I look like We Built This City by Starship but I am Rage Against the Machine.
I swing between tiredness and fury about the world and the people running it and yet I have everything. And having everything makes me, what? Happy? Yes. Happy. People might say: “You deserve it.” Not really. I didn’t do anything to gain this house of things, this career, this sense of opportunity except I did not throw away the cards I was dealt because of the colour of my skin and which genitals I was born with. So I am not truly happy. I am angry too. Guilty. Some people think I shouldn’t be guilty. But “You didn’t do anything” doesn’t sound like reassurance to me, it sounds like an accusation: “you got all this, and they got that and you? You. Didn’t. Do. Anything?”
They could say:
You walked to walk for five years and noticed every day how the streets, and gutters, drains and gardens were full of rubbish. How the wrappers, and bottles, and cigarette butts, and paper came with you on your walk everyday, a tidal wave of consumption’s detritus sucked down the drains and pumped into the sea. Our gift to the earth. You used to go to the park near your house twice a year with rubbish bags and pull out the bottles and cans from the long grasses and from under the low hanging trees like fallen fruit but you stopped doing even that. It got you down. It seemed like trying to bail out the Titanic with a tea spoon. So you stopped doing even that.
They could say:
You worked in education for over a decade and noticed every day how colonisation and race played out in the lives of the students you taught. It played out in complicated ways; it played out as bitterness, fragility, anger. It played out in temporary addresses and disconnected phones, in the chronic disease, no shoes, no lunch, despair, violence, addiction, crime, in not really being able to read, or speak in the tongue your ancestors spoke in a land wrenched into a new shape, a new form you did not feel you quite fit. You knew that and
you didn’t do anything.
You worked in education and saw lives end. Attempts. Sadness like a hole inside people. Anxiety. Despair. Withdrawal. These young I teach are the canaries down the mine of our society. The one we built thoughtlessly, the one filling slowly with poison, with invisible gases, a deathly hand on the throat, a voice in the ear that says: compete, succeed, come first, be sexy, look good, get likes, swipe, send pix, go hard, victory. An impossible drone to which the internal voice beats back: I failed, came second, too fat, too short, no likes, no pix, give up, hide. Some days you felt like you shouldn’t teach people how to be participants in their society, but activists against it. But
you didn’t do anything.
You walked past beggars and never gave a cent. You walk past them everyday. And more every year.
Did we forget we are brothers and sisters of Earth? Did we forget that society is an illusion that we create? Or that differences make systems rich and resilient? Or that the most vulnerable are first among us?
I have seen where crime comes from. I’ve seen it brooding in our schools. It has nothing whatsoever to do with evil and sin, and everything to do with hopelessness, and alienation. Those people imprisoned, put in crowded cells, stripped of their right to vote, their right to hold the system to account when the system fails them for the tenth or twentieth time, those men and women are my brothers and sisters. Mine. This lily-white, balding, middle class white guy who doesn’t want a tax cut, who doesn’t want an app on my phone to track my child’s progress at school, who doesn’t want another road, who doesn’t want New Zealand’s unique lands turned into grass for cows producing milk no one needs, in plastic bottles we can’t get rid of.
The slogan of the dominant party begins “keep”. Keep New Zealand moving. Keep means the status quo. Keep means not doing anything. Keep is a word we cannot use anymore because the earth is done with us and will spit us out, and that process might divide us more, pit us more against each other, so that we rip ourselves down. We cannot do that with good conscience. Not to the earth or those suffering. It may be that Labour will win, but that win is also a win for “keep”. A kinder keep, but keep. We cannot keep. We must love.