Red Post-Election Blues.

There was a kind of depressed lull after the Sept 20 election, none of us on the left had much to say. I was overtaken with post-election blues; a kind of energy-sapping disappointment, frustration and despair. One of my friends posted a fb note saying that he was still processing, so could we please not talk to him about the election. I got together with a group of friends that week to provide mutual solace, and ended up kissing an environmental activist who walked me to my bus-stop. So clearly, there are always silver linings.

But overall I’ve felt that there is more to say –

We are facing an emerging picture of the impact a third National term will have. John Key has come out backing the so-called ‘child poverty’ advice of the Ministry of Social Development, even though MSD officials disregarded the main recommendations of the report. Ignoring research-based findings in favour of right-wing discourse smacks of arrogance, but clearly Key’s government feel they have a clear mandate from the election to keep rolling out quasi austerity policies.

I’ve felt disappointed by the election summations of the left. Chris Trotter gnashed his teeth about the gender quota issue in the Labour party, complaining that less than 1/5 New Zealand men gave their Party Vote to Labour. It’s interesting that even amongst the left, scapegoating marginalised groups – like women – who are more exploited for their labour is an acceptable practice. The failure of New Zealand men to vote Left speaks to the uneven distribution of  emotional labour and nurturing in our culture (i.e. that women are more often responsible for children and elderly) not the failure of feminism. It means New Zealand men largely voted in their own self-interest, rather than voting for the good of dependents. It also reflects New Zealand men’s greater earning power.

Labour is facing a four-way Leadership race between Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson. I’ve felt really irritated by social media calls for people to vote on merit rather than ‘special interests’ or ‘political correctness’. It’s just really embarrassing that left-wing commentators have such a poor understanding of how structural inequalities work. Even if you are a die-hard old-school Marxist who puts the exploitation of the worker at the centre of your analysis, you should know that capitalism effects different groups of people differently, i.e. some workers are more exploited and exploitable than others. Because of the impact of structural racism (in education and the justice system for example) Maori and Pasifika peoples are more vulnerable to exploitation as low-paid workers. Even without that level of analysis, Maori and Pasifika voters did turn out for Labour, and deserve party accountability. That’s not even going near the politics of indigeneity, and what I would want to say about colonisation and Te Tiriti. So pull your heads in.

So is there a better way to theorise National’s landslide win? What stands out to me is the level of saturation of neoliberal discourse after the previous two National terms, and in a global context of ongoing austerity measures. Chomksy’s recent comments about the business classes in America fighting a ‘class war’ to challenge opposition, and discussion of the decimation of the union movement, have made reflect me on the impact on growing income inequality in New Zealand.

What if the failure of Labour to secure voters was less about political claims-making along a mutable political spectrum, and more about the division of haves and have-nots without the buffering “middle-class” we’ve generally seen?  Marx argued that we act in our own self-interest. The interests of the wealthy elite is far removed from the social and economic needs of New Zealand’s working class; perhaps why Cunliffe’s gesture towards raising the minimum wage didn’t make a dent in political consciousness.

What does it mean if New Zealand’s political process has come to represent the interests of the business classes?  We are already in a global environment where corporations have more power than individual governments. The only solutions I can think of lie with mobilising globally across different disenfranchised groups (like the global poor), and directly challenging corporations instead of simply channelling our efforts through government.

I’m really interested in hearing other people’s views on how we can create meaningful social change. Do we need to get radical?

What’s in a Name? White Bourgeois Cruelty Culture in Auckland

Okay, I’ll admit, being irritated by the naming of high-end venues and ‘concept stores’ doesn’t even seem like an issue particularly worth blogging about. It’s just that it feels so gross that nowhere along the design process did anyone go, “hey, do you think that might be – like – a little off?” So I’m going to discuss “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” (the rebranding of Sale St in Sale St) and “The Shelter” a ‘concept store’ in Ponsonby.

