The only problem with having the comments turned off here is: I don’t hear from you. As a writer, I know that this is both difficult and inevitable. You put your stuff out there. You hope it gets read. Most of the time, you have no idea what the silent majority thinks.
This is not a soapbox. It’s a conversation.
This is my attempt at dialogue. You’ll notice the comments are open. That’s just for this post.
I wrote a while ago about trying to move from being a loud voice for social justice, to practicing quiet activism. Loud voices are so incredibly important – and it’s really, really hard being one. My voice didn’t run out, but I made a conscious decision not to let things get to that point. One of the best things quiet activists can do is support those on the front lines.
I started writing this blog as a way to communicate the experience of illness, and the reality of trying to live on a benefit in New Zealand. I still believe in doing those things.
But I got disenchanted by the lack of movement I saw in the system. I was pissed (and am) off that I, and many others, had put so much effort into collecting and broadcasting the stories of maltreatment and misconduct by WINZ – and then nothing was done. I attempted pursuing the people in the Labour party who had encouraged the project. I came up against many barriers. Maryan Street has since moved on from the Nelson electorate. Sue Moroney is no longer the spokesperson for social development. I got no response from Carmel Sepuloni. My own health demanded that I step back. I feel incredibly guilty about that.
This decision was cemented by the treatment I received from some readers of this blog in December last year. At that point I had to make some choices about where I could best use my limited energy, in ways that I felt safe.
I shut down the Writehandedgirl Twitter account, and I closed the comments here. These were really hard decisions. I spent six years building this community. Many of you have followed me to @_writehanded_ and I am grateful for that. But I am still angry that starting a new, more curated environment was necessary.
I felt defeated, to be honest. I said to a friend the other day that I wondered if I’d achieved anything at all, with all the yelling I did last year, both here and in the media, about WINZ. I know that personally, they are very helpful towards me now. I still experience frustration and I still feel humiliated going in there, but it’s a hundred times better than it was. But what about everyone else? What’s changed for them? What was the point of all the stress I experienced, being public, being criticized, going up against a Minister?
My friend said that seeing me speak out helped her speak out too. She said that even if nothing in the system itself had changed, people know they have rights. They know they don’t have to be silent. They know that they are not alone.
It was really, really good for me to hear that.
As I said, I have no plans to stop talking about WINZ and other social justice issues. I want many things out of this blog. I want community. I want to raise awareness. I want to share my experiences, because I hope that that will be of some use to others.
I am encouraging guest posts, because many people have very important stories and nowhere to tell them. This also makes it a little easier for me because I don’t have to produce quite as much content, when my energy is so low. I’ve also started doing more writing about writing, and about books, which gives me a lot of joy. I want to write about feminist issues as much as possible. Obviously, there will continue to be a lot about my health and living with illness.
I am so, so grateful for the support I receive – emotionally and financially. Both of these things make it viable for me to keep writing. Getting recognised financially for your work does not intrinsically or automatically make the work valuable, but it helps to make me feel like what I’m doing is wanted and worthwhile. It also means I can buy groceries.
My question is – and this is for everyone, not just those who support me financially, though I really want to make sure they feel they are getting what they sighed up for – am I writing what you want to know about? If I’m not, I want to know. This is not a soapbox. It’s a conversation.
Finally, in addition to this blog and my column, I have two other important projects I want to tell you about, because they are going to make appearances here.
I’m now part of the Governance Collective for the Nelson Women’s Centre. This involves using my writing, media, and PR-type skills to help them help local women. I’m hugely excited about it. It’s really satisfying to be using this part of my brain again.
The other thing, which I mentioned briefly in my last post, is a collection of short stories. This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but I couldn’t find the time or energy or direction. I’m lucky enough now to have a mentor who yells at me if I don’t make those things for myself. It’s going to be taking up a lot of my time, and hopefully it’s going to be something worth sharing with you.
Ok. Tentatively (extremely) leaving comments open.
Good on you for the two new projects! I hope they give value back to you and let you remember that your passion, your work, and your voice is valuable.
Thanks Chelle 🙂 You always make me feel valued.
