USA Tour Report (May 2013)

16 06 2014

Thanks to a generous gift from the Orangi Kaupapa Trust, I was able (and required as a condition of receiving the gift) to do something I wanted to do for myself. It’s only taken a year to write this brief account of the trip.

Manu Caddie, June 2014

 

Los Angeles – Gang Intervention & Prevention

Josh Wharehinga (Ka Pai Kaiti) and I had the privilege of visiting Homeboy Industries, an organisation started 25 years ago by a Catholic priest and a few church volunteers in a Los Angeles ghetto.

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Our tour guide Francisco had parents from two rival gangs, he was six years old when his best friend had his head blown off as they walked to school and were confronted by another young person wanting to know which gang the boy affiliated to. At 14 Francisco had his first child and soon after did a ten year lag in prison after taking the rap for another gang member’s crime.

Homeboy Industries now employs around 300 ex-gang affiliated young people in a number of social enterprises. The people who come to Homeboy Industries typically stay for 18-24 months before transitioning into other businesses around the city.

The organisation bakes 1,000 loaves of bread each day and sells them in farmers markets, a café and bakery. They also run a successful screen-printing business, retail shop and tattoo removal service. A free counselling service is available and during the move to permanent work, a team of employment placement supervisors ensure the workers and employers have access to regular support over the transition period.

Francisco has been with Homeboy Industries for nearly two years and beyond all the work skills, therapy and tattoo removal he has received, the most important thing from his perspective was the unconditional love and acceptance he found in Father Greg and the other people of faith at Homeboy Industries.

Francisco now shares the faith in action he experienced through this group of believers. Rather than expecting these hurt, confused and often distrusting young people to join a church, a community of faith has been established and become a beautiful physical, social and spiritual home for many otherwise marginalised members of society.

 

Portland – Liveable City

I spent three days in Portland, Oregon primarily because I was interested experiencing the ‘cycling capital of America’.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Understanding how the city had evolved over the last 40 years – radical neighbourhood democracy in the early 70s paved the way for resident action while very conservative administrations led the city through the 80s and 90s. Now the city boasts a massive network of cycleways and neighbourhood development projects thanks in large part to the neighbourhood groups established a long time ago.

While the cycleways are an impressive feature of the city, compared to Gisborne and other New Zealand cities, there still seemed to be a high reliance on private cars. I was fortunate to participate in a May Day protest and got a taste of the culture of the city that has been the basis of the brand ‘Keep Portland Weird’ – the quirky, alternative lifestyle ‘dream of the 90s’ is alive in Portland as the ‘Portlandia’ song goes.

On my way to the Red and Black Café, an anarchist coffee shop, pub and bookstore – I popped in briefly to visit ADX, a cooperative space that ‘in a few short years has incubated over 100 start-ups and 200 crowd-sourced projects’ – an impressive shared design and construction space that a number of start-ups use to establish themselves. Kind of a craft and construction version of the Enspiral model we have seen emerge in Wellington. I think there is lots of potential for these kinds of initiatives but the capital and space required needs to come from somewhere like the philanthropic sector, local government or well-established business sponsors.

 

Chicago – Participatory Budgeting

My main reason for travelling to the USA was to attend the 2nd Annual Conference on Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada.

PB Chicago street sign

PB Chicago street sign

Participatory Budgeting internationally owes some of its roots to initiatives that were undertaken in Christchurch in the early 1990s – these are often cited by overseas practitioners and experts as important models they recognise as leading to further innovations in other countries like Brazil, Europe and North America.

I registered for a pre-conference workshop at the Great Cities Institute at UIC College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. This was a valuable introduction to current PB practice and trends in the USA.