So, “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” of course sounds like what you would call a brewery in a very dark children’s novel with characters, like “Mr. Amis Greed”. Or perhaps what you might ironically call a bar in a dystopian novel, or a piece of contemporary art, all the while signalling that sweat shops are not known for their fun and joie de vivre.

It’s ironic, you groan. Sure enough, “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” is so-named because it used to be a clothing factory (See Metro’s review) where machinists used to produce denim wear for the shipbuilders and yachts down in Westhaven. A nice little slice of history, made palatable with your ageing meat sandwich.

So this is where it begins to bug me. The marketing of ‘Sweat Shop’ is about combining clothing factory historicity – think blue denim – with symbolic markers of working-class American culture – think  American BBQ cured meats, and trying to entice consumers to follow on the bandwagon of the American Charcuterie boom. Working-class Americana looks hip. The “About Us” section of their website makes these hilarious claims about being “the hardest working bar in Auckland”, which is of course not about their actual work practice, but about marketing themselves in relation to our fascination with an American narrative of hard work, sweat and beer.

So marketing working-class culture to the bourgeois in Ponsonby seems ugly, but not terribly new because in New Zealand we expect a little exotification in our marketing; how will the bourgeois know it’s any good if it doesn’t look like it’s come from somewhere else? Of course, bourgeois enjoyment of the spectacle of working-class culture depends on their distance from it (you can enjoy your stylised brew a lot more with no actual poor people around).

The part that really bugs me though is that even though the name “Sweat Shop” is what Jameson would have called ‘blank irony’ (referring to how irony in branding in late capitalism is only drawing attention to it’s referentiality or pastiche, rather than being pointed at something) the joke only works because of the consumer’s distance from actual Sweat Shops. That is, because the drinker is able to go “haha. Sweat Shop. Good one.” and not think about how “sweat shops” are so-called because of their unacceptable working conditions, and are still commonplace in the garment industry in Bangladesh, India and China.

Doesn’t that put you off your drink, even slightly? Doesn’t it seem like the pun is actually only witty because it is also slightly cruel, referring to something we know is sinister?

That’s when we come to “The Shelter”. Now generally, a shelter is a temporary residence for people or things that need shelter. So, people that are living rough, or animals, or women and children escaping abusive homes, or people who are trying to avoid being killed or maimed by bombs.

But in Ponsonby, “The Shelter” is a “concept store” (hehe as in, a store with a concept) of “like-minded” brands to provide an “artistic experience” for the “discerning shopper”. Now, my analysis would be similar to “Sweat Shop” , i.e. it is bad taste and relies on a cruel, vacuous irony to describe a place that is actually luxurious, for the rich. But bizarrely, “The Shelter” is kind of worse. How?

Well, when I looked at the marketing, there was a noticeable lack of irony. The graphic on the website has a visually opulent image of a white building that almost evokes a church. The categories on the website offer ‘Eat – Wear – Shelter – Watch’. The text reads ‘The Shelter houses a carefully curated selection on new and established brands’.. . You get the sense that Vicki Taylor genuinely imagines her store is providing a form of care and nurture via protecting the aesthetic sensibilities of the very rich. Sigh.

This is part of the continuation of discourse amongst the wealthy, white elite told over and over to nurture themselves through consumption. And what poor, wee fluffy bunnies they are. How they very definitely deserve to take shelter in a design-led haven, away from the harsh realities of a world of people needing shelter.

It seems to me a sign of things getting worse in New Zealand (and globally) when white, bourgeois folk have lost their capacity to be embarrassed by this level of stupid. Maybe it’s because we have grown. Previously you knew that the conversation would carry across different sectors in society enough that it would get back to someone’s grandmother. Someone would have pulled Vicki Taylor aside and said “hmm not a good idea honey, that’s going to sound really tacky, because you know, of the people needing actual shelters”. Maybe there is such a burgeoning gap between the wealthy and the rest of us that many upstarting bourgeois are in a bubble having conversations in closed circuits. Their white, bourgeois lack of exposure to other worlds and other world-views can breed a form of careless cruelty.

