterated that they intend to approach queer stories differently in the future.  I hope that's what ends up happening. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Dom Harvey is a coward.

There has been a lot of back and forth about the stupidity of Dom Harvey taking still frames of a woman dancing in order to get a photo of her knickers/three pairs of stockings/leotard.
First things first. Most performers don’t get to choose their costumes. If they do try to, they get labeled difficult. Any performer knows this. So slut shaming someone for an outfit they don’t chose is a pretty low hit.
Secondly, in order to see ANYTHING of a smutty level in a dance outfit there would have to be a serious malfunction. When I was dancing I wore a g string, then my skin tone tights, then my costume undies, then, then fishnets or costume tights, then my leotard or skirt. Sorry to ruin the day of the losers responsible for this being an actual thing on google search

But you aren’t gonna see anything, no matter how much time you waste re watching and freezing shots to take pics. Creep.
My next point has not been covered yet as far as I can see. There has been a lot of discussion about what is and isn’t funny and who is and isn’t public property, and what parts of a woman’s body are and aren't ok to view if it is already “out there”. But there has been no mention of the cowardice involved.
Cowardice? What? This was a quick joke. He picked the only obvious target right?
 She was the only appropriate target... the only woman wearing a dress short enough to catch a glimpse of her knickers as she executed a lift or jump. The only person who would be suitable for this “Joke”.
Well GOLLY. If only there was a woman there dancing incredibly with her legs in the air in a similar fashion on the same show, on that same night. A woman with media power, a woman with the power to change people’s careers because she is well connected. A woman who if she didn’t like the joke could really mess with Dom Harvey’s future. A woman with the Queen’s service medal.

If only such a woman existed, Dom Harvey could have used her as his target and proved his claims of humor, punching up, and showing that he takes the mickey out of everyone, no matter how powerful. If only there were such a woman, the joke might work. It wouldn’t be a pathetic little perve taking the mickey out of a woman who has so little control out of her image that this may be the one thing she is remembered for.
If he had used Candy, the joke still wouldn’t be a good one, it would still be creepy as hell. But if she has the power to respond without the entirety of New Zealand media shitting on her, that would be a start right??

Pity there was no other woman he could have chosen… then people might have noticed what a coward he was.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

In the half-light

My third child is six weeks old today.  For almost all of that time he and I have been living in a kind of dim twilight world, half-lit and full of unusual faint noises, as we navigated the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) together.  We started out in Level 3, the most acute level of care, travelled across the ward to Level 2 for a few days, and then finally to Level 1, the Parent Infant Nursery.  I was discharged from neighbouring Ward 96 at Day 7, and baby came home late last week.

For those who haven't been to NICU, which will be most people, it's something of a shock, or at least it was to me.  Not only are the lights dim and the noises somewhat muffled, there are medical machines everywhere, including empty incubators cluttering the corridors at times.  Pings and beeps and whooshing noises in the more intensive rooms, rushes of laughing chatter amongst nurses and parents sporadically in others, loud alarms that catch you unawares occasionally.  It's like an old-fashioned library but with a few babies instead of many books.  You expect to be shushed at any moment.

The outcome for our whanau has been good.  Baby (nicknamed Early) decided to come eight weeks ahead of schedule (well seven ahead of mine, but that's a story for another time) and so he needed to cook for a bit longer basically.  The care and support we received astonished me, not just for the medical needs of my child but also for my health and wellbeing, mentally and physically.  I have come away very much wishing that every parent, new or experienced, could access this level of support for a period after birth if they wanted to; a lactation consultant checking in with all the breastfeederers every few days, friendly reminders that you could go eat lunch while a nurse watched over your child, help learning to do what they call "the cares" (take temperature, change nappy, top and tail wash, followed by a tube feed and later on breastfeeds), practical support with bathing these tiny creatures, comfy chairs that you could nap in, social worker and mental health workers available to come and have a chat.

