Sr Margaret Martin is part of Sisters of Mercy Wiri and has been engaged in social work and advocacy in the Wiri community for many decades. She is a trustee of Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga. Here is her reflection on why broad-based organising is important today, as we look to 2019.
When Annie Newman first canvassed the idea of forming a community alliance founded on broad-based organising I was keen to be involved. I got what she was talking about. I was aware of the Living Wage Movement and the principles by which it operates and the successes it has had in the space of 5 years.
I have lived and worked for over 30 years as a community social worker and advocate in Wiri, a community of need. I have worked with and alongside people, children and families, shared their struggles, hopes and disappointments. I have been involved with a wide range of groups, networks and committees all concerned with wanting to address the injustices and inequities that exist in our society and especially felt by the poor and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the efforts of many have not changed the landscape to any great degree, in fact, from where I stand I would argue in broad terms that that the issues of housing, welfare, family violence, justice, health, education and local community and neighbourhood issues are worse now than 30 years ago.
The neo-liberal ideology and market driven policies have weakened the role of government and civil society. The rich and powerful, the corporate elite are in control. We have all endeavoured over the years, in addition to continuing the day to day mahi of our organisation worked to effect change through advocacy, submissions, media releases, protests, appearing before select committees, petitions, being members of advisory groups and neighbourhood and community meetings, for example. Sadly we have not made any overall significant change to reduce inequality and poverty in our land. So how do we begin to change this imbalance and successfully bring about long term social change?
I see the broad-based organising model as an opportunity to work differently – smarter and together. An opportunity to engage and be connected in relationship with a wide range of groupings; faith based groups, unions and community organisations. All coming together to build an organisation made up of many diverse organisations who share a desire to work for the common good - for social justice. Often by association our individual organisations can be seen to be in cohorts with local and central government who for many fund the work that an organisation does.
Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga is about a collective of organisations standing together and using our collective power to effect social change. I see the broad-based organising model as a way of working for systemic and structural change without compromising individual organisations who have funding and working relationships with both local and central government.
This model works in the UK, Canada, Australia and America. Surely, we can make it work here. What have we got to lose? I am hopeful that the time is right for our organisations to commit to being part of a new way of working that contributes to a broader based framework for the common good while at same time retaining our own identity as organisations.
The key to this model of working as I see it is engagement, being in relationship, building trust and a willingness to make a commitment as an organisation to be part of a broad-based alliance. Te Ohu is about speaking truth together as an organisation to those in power so that, to quote Pope Francis, both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth will be heard and working together we will change the ways things currently work or are structured.