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(en) New Zealand, Dissident Voice* #7 - Rhymes of Resistance or Poems of Privilege?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 25 Dec 2004 09:00:03 +0100 (CET)

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The basis for this rant stems from a single event. I attended a poetry
reading at the recent international poetry festival held in Wellington.
Antonieta Villamil from Columbia was our drawcard, the program
indicated that her poetry was fuelled by the oppression and victimisation of
people opposing the Columbian regime. There were four other poets, a
guest poet from India and three from NZ. The session began and the
compeer announced that this festival had an underlying theme of human rights.
Villamil delivered a strong, impassioned, and engaging recitation, utilising
song and second voice to add dynamics. However by the time the three NZ
readers (middle-aged, Pakeha, and male) had finished I held nothing but
contempt and scorn for such bored, boorish, self-indulgent wank.

The first kiwi poet read a poem about drinking coffee on the grass in
Geneva perving at women in bikinis. The second was stilted
Buddhist-inspired twaddle about sliding down the side of volcanoes and
picking lemons. And the third had the redeeming value of being slightly
funny, but remained set in what appeared to be a 1960s kiwi catholic boy's
boarding school experience, hardly a human rights violation though some
may argue otherwise.

The only connection I could make from these poems were along the lines

‘we have luck and are lucky to live
in a boat of paradise amidst the sea of
human rights violations,
listen to these poems of privilege'

Not one local poet used the opportunity to explore the festivals theme of
human rights in any angle, let alone mention the two words, in text or
elaboration of their work. In contrast to Villamil's reading, my mood
became vitriolic, after expecting some mention of human rights from our
local poets and receiving nothing, my tolerance for artistic endeavour and
linguistic exploration was non-existent.

I love poems that can stir emotion, but this was not what I had in mind. So
we left, venting our own guttural brand of expletive poetry to the day. I was
frustrated but, cynically, not surprised. It seemed to reinforce my thoughts
that NZ art, on the whole, has become a bunch of indulgent,
profession-based, public self-exploration that places more value in clever
personal quirk over substance.

Current art, and artists, appear to have either lost or forgotten that socially
connected voice. In the early 80's, within the field of music, there were a
few performers that included elements of social commentary and analysis
into their work. Songs such as ‘Riot Squad', ‘There is no
depression in NZ', and ‘Don't go' were all grounded in some local
context. However, since the mid 80's and the redirection of the economy,
artistic content has lost that focus.

To my thinking, artists and creative workers have a responsibility to take
the situations which surround our environment, complex or otherwise,
and reinterpret them back via poems, song, painting, theatre, or any other
form of media available. Globally, and historically, artists and entertainers
are a central part of a community rather than a perceived segregated elite.
And it has not always been a safe career option. Poets have been murdered
by various states for publicly presenting opposing or dissenting views,
musicians have been banished and outcast, and dance and theatre groups
have travelled and engaged local communities, placing themselves at
personal risk, to inform, educate, and present alternatives in the days
before the internet.

It seems that the greatest social statement of recent days is Dobbyn's tune
‘Loyal'. The national psyche was fed into the groupthink sheep
wringer, branding loyalty and indicating patriotic enthusiasm as only being
expressible by supporting a rich mans boring boat race. Globally, when
Gulf War II started, many mainstream American artists united to oppose
the Bush regime across the artistic spectrum. The same cannot be said for
here. Don McGlashen from the Muttonbirds is the only prominent NZ
musician who has been actively visible in the anti-war movement. Where
are the rest? Why has it taken two years for artists to mobilise for Zaoui?
What are artists responses to the foreshore and seabed confiscation, G.E.,
civil unions, NZ involvement in Iraq, gender politics, Steven Wallace, or
any other situations that need exploration in one form or another? Without
these conscious actions, provoking discussion, we become prone to
forgetting. Shallow, consumer driven art does not make for deep, evolving,
and inspirational cultures. It is a continuation of the disposable mindset
that pervades current thinking.

I may have missed others involved in working with social campaigns and
my criticism is not intended to attack people's actual efforts. When I
mention McGlashen's effort I'm talking about the most mainstream of NZ
performers. I have not seen such involvement from others such as
Dobbyn, the Finn brothers, Shihad etc in social causes. I also acknowledge
that there are areas of creative exploration where issues are explored in
depth such as Hip Hop artists like Upper Hutt Posse, labels such as Dawn
Raid, painters such as James Robinson and Robyn Kahukiwa, the Skate
Board poets, satirical writing like the now defunct Babylon Express, and a
number of other independent practitioners within NZ.

The combination of creative aesthetic and social commentary does not
equate to loss of artistic integrity or quality, more so the opposite. It
broadens the scope of the audience, links history with today, delivers
critique and information in accessible formats other that academic tomes.
And by this critique I am not suggesting that art needs to only be overtly
political in content, the subtlety and nuances of personal exploration are as
important as the broad social analysis. Art can be informative and
entertaining at the same time. It requires commitment, a perception
outside the self and ability to interpret wider issues with personal
responses, and a willingness to engage others in dialogue.

– Mr Sterile & D.S. Lunchbox, speakers who
curiously trace the history of globalization back to the Trilateral
Commission. Here in New Zealand, I have seen white environmentalists
accuse Maori of “reverse racism” for daring to assert
their rights to
protect indigenous flora and fauna under threat from bioprospectors and
the TRIPs agreement. At other international conferences on globalization,
activists have dismissed Indigenous Peoples' perspectives on globalization
as “narrow” and “nativistic”,
arguing that they do not
attach enough importance to class analysis.