Rape Complaints and Dating Apps: Time to Talk to the Boys

Three New Zealand women have reported being raped after meeting with men via the dating app Tinder (See NZ Herald article by Anna Leask). The Herald article quotes a warning from Detective Sergeant James Watson, Head of the Adult Sexual Assault Team, about in-person meet-ups with people you meet on-line:

“Women need to be very aware of who they are meeting when they are alone and without their friends.”

Really? Huh. I’m fairly sure Detective Sergeant Watson has just described the plot of every b-grade horror flick since the 1980’s. It’s roughly the plot of Little Red Riding Hood. Girl, be aware! Don’t go alone! You may have guessed I have some problems with this advice.

Why didn’t Detective Sergeant Watson have a warning for men who use dating apps like Tinder? You know, like don’t rape! Or even, men need to be very aware when using Tinder that sexual coercion is a crime. Sexual contact that is non-consensual is rape, regardless of whether the woman has agreed to meet with you. The Police’s safety message to women reflects a culture where we are still loading women with the responsibility to avoid rape, instead of telling boys and men not to rape.

Sociologist Jaclyn Friedman has argued that these kinds of messages are linked to our understanding of women as ‘sexual gatekeepers’. That is, we portray men as having sexual desire (which is difficult to control), while women are held responsible for whether or not sex happens. In 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, said “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid unwanted sexual attention. This comment was what motivated the transnational movement ‘Slut Walk’, which protests against blaming rape victims, particularly excusing rape because of women’s clothing.

After the ‘Roast Busters’ saga last year, there is no doubt of the prevalence of rape culture, or that new social media has produced different possibilities for sexual violence. The prevalence of smart phones amongst young people simply means that of course loads of young women are going to meet people via dating apps or social networking. Telling girls not to go alone on dates seems pretty unhelpful, because it goes against the social logic of what a date is, i.e. an opportunity to get to know someone with the prospect of developing romantic feelings. This means by default that you aren’t going to know the person well, and that you are going to be alone.

Stopping rape means changing the context of heterosexual intimacy where men often engage in non-consensual sex with women they are dating, as social psychologist Nicky Gavey points out in her book ‘Just Sex: The Sexual Scaffolding of Rape’. Preventing rape means changing the ideas that boys and men have about themselves ( e.g. that they are entitled, that everyone else is getting it, that they are powerful or that they should be, that horniness is uncontrollable), and the ideas that they have about girls and women (e.g. that we are inferior or weaker, that our thoughts and feelings matter less, that our bodies are for their viewing pleasure). They need to know that a date does not mean she owes you.

It is already difficult for young women to come forward to police, and make complaints about sexual violence. The message the police should be giving women is that unwanted or coerced sex is never acceptable, and that if this occurs, they can talk to the police and be treated with respect and understanding.

Pasifika, Political, and Proud: Three Reasons Pasifika People Should Vote Out Key

So Three News had a story today June 10th on “Pacific voters” turning out for John Key in Mangere. They included a quote by National candidate Misa-Fia Turner, saying that Gay Marriage is one of the main reasons for Pasifika voters turning from Labour to National. Misa-Fia Turner says

“that’s important to us because that’s really against our moral values”.

For a start, the same-sex marriage bill has already passed in April last year. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs could vote as they saw fit, not along party lines. It passed by 77 votes to 44, which included 27 National MPs voting for it. John Key voted for it. Misa-Fia Turner was really misrepresenting her own party.

Secondly, when National candidate Misa-Fia Turner says gay marriage is “against our moral values”, I wonder how she has managed to miss out on so much Pasifika gay and fa’afafine awesomeness, like this incredible art and cultural project.

I am a Pasifika voter. I am queer/ bisexual. I am accepted by my family and community. My past partners have been accepted by my family. Get over it. It’s certainly not a voting issue.

