Friday, 8 July 2011

Why I'm okay with Goff et al speaking at the Family First conference

A reminder:  Each of the bloggers here at The Hand Mirror have their own opinions.  Unless we've explicitly said something like "we've talked about this and decided X" then kindly do not automatically assume we agree.  I have no idea if any of the other writers here agree with the substance of this post and am prepared for possible counter-posts or comments to ensue.  Also please do not assume silence means agreement.  For me silence usually means no resources to respond right then.

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. 


Maia said...

I actually share your analysis of Destiny (I don't actually have a problem with going to Destiny, but if you go you should be going to say "I stand with the people you hate"), I don't think 'politicians should be prepared to talk in any public form' is a tenable position.

[As I'm writing this I'm watching BBC Question Time where a labour politician is trying to defend attending Rupert Murdoch's party with a similar logic that brings it into sharp relief].

'No platform' is a strategy that has been very effective in some times and places. It has a strong history in anti-fascist activism (and I don't think you'd make your claim about sharing a platform with the national front if you'd had much experience with that work). It is a demand that people make on their politicians (for example, with Britain and the BNP). It is an important strategy, and not one that leftists should think about giving up. If politicians chose to dishonour it, that indicates where they stand (when I say 'no platform' here I'm talking about an organised demand by people who are attacked by a group on others not to share a platform with that group as an act of solidarity. I don't think that this sort of strategy has been persued with Destiny, Family First, or SST at this point. But if it was in the future and a politician did not honour that demand, that would be a political statement).

I actually think with people like Sensible Sentencing Trust and Bob McCroskie there is a strategic argument for ignoring them. The attention that they have received is completely disproportionate to any kind of organisational strength. That SST in particular gets asked for comment on everything and treated as a reasonable voice, where even moderate voices for prison reform are completely ignored.

Now there hasn't been a collective strategic decision to try and de-legitimise Family First or SST. So I don't think there's an obligation not to speak (where I do think a situation like the BNP is basically reasonably close to being a picket line - where you are stating where you stand by ignoring it). But politicians attending a Family First event isn't at all like visiting the local fundamentalist school hall.* Part of hte reason that family first's conferernce is getting the attention it did is politicans attendance, and that is legtimising their voice still further.

Julie said...

V quick response - hadn't considered a coordinated call to shun - I would treat that differently. Solidarity rocks!

Ok more this arvo I hope :)

Craig Ranapia said...

Nah, I'm respectfully going to call bullshit on that, Julie, and apologise in advance for the semi-Godwin but this is a fair question.

Wearing your local body politician hat, would you attend an election year forum organised by Kyle Champman -- an man whose extreme racist, anti-immigrant views are hardly mysterious or open to debate.

You might, and you're entitled to do so. But I'd disrespectfully decline to offer racists legitimacy, publicity or (potentially) a public platform to spew their hate.

Anonymous said...

And it was bloody good to see Phil Goff give a decisive response on issues like parental interference with competent minors abortion access (he's pro-choice) and gay adoption.

Craig Y

Anonymous said...

It rather blows me away that FF is a registered charity. No political campaigning/advocacy in that organisation. Not. Signed: Tree Climber

Julie said...

When you say you are calling bullshit Craig R, can you explain to me precisely what you mean? I always thought the term was more used to indicate that you are calling out someone for being dishonesty than disagreeing with them?

It's been really interesting to see that the almost universal example I've had people use to me about this issue is would I speak at a National Front forum.

If I was invited? Probably. Would I seek an invite? No. If there was a collective call to shun them on the basis of racism, xenophobia and general purpose bigotry being Not OK would I go? Probably not.

If invited to speak at a National Front forum I'd probably talk it through with some people first, probably people like Anjum who have first hand experience of the actual discrimination in question, not other people like myself who don't face that hatred directly but at a remove.

The audience for that speech would be partly the National Front's leadership - to stand up to them publicly and say they are wrong and unhelpful in the extreme. But mainly it would actually be the people there who weren't totally plugged into the National Front's views (I don't know if there is realistically anyone who would go to a National Front forum who would not be though.). To show them the hate is not ok, that there is another way, and to challenge their thinking around why they think (for e.g.) that banning immigration would resolve their problems.

I actually had a bit of a think last night, when I couldn't sleep, about how I would do a presentation to the National Front, if asked. I might turn that into a blog post at some point. It might spark some useful discussion about whether there can ever be a useful purpose in engaging with extremists.

Juliet said...

I think that going to an objectionable conference is only okay if you speak out about it. The politicians who attended the Destiny conference didn't speak out, which is the real problem.