2024: Leaning into the wind

As a Collective we have developed a practice of reflection on the year past and the challenges ahead. The following are individual messages, yet they coalesce as an affirmation of unity and resolve. Times like these, locally and globally, can induce a logic of despair and defeatism, but such regressive political times can also engender a stubborn, stoic project of informed resistance. Don’t let anyone tell you that a more inclusive and socially just world is impossible. It is better by far, in whatever ways are open to you, to be a small part of making it so.

Neil Ballantyne

“So, whether we are caught up in rage or love — rageful love, militant pacifism, aggressive nonviolence, radical persistence — let us hope that we live that bind in ways that let us live with the living, mindful of the dead, demonstrating persistence in the midst of grief and rage, the rocky and vexed trajectory of collective action in the shadow of fatality.”

Judith Butler (2020)

This is a time to rage. To rage at the state of affairs in Aotearoa and the world. These are deeply dystopian times, yet despair is not an option. It is never an option for progressive people who believe that words don’t merely describe the world as it is but help build the world as it ought to be.

This is a time for solidarity at home and internationally. We stand with our Palestinian whānau against the international political elite and the military-industrial complex that fuels and funds Israel’s genocidal, settler colonial violence. Unfathomable violence that buries loved ones and their colourful dreams under pale, grey rubble.

We condemn the old imperialist masters of necropolitics and their silent accomplices. Those who believe they have the right to choose which lives are grievable and which are not. Those who ignore universal human rights and humanitarian law in favour of geopolitical power plays enforced by militarism and an arms industry drunk on the profits of war.

This is a time to refuse distorted narratives from petty, populist politicians at home who foster a politics of division and hate and the rolling back of the smallest steps towards social justice. We condemn those who disrespect Te Tiriti o Waitangi, those who refuse to protect our collective health and wellbeing with their schoolboy taunts of wokefullness.

This is a time for forceful, disciplined, militant nonviolence. A time to remember the people of Parihaka and the promise of Te Whiti: I stand for peace. Though the lions rage, still I am for peace.

This New Year, let us pledge to stand together and work together for peace and justice in Aotearoa and the world.


Butler, J. (2020). The force of nonviolence: An ethico-political bind. Verso. 

New Zealand Geographic. Why wasn’t I told?

Liz Beddoe

I’d like to forget 2023. It started and ended badly. Lives and homes lost in a deluge of rain. Tamaki Makaurau seemed to never recover and all year we squelched through a muddy slush of leaves and smelly puddles. We end the year unable to swim safely on most of our popular beaches. And the sensible provisions of Three Waters washed away by a flood of banal, brainless racism.

We have a change of government motivated in large part by the infantile posturing of an aggrieved white petit bourgeois – the ragtag remnants of those who rejected sane collectivist responses to a global pandemic. The same people who screwed every cent out of measures designed to keep their small businesses afloat and help them pay the wages of their workers. The same who will gleefully use the power to fire workers at will in 90 days. The people too immature to understand that Covid 19 changed things and projected their own fear and grief on one woman, exposing their barely covered vicious misogyny. And who did they vote in? The weak Luxon , the duplicitous Peters and the slimy racist Seymour. Luxon is invisible, Peters is enjoying the ‘bring back youth smoking’ success, looking forward to another generation of early lung cancer deaths. And Seymour’s ACT party hacks are so bereft of any imagination or aspiration that they spend their time over the holiday attacking a poet. Small pathetic men with small visions. Not leaders.

This is a government of the grumpy grandads that has no positive plan to improve the lives of Aotearoa people, other than their rich mates of the landlord class. Their agreement is a putrid mess of racist dog whistling. Ban te reo Māori signage, ‘review’ MAPAS, destroy all the work done on Te Pukenga and Te Aka Whai Ora. Stop Fair Pay. The list of things they want to ban goes on. It’s like all your mean old pig-ignorant, racist, uncles got drunk and designed a plan for dragging us back to their ‘good old days’ when a bloke could make a joke without woke people calling out their racism, misogyny and homophobia.

So I’m not optimistic about 2024. I’m disappointed that our professional leaders could send out end of year messages and not acknowledge the horrific genocide of Palestine. I’m baffled by lack of any critical perspective of so many of our colleagues. There’s little evidence that we are in any shape to fight what’s coming. But fight we must. The racists have power and they will go for Te Tiriti , they will attack so many of the progressive shifts of the last few decades, they will impose their warped Christofascist views on women’s rights. They will push back any attempts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We’re stuck with them for a while but we need to be loud, angry and let them know that we will challenge every move they make to drive us away from creating a better world, for realising the full potential of a decolonised Aotearoa that holds its head high on the world stage. Let’s not let them force us back into their imaginary ‘glorious’ past.