Pasifika peoples are pretty diverse, and of course you can’t really presume we have the same values and beliefs. But there are some issues that are significant to Pasifika peoples. Here are my top three reasons for Pasifika people to vote out National by voting Labour or left of Labour (Greens party, Mana and Internet party) based on actual issues facing Pasifika communities, and the things we collectively value.

1) We love our kids. Pasifika people know that we are all responsible for the next generation. We think in terms of our communities. Pasifika peoples in New Zealand are a youthful population, meaning that we have a lot of young people. Under the National government, child poverty has increased. We’ve seen how the children of beneficiaries have been made to suffer through Paula Bennett’s approach to welfare. We’ve seen how many young families are not meeting the cost of living even when there is a full-time earner, because wages are too low and the cost of living is too high.

Labour has policies aimed at increasing employment and minimum wage. Both the Greens and Mana/ the Internet party go even further towards stopping child poverty, by having policy aimed at better supporting beneficiary families. The current government is making things worse. It’s a no brainer.

2) We care about the health and well-being of our communities. Our communities are facing a lot of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. After adjusting for inflation, the National government is spending less on health across 2015. In real terms, that means cutting services and probably increasing waiting times.

Both Labour and the Greens have health policy aimed at improving health by spending more. The Greens have policy specifically aimed at improving the health of populations with low health status, like Pasifika peoples. Mana is focusing on tobacco restrictions, and would introduce free after-hours medical care for children under 16 years and for senior citizens.

3) We care about the Pacific, the Pacific ocean, and its peoples. Where we come from is so important to us. We are connected to vanua. We are connected to the sea around us. The islands of Kiribati are facing potentially becoming uninhabitable in the next 30-60 years because of the impact of climate change, which is already causing salt water contamination of fresh water and crop soil. People having been talking about being ‘climate voters’ which is bipartisan, but from my perspective the only party significantly engaged with climate change is the Greens.

 

Dear Lesbian

Dear Generic Lesbian,  Standing-in-for-all-lesbians Lesbian, Capital “L” Lesbian, Lesbian Captain Sir,

as a bisexual/ femme/ queer woman

via Facebook when I stumble across lesbian sites and lesbian events like http://www.lowdown.org.nz that extend an invitation to me as an afterthought “lesbians and their friends (of both genders)…” (and believe me this is not a new phenomenon)

I wonder if you have noticed that I have been out as long as you, marched on the same parades as you, danced at the same parties,  and fought the same fights. We have been lovers for a long time now, long-term friends, and once I even married you. There is no running away from this.

When I am invited, but the event or site is not “for me”, it is not “us”, I know that you do not see me as equal to you. A lover certainly. Perhaps even a partner. But not some-one that you need to recognise or give space too. Not “one of the team” in the same way you see your butch mates. That you see me as circumspect, able to slip away, able to “pass”, not someone who is worth investing in.

I am angry and I am over being polite. I have spent 20 years speaking queer politics out loud. I am femme and feminist and I have done my own work and I am not going to carry your butch insecurities for you.

So let’s get real clear about where this lies:

1.The fact that you forget me because I am not “the same” as you makes you the worst kind of lazy, egotistical lover.

2. The fact that I lose queer credibility because you are afraid that I might leave you for a man  is outdated, possessive and misogynist. We do not own our lovers. Who else I love is nobody’s business but my own.

3. If your sense of butchness/ masculinity is not enough for you regardless of who else I love or have loved, then that is your problem. And also the problem with butchness/ masculinity.

I respect and value myself enough not to invest in intimate relationships with people I can’t trust. That goes for political alliances too.  Until you can treat me as an equal, not as second-best, you can go your way and I will go mine.

No, Paula: Nits are a Symptom, but Poverty is the Cause.

Paula Bennett has announced the Government will provide nearly $1 million funding through the Ministry of Social Development to KidsCan to manage head lice in low decile schools, see Scoop.

