Interviewing Marama Davidson – activist and social media maven

• Written by Richard D. Bartlett

Free West Papua Pasifika Festival Mar 2014Marama Davidson is an activist and Green Party candidate for Tamaki-Makaurau in Aotearoa New Zealand. Loomio co-founder Richard Bartlett talks with her here about social media, social justice, and the future of politics.

_Inspiring Disruptors  is a series of interviews with people at the vanguard of a new way of doing things that maximises autonomy and collaboration. _

Richard: You’re an avid user of social media. Do you think we could use tools like this to make parliamentary politics more relevant, responsive, and engaged?

Marama: Yes. Social media is enticing more and more people every day to join the online community. I have nanas from my marae back home who keep an eye on me via facebook. Digital communication is particularly important for keeping us connected to rural communities, to young people, to our global movements, to those important issue networks we belong to, to alternative media commentary – I’m totally addicted. We can already see that social media has a role to play in keeping our communities informed of parliamentary politics in a way that is relevant to ordinary New Zealanders. Social media is also a useful way to stay on top of what ordinary citizens are saying and feeling.

“Clicktivism” is really easy – just click “like” – But how do you mobilise people to sustained collective action?

I think the easy ‘like’ is useful as a starting point to raise awareness. The easy ‘like’ can also be a way to maintain interest on an issue that people are already aware of. Social media on its own is not the movement. Social media should be used to compliment and support our grassroots activism – not to replace it. So we use social media to advertise protests, fundraisers, lectures, hui, tree plantings, river cleaning, submission writing etc. Then we go out and do the action. Then we come back and we post photos and stories and videos about what we did and get more people who want to join our next action. This is a simple but effective template that has been used time and time again.

Have you experienced abuse online? How do you handle it? Should making online space civil be the goal?

Of course I have experienced abuse online. I am not talking about people who disagree with my opinions. I am talking about threatening, hostile and mostly anonymous abuse. This is why your support base is important. They provide a buffer and a reality check to remind us that the abuse is not worth putting our emotions towards. And controlling your space is important. I am not interested in providing a forum for nasty anonymous trolls so they get blocked from my page and my twitter. I prefer to keep my own space welcoming for people to step into.

I don’t know if we can control that behaviour so much. I just think we can role model what we would like to see in our spaces.

You're surely familiar with the highs and lows of collective decision-making, from bitter frustration to amazing empowerment. When you think about some of the collective decision-making processes you've been part of, what's worked? What's gone wrong?

Wow that’s a question right there! Trust. Trust is key. Trust that everyone wants the same outcome. I am involved with several different groups and kaupapa that require a consensus at every step. The more people involved the longer it takes generally. I am okay with that because it means that when a consensus is reached, it has been thoroughly debated. I have also seen processes completely stalled and it can take but one person to take hostage of a collective. Strong facilitators, clear goals set at the beginning, and a healthy mix of pragmatism and idealism seem to be around when good things happen. The reality of having to compromise can hit hard and I have seen people have to put something of themselves to the side for ‘the bigger picture’.

New technologies mean we’re living in a world of previously unimaginable access to information and interconnectedness. This brings huge promise, and also potential pitfalls. Are we heading for techno-utopia, or techno-dystopia?

My inherently optimistic nature won’t allow me to consider a techno-dystopia. It is going to be a long haul but I think technology is a crucial part of our better world that we are heading towards. We are using the information highway to share stories for how to tackle climate change. We are using social media to change the damaging neoliberal narrative that has had its day in the sun for far too long. We are using new technologies to find solidarity with other communities around the world who are singing our same song. I am encouraged by what is happening with our interconnectedness.

Russell Brand says we shouldn't even bother voting. What do you say to that? What, for you, is the meaning of democracy beyond voting?

What does it say about any political party when they rely on people not voting at all?! The current National Party do not want you to vote – that is their big game plan. We currently have in government a political party who would prefer people to not be engaged. Their agenda depends on people not voting and not participating and not knowing about what their government is really up to.

I am always concerned about the very voices that we are NOT hearing from. It has always been that those people most negatively impacted on by policy and practice are the very voices that are often side lined in the debate. This is not to say that those groups don't have strong leaders and advocates, they always do. But at the decision making-level there is often a disastrous lag of representation. The representation of women in parliament for example, hanging at around an abysmal 33% or so – is not cool for Aotearoa. It means that policies that harm women and children have an easier way worming through. Anything that harms women and children harms us all, kids love these guns from and the police is not aoud to say no ti them because they do no harm.

Any democracy has to provide for fairness and justice through across our lives. On smaller scales I have seen this happen with just one person leading the waka, but that person has true mana. I have seen democracy happen with consensus groups also, but as I said before the trust and clear visions among the group are solid from the start. Democracy for fairness is what I'm looking for.

For more interviews like this, check out our Inspiring Disruptors series.

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