The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hate something? Change something!

And so it has come to pass that there is an internal political battle within the youth wing of one of New Zealand's political parties. Because that never happened before, in the history of Aotearoa's politics, it is being reported and discussed far* and wide.

Many moons ago, when I was up to my ears in student politics, I knew a really quite nice young man who was a Young Nat. For some time I didn't know of his political affiliation, I just knew that he was very concerned about the environment which I thought admirable, and a bit sexist which irritated me. He certainly didn't seem like the National type, even Old National. When I found out that he was a Young Nat I remember being very surprised indeed, and blurting out this shock in the form of a question, quite possibly surrounded by swear words which I have erased from my memory. I asked him why and he responded with a statement that has always stuck with me in sentiment if not the exact words.

The gist of it was that in order to change something you need to be involved in it. I couldn't really argue with that, although I did wonder after that if perhaps he was in fact more politically conservative than he liked to portray in front of me. Time bore out that he was, but his point still stands.

It's one of the reasons I've stuck with some of the political groups I've been involved with even when I've been unhappy - because I can't change them from the outside.

Political parties, and activist groups, are often tough environments. They attract people who are interested in debate, and in power, and feel passionately about their causes. There are others who join for more social reasons - because their friends or family are involved, and they find belonging to the group socially rewarding. Still others may care vaguely about the broad principles of the party but actually are really looking for a group to do volunteer work for, and political parties certainly provide plenty of outlet for those who relish the achievement of organising good fundraisers and the like.

When you put all of these people together in a room some will fight. I think debate within political parties is healthy - it shows a party organisation that is vibrant, attracting new people, and not afraid to challenge old ideas (either to prove their worth or replace them). I remember several times in my varied political involvement when I've thought I was going to lose an argument or a vote, but I said to my allies, let's do it anyway. Because I thought having the debate was almost as important as winning - and we couldn't win now, or in the future, if we shied away from the political confrontation forever.

If I didn't think change could happen I would have given up political activism by the end of my second year, and my blog would have died two years ago. Persistance is a necessary characteristic in anyone who wants to make change. The ability to be resilient and return to the fray when you are ready is what has put many of our most successful people where they are today, and not just in politics either.

I don't believe that a single person can make a difference to the culture or outlook of a group, but by working with others you can make change. Even bad changes happen because the person with destructive behaviour wins others over to their cause - if they were alone and ignored they would be sidelined and their attempts rebuffed. Collectivity is the key.

I can understand the frustration of trying to make change and losing, especially if you are trying alone. But if we all packed up our kit bags and moved on every time we lost an argument then we'd never get anywhere. We would never have made homosexuality legal, never changed our society's attitude towards drink driving, and we'd never make up with our parents or partners after a fight. Rape would still be legal within marriage, Maori cultural practices still outlawed, and left handers would be having their writing hands tied behind their backs by sadistic teachers as I type.

Sometimes it is time to walk away, but until then - you need to be playing the game to win it.

* Why precisely people trust and believe the writings about this kind of thing from someone who has a strong interest in making Labour look bad is quite beyond me. Look for the agenda here folks! Read the comment thread for more accurate re-tellings from people who were actually there.

(Pic via)


Gerrit said...

I agree Span, too many sit on the sideline and snipe away without contribution.

That is why I admire people like Tony Milne, putting his name forward on a ballot paper.

While I may not agree with his politcal view point, I admire the courage of his convictions.

If we all stood up like Tony for what we think is right we would have a much better and involved society.

Paul said...

I am disappointed that some people in the Labour Party should conduct this argument on a rightist blog and should do so under pseudonyms. A load of unsavoury accusations have been made, much to the delight of sociopaths like Redbaiter.

It particularly bothers me that Princes Street Labour, who are a nice bunch of people, has been presented as a hotbed of political machinations and skullduggery. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, one thing is further: that this was a right-left struggle within the the Labour Party. It was not; political opinions did not come into the matter. This fight was about one man and his attempts to win an election.

Span said...

Gerrit - thanks for your feedback, I have particular admiration for those who campaign for change and don't engage in dog whistling for easy points. More on that in a second post on this theme some time soonish.

Paul - I agree that from what I know about the YL stuff it wasn't really a political disagreement. This is going to be the first in a short series of posts, which in hindsight I should have made clear in the post, about trying to change things without being a nasty arse.

Span said...

Sorry, I should clarify my last comment - when I said in my first paragraph of the post that it was "an internal political battle" I didn't mean politics as in principles or policies, I meant politics in terms of power.

Also, in case anyone didn't get it, my second sentence in the first paragraph is SARCASM. Lowest form of wit, blah blah blah.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but Span people only say that because women are more prone to sarcasm as a form of wit (rather than all those really cool blond jokes or jokes about women in kitchens) so of course by deriding it's legitimacy you undermine the voice of cynical females everywhere... blimmin feminists with their intelligent and dry humour. Oh and you undermine intellectuals probably a claim invented by populists