Paula Bennett goes as far as admitting that the cost of nit treatments is prohibitive for poor families:

“Although nits are found in all schools, children from low-decile schools, and particularly their parents, could use help in dealing with nits. Treatment can typically cost $30. Combine that with several heads in the household and the problem becomes extremely expensive. This initiative will allow for whole families to be treated if necessary. It can be a struggle for some families to keep on top of infestations. We hear of children having their heads shaved and severe scalp infections where unsuitable treatments are used”.

My problem with the Government working through KidsCam to treat kids for nits at school (including hairdresser style chairs) is that it is the worst type of “ambulance at the end of the cliff” program typical of poorly conceptualised development programmes.

Nits are a symptom Paula, but poverty is the problem. Only treating the nits does nothing to change the living conditions of the child overall. Kids will be just as hungry and cold and poorly educated, without nits. They will be as vulnerable to the next illness that comes along, that their parent or parents will also not be able to afford to treat.

Changing poverty in New Zealand is a different matter.  You could increase the minimum wage to a living wage so that families can provide the essential costs of living. You could increase the base rate of the unemployment benefit, so that children in beneficiary families are not punished for their parents lack of employment. While you were at it, you could implement changes in the culture of Work and Income New Zealand, so that beneficiaries are not bullied and shamed during the application process. You could create jobs.

It’s hard to say if the programme the Government has announced will even work, here are some problems with it:

  • Nit infestation is about needing treatment, but it is also about overcrowded living conditions where lice can easily be passed from head to head. I think kids are likely to keep getting them back from other family members, who will still not be able to afford to treat them.
  • National loves to pretend it keeps out of people’s lives, but I can’t think of a more “nannying” intervention than treating people’s children for head lice!  What it really means is that they are unable to address the impact of income inequality, but children from lower deciles are able to be subjected to more policing than other children. How are the kids going to feel about having people who aren’t their parents come in and treat them for head lice? How will parents feel about it? How is the potential bullying that might occur towards children who are treated for head lice going to be managed? Will it feel like another instance of micro-agression or minority stress for Pacific kids who are already subject to ongoing micro-agressions?
  • Do you even understand how Pacific communities are going to feel about having people come in and washing their kids hair?
  • Money spent on hairdressing chairs, basins, and either paying or subsidising the travel costs of the hair washers (it’s not clear how the program works) could be spent directly on families in need, who could then treat nits in their own home.
  • It could put more pressure on teachers, and take kids away from learning while they are being checked, washed, dried and nit-combed at school.

Karangahape Road:The Need to Protect Queer, Trans, Migrant, Poor and Vulnerable Presence in the City

I’m nervous about discussing the dry and rectangular world of city planning, and more fluid, mutable worlds of spirit, community and creativity in one blog-post. And yet, I am called to action by my fierce loyalty towards Karangahape Road.

Wayne Thompson (no relation) wrote an article in the Herald on friday about the changes afoot for Karangahape Rd.

Auckland City Council is seeking feedback on their draft K’Road plan by 14th May, and are having a public drop-in feedback session with the council’s planning team this Monday 5 May 11am-2pm, Methodist Church, Pitt Street (It’s the last of four but I only found this out sorry).

Struggling through the policy-speak of draft plan (lots of vague words like ‘colourful’, a word I will come back to), the Council knows that Karangahape Road area is going to be a vital site because of it’s centrality to the future city rail link. Think lots of moving bodies. They also know as the city population grows, Karangahape Rd is going to need to accommodate a bigger population; think more businesses, more accommodation, more people wanting to have fun. They have already consulted with Karangahape Business Association, but to my mind there are other vital stakeholders whose views are obscured or missing from the current draft, and a risk that the jargon of planners will lead to Karangahape Rd being banal and soul-less.

Wayne Thompson writes:

“Karangahape Rd has long been known for its character – which includes everything from quirky stores and trendy cafes to a vibrant nightlife and prostitution.

For some, that mix is what makes the area unique and appealing. For others it’s a mix that needs to change. A road that needs to be cleaned up.”