Following the workshop we attended the opening plenary ‘The People’s Budget: Participatory Budgeting in Mexico, New York, and Chicago’ at Madero Middle School in West Chicago, this was a public event in Spanish with English interpretation – a great example of bi-ligualism in practice and something I envied having raised our children only speaking Te Reo Māori to them. The neighbourhood is very depressed but PB is thriving and a New York City councillor shared her experience of PB as well.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

I was fortunate to have a presentation selected to share on ‘Public Finance Planning in New Zealand Local Government’, it received a favourable response from attendees. It was in the first workshop session so I got to enjoy the rest of the conference without any nervous wait. I was not disappointed, all of the sessions I attended were inspiring, practical and provocative. I brought home many resources, ideas and contacts that I intend to use in my paid and voluntary work for years to come. The Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy is an idea I have used for the last ten years and I plan to formalise it over the next few years and I expect PB will be a key part of its work plan.





Have your say on access to alcohol

9 05 2014

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While there has been much justified public concern about at the sale, consumption and effects of synthetic psychoactive substances, there has been no public outrage at a far more dangerous, less regulated and damaging drug. It seems alcohol-related harm is tolerated by the vast majority of Kiwis and Gisborne is no exception:

  • New Zealand Police data shows that alcohol-related offending in Gisborne peaks on Friday and Saturday nights between 8pm and 4am.
  • Alcohol is a big factor in at least one half of deaths in people aged under 24 years.
  • Alcohol plays a role in at least 30% of hospital emergency department admissions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Alcohol-related injuries make up 60 percent of injury-based admissions to the emergency department.
  • 10 percent of assaults are recorded as alcohol-related by victims.
  • There was an increase of 22 percent in Police callouts for alcohol-fuelled crime 2008 and 2012.
  • NZTA statistics over a five year period show alcohol was involved in about twenty percent of Gisborne city crashes and a quarter of accidents on local rural roads.
  • Last year alcohol was a factor in up to 30 percent of fatal accidents in the Gisborne region.

To their credit it seems Gisborne District Council staff and councillors are finally willing to take on the industry and put tighter controls on the supply of this drug we have come to accept the daily abuse of in our community.

Bold proposals in the Draft Local Alcohol Policy will see sale times at off-license venues like wholesalers and supermarkets limited to between 10am and 9pm, bars and clubs will need to stop selling alcohol by 2am and bottle stores will not be allowed to setup close to schools and other sensitive locations. There will also be a limit on the number of off-license sites and licensees will need to have a plan showing how consuming alcohol in their venue will be managed to ensure safe and responsible drinking.

Tairawhiti Community Voice has encouraged our member organisations to make submissions on the Draft Local Alcohol Policy and we hope many local residents and other organisations do likewise to support the courageous position the Draft Local Alcohol Policy is taking in an effort to help reduce the harm caused by this drug. No doubt the alcohol industry and their well-paid lobbyists will attack the proposed changes. Councils have already been threatened with legal action just for letting locals have more say as the new law allows.

Responding to alcohol lobbyists suggestions that such policy changes are ‘going back in time’, a senior Police officer recently said research and experience confirms that every hour the drinking hours are reduced creates a safer environment. The longer people drink the more intoxicated they become and more harm is caused.

Submissions closed this week and the hearings will be an interesting exercise in local democracy as concerned residents and emergency services face off against the might of the alcohol lobby.





Rebels Against The Future

9 05 2014

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As a regular promoter of new technology (renewable energy generation and use as a replacement for fossil fuels), it’s a little ironic to be called a Luddite.

I would however wear the label proudly, but compare myself to my Dad who has never owned a car, computer or cellphone.

I do try to avoid the self-service checkouts at supermarkets, I know it’s a futile effort but trying to keep local people in a job just a little longer seems worth the extra few seconds waiting in line.

The Luddites were passionate about keeping people in meaningful employment and sustainable communities. If they were around today I guess they might be protesting about our obsession with speed and digital technology at the expense of traditional jobs and a more human pace of life.

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A few years back I bought Dad a book about the Luddites called ‘Rebels Against the Future‘. The author Kirkpatrick Sale suggests that the Luddites did not want to turn the clock back. They said, “We want to cling to this way of life; we don’t want a life in which we’re forced into factories, forced onto machines we can’t control, and forced from village self-sufficiency into urban dependency and servitude.”