I always enjoy your posts, regardless of the content. I think I, personally, *need* to see the activist ones more, because it encourages me to try & help & reminds me of my privilege & that I need to use what I have to help those without it. However, I don’t value those posts more highly than the ones about your writing or other subjects. In short, keep doing what you feel is right for you & I (& I think many others) will continue to support you in whatever way I can.
That’s a good point, thanks Ed. I definitely have lots more “activismy” type stuff planned, probably more about feminist issues than WINZ itself, though my interest there hasn’t waned. I appreciate your support so much, you really have no idea. Thank you, always.
You sound a little down and I’d like to say that since I fund your blog only quite recently, I have thoroughly enjoy the things you say, the passion with which you say them.
I am sure that many many people read you, but until recently, like many others, I was unprepared to make my comments public.
I now belong to the closed FB page “Let’s talk about Winz ” and I try to offer, where I can, empathy and assistance. Just as you do, though maybe for a different audience.
Behind the scenes, a small group of are trying to work out the best approach to be heard by Government and the People.
Hello Brent, thanks for this comment. Yes, I was a bit glum, but it is so nice to have encouragement. It’s kind of hard to just yell into a void, as you might know with belonging to discussions groups etc. I’m planning on writing a post on rules that WINZ has that are outdated or difficult. I’m sure you’d have some ideas of things to add to that! Today I found out that a benefit for blind people can’t be accessed if you are a woman with a partner, but can if you are a man with a partner. This policy hasn’t been changed since the 50s! Absurd.
Thank you for your encouragement and support. It means a lot to me.
So many of our fellow countrymen/women have been so poisoned by political diatribe against those of us who for one reason or another, and mostly for reasons out of our control, have now become a stigmatised section of hat was once a very inclusive society.
My story is not a great deal different to yours although I have had another 40 years to have lived a vastly different life to the one I do now.
I think living with terminal cancer has made me more aware that many are worse off than myself. They may have to live as long as I have, but suffer through illness and indignity, pitied as a fallen parent, or a sick child. The list of who we are goes on.
Like you, I have my physical limitations, but also like you I’d like to do more, maybe I see it as payback for my past life and successes of that.
Believe it or not, I have tried to make your columns available via our FB page so that people can see that outside their tiny circles others do care. If you were to take the opportunity to join the group, I would imagine you will see an amazing amount of compassion amongst such a disparate group. Keep believing in YOU Sarah !!!
Thank you for writing. I feel much more aware of issues – and of reality, for many people – because of your work.
Thank you Liz 🙂 x
Sadly, I was trying to give you more ammo by being oblique………….but you killed the idea………..
Take care, be happy, be successful……..but rest assured that right now we have a Govt that doesn’t care much for you and I because we don’t yet fit the “financial success criteria”…..
Will never stop reading your blog, but never before felt the need to comment, in your favour I might add.
Try to be well, as much as you can be…
Thank you Brent.
Like others I have dropped in here from time to time to see what you write, and to reflect on it. So you and your blog are not forgotten.
While you write about WINZ and your experiences with them, you also write about your illness and other experiences, which perhaps not everybody can relate to. But that is fine with me.
It was a bit disappointing to see that you felt somewhat harassed or even threatened and then chose to turn all comments off. I would have been blunt with critics and told them where to go, if they would come with inappropriate comments, insults or threats.
A blog with no comment function is maybe a bit uninteresting for some, and I myself would prefer to have the opportunity to at least now and then offer feedback.
It is your blog and you choose how to run it.
The fight against injustice dished out by WINZ and especially this dishonest, heartless goverment must continue, so do not give up and keep it up, please.
By the way, I got some material from MSD that may interest you, so if you want more to research and perhaps write about, send a brief message back.
Best wishes for now.
Being “blunt with critics” would open me to more abuse, and I am not ashamed to admit that I am not emotionally robust enough to cope with constant harassment. I didn’t feel “somewhat harassed or threatened” – I felt extremely unsafe. Turning off the comments was and is a very important step to protect myself.
I would be interested in your material, yes – I can’t promise I’ll follow it up because of the limitations of my illness, but I will look. My email address is on the contact page.
Thanks heaps for your feedback, I appreciate it.