His article usefully draws attention to the tensions expressed by Karangahape Road Business Association, who want to see the road cleaned up, and yet retain its current atmosphere. Thompson quotes Waitemata Local Board Member, Vernon Tava, who says:

“The problem is how to keep the colour and yet make it a safer place for business”

This statement is really the heart of it.

What bothers me most is that making it “a safer place for business” is not the same thing as making it a safer place for people, and even then, we need to think about which bodies we are protecting, and from whom. Making Karangahape Rd “a safer place for business” is not really about safety at all – it is about protecting capital, wealth and assets, for private business owners. Safety for people is a different matter all together. It is about the absence of harm or violence, respect, dignity and compassion. Some businesses the Herald article spoke to complained about “binge drinkers” and “sex workers” in their carparks and doorways; and one businessman complained about “the street people”.

I want the City Council Plan to protect city dwellers who live rough, sex workers and other vulnerable users from the micro-agressions inflicted on them by business owners. In fact, that’s only scraping the surface of what I would dream for Karangahape Rd.

I am reminded of the work done by queer theorist, Michael Warner (2002) who has described how attempts to “clean up” edgy parts of the city, privatises sex, and marginalises queer, gay, lesbian and trans visibility and culture. Warner described the rezoning of New York City in the 1990s, where these actions led to the loss of public expressions of gay culture, and a public space that was more mainstream, and heteronormative.

I want to tell you my own history of Karangahape Rd.

In 1997, I was 17 and had my first lesbian love affair with a girl who lived in a dingy flat above shops on K’road. She might have been 18 or 19. She had long dreads. Grunge was still in, and I can remember her wearing op-shop cardigans, smoking roll-your-owns and wearing doc marten boots. At the time it felt worlds away from the chaos that was unfolding in my conservative family. We could walk down K’road holding hands and feel safe, and ‘at home’. We could sneak into nightclubs like Legends, or the Staircase. Once I remember a girl took a photo of us at a party; she had never seen ‘beautiful’ lesbians before. Quite simply, Karangahape Rd was a Queer St. A street of glitter covered drag queens, of gay men in tight tee-shirts ,or else wearing leather and handle-bar moustaches. It was overtly sexual. It was the place you escaped to from the suburbs.

Now, I know that over 20 years gay politics have changed. Last year’s recognition of marriage equality would have been entirely unimaginable to my 17-year-old self. There’s been a shift from a politics of radical visibility, to a politics of seeking equal recognition. There’s no question that for many gays and lesbians, sexuality is no longer that important because of the high level of mainstream acceptance.

But I have a few concerns.

Firstly, when the current draft of the Karangahape Rd plan mentions “colourful”, or refers obscurely to it’s “character”, it doesn’t mention the significance of GBLT community. When it talks about preserving “culture” and “vibrant history” it doesn’t mention preserving the relationship between Karangahape rd and sexual and gender diversity. It’s frustrating that queer community has provided the bodies, the energy and creativity, but then are not explicitly consulted about it’s future, and our stake in it.

While there have been tremendous gains made for some members of the GBLT community over the last 20 years, there are still those of us that do not have the privileges of Pakeha middle-class gays and lesbians, and who have some way to go before they experience gender or sexual justice in their lives. Particularly young queer folk, including those who may be trans or gender-queer. I want Karangahape Rd to retain it’s character as a queer hub through the presence, safety and comfort of queer people. Currently, Karangahape houses Rainbow Youth, an organisation for GBLT young people. Community organisations like Rainbow Youth are enormously susceptible to the pressure of market rents. We need to future for Karangahape rd that maintains it’s connections to queer young folk.

In the plans there are a few references to public spaces that will be made “family-friendly”. Now, in general, of course I would want public areas to be family-friendly. But in the context of an area with a current and historic association with young, brown trans, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, and whakawahine sex workers, I don’t want the creation of “family-friendly” public space leading eventually to the pushing out of these street-based sex workers (who may be unable to get brothel work because of racism and transphobia) into areas that will make them more vulnerable.