A modern Luddite is also trying to hold to certain elements of the past to resurrect the community. Neo-Luddites wish to resurrect some values of the past such as communitarianism, non-materialism, an understanding of nature, and a meshing with nature. These things have been largely taken from us in the last 200 years and we must fight to preserve them.

Sale believes “sustainable” is essentially the opposite of “industrial.” Sustainability implies a non-exploitive relationship with nature and a basic self-sufficiency in life. Industrialism can’t allow that to exist because that kind of living would not create, manufacture, use or consume. Sustainability, community and self-sufficiency are antithetical to industrialism.

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Leaving Council

10 04 2014

VOTE

City ward councillor Manu Caddie has resigned from Gisborne District Council.

Mr Caddie said he arrived at the decision after some significant soul searching following a recent family trip to Asia and discussion with family and close friends.

“Recently I have taken time to reflect on my priorities and I need to make some changes. I should have made this decision before the last election and I am sorry for the inconvenience and extra cost that my resignation will mean for the Council and ratepayers.”

Mr Caddie said it has been a privilege to serve the Gisborne community as a District Councillor since 2010.

“Being on Council has been a highlight of my working life. The opportunity to help shape the future of our district is a serious responsibility and requires people who have the time and energy to devote to the task. Unfortunately I am unable to do this at present.”

Mr Caddie will continue involvement with a small number of community initiatives and a new organisation.

Mr Caddie’s resignation will mean a by-election must be held by early July for a new city ward councillor.

ENDS





Gisborne Communities Population Changes

22 03 2014

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Source: Statistics NZ (Census 2013)

The Riverdale increase can largely be attributed to the subdivision and retirement complexes that have been developed in that are since 2006. The Ruatoria increase is interesting as the other significant increases are all in more affluent parts of the district while most of the high deprivation areas have remained static or declined slightly. 





Reflections on Tuol Sleng (S-21)

3 01 2014
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Miria outside ‘Building B’

I’m sure millions of important words have been written about Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge that is now a museum commemorating the horrors that took place there and across Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. I think it’s important for me to record some of my reflections, if only for my own sake, but others may care to add their own comments.

The night before we visited Tuol Sleng, our family shared a meal with a couple from New Zealand who live and work in the slums of Phnom Penh. Craig and Nay both grew up in Auckland but Nay was born in Cambodia during the civil war, her father was killed after the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and Nay’s mother fled with her children first to a refugee camp on the border with Thailand and eventually they were supported by a Presbyterian church in Manurewa to come to New Zealand.

I remember my mother being involved with our Methodist church in Tauranga that was supporting refugees fleeing conflict in South East Asia in the late 70s and it was impressive to meet someone like Nay who has chosen to leave the comforts of life in New Zealand to come back with her own children to live and work with poor children in Cambodia.

I asked Craig if there had been a national or local reconciliation process to help heal the country – it seems not much has happened in that space. School textbooks only recently started including any reference to the conflict of the 1970s and it seems most of the younger generation born after the conflict has little knowledge about what happened in the communities of their parents and grandparents during that time.

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Miria looking over the climbing frame converted to gallows and dunking pots to ‘Building A’.

We took our 11 year old daughter to Tuol Sleng, I wanted her to know a bit about what happened, even if she didn’t really understand why it happened. Growing up in New Zealand, most children are thankfully protected from the worst excesses of human violence – of course we benefit in many ways from the violence done against the poor in places like Cambodia, but it’s not something we are exposed to other than through television news, documentaries, books and works of fiction (of course Jean Baudrillard would say its all fiction for us).

Her grandparents were a bit reticent about us taking Miria to a place where such horrific acts were committed and commemorated by stark photographs and displays of torture tools and testimonies. I told myself that Miria is mature enough to visit such places – after all, the sites are often not as immediately confronting, but we have plenty of places of mass execution and brutality around Aotearoa that children are encouraged to visit and learn from. It was a calculated risk but I think it was the right decision to take her.

One of the real tragedies of Tuol Sleng is its original purpose as a high school built in the 1950s – seeing how classrooms and children’s play equipment were perversely converted into places of imprisonment and tools of torture must break the heart of most visitors. The heaviness of the place overtook me before I even entered a building – the place has been left largely as the Vietnamese soldiers found it in January 1979 and first thing you see are the fourteen graves of the final victims found bolted to torture racks inside Building A.

