A politics of hope

A guest post by Bex Silver.

We are entering a dark period in the short history of our nation. There have been dark times before, and we have got through them. We will get through this too.

October 2023 gave way to the underbelly of Fascism in Aotearoa, and a Genocide in Palestine: two catastrophies birthed out of the plague of colonisation that rages on. Of course, the severity of the two events cannot be compared, but they both reflect perverse power and control over an Indigenous people fighting for their right to exist.

It’s been a gnarly 8 months to say the least. I think most people in the space of social activism will relate to me when I say: I am tired.

It would be so much easier to give up and accept the fact that the next 3 years are going to be hell. You know, “radical acceptance” and all that magical stuff we talk to our clients about. But I don’t think social workers are in the business of radical acceptance. We are in the business of radical hope. And you know what, holding hope is pretty rebellious within a system of oppressive capitalism and cynicism. 

If there was ever a time to stand firm in our kaupapa of a just world for all, the time is now.

So how do we remain hopeful when there is so much suffering and uncertainty around us? In thinking about hope I turn to the modern monkhood of Thomas Merton who said:

“there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork…the frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace”

Merton (1966)

If anyone knew about the inner struggle of fighting for justice while holding on to hope, it was Merton. He pursued monkhood so that he could find the peace to sustain hope in a hopeless world. Through his isolation and contemplation, he came to realise that the purpose of such an existence is to re-centre so one can return to the world and continue the good fight. 

For me, Merton represents the need for us as social workers, who live in this information and media saturated world, to retreat, rest and contemplate so that we will always return to our trade: social justice. 

Social justice isn’t a dead-end street; real and meaningful change has happened throughout history because of committed people engaging in protest, boycotts, divestments and changing the public narrative. Think about the fight for womens’ right to vote, the American civil rights campaign, the uprising against apartheid in South Africa, the LGBT(QI+) rights movement – all of these incredible social changes happened because of people like us.

But we must come back to the legacy of Thomas Merton if we are to sustain our many struggles for justice. Whether we are fighting for Māori rights and tino rangatiratanga, immediate climate action, abolition of incarceration or freedom for Palestine, we have to be at peace. Peace is not the antithesis to justice. Rather, they form the perfect union to sustain our important works.

We cannot hold onto hope for a better world when we are burnt out by over-working and constant exposure to trauma and oppression. This is a hard lesson I have learnt myself, after nearly 4 years working within a prison and campaigning against genocide in Palestine. Sometimes we have to withdraw from the front-lines, find shelter to rest and re-load so we can keep going.

Think about it as a political project: taking care of ourselves as a vital part of effective and sustainable activism – now have I got your attention? Looking after ourselves isn’t enough to hold onto hope though, we must also look after one-another. I know I run the risk of sounding too cliché, but we need each-other. We are all tried and stressed, and we have differing opinions on how to best challenge this Government and the colonial killing machine. Now is not the time for division; we will only be successful in our campaigns if we unite.

Kindness is so under-rated in the world of social activism and yet we have the power to make serious change if we first seek to understand one-another and meet half-way. We have to decolonise the notion that we are all fighting our own battles. We are a collective living in a colonised world, and only together will we overturn a system that is hell-bent on crushing anyone who challenges white normativity and exploitative capitalism.

The oppressive powers within Aotearoa and the world at large want us to lose joy, kindness and hope. They understand that hope is the building block of resistance, of the intifada.

So, look after yourself, look after each-other, and then take to the streets. Talk about inequity with your neighbours, submit pieces to “mainstream” media outlets, call out racism. Look back at history and then walk forward in the hope that we will create a more just world.

If we lose hope, they win. Long live the intifada, long live the revolution!

Image credit: Jean-Gregoire Marin


Merton, T. (1966). Conjectures of a guilty bystander [1st ed.] Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday.

6 replies on “A politics of hope”

Kia ora Bex,

Great piece and thank you for writing it – a much-needed bit of commentary on what is a dark period indeed.

Reflecting on what you wrote, I am not sure whether I am tired in the way that you meant it. I always have the energy to take that next step forward but I think I am tired of our general profession’s attitude.

I am tired of seeing the same names pushing out the same blogs with the same people replying to them – though not tired of reading them and getting inspired to go forward for another day…

It’s like only a dozen people are talking to each other in a locked room.

Don’t get me wrong – thank goodness they are otherwise the whole profession would be silent which is quite a thing. A professional unit that is supposed to be there for social justice, is very silent on most things injustice in 2024. I shake my head….

I am not tired – I am angry.. I am angry at our apathy, angry at our laziness in accepting the status quo, and angry at our silence.

“Social work’s progressive roots only seem to flourish in the sunlight. When darkness overtakes the land, we hunker down and neither curse the darkness nor light a candle”

Keep pushing forward – we cannot afford to be tired – they cannot afford for us to be tired.

Hopefully, your piece will bring others out and add to the voices that are fighting for a better day.

It should, I hope it does.

Hasta la victoria siempre
Kia Kaha

Thanks for your reflections, as always, Luis.

It is hard when the passion and dedication of a few are the ones to keep the roots of social justice alive and growing.

