By TESSA WEBB

The Spinoff’s Youth Wings series featured a debate in September — our Mavericks sat down with each of the Youth Wings to understand what their parties are about.

The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand’s platform of ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision making, and non-violence seems like current solutions to our modern problems, yet these are the principles of the charter created back in 1990 at the founding of the party. Three decades on, these sentiments seem just as relevant, and keeping the Green Party vibrant is a thriving youth wing, who are constantly advocating for a progressive policy agenda. I had the pleasure of zooming with conveners Matariki Roche and Danielle Marks to yarn about accessibility, policy, and making change in a system that you want to deconstruct.

The dynamic duo operates in a shared leadership structure seen at all levels throughout The Green’s organizations, but in typical youth wing fashion, they have developed this model past its original one male, one female form to allow for inclusion of a wider range of gender identities.

Danielle Marks and Matariki Roche / Supplied

“The internal view of the Green Party is that the youth wing is the radical change-making part, there to push the party agenda along”. This challenge isn’t something that they object to. “Our MPs want to be held to account by the youth wing… they see it coming when they see an email from us… we try to keep the party true to its kaupapa.”

This attitude of accountability isn’t accompanied by hostility. The intimidating nature of youth politics and the political sphere, in general, is something which Matariki objects to. “The whole point (with a youth wing) is that we are young, our opinions are going to shift, we need time to learn and that’s okay. We also don’t have a culture that is open to forgiveness or teaching. Politics doesn’t have a culture that allows people to say: “hey, I don’t know about this”…it’s a very punitive culture. You aren’t offered resources, you are offered mean comments on Facebook pages. Politics in general needs to shift to allow us to be more accepting.”

Making politics more accessible to all, and elevating voices that have been absent in the past is key to these two leaders; “I’m queer, bi, trans, brown, disabled, Māori, Pacifica”, explained Danielle. “I’m the golden nugget of a minority…That kind of thing is the reason why I do it… being around for these communities who never get recognised.” This attitude is being advocated for at all levels of the Green Party. “The hope we need is in all of us. Chloe (Swarbrick) sums it up really well…she says “the only reason you’re inspired by me is because you see a part of you within me.” You just want to see some aspect of you represented to believe everything’s gonna be all good.

The Young Greens of Aotearoa New Zealand believe that part of the barriers to participation is the system itself. “Colonization is inherently a white supremacist strategy, therefore the colonial system imported all its systems, structures, and laws…The parliamentary system isn’t of New Zealand, it’s not the way te ao Māori runs our stuff “ The Greens have an alternative vision:  “Our Parliament would go above and beyond co government and truly recognize the original people.” The party officially accepts Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document and Māori as the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.  This is reflected in the party’s stance on Ihumātao, one which has proved a point of conflict with their coalition partners; in the words of Danielle: “You can’t gift back what was stolen in the first place.”

But they understand that systemic change won’t happen overnight.  “It is twofold, we need to change the system… we need to change the culture so it recognizes the system needs to change… but while we are under the system we still need to change what we can from within.” The conveners seem to encompass these two different approaches.

Danielle explains; “These changes have only happened because communities have risen together to make that the conversation. People forget that politicians are working for us, we are literally paying them, and they need to listen to us, regardless of what side we are on.”

So, what “side” are they on? In the upcoming referendum, the Young Green’s stance on cannabis is so clear the catchphrase for the election has been “Three ticks green”. “We have a lot of party lines about how it is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and how it affects Māori”. Danielle added, “it’s about evidence-based research”.  On euthanasia, the main Green Party is a yes vote on the ground of bodily autonomy. But as Matariki explained, it is far from a clear cut issue. “This vote isn’t about euthanasia…it’s the bill itself which is causing the debate which is a really unique referendum and is juxtaposed with cannabis legalization”. Danielle’s position is one which takes a broad look at the context in which the legislation lies, “no one really is advocating for change (in the healthcare system)…we have avoided these conversations… Before we get to euthanasia we need to ask, are people getting the same access to the options before euthanasia?”

The Young Greens are an integral part of the party not just as a source of outreach and energy but also policy. “Seeing those things that a few of the Young Greens have made becoming main drivers of the election” has been an election highlight for Danielle, with their Youth Income policy including measures such as free transport for students and separating allowance from parental income being adopted by the main Green Party as part of their Poverty Action Plan, which has become popular across the political spectrum.

What has been a wild campaign dealing with the “shit show” of politics could be exhausting. However, the Young Greens get through it together. Matariki said “Danielle has been working hard to develop a community, so it feels like a family. When my wairua is wavering I go back to the Young Greens.”

It is fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a challenge to the strength of Aotearoa’s wairua. But despite all of the hardship it has caused, Matariki has something to say for the coronavirus as a catalyst for reshaping the future: “What COVID has revealed is that if there is the urgency, the means, the demand and the mandate for transformational change then we can actually do it…. That’s been something that has been really exciting, especially in the Green Party there are values of welfare, and looking after our community and our environment, that we have been carrying since forever really. Now they are coming into the conversation in a new light.”

And this conversation seems to be one which The Young Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is ready to have.

TESSA WEBB is a small-town girl from friendly Feilding who ran her way to North Carolina. Currently living her American dream studying Political Science, eating frozen custard, and staying on that student-athlete grind.

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