Walter Whitman was an American Poet who wrote of democracy as a diversity of people seeking unity. He sought to lift up the value and the significance of the everyday person in the development of society.
Yesterday, the State of the Nation 2018 report was released nationwide, including in Hamilton, Kirikiriroa. The report is titled – Kei a Tātou – It is us. The title is inspired by Whitman.
There is no nation, no society, no corporation, no entity at all without people and the relationships they have with one another. The statistics in the report tell a story, a stark narrative of sorrow. Is it our story? Is this us and, if so, who are we?
The idea of one nation, of one Aotearoa New Zealand, of one us, is not one that Poverty Action Waikato subscribes too. We acknowledge the United Nations of Māori hapū that signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (The Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand). We also understand that Pākehā were welcomed to this land but only on the conditions outlined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. No statistics can be interpreted well without knowing our history, and the ongoing process of colonisation.
We value the Salvation Army reports for what they share with us. The statistics, as Anglican Action’s Karen Morrison-Hume suggests, outrage us. As one woman reflected at the meeting last night – the statistics in the report are what the government collects, and the Salvation Army reflects it back to the community. The State of our Nation paints a sorry tale. Let us cry back – things are not right!
Child poverty has tailed off a little. Does this mean our communities are faring better? Not according to John Kavanagh from the Catholic Family Support Service. For those families who are suffering, the reality of poverty has got worse. So what does it mean to say that child poverty has lessened? Statistics without stories do not tell what we know. Let’s share stories.
The prison population continues to grow. Why do we continue on a treadmill of what has already been done so many times before and failed? Over two-thirds of people who come out of prison, go back before 2 years. A friend was recently caught shop lifting baby formula. She was sent to court. She was stealing, but what would this story look like if aroha was our response and if aroha guided us in the first instance so that these desperate circumstances were prevented? We are heartened by some of the community responses that we hear – how people found by the police to be without the right driving license can sign up for a driver license course instead of being fined. This is a story of hope in our community.
And homelessness – it is set to increase they say, because government policy will take a while to change.
How can we accept this? In Hamilton, our homeless community has been banned from the city centre and from Five Cross Roads. Is this the best that we can do? Peter Humphrys has long suggested that we bring back boarding houses. What do you think?
And how about wet houses (Wellington’s doing it)? These are places where people who are seriously addicted can drink safely – places where they perhaps may gather the strength to face their torrid realities that together we created.
Methamphetamine related crime is on the up, a big up. What is our response?
The stories behind the statistics are the lives of people, our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, cousins…They are whānau.
At Poverty Action, we are weary of the stigmatising and damaging impact of statistics and are determined to understand them in context. We are outraged and our cry is, let’s talk, let’s gather, let’s respond.
Thank you to the Salvation Army for engaging our minds and stirring out hearts.
For the full copy of “Kei a Tātou – It Is Us: State of the Nation 2018” visit http://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/research-media/social-policy-and-parliamentary-unit/latest-report/State-of-Nation-2018
Ngaa mihi ki a tātou katoa.