Capitalism, Cannabis and Kindness

Young Greens Speech to Green Party AGM 2006

John Pilger’s film ‘Palestine is Still the Issue’ spoke true to many of us; not only about the inalienable rights of Palestinians to self-determination, but the deep frustration of such an important issue unconsciously slipping-off the media and public’s foreign affairs agenda. “Palestine is still the issue” was an excellent title; it highlighted an issue that we all agree is unjust, was equally a very difficult campaign to find ways to move forward, and finally, the title illustrated the frustration of many in seeing such a critical issue of justice largely disappear from public attention.

We acknowledge the importance of solidarity with the Palestinian, and indeed the Israeli people, and we tautoko (acknowledge and support) the good work Keith Locke continues to do critically analysing, and seeking justice for, oppressed people everywhere.

Pilger’s film-title though, is used by the Young Greens to illustrate a more general theme within the Green Party, embodied by two examples: capitalism and cannabis. Now we realise that these two words cause feelings that range from excitement to dread among members. Indeed, the reaction that many members may have on hearing these two words speaks volumes about how we, as a Party, have handled (or not, as the case may be) capitalism and cannabis.

Though we would like to here, briefly address each of these two issues, we more generally want to raise a wider trend we, the Young Greens, see within the Green Party as a whole. As a Party, we have championed issues that have often had little public support, and that at times, have opened us up to significant criticism and electoral risk. From climate change to boy-racers, constitutional inquiries to Ahmed Zaoui, the Greens have always taken their stance on an issue based on the evidence, and on what is just. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of pride for many members, Young Greens included. It makes us proud to see our Party tackling what are often difficult and complex policy issues, not because we’re going to gain votes, but because we are a Party founded on environmental sustainability and social justice, and argue for whatever will progress these principles.

So, we come to capitalism and cannabis. Drug law reform has been one of the most contentious issues, both internally and externally, for the Greens. The Young Greens support, and are pleased to see, the transfer of this portfolio area to Metiria Turei; the issue is too important to be hindered by Nandor’s public-profile, albeit completely mis-informed. We also acknowledge Nandor’s tireless work in trying to correct the irresponsible and factually incorrect media coverage of the Greens’ drug law-reform policy.

Having said that, the Young Greens see a worrying trend within the Party, both by the MPs, but particularly by members, to distance the Greens from this issue. We acknowledge the difficulties that the Party has faced over this issue, but worry that not taking the initiative on the issue is going to serve any productive purpose. We are still seen, by those people who have always chosen to see us so, as a communist, pot-smoking bunch of hippies, and arguably these type of people are so easily manipulated by the corporate media’s inherent practice of marginalising all non-mainstream voices, that our energy is better spent on people interested in rational debate. The idea that if we kept quiet on drug law reform, that these types of people would suddenly “Go Green”, is, in our opinion, illogical. With this in mind, we see a responsibility as the only party with a rational stance on drug law reform, to speak on behalf of the approx. 20,000 people a year unjustly charged with minor cannabis offences, and as Young Greens, look forward to working with Metiria to find new ways of tackling this breach of human rights here in Aotearoa. Like some of the membership generally, many Young Greens do not see drug law reform as one of their major policy priorities; but we also do not see this as a reason to leave 20,000 of our people to continue to have their lives seriously adversely affected by an inherently unjust, archaic law.

Capitalism is an issue with less clarity; but for some of the Young Greens, the economic system we live under lies at the very foundation of every Green Party policy; we see the destruction of our people and planet not as a conscious decision by a few individuals or companies, but in fact as the logical outcome of an infinitely greedy, and ethically redundant economic system. We ignore this structural fact at our, and our grandchildren’s, peril.

The Young Greens do not intend here, to promote any specific view as far as the Greens’ structural-economic policy. We merely seek to raise, as John Pilger did, an issue we see as fundamentally important, and even more absent from current public, and indeed Green, political discourse. We have a simple question: where does the Green Party’s structural analysis lead us? We are genuinely interested in how all members see the structural causes of where we find ourselves; climate change at the brink of no return, our people both in Aotearoa and around the world living in shocking and unnecessary poverty, and wages and costs-of-living going, in recent times, in directions that are exacerbating these circumstances.

We are immensely proud of Green Party policy generally. It is well-thought out; both pragmatic and idealistic, inspiring and practical. We are proud to be part of a Party that produces policy of such quality. Having said this, the Young Greens see at least one, glaring gap in all of this. It seems to us that the Party, and therefore members, have stopped-short of a coherent analysis of the state of this planet. Instead of following the argument through, we appear to have only made it half way; we’ve identified the symptoms, seen that our economic system does not consider the welfare of our people and our planet, but somehow think that these can be integrated into the system. We would argue that in fact, we find ourselves on the brink of destruction not because we simply failed to include a couple of indicators in our economic calculations, but because the very economic system is, at its core, toxic and sub-consciously intent on consuming everything, and everyone, on this planet.