I think our hope and joy is the best way to draw people in, as tough as that is when it’s so easy to feel anger and resentment.

Thank you for everything you do
Kia kaha

Kia ora Bex and Luis,
Thank you both for your comments. I have woken up to more awful news from Palestine. Possibly 200 people killed, in a disgusting mission to rescue 4, when all hostages could be released. Meanwhile thousands of Palestinians are illegally incarcerated in Israel. How any social workers can say ‘they stand with Israel’ while the genocide continues to happen in front of us – that astounds me. And yet social workers have made abusive comments to people writing on here about the horrors. I myself left a large social media group when told to take down a post about the Israeli occupation. The ‘moderator’ was too gutless and ignorant to defend the position that our association explicitly took a short time later. How could any decent social worker be silent about the mass killing of civilians? About the almost complete destruction of schools and universities, the health system, places of worship and culture? While the corrupt western states continue to feed this Israeli barbarism, including our own complicit coalition.
How can so many social workers remain silent while our right wing, cruel, anti-worker, anti-Māori, anti-women, anti-rainbow people, and utterly morally bankrupt government sets out to destroy any small advances we have made to improve the lives of Māori, Pasifika, disabled people ….. of women? I will not accept the tired and honestly puerile argument that people can’t speak because they have ‘stay neutral’. That is frankly gutless. They have computers , they can write, even anonymously. They have legs and can walk to protest to stand in solidarity.
So yes I am tired but I will not let the passivity of our profession extinguish hope.
Thank you for standing up
Kia kaha, in solidarity

I would also remind Aotearoa social workers of this policy position on Palestine. But note the addendum showing that the position was criticised. Sad that our association was forced to add this when presumably attacked by supporters of the murderous occupier and genocidal state.
All text below is from the ANZASW website.

ANZASW Statement on Palestine
Monday 22, Jan 2024
**This media release and the following statement contain strong language on the atrocities being witnessed in Palestine, and that this may be distressing to some. Please read with care and compassion**

As you may be aware, on the 12th of January the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) issued a statement calling “for an end to the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, an immediate ceasefire, release of all hostages and mobilisation of urgent access to humanitarian aid to those in need”. We commend their courage and solidarity.

We also made a statement on the 1st of November 2023, expressing our deep concern and condemnation of the ongoing violence and human rights violations. However, the situation has undeniably deteriorated with thousands of innocent people perishing since then. We cannot remain silent in the face of such injustice and suffering.

Given this, on behalf of Sharyn Roberts, Perehitana-President of ANZASW, we provided the following statement to the Acting CEO of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), Dr Pascal Rudin. Dr Rudin has since replied, paving the way for a conversation alongside IFSW and IASW.

As ANZASW members and as social workers, we have a duty to uphold the dignity and rights of all people, especially those who are oppressed and marginalised. We must make a stand in this space and others, and demand an end to the occupation, colonisation and apartheid that has caused undeniable trauma for generations.

We will keep you updated on the progress of our dialogue with IFSW and IASW, and we welcome your constructive feedback and input.

Ngā mihi nui,
Nathan Chong-Nee
ANZASW Chief Executive

Addendum – 15 March 2024

The statement with the name Palestine only had no intent to erase the entire nation of Israel nor de-legitimise its existence nor was it to promote an antisemitic agenda inferred or otherwise, but to draw attention to the intolerable suffering experienced by our Palestinian social worker colleagues, families, and civilians in general.

The ANZASW and Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association joint statement to the IFSW Indigenous Commission expressing our serious concerns which is where the phrases regarding indigeneity are drawn from. At no time did our statement deny Israel or Jews being indigenous to their lands and neither did it infer that it would be acceptable for them to be driven from their lands. Our statement solely focused on the fact that Palestinians in Gaza were being forced, by war, from their legitimate lands.

Thank you for your comments Liz and for reminding us all of our position NZ Social Workers.

I was really disheartened to see outright Zionist propaganda in the SWANZ page and personal attacks on me because I identify as a Jewish person supporting Palestine.

However, we must not let these individuals bring us down. We have to lean in to eachother – those of us who hold the torch for social justice – and continue the good fight

Arohanui comrades!

Kia ora Liz,

I read your comments over the weekend and wanted to sleep on them before responding.

Our combined responses to this blog left me with several questions all starting with ‘Why?’.

And before I put pen to paper, I have to admit I do not have the answers to them although I have my own suspicions/perceptions.

• Why is the profession so quiet/placid/comatose even?
• Why do we seem to think that we need a ‘sitting on the fence’ response to what is something so repulsive?
• Why are the majority of social work activists north of 40 years old? (present company excluded)

I am wanting to elicit some kind of response from those social workers south of 40.

I am so tired of the silence on issues so grave, so repugnant, so existential that I don’t care that I am offending people by screaming into the void.

May not be the way to bring people on board but hey…. No one is looking at getting on the bus anyway!

For goodness’ sake (and I know I write about this all the time) however, millions are dying/going to die from climate change, and we can’t even get a policy piece out that attacks the industries that exacerbate the problem.

Anyway – great piece, great response, thank you for the Korero – Back to work I go.

Nga Mihi

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