Now and soon — Greens in political time and space

An after-dinner speech to the Values/Green gathering on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Values Party

June 1st, 2012

»Beyond Tomorrow (introduction)

Two score and nought years ago you — our fore mothers and fathers — bought forth on these tiny islands in the South Pacific a new political party, conceived in ecology and fairness and dedicated to the proposition that the earth and it’s people only had so much to give.

As Christine sang earlier, the times they are a’ changin’. Before this talk Christine and I discussed the possibility of singing a song that summed up my generation, Gen Y.

I cast around for ideas. I racked my brain. None came. I asked Twitter. I asked Facebook — the oracles of my generation. But to no avail.

Although Nirvana, Lady Gaga and even the Pokémon theme were suggested.

It is truly difficult to sum up the sublime vapidity of my generation in a single song.

And herein lies one of the greatest problems facing the green movement in the years to come.

A maelstrom of factors make it impossible to pin down any particular course of action because there are just so many.

So much information. So many ideas. Thoughts. Blogs. Tweets. Songs. Photos. Things to buy. Things to do.

We’re all thinking about today.

Christine talked about how the past has lead to now. She pointed out the signposts that sped past us on our way to catabolic collapse-ville, population us.

This is where I pick up the journey, the now, and try to make sense of my generation and where I see us, and our values, going.

»Green consciousness (now)

But first a story.

It is a story about me and how I came to be a Green. It is an important story, because I am the one up here telling it and because it illustrates how values have changed in the forty years since you all took that historic step of actually doing something about the world’s problems.

My story starts the day after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. In the wake of this tragedy I was born to my two wonderful parents, Joanne and Rick.

Rick is a botanist, a science teacher who instilled in me a love of nature, respect for the environment and a heathy regard for the scientific method. Joanne is a teacher aide, always helping people less fortunate than herself, she taught me that we need to look after everyone in our society.

From an upbringing in a house where life was constantly framed by the values of my parents — a sort of microcosm of what the Values Party was — I developed an inbuilt consciousness about the planet, people and everything else that they couldn’t.

You can see these values summed up in a song that I sang at Welbourn Primary School called ‘Kids of the 21st Century’. The final verse says:

“We have to live with the values you offer
And we have to deal with the mess that you leave
What good is wealth to us kids of tomorrow
If we can’t even trust in the air that we breathe?”

My river — Te Henui — you used to be able to swim in it. Even as a child I saw it changing. The riverbed was slowly being covered by a thick sludge of slime, algae and cow shit, from dairying upstream.

It was changing.

It was dying.

Where it used to be easy to clamber across, it became treacherous.

One friend once broke his arm when he slipped and almost drowned. It was if nature was telling us: stop this! Stop it now!

The last part of my story is the Internet. In fact, I am tweeting this speech right now.

My generation are digital natives. We grew up with computers, with the internet, with limitless access to all humanity’s knowledge right at our fingertips.

Jeanette spoke earlier today about receiving a letter from the German Greens asking if they could use the Values manifesto.

These days I would receive an email, Facebook message, or tweet, within minutes of posting the information on my website.

The spread of news and our ideas and values is lightening fast and it’s heavily networked.

I was bought up by parents who had been touched by the Values message, I had seen the signs of environmental degradation, and I had access to information and people who were seeing the same things I saw and thinking the same things I was thinking.

That’s why I am a Green: my family, the environment, and knowledge.

I think most of Gen Y have a similar story.

For your generation it was a leap. For my generation is but a step.

So where you were pioneers who had a wonderful revelation, my generation comes prepackaged with the understanding that the health of our environment and the health of our people are inexorably interlinked.

The Values Party was directly responsible for this consciousness. You realized, just like that song I sang at primary school said, that the values you offered and any mess that you left was going to effect the kids of the 21st century.

You took the ideas and evidence that were available to you and you put them together in a way that opened peoples’ eyes and made them think differently about the world we live in.

Those seeds that you planted in the 70s have become a thick tangled growth of ideas and knowledge. The problem is that like any garden that is left untended, it soon becomes a jungle.

A jungle of Free Market solutions. Of neo liberalism. Of shiny things. Of short term solutions to long term problems. To addressing the symptoms not the cause. To dumbed down ideas and simplistic values which do not sit right.

»Harnessing yoof (soon)

Sadly, while most of my generation come with these ideas firmly embedded somewhere in their mainframe we have to hack through the dense jungle to get to it.

The most important tool that we can use to cut through the jungle of conflicting pressures is right in front of us.

We need to start teaching reality.

Jon Johansson, one of my professors at Victoria University, wrote

“In the political realm, leaders continually offer their subjective interpretations on the well-being or otherwise of society: in other words, leaders articulate their own visions of reality through the instrument of their rhetoric. The citizenry, with varying degrees of engagement, then assess these claims, applying their worn subjective criteria.

Leaders who can articulate widely shared concerns about emerging problems and recommend practical solutions to them will hold an advantage over their rivals.”

Values taught reality well. They had a comprehensive vision for quality of life: you spelled it out, you put it in all of your material, your speeches were teaching reality.

Simply put, you took people along with you.

The Greens have a beautiful vision: a richer New Zealand in the things that really matter, kids, rivers, and jobs.

I saw sparks of teaching reality in public meetings.

You’d have Metiria talking about child poverty and suddenly you would hear an almost imperceptible click as the crowd got she was talking about.

Or with Russel talking about why we need to stop cows shitting in our rivers and you’d see nods of people acknowledging the wisdom behind the idea.

It was kinda there in the written information that we presented.

But who reads that when they’ve got to work, pay bills, tweet.

In a twitter-addled age the medium of personal exchange and interaction is even more important than when Hargrove wrote about teaching reality.

The challenge for all of us is to fully articulate that vision.

To teach the reality about what a Green Government and a green New Zealand would look like.

My dear friend Claire Browning’s book Beyond Today, is the first motion in winding back whatever gears within the people of aotearoa are needed to make that click happen.

The click will be easy for youth. We’re on a hair trigger already.

We were bought up in the right environment with the right values.

We see out environment failing us.

We are sharing our information and building community and global networks.

We just need a clarion call, a call in our own terms, to bring together all these disparate strands.

We need to make it click.

»Beyond Today (conclusion)

While Values asked voters to think beyond tomorrow, the Greens need to challenge Gen Y to think beyond today.

With our student loans, our heavy debt lifestyle, our lessening standard of living, the economic and environmental debt of the baby boomer generation, it is hard to think beyond tomorrow.

Machiavelli talked about the idea of Fortuna — he described it as a flood which politicians need to build levees and dykes in pod times to shepherd away the turbulent waters in bad times.

Fortuna has the ability to be catabolic collapse. It would be nice for the cleansing waters to wash away my student loan.

But I do not think it is in our nature to go down without trying to throw up some dams and levees of our own.

by tapping into our values we can throw up dams that will one day soon be generating sustainable power. Sustainable political power.

By not giving into catabolic collapse and building levees of taught reality, fortune’s waters can be directed at the problems my generation is facing and not the foundation of vales that we have built over the past forty years.

Wo while I cannot offer you a song, I can offer you my thanks for setting that foundation and my word that we will continue to build on it.

Thank you.

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