Naturally we feel outrage at security clampdowns against popular
Mobilizations in Auckland, Vancouver, Seattle, Melbourne, Quebec City
and Washington DC. But shock and surprise? Colonial governments have
always used police and military as an army of occupation against
Indigenous Peoples. State-sanctioned abuses against indigenous
communities have long been a dime-a-dozen but have frequently failed to
register with many folk.

I have heard the fairy story, told with passion, authority and a touch of
nostalgia, by non-indigenous New Zealanders, North Americans and
Australians who speak earnestly of the freedoms and democratic rights
enjoyed in their countries. Apparently things were pretty good until the
neoliberal ideologues and big business seized control, opened up the
economy, started hocking everything off to the transnationals, and saw
and Jill Citizen dispossessed of things that they thought were theirs. So
dozens of activists, academics, politicians as they state their opposition to
the neoliberal agenda. This version of history begins when globalization
started impacting non-indigenous peoples. The words
“democracy” and
“sovereignty” crop up time and time
again in their talks, and in anti-globalization literature and campaigns in
these countries. What do such appeals to democratic traditions, concepts
and values mean when they ignore past and present-day realities of
colonization in these countries?

While attending the 1997 Peoples Summit on APEC in Vancouver I
remember being struck by how speaker after speaker attacked
transnationals, and identified them as the driving force behind APEC, yet
utterly ignored struggles like that of the Lubicon Cree Nation in Northern
Alberta – the next province – against gas,
oil and timber
transnationals invading their unceded territory with the complicity of the
Canadian state. Nor did the fact that a “liberal
government of Canada, like the one which through hosting APEC hoped
to influence Asian trading partners with “Canadian
values”, had
sent more armed forces against Mohawk people defending their lands in
the 1990 standoff near Oka, Quebec than it sent to the Gulf War rate a
mention. But then again, the Vancouver Peoples Summit itself was
part-funded by the same NDP British Columbia provincial government
which in 1995 initiated a massive military operation at Gustafsen Lake
only a few hours drive away, against a small group of Indigenous Peoples
defending their sacred lands.

Many critics of globalization play down the role and relevance of the
nation-state, attributing power almost solely to transnational corporations
and international institutions like the Bretton Woods triplets. Yet this
the focus away from the nature and power of the state and even
romanticizes it. Such global campaigns run the risk of distracting people's
gaze from long-standing injustices underfoot. In delegitimizing these
global actors we must be very aware of the dangers in uncritically
legitimizing nation-states which are themselves based on the
of Indigenous Peoples. We cannot ignore the centuries of resistance by
many indigenous nations against incorporation into the colonial state. We
cannot ignore the colonial foundations of the countries in which we live.
To do so is to mask the true nature of our societies, and the extent to
which they are built on colonization and exploitation.

How can Indigenous Peoples be expected to validate, affirm and seek
incorporation into national or international movements dominated by
non-indigenous activists, organizations and agendas which are reluctant
address domestic issues of colonization with the same vigour and
commitment that they put into fighting transnational capital or the WTO?

Of course some important alliances have been forged between Indigenous
Peoples and non-indigenous organizations confronting globalization.
(usually small, under-resourced) activist groups struggle hard to draw the
connections between corporate globalization and colonization, to support
local indigenous sovereignty struggles and educate non-indigenous
peoples about these issues.

Movements to expose and oppose corporate globalization have a very real
potential to mobilize support from non-indigenous people for
addressing the issues of colonization in New Zealand, Australia, Canada
and the USA. We should be challenging the jurisdiction of these colonial
settler state governments as they move to sign international trade and
investment deals, in the light of their continued denial of Indigenous
Peoples' rights, jurisdiction, and title.

The centuries-old culture of colonization holds the key to understanding
and defeating the current wave of globalization. If we understand how
“democratic” governments like Canada can sanction
the ongoing
assault on indigenous lands and communities it isn't hard to understand
why such governments subscribe to free market international trade and
investment policies.

In determining the values and foundations on which we build alternatives
to the neoliberal agenda our movements must be prepared to examine our
own propensity to oppress. We cannot build alternatives to globalization
the rotten foundations of the denial of occupying indigenous lands and the
ongoing suppression of Indigenous Peoples' rights. “The
are always building rotten foundations and expecting us to step into a
completed building” says Sharon Venne.

If anti-globalization activists and organizations do not address these
questions with some urgency then I fear that the growing resistance to
neoliberalism in the global North risks being as inherently colonialist as
the institutions and processes which it opposes. Our usage of the term
colonization will be little more than empty rhetoric if our analysis does not
acknowledge the context in which corporate globalization –
and the
worldwide opposition to it – is taking place.

Those of us active in anti-globalization struggles in Canada, the USA,
New Zealand and Australia need to examine our role in the colonization
and globalization of the earth. Only then can we seriously talk about
liberation and real alternatives to the neoliberal agenda.

--- Aziz Choudry
# Aotearoa Dissident Voice - New Zealand's most unrespectable
revolutionary rag. Aotearoa Dissident Voice is a free volunteer-run
magazine that aims to provide an open space for the free flow of
anarchist and libertarian left news, analysis and creativity.
www.dissidentvoice.org.nz edcollective@dissidentvoice.org.nz

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