When Hone, Pita, Tau and Shane went to speak at Destiny's conference I ended up in a twitter scrap* about it with many people I usually agree with.
I suspect this post is going to put me in the same position again, because I think it's okay for John Key and Phil Goff (and indeed any other politician) to speak at the Family First conference.
Politicians have a duty to engage. I'm one of Them now, thanks to my election to local government, and it's sharpened my focus on these issues considerably. If Family First or Destiny invited me to speak at one of their events would I? Probably yes.
If we don't speak to the groups we disagree with, even the ones that preach hate that we oppose, we cede that ground to the haters. We leave them unchallenged in their safe spaces, continuing to validate their own views in an echo chamber. We abandon any silent allies we might have in those rooms.
Sometimes the bigots will blurt out those hateful views in a forum where they get the feedback they deserve. Alasdair Thompson's widespread condemnation for his antiquated and inaccurate attitude about women's productivity is a recent example of this. But if there was someone on the EMA Board, a high-powered CEO, or even more than one, who Thompson circulated with who told him how wrong he was when he was spouting off at The Northern Club or in the Koru Lounge, wouldn't that have been useful too?
I believe politicians should try to accept every invitation they get, particularly the ones where they are being asked clear transparent questions about their policies and views in public. To oppose politicians speaking at the Family First or Destiny conferences is akin** to believing they shouldn't speak at the Gay Auckland Business Association pre-election debates, or indeed the Suffrage Eve Debate the team here organised in 2008.
How can we make informed decisions about who to vote for if politicians are not upfront about their intentions? Even when we don't like or agree with the people asking the questions? I agree wholeheartedly with this quote from George's thought-provoking post at Public Address:
I don’t begrudge the PM or Leader of the opposition meeting with their constituents. Everybody has the right to participate in politics, no matter how disturbing we find their ideas. Unfortunately, Russel Norman seemed unable to make this distinction. I hate the Exclusive Brethren with an absolute vengeance – my own grandfather was blocked from entering his brother’s funeral, but I do not think this disqualifies their right to act politically. The same goes for Family First and the Australian Christian Lobby. What is a problem is hiding that contact, and leveraging one group while pretending your views and positions are different. [my emphasis added]Personally I will consider the answers that Key and Goff give in their so-called interviews with Bob McCoskrie helpful in determining where I'll put my ticks on November 26th. Possibly in a diametrically opposed fashion from what His Bobness might like, but still it'll be useful for me and for others who support marriage equality, pro-choice abortion law reform, and other trendy socially progressive Good Stuff.
I judged the politicians who spoke at Destiny not for going, but for what they said when they were there. I was disappointed not to hear any media reports of any of the four seriously challenging Destiny's views. I'll be doing the same as the news comes out from the Family First forum too. I'll judge Key, Goff and other pollies not on where they say things, but on what they say, how they say it, how they plan to do what they say, and then how they follow through.
Destiny and Family First may be giving politicians platforms at their grand events to sway them, to encourage them to agree with their views, but that doesn't mean those who accept that platform accept those rules. They can play to their own needs, speak to their own base. They can act with integrity, even when it might mean some boos or slow claps. I have several times said clearly that I am pro-choice at election debates held in churches, including at least one quite fundamentalist one***, and while it hasn't been popular I've yet to have anyone even be rude to me as a result. If anything there has been a grudging respect for being upfront and clear about my views. Which I think is the basic responsibility of any politician, really.
Challenging people is hard, especially when you are challenging them about their hate, and in their space. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but you do need to think carefully about how to do it. Prompt people to think, to question, to reassess what they thought they knew for sure; that's what progressive politicians who speak at regressive forums should be doing imho.
The performances of Rudd and Howard at the Australian Christian Lobby in 2007 were not that. They did not challenge, they capitulated. It remains to be seen (at the time of writing) if Goff and/or Key will nod and agree or politely yet firmly critique the prejudices of their hosts .
* A twap maybe?
** Cousins rather than siblings - Destiny and Family First do promote hate imho, whereas GABA certainly do not to the best of my knowledge.
*** The question, which was a written one supplied by the organisers ahead of time, although I hadn't received them in advance like everyone else, was very similar to "In NZ 16,000 unborn children are killed every year. What does your party intend to do to end this?" It was in 2002, hence the lower figure for the abortion rate than currently.