Ian Hyslop

Social work education involves encouraging people to think about the construction of the social world. In turn, this entails developing a critique of power and ideology. At present we have a divisive hard-right coalition Government in Aotearoa New Zealand – it is an awkward mix of moral conservatism and economic fundamentalism: an altogether regressive mix as John Campbell has suggested. Part of this goes back to the denial of politics engrained in the old-school blokey ‘Kiwi’ psych – let’s talk about outboard motors and rugby and beer – anything but politics! (Ssshhhh!!!)

Talk of politics, of course, potentially reveals the fundamental divisions in our socio-economic system – that the baches and boats and outboard motors of all those Mum and Dad investors are a result of the exploitive relationship between capital and labour. Best not to speak of such things. More specifically, ‘our’ settler colonial state is founded on the forcible acquisition of land from tangata whenua and the associated repression of Māori language, culture and life-worlds. This is a little … errrr … ‘unsettling’, so it might be best to go back to a time when such things were hidden. (Ssshhhh!!!)

This closure of horisons involves powerful interests. Why would you want to normalise the use of te reo – it might encourage greater understanding. Better to stick to our foundational myths – let’s ‘rebalance’ that history curriculum. Let’s go back to the idea that this is the land of opportunity – after all, to get ahead all you need is a private school education, half a mill or so of Mum and Dad’s money and a good dose of entrepreneurial spirit, right? We can all do that, right? Success and happiness are about individual consumption and accumulation, right? What are you all whinging about? (Ssshhhh!!!)

Social work students need to learn to see through all of this ideological smoke, because there aren’t so many rags to riches stories where you are going – just good old fashioned casualities of capitalist modernity. Remove the protections and the poor will suffer while the privileged will thrive – this is not new wisdom; it is capitalism 101. We have seen an emerging politics of right wing populism globally and the associated blaming of impoverished people, migrants, ethnic minorities and progressive politics, for the ills of the world – all these people are impediments to making a good fast buck, right? Let’s get New Zealand back on track.

The good average weet-bix eating Kiwi family get an equally bland diet of information on the under-funded mainstream television news. There is little or no depth coverage of the unfolding genocide in Gaza for example – bites of news purchased from global corporate outlets is about all we get. And why would you want to feed Joe and Jane public any deeper analysis? Far too disturbing to be told that the United States – that bulwark of international liberal freedom – has sanctioned the killing of more than 20,000 people through the carpet bombing of occupied and territorially imprisoned Palestinians. Why would you want to tell that story – better left to those woke types to fret about, right? (Ssshhhh!!!)

So, this is where the lines of ideological contest are drawn for 2024. We have plenty of progressive voices but the reactionary right has the political ascendency. Critical education, of itself, doesn’t change the structual underpinnings of inequality in Aotearoa or globally, but it sure as hell helps to cut through all the bullshit we are fed. There is nothing natural about the current world order – it is largely a function of historical privilege, greed, self-interest and the exercise of power. More importantly, because it is constucted, the social and economic system can be deconstructed – what has been made can be changed.

Happy New Year to each and all – think, care and act for social justice as, when and where you can! Get up, stand-up, speak to all that ‘Ssshhhh’ – call it out / drown it out!! Kia kaha!!!

Emily Keddell

“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it”. So said the wonderful journalist, documentary-maker and commentator John Pilger, who passed away yesterday in the UK.

John had 50 years of work fearlessly exposing the interplay of power, capital, greed, colonialism and oppression that were themes in every issue he examined in detail: Australia’s history and settler treatment of Indigenous Australians, Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, the apartheid regime in South Africa, East Timor injustice, Vietnam’s crucible and of course, Palestine. He tried his best to be a ‘truth teller’, often at immense cost to himself.

But let’s go back to the messengers. Social workers can feel the same way – just a messenger of government or organisational policy, doing as we are told, translating policy into practice like an automaton, without much discretion or abilty to reflect on ‘hidden agendas’ or resist the myths surrounding them. This skill, however, is more necessary now than ever, though of course it’s important regardless of party politics. We need to be able to read the double-speak at play and choose our response.

