Last week I saw the faces of poverty in Aotearoa. Not sad, withdrawn and dirty as we often see in child poverty promotions but angry, frustrated and determined, writes Rowan McArthur.
Angry at their situation, the government and the government departments which perpetrate and reinforce the violent culture of poverty. Frustrated at constantly being turned away and denied access to money, food, beds, clothes, fridges and washing machines. Frustrated at being treated like they are worthless, but determined to survive, determined to fight, determined to organize.
The Auckland Action Against Poverty Impact held in Mangere last week (August 5-7) saw hundreds of people turn up to gain their full entitlements. Hundreds gained access to basic necessities that had been denied them by WINZ for years. One woman I spoke to had been hand-washing her five children’s clothes for the past two years because WINZ did not deem a washing machine an immediate need. Another solo mother and her three children have been homeless for months after leaving an abusive relationship, busing to a different house every night to sleep. They have been on the emergency waiting list for a state house for over a year. These are just two of the thousands of stories of people on poverty in Aotearoa and things are not getting better. This Impact ‘picked the scab off the wound of poverty’ and hundreds of people had to be turned away because there was not enough time or resources for them to be seen.
If you had been down in Mangere on these days you would have seen the desperation of people living in poverty but also the massive potential for organizing and fighting back in these communities. I have no doubt in my mind now that South Auckland – which is overwhelmingly Maori and PI – is where we will see the first riots and mass struggle against this system of oppression and profit in Aotearoa. You could feel it happening already. The Impact offered an opportunity not only for people to get what they had been unjustly denied but also bring hundreds of people together for the same kaupapa. One person came up to me and was like “this place is buzzing” and it was. Conversations were happening all day about how fucked the situation was and so many about what could be done about it. So many groups of people were like “we could do this” and the power they gained from actually being able to stand up to WINZ inspired them to get together and talk about organising.
Although the AAAP impact had fantastic results for so many people we cannot trick ourselves into thinking this is going to change the culture of WINZ, poverty or the system which perpetrates poverty. But these moments of resistance to a system that causes so much pain can change lives in small but significant ways and sow the seeds of a deeper change.