Cities can have a creative presence that is difficult to pin down. It is something about the rub of different bodies, the movement, and the different textures that emerge from the juxtaposition of diverse worlds. A frission if you will. So Karangahape road has also been a home to artists and writers. The plan mentions consultation with creative industries, but I wonder whether the planners understand that the presence of artists and writers is also dependant on materialities (e.g. affordability of rent), exposure to diversity, cafe culture, and the ability to cultivate relationships with the eccentric, the non-productive and the under-employed. I can often be found drinking coffee and writing at either Alleyula in St Kevins, or at Revel. If it gets too commercialised, it will die.

Finally, lets talk about the relationship between Karangahape rd and people who live rough in the city. The draft plan for Karangahape Rd does mention the Homelessness Action Plan (I couldn’t find a live link to it on the council site) but from my limited understanding, it is a multi-agency strategy for assisting those people sleeping rough into long-term accommodation. This occurs on a case-by-case basis via support workers who can help them those sleeping rough access services (via say, WINZ and Housing New Zealand). Obviously I haven’t looked at the plan in full, but in terms of where rough sleeping intersects with Karangahape Rd, I still think there could be a more meaningful acknowledgment of the relationship between cities and rough sleeping, and an approach of explicitly acknowledging the safety  and well-being needs of the rough sleeper population and recognises they are likely to be a continuing aspect of the city. I imagine that plans to move people into long-term accommodation often have some kind of lag while bureaucratic wheels turn, and that there might be gap in meeting the short-term and immediate needs of the city-based people who are vulnerable.

I thought about how in Tory St in Wellington’s inner city, there is the is the amazing soup kitchen at the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre. Firstly, before people get worked up about the suggestion, Tory St is still a thriving and popular street which houses trendy cafes, graphic design companies and the like. The Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre is an accepted and welcome part of Wellington inner city at least partially because the soup kitchen has been there (albeit in different forms and at different venues) for over 110 years. It has become part of the public culture of Wellington. Despite this, of course, it is only possible because of a group of nuns, and probably, private church wealth and low property prices.

In 2014, in a highly, secular culture, it doesn’t seem appropriate that we leave the role of public compassion to the work done by church organisations. There is no equivalent social body to say, buy inner city property to create soup kitchens (certainly not with the same level of public uptake). Which brings us back to the Karangahape rd plan of the Auckland Council. How could the needs of the most vulnerable street users be made more central?

Please get involved and give the council feedback by May 14. I want to leave you with an anecdote about a recent Karangahape rd experience. I drinking coffee and writing on my laptop at Alleyula in St Kevin’s Arcade a few weeks ago, and a kid came up to me. He must have been 12-14, but his skinny frame and oversized jumper made it difficult to tell. His skin was pale but the rims of his eyes were very red, and he had a very slight tremor. He asked me for two dollars so that he could catch a bus “to get home”. I looked at him and knew it wasn’t for bus money. I said, “Sure, dude” lightly, and reached into my purse to get change. He continued talking, “The other people won’t help me because they think I’m just a bum, like one of those K’road bums? But I’m not a bum”. I could see that he was trying to represent himself  – via an imaginary bus ride to an imaginary home – as someone I would help and speak kindly to. That we are often prepared to help those we are ‘like’; a kid who has plausibly forgotten their bus money, but not the same kid who has been living rough and using drugs to survive overwhelming distress. So I gave him a couple of dollars, but said, “Yeah, but you know, no one is really bum. They’re just people who are having really rough times”. He thanked me and moved on to asking other tables, evidence that he did not just need a trip home. But he turned and waved to me when he was leaving, giving a grateful smile.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a teenaged lesbian and when lesbians were still outsiders, Karangahape rd taught me about safety, joy and community you get from other outsiders, no matter how much of an outsider you are. Please lets protect Karangahape rd’s relationship to outsiders, queer folk of all stripes, migrants, artists, poor folk. If it has to be a “safe” place, let it be a safe place to be different and vulnerable.