'It's critical Pacific peoples understand we have every right to vote'

From Generation Next, 2:01 pm on 29 September 2020

By Taualofa Totua*

Opinion -
Pacific Climate Warriors Aotearoa are running an online campaign called Pacific Votes Count, encouraging Pacific communities across the country to recognise the importance of their votes.

The campaign has urged Pacific communities to enrol to vote and to participate in the Pacific Votes Count Survey.

So far, more than 500 people have shared what is important to them.

Warm and affordable housing, quality healthcare and fair wages were the top priorities.

It is seriously concerning that the most pressing topics are basic human rights.

Pacific Climate Warriors has facilitated discussion on these issues and the significance of Pacific votes through the online Talanoa Series.

Pacific panelist Dr Colin Tukuitonga shared key insights in a recent Talanoa, Voting For Our Future.

“We can be quiet and compliant as a community sometimes; we tolerate things that we shouldn’t," Tukuitonga said.

"The important thing is... people are questioning the value of their vote. In other words - what’s important to you? Everyone will be different,” he said.

We live in a changing world where our attention is currency and time is fleeting.

Everywhere we turn there is an advertisement begging us to be satisfied by our bank accounts, an urgent issue in our community that compromises the dignity of the marginalised, and a range of hot topics that will definitely not matter this time next week.

What we give our attention to is political. Where we get money to put food on the table - and how socially acceptable that is - is political.

The strategic placement of ‘conscious’ businesses, public facilities, liquor stores, parks, fast food chains, and the overall infrastructure and environmental operation of our country is political.

Yet voting is both a great equaliser and a foreign idea for many.

Youth MP Shaneel Lal said voting was the one time a millionaire and marginalised youth could have a say in a system that was originally between white men and the government.

The stream of headlines detailing the issues our Pacific communities face daily can be overwhelming and often harmful. When compounded with a range of competing priorities, it creates a significant barrier for Pacific people to even consider voting.

It is important we recognise shaming our communities for not participating in the game of life that was not designed fairly for all players from the get-go is not the way to operate.

Pacific Climate Warriors is passionate about climate change, and the urgent issues concerning Pacific people's wellbeing and survival that need to be addressed now more than ever.

On a personal level, my #PacificVoteCounts because I deserve to have a say in the country and economy my Papa, alongside so many of our mamas and papas, worked long, laborious hours to build. It counts because our communities have had the poorest statistics for nearly every social issue - and I don’t want another generational cycle of my people to suffer from hardships that are preventable.

We have the power to determine the world we want today and tomorrow, by voting.

I used to think my life was the furthest thing from political. The folk at the Beehive were so far from my life and the lives of my loved ones.

Discussions about politics often felt unsafe.

Our laws are not accessible and are difficult to understand - who benefits when we gatekeep knowledge and rights?

This is why Pacific folk need to vote. No one knows our struggles, successes and huge contributions to the fabric of Aotearoa like we do.

After years of promises from a colonial government that sought to fill a labour shortage on the backs of Pacific folk and continues to let down tangata whenua by failing to uphold Te Tiriti, I’m keen for change and am thinking about our country’s long-term wellbeing through a holistic lens.

The New Zealand Government continues to make decisions that impact Pacific people both here in Aotearoa and at home in our islands. It is therefore dually critical that Pacific peoples understand that we have every right to be political and to vote according to what matters to us.

*Taualofa Totua is a member of Pacific Climate Warriors Aotearoa.

Generation Next is a video series profiling young New Zealanders talking about the issues they care about. 

*With thanks to the director of RISE, Jess Feast, and production company Storybox for making footage from their documentary available. You can watch that below: