Meet Sam Taylor. She’s 27 and works as the Youth Justice Team Leader at Anglican Action supporting underprivileged young people, against the odds, to reach their potential. She is also standing for the Green Party in Hamilton East this election.
Sam is probably unlike anyone you have met before. She has a striking presence: a natural and boundless warmth paired with a first-class mind. She is intimate and well-read and impossibly humble for someone of her ideological convictions. It is possible to simultaneously lose a debate to Sam and still feel thoroughly empowered by the exchange. Part of this is her willingness to reason with complex worldviews, with even the most objectionable systems of values, without demonising them. This does not make her weak (far from it – Sam is a true wahine toa, always prepared to draw from her deep well of personal knowledge to eviscerate faulty logic) but rather, it demonstrates her capacity for diplomacy. An essential skill, I would suggest, in the era of Trump and the breakdown of civilised discourse which politicians of his ilk represent.
If it sounds as though I am gushing about Sam’s candidacy, I suppose I am. I can own it. She is a friend of mine and an (objectively!) wonderful person. The New Zealand political scene can only benefit from the compassion, wit and grace which she brings to the table as an advocate for social justice and the environment. Let’s face it, we need her. We need her like the day needs the night; like Ranginui needs Papatuanuku; like millennials need smashed avocado… you get the picture.
I interviewed Sam in the hope that giving her a platform – even one as insignificant as my modest blog – would help to raise her profile ahead of the election. There are candidates out there (across the spectrum) who lack the fire of Sam Taylor, whose passion – if it exists – is coded with doublespeak and robotic platitudes. It is important, therefore, to make distinctions when examining the breadth of the candidate pool. To honour those whose talent rises high above.
Anyway, enough proselytising on my part – Sam can certainly speak for herself. Here is our un-edited interview which I trust you will find insightful:
Do you remember when and why you first became interested in political issues?
There isn’t one issue or one moment that sparked this journey, rather an accumulation of experiences, perspectives, issues, outrage and a growing understanding of the political forces in NZ. At 13 I attended my first Waikato Regional Council Youth Environmental Forum which really cemented and grew my passion for environmental issues, and the understanding that the problems are with the impact of human systems on the planet. At 15 a very close family friend passed away after a long battle with cancer, and that led me to ask myself questions about what kind of life I want to live and what I want to do with the little time I have. The answer is pretty easy, I want to make the best contribution I can to making other peoples lives better and it’s impossible to ignore the political component of that.
Who is your ‘political hero’ and why?
My first political hero was Hone Heke because I loved his defiance in chopping down the flag pole three times, and demanding to be heard. That story contains such courageous acts of resistance and such agony in being ignored and silenced immediately after te tiriti was signed. I see Hone Heke’s actions as a non-violent protest that was deeply symbolic of the changing power relationship in Aotearoa, and years later still cause us to reflect on that. That’s such a gift.
Another political hero that I’m a complete fan girl for is Paulo Freire because he was such a strong advocate of his values and was uncompromising in his endeavor to educate the illiterate and challenge power. Paulo Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of the Heart which both really connect to my understanding of the world. Liberation. Conscientization. Critical social theory. Radical education that enables us to be “at the service of the exploited”. Yes, please.
…and Jan Logie, of course.
Why do you believe the Green Party best represents your values?
The Green Party charter guides everything we do and how we see the world. It has 4 principles; ecological wisdom, non-violence, social responsibility and appropriate decision making. We also recognize te tiriti as the founding document of Aotearoa. Those values are exactly what I think the world needs more of.
As a total process geek, I also love that having the charter means that there is a clear value base against which we Greenies are continually auditing ourselves and our policies. That gives me a lot of confidence in the strength of our process and the ability to pursue our big vision and purpose without getting lost in the minutiae.
I’m an extrovert and I love meeting people and talking about what’s dear to their heart. I hope that as a candidate I can do a lot of listening and deepen of my understanding of where people are at while also connecting their values to Green Party values. I really believe we need to be building a new social consensus, a shared understanding of our values that translates into clear policy frameworks, so we have more cohesion and collaboration in our political process rather than this divisive politik where it’s hard to listen to and value what others are saying. I hope as a candidate that I can offer some of the skills necessary for that.
Self doubt. This is absolutely my biggest challenge for the campaign and personal challenge in my journey a candidate, it causes me to under value myself and my contribution, it leads me to compare myself negatively with others and convince myself that I’m not good enough. It shouldn’t be that way for anyone, and resisting the power of self doubt is partially why I am doing this- because maybe then others will move past their own self-prescribed limited too. In truth though this is what I encounter within myself and it will make the campaign/experience of being a candidate more emotionally draining than it might otherwise be. I absolutely believe that being ‘good enough’ is irrelevant, everyone deserves to be heard and to have a voice. No one should let their inner critic set the limits on their view of themselves or what they might contribute, and certainly not when it’s about creating better outcomes for communities, people, planet. So I’m doing it regardless of the self doubt because the issues in this election matter so much more than my personal feelings; so it’s a weakness I hope to overcome.
Do you feel optimistic about the world and our collective future? Why/why not?
Totally. I’m optimistic because although we face significant challenges, the way we respond to those challenges poses a massive opportunity to bring substantial benefit to those who are suffering, marginalised or excluded by our current economic and social structures. I’m optimistic because there is a growing sense of awareness, resistance and desire for political change across many generations. I’m optimistic because I believe people are inherently good and because there is a lot of positive change happening within our local and global community. Government may be out of step, but the people know what’s up. Plus, m mum always said that Star Wars was a classic ‘good vs evil’ story and reassured me that good always wins. So, if nothing else, watching Star Wars with Mum has always given me confidence in our eventual success in responding to climate change and inequality.
What is your advice to young people who want to get involved in politics but don’t know where to start?
Start anywhere and it will lead you to something more. If there is an issue you care about, a great starting place is to talk to people that are already doing stuff, learn from them, reflect on how it fits with you, do some research or just start showing up at meetings, take a friend if you’re feeling shy, volunteer for an organisation you love. Each time you try something you’re adding to your experience and knowledge of what to do next or what does/doesn’t fit with your values. There is no wrong place to start or wrong way of getting involved: and we need all the people we can get because our collective hearts, hands and minds are a lot stronger than any one of us individually.
Would you be willing to get arrested for a cause you believed strongly enough in?
Absolutely. There is an important role for civil disobedience and protest. For me it needs to be strategic, not drama for the sake of it but to create political leverage to seek greater changes. It can be risky to get arrested in the sense that it may reduce the credibility of your cause and could cost public support, so I’m all for smart civil disobedience that galvanizes community and political action. I’m constantly inspired by people who take a stand for their values and resist injustices. Unfortunately, the law and the government are not always reflections of moral value or social good (Slavery: Apartheid: Black Civil Rights are all examples of successful social movements that required civil disobedience to produce significant political change in opposition to the Govt of the day) , so there are always times when policy or law needs to be challenged. If you are doing what is right in your heart and of benefit to others, what’s a little time in the police cells? Better to take meaningful political action than worry about getting arrested.
No, unfortunately not. The data suggested we are massively under represented in the media as the Green Party receives approximately 1% of media coverage nationally, yet we were elected by 11% of the population so it is unbalanced from that perspective and also in terms of concerns about the lack of independence in news media with corporate ownership and decreased funding from Government for public broadcasting.
Can you describe an issue that you believe does not receive enough attention/airtime?
Conservation. Department of Conservation have suffered budget cuts for years that have left them underfunded to protect and enhance our national parks. There is a global biodiversity crisis and as a biodiversity hot spot I believe we have a greater responsibility to be protecting and caring for ecosystems and the species within them: not using them for profit.
I fear that the Department of Conservation is slowly being privatized. Conservation efforts are forced to rely on community involvement, private sponsorship and collaborative responses to local conservation needs, which are really awesome and add a huge richness to peoples lives, but where is the assurance that our Government is prepared to do what is needed to protect our wildlife, ecosystems and national parks? It is too important to be left to chance.
An extension of this is in the decline in track and hut maintenance. I’m an avid tramper and it’s a concern that outside of tourist destinations there is a real decline in the maintenance of tracks and huts: by not investing in the conservation estate appropriately we are degrading a massive asset that benefits all of us and is central to our identity as ‘clean, green New Zealand’. The lack of maintenance increases the risk to people in the outdoors and is just a really sad thing to see.
What is your message for people who are considering the Greens for their Party Vote but are not yet convinced?
To think seriously about your values and what you hope for NZ’s future: and then to talk with me about those things because behind the assumptions or worries that stop people voting Green, we have a lot to offer in achieving the hopes, dreams, values, ambitions and vision of New Zealanders.
That’d be my boy Paulo [Freire]: “In place of immobilist fatalism, I propose a critical optimism, one that may engage us in the struggle towards knowing on a par with our times and at the service of the exploited.”
…or like anything Maya Angelo ever said. Especially when she said “try to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud.”