This time six years ago I was renting a shoebox apartment on Symonds St, about 100 metres away from uni and my final summer school classes. A bunch of my mates were leaving – or in the thick of planning their leaving – Aotearoa.
It was in vogue to bag Auckland out. At barbecues, gigs and in yarns spun with mates many painted visions of cities – as close as Melbourne and Sydney, as far-flung as London and Berlin – where you didn’t need to own a car to get around, where one could drop into a fully-formed, buzzing arts and cultural scene, where you could make a name for yourself.
Headlines called the migration that followed the “brain drain”. People would experience more – so the argument went – earn more, grow more and live more outside of our small pond.
I found myself picking fights with anyone who would listen about how nothing would get better if the people who could make that happen gave up or moved out. Those fights reached a crescendo when, complaining about an uninspiring upcoming local body election for our then-six-year-old Super City, a friend told me to shut up or just run for the mayoralty myself.
Six years and a global pandemic later, figures on New Zealanders returning indicate we’re now in the middle of a brain gain. The rental market in Auckland’s city centre is looking surprisingly more attractive than Wellington’s. Lockdowns have proven, tangibly, that things my generation have always been told were politically impossible were just a matter of willpower.
We radically diminish any chance of change when we limit our ideas of who can or should be present not only in the halls of power, but on the debating stage.
Of course, I lost the mayoral election, clocking just shy of 30,000 votes at a distant third. We did, however, beat some guys who spent around $100,000 on their campaigns while my mates Tom and Casey and me had flogged Napoleon Dynamite “Vote for Chlöe” rip-off tees in hopes to raise a tenth of that.
An infinitely more exciting outcome of the campaign was seeing voter turnout tick up a few percentage points for the first time in several local elections. There was also somewhat more mainstream reporting on ideas like rapid transit networks and land value taxes, and correspondence from dozens and dozens of flats of renters who had realised their power.
This year, we’ll be heading back to the polls for the next local body elections.
Let’s not be fooled into thinking that the only real metric of electoral success is who’s in the driver’s seat at the end of it.
We must also look at ways to expand the window of what’s politically possible, at how we can organise to ensure climate action and housing for all is a common-sense commitment of any serious candidate. If we don’t, we’re cutting ourselves off at the knees.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the saying goes. First attributed to Scottish Philosopher Thomas Reid in the 18th century, most of us are probably more used to the UK-gameshow’s embodiment of that famous saying, where we’re invited to laugh at the person letting the team down.
What if, instead, we realised the things we can achieve by actually linking together to guarantee everybody has what they need to live their best life?
After all, politics happens every single day, regardless of whether we’re presented with a secret ballot or not. Decisions are made that impact all of our lives: the roof over our head, food we eat, education and healthcare we get … And the cost, quality and access to all of those things.
It’s a very exciting time to be in Tāmaki Makaurau – and it’s not like anyone should really have plans to be elsewhere at the moment.
• Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party, is the MP for Auckland Central
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