For many of us, we feel frustrated at what we see as something of a half-argument: we’ve identified the social and environmental problems, and have a huge number of very good practical initiatives to address these problems. But we wonder two things:
1.What do we see as the root-cause of these problems, if not the economic system as a whole?

And 2., How do we see the reforms we currently advocate as being sufficient to solve the issues like climate change and the increasing destruction of workers’ rights by neo-liberal reforms?

The Young Greens wonder whether anything less than an acknowledgment of, and an alternative to, the fundamentally flawed economic system we live under will suffice.

If one seeks to argue that it is not our fundamental economic system that is directly causing the environmental and social problems we see, then one must put forward an alternative structural-analysis. What is causing this destruction — and where does this analysis lead us?

From a Young Greens perspective, we see a growing frustration among young people to the way the Greens approach politics. Young people, we would argue, are calling-out for a coherent challenge to the current dominant paradigm. They see much that they agree with among the Greens, but also see a party stuck between proposing a revolutionary way to interact with the planet, and a rather reformist analysis of our economic system. Indeed, criticism of the apathy among the public can quite coherently be linked too, to an economic system which consciously seeks to depoliticize, disempower and alienate the people. The economic system relies on this lack of engagement, raising crucial questions about the destruction done to democracy when it is combined with an economic system that relies on a powerful elite, and only superficial, if any, power and participation from the people.

Let me be clear; we are by no means necessarily arguing that the Greens become a Marxist party. If you’ve jumped to that conclusion while listening, we ask you to wait and listen, before you judge. What we are raising here, is the need for our economic analysis to be stronger, more well-thought out, and embodying a coherent structural analysis. Both within our members, and among the general public, there is a need for a greater level of coherency and communication on where we stand on economic systems. Do we believe that with superficial changes, we can rectify the current situation we find our planet in? If so, that is fine, but we must, as a party, and then as a country, have this debate. Up until now, it has been, as Jane Kelsey has written, a case of TINA — “there is no alternative”.

In fact, up until now it has been worse than this. It has not been claimed that there is no alternative, but actually, the economic system has, for the last 20 years, not been mentioned in mainstream public discourse at all. Indeed, as children of the late 1970s and ’80s, we have grown up among and post, Rogernomics. A generation who have been bombarded with individualism, consumerism, privatisation and neo-colonialism; for much of our lives many of us had never heard it mentioned that we have a particular economic system, and certainly never heard the word “capitalism”. This, in my opinion, is a sad indictment that illustrates how pervasive, and dominant, the neo-liberal paradigm has become.

We have a responsibility as a political party to inform and raise awareness of the causes of the problems we face. Most of our generation does not know that capitalism even exists, and we see this as the result of ignoring it. We don’t want to have to say to our grandchildren that it was just too hard to challenge the economic system we lived under. We want to be proud that this party acknowledged, and sought to change, the destructive and ultimately fatal economic system that has dominated for too long. Climate change, peak oil, genetic engineering and unbelievably low-wages are all examples of the destruction this economic system has caused. We need to, as a Party, engage in a debate about where we, as a Party, stand on the economic system we live under, and the economic system we want.

Thank you all for listening so intently. We would like to open-up to the floor for a few comments or questions, and hope we can continue this debate for sometime to come; as a Party, as a country, and ultimately, as people on this planet together.

Finally, we would like to briefly acknowledge the process that has gone on in selecting our co-leader. Though it has not been ideal, we are proud as Young Greens that this Party seeks to live-up to its fundamental principle of appropriate decision making. We are hopeful, and confident, that we will move forward as a Party by giving our full support to the new co-leader. Appropriate decision making though, is not simply about process. It is about how we engage as people. While we have largely done this in an admirable way, we would like to acknowledge also, a destructive tendency within the party. Overwork, tiredness and frustration are all realities we face as a Party promoting radical change. However, we must ensure we take care of each other as we continue this journey. We must ensure we do not become destructive; there has been a rare but noticeable tendency to personally criticise, and talk behind people’s back, about issues that really need to be raised face-to-face. We see this too as a structural issue; over-work and under-appreciation leads to frustration that manifests itself in habits that are both contrary to our charter, and to the way in which we all want to interact with each other. The Greens’ ability to treat each other with respect and honesty while engaging in healthy debate is something we are very proud of. Let’s just make sure we’re all conscious of whether we’re upholding these values.