Despite the excellent level of care and support coming home has very much felt like emerging from a long dream; not quite a nightmare, for us anyway, but not the kind of dream you'd really enjoy and lie in bed wishing you could dive back into.  The people who live in the half-light of NICU are of three kinds; exhausted stressed parents spending as many hours as they can at the cot-side while juggling everything else in life, efficient calm medical staff effectively going about their work, visitors who are only in the library to browse a little while and feel very much like interlopers.

There is an odd kind of camaraderie amongst the parents, I found.  Introductions are about baby names, gestation at birth, and how long you've been Here (ie in NICU).  It was days before I found out the name of a neighbouring mother in Level 1, and in the end I worked out the trick is to read their names on the bottles of milk in the fridge - every baby has stacks of sticky labels BABY OF LAST NAME, FIRST NAME that go on everything.  It sometimes felt like I had some extra status because my baby had been in Level 3 (the most acute level of care) and had come earlier than most (at almost 32 weeks).  People are careful not to ask too many questions about the health of the baby; no one wants bad news and there's always someone worse off than you.

I recognised a Level 1 mother by the toenails I had spied through a door in Level 2 - I remembered because they had taken all of my nail polish off before the emergency c-section but she still had hers and I wondered why (because acrylics I found out later).  Four of us in Room 18 bonded over weigh ins and hopes to graduate to the parent room (where you stay overnight with your baby) before going home.  We've arranged to keep in touch.

Now that we are home, and the sunlight comes through the windows in every room, my strongest memory is of the first room Early was in - Room 2 in Level 3.  Warm, dim, quiet.  Ratio of one or two nurses to each baby.  The gentle pings of oxygen saturation alarms.  Sitting in the lazy-boy staring at my impossibly small child through the incubator plastic, too dazed by drugs and the circumstances to do more than pat him from time to time, and sometimes only brave enough to pat the incubator as I dropped off pumped milk.  The incredible kindness of the nurses and staff.  The sense that the baby in the neighbouring room had it much much worse.  Waiting for bad news that didn't come, and feeling lucky and grateful and humbled.

I hope you never have to go to NICU.  I wish I hadn't.  And I am very very glad it exists.

Monday, 13 July 2015

If you're saying the same kinds of things as Paul Henry, you should probably stop talking

Remember when Paul Henry wasn't sure if our Governor General was enough of a New Zealander? He wanted someone who "looked" and "sounded" "more of a New Zealander" than Anand Satyanand.

Remember when New Zealand Police prosecuted New Zealand citizens as overstayers because their names sounded Polynesian or they looked brown, even though most overstayers were from the UK and Australia?

Well, we have the latest installment of You're Not A Real New Zealander Unless You're White, from the party that brought us the dawn raids, with Phil Twyford able to tell from last names whether or not people belong here.  This time it's Chinese people that are targeted, and as Keith Ng has already pointed out, Winston Peters couldn't have said it better.

Whiteness is like a magic card that gets you into all the best places.  Sure, it impacts on people differently, but it makes any other area of your life where you might be missing out easier, automatically.

I lived in the UK for 12 years, courtesy of a Scottish grandmother and a friendly (to me) immigration system.  I was always at home there - despite not being from there - until I opened my mouth and my kiwi vowels pierced the stiff upper lips of those nearby.  Whiteness travels well, even for bogan queer girls.

Someone with a "Chinese" last name might have been here since 1860.  When will they be allowed to say they belong?  When will Phil Twyford be ok with them becoming a homeowner?

Alongside the vicious racist dog whistling of Twyford, there's the complete idiocy of blaming the lack of housing in Auckland on an ethnic minority, rather than on the greed of those profiteering from our ridiculous, out-dated property laws.  You know who should be an easy target, Labour, when it comes to Auckland housing being inequitable?  You know who you should be able to ask questions about, when we have some New Zealanders living in housing so awful it's making them sick, or so cold it's killing them?

People making sure there's no such thing as a capital gains tax, while they rake in their dosh each week from multiple, million dollar properties, just because our economic systems make it possible.  It's not racist dog whistling you need, it's whistle blowing on the Richwhites