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In ‘Building B’ haunting photos taken by the captors of thousands of victims stare back at visitors from display boards. I felt obligated to look each one of them in the eye as we passed through room after room – many looked like they were in their early teens, children were also brought to S-21 but most were not photographed in the formal portraits imposed on older victims. Some faces were battered and bruised, many looked petrified while others were expressionless – either they didn’t know what was going to happen to them, or seem to have a resignation and calm about their fate that must have come from a place most of us will not know.

Paintings by an inmate of the torture and killing techniques line the walls of classrooms and present a graphic depiction of how the senseless violence was inflicted on people who usually had no idea what the crime was they were accused of. Inmates at prisons similar to Tuol Sleng all over the country were tortured until they confessed whatever the Khmer Rouge wanted them to say, which inevitably led to a conclusion of guilt as an enemy of the revolution and execution at one of the many ‘killing fields’ that became mass graves across Cambodia.

Miria asked the inevitable questions about the motivations of the Khmer Rouge, the failure of their version of radical Communism and establishment of Capitalism and inequality since the demise of the regime from 1979. She didn’t seem traumatised by the experience and was certainly engaged by the gravity of the place, the unforgettable images of victims and particularly by the written narratives of both survivors and those who perished.

The perennial question of how could otherwise ‘good’ people do such terrible things to others has been asked and answered for many similar contexts.

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It is important that these memorials to 20th Century genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Europe exist. Such memorials to atrocities often provide important opportunities for the families of victims to get information on what happened to their loved ones – the Khmer Rouge left all the documentation on their victims. The faces of many Khmer Rouge leaders have been scratched out on the displays but the families and decedents of victims come from across the country and around the world to S-21 as part of their healing.

Most of the visitors to Tuol Sleng are foreign tourists and the $2 entry fee for foreigners seems a wasted opportunity to raise desperately needed funds to develop the facilities as the custodians have a stated goal of returning the former high school to a proper place of learning that can develop more educative resources about what happened there and during the 1970s in Cambodia. I think most foreigners would pay at least $50 for the opportunity to visit Tuol Sleng.

The ethics of genocide tourism are interesting, I’m sure plenty has been written about this popular practice that could be considered a privileged kind of voyeurism that revictimises the Cambodian men, women and children who suffered under the Khmer Rouge. On the other side of the argument, the descendants of survivors and victims want more people to know what happened in the hope that there will be some justice for those who have suffered and an perhaps opportunity for reconciliation when the truth however painful is acknowledged rather than ignored.

There were a range of other personal experiences and reflections for each of us – that won’t be shared in this format – needless to say the visit will inform our lifelong learning about the problems and power of evil, ideology, propaganda, ignorance, apathy, memory and forgetting.





A radical Christmas message

3 01 2014

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As the city recovers from a few crazy days leading up to the New Year and more laid back visitors settle around the district for January, Christmas probably seems a distant memory. Still, I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on what that ‘holiday’ has become.

Perhaps Christmas is now closer to its origins as the week long Roman festival of Saturnalia. There was widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; ‪each Roman community selected a victim who was forced to indulge in physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion on December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. Even after Christian leaders co-opted the festival in the 4th Century and made the final day a celebration of Jesus’ birth, they found it hard to change the way the event was observed. The origins of Santa Claus are even more bizarre.

Today New Zealand observes Christmas largely as a commercial opportunity and family time with a minority retaining any Christian connection.

Faith communities – usually in church congregations – continue to try and make Christmas about more than an obligation to buy things for people who don’t actually need any more stuff.

‘Glory to God, peace on (and with the?) Earth and goodwill to all people’ was the first Christmas message and still seems relevant today and year round.

Of course making such a vision reality would see a radical shift in relationships between families, communities and countries. Resources would be used and distributed very differently.

For most of us it’s probably more convenient to leave that particular message out of Christmas, but I like to imagine what would happen if we all took it seriously.








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