To the triumvirate of our new government, ‘we are all equal’ really means ‘to appease our core voter base, we need to claim a tired notion of meritocracy, because to address historic inequities via differences in approaches and resources makes them feel attacked and aggrieved’. ‘Cracking down on serious youth offending’ really means ‘let’s transfer all the kids in youth justice over to corrections, use ineffective ‘boot camps’ to make it look to our Pākehā middle class voters like we are tough on crime, even though the result will be more young people entrenched into a life of crime rather than leaving it’.

The decoding isn’t that hard, but like any language framing, over time it can become normal, even persuasive, if we have little chance to unpack it. Keep unpacking. Similar hidden agendas are swirling in reporting on the genocidal assault on Gaza. To speak against Israel or Zionism is claimed to be ‘anti-semitic’ (as if to speak against Pol Pot was ‘anti-Cambodian’), while the dropping of leaflets onto a people about to be bombed enables claims of ‘warnings’ though there is nowhere to go in a walled prison.

At the time of Pilger’s 2002 documentary, ‘Palestine is still the issue’, he stated that an “historic injustice has been done to the Palestinian people and until Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation ends, there will be no peace for anyone, Israelis included”. How right he was. About the cause, solution and what would happen if the occupation did not end then, or now.

Ki te mau te rongo, kia tau te manatika.

Deb Stanfield

By some random chance I listen to an interview with the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He covers a lot of things, including questions about the place of politics in poetry. Apparently during the Irish “troubles” Heaney and his contemporaries debated this – Heaney thought poetry was inherently political and he believed those who disagreed with him were confusing politics with propaganda, or of using poetry to take sides or offer opinion.

I’m curious about this and wonder about the place of poetry in Palestine. I’m aware that Palestinian poets are actively targeted and killed presumably due to the great power of their words. Even if poetry isn’t intentionally political, it has historically been interpreted as such. I read a New Yorker article published on Christmas day 2023, by the Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha who describes his family’s perilous journey out of Gaza. He carried with him his most recent book of poems: Things you may find hidden in my ear: Poems from Gaza. He says that by the time he escaped his Israeli captors, he had lived a lot of new poems. He had typed them onto his phone during his terrible ordeal, and afterwards sat down at his laptop to re-live them, shape them, share them.

Mosab Abu Toha’s words are about extremes. What it means to leave your homeland, to experience brutality, watch the killing of children, and still have the capacity to enjoy the smell of bread and the beauty of olive trees. This contrast is chilling; it both infuriates me and makes me so deeply sad. These emotions connect in my mind with all other disasters – the children in our jails, the abuse committed by our state, the denial of our climate emergency, violence against women – the list is endless. Rather than distract me from what else is happening in our country and around the world or minimise them in the face of what is happening in Gaza, Mosab Abu Toha’s poetry helps me to feel a strong connection between all things unjust. A common humanity.

In his interview, Seamus Heaney quotes the poet Robert Frost: “Like giants we are hurling experience ahead of us for the moment when we can strike a line of purpose across it.” It must take tremendous courage to do that, observe and record atrocities, re-live them, communicate them repeatedly, expose yourself to more of the same. This year I think of all the people who have done that in 2023, the activists, journalists, poets, whānau – all who have lived and spoken out against injustice in some way.  I thank you and wish you peace in 2024.

Image credit: Y@nnickR

5 replies on “2024: Leaning into the wind”

And thank you to the Collective for keeping this ‘crack of defiance’ open for us to be able to read, reflect, digest and contribute.
While the next 3 years are going to be long, I do feel this could be the chance to be heard.
Hopefully the ‘collective’ will stand together for a better Aotearoa/ world.
We’ll see.
Hasta La Victoria Siempre

If not us, who?

If not now, when?

Social workers of the world unite, organize, stand up and resist. Kia kaha.

Thank you Neil, Emily, Liz, Ian and Deb. We need to act collectively and speak up. The work you have done has added to my thinking and resolve. Thank you!

Thank you!
We are in the age of dither, denial and vicious nostalgia. The human face of the early anthropocene is an ugly one right now.
The dithering will continue.
The denial will become impossible apart from isolated pockets of the very rich and their tools the deluded.
The nostalgia will be enforced increasingly by the state and in increasingly ugly ways.
We are seeing now the early stages of this in the actions of the disgusting Government that has just been voted in.
The challenge for us Social Workers is to refuse to enforce the vicious nostalgia that serves only the well-off. And, find ways to stand in solidarity with communities struggling to survive amongst predicaments not of their making.

Wise and penetrating words to kick off the Gregorian new year RSW collective. Me thinks that we are going to need to evolve new ways of acting and operating to shepherd in the transformation we are seeking.

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