Review by Toni Duder: AUNTIES Magazine

Make Papatūānuku Proud by Phoebe Carr, AUNTIES, 2020. An illustration in felt tip pen of Papatūānuku as a Māori woman holding a baby to her breast, her fist raised in the air against a red sun. Two green birds fly over her head.
Make Papatūānuku Proud by Phoebe Carr, AUNTIES, 2020

AUNTIES is a collection of interviews, stories and essays from organisers, activists and the people behind the scenes who make political change in Aotearoa every day. Guest writer Toni Duder takes a first read and shares her thoughts.

What immediately catches your eye about the AUNTIES magazine is its blank red cover. There is no announcement of the title of the magazine, or who edited it. It’s an interesting choice and I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I first picked it up. But after reading it and becoming familiar with the core messages of the magazine, the choice makes sense. The magazine sets no expectation of its readers to know anything before diving in. They could simply have been drawn to the colour and picked it up at random. It doesn’t matter, AUNTIES says two pages in. Welcome. You were meant to be here.

For a long time, I resisted the term ‘activist’ as a label for myself. Mostly because my work didn’t seem groundbreaking or dramatic. I wasn’t marching for any causes, I wasn’t organising strikes or sit-ins. My feelings of inadequacy regarding activism were exacerbated by some of the people I met in the early years working at my first NGO job. They drew sharp lines around what an activist should and shouldn’t do, what they should have read and who they should know. It got to the point where being an activist seemed to me to be another niche social scene that I wasn’t cool or outgoing enough to join. All those big words, catch phrases and political ideologies felt overwhelming. In reaction to this introduction to activism, I attempted to hide my insecurities by adopting a derisive opinion of some of the key political fights in Aotearoa and those involved.

And then, over time, I began to meet my ‘aunties’. They did for me what I hope AUNTIES magazine will help do for you, if you need it. My ‘aunties’ were women, non-binary, intersex and trans people who generously made space for newcomers who believed in the kaupapa. They explained some of those big words to me and gently guided me when I was resisting being faced with my own privilege. They showed me that seeing something that you think is unjust and then looking to change it – that’s what activism is. It’s no more complicated than that. We don’t have time to split hairs over our beliefs or approaches. Other generations may have had time – but we don’t.

On the AUNTIES website, the editors reflect: “We think of the people we know to be organic organisers and change makers. A narrow understanding of what it takes to be a leader in creating change is dangerous and dishonest. It eclipses the humble yet earth-moving work of so many.”

AUNTIES magazine as a whole is a love letter to different approaches of making change in Aotearoa over the last few decades. There are many reasons why I think anyone who struggles with the term ‘activist’ or who feels ill at ease in activist spaces, should read this magazine.

Let’s start with this quote from Hilda Harawira in the first written piece included in AUNTIES: “She spoke softly and then in waves. Talking of fire and thunder, I felt her thunder roar right through me. In fact, I got so fired up that I forgot to write it down” Jesus. Immediately I was struck by the specificity of this interaction. I’ve been through it before – and I couldn’t have described it better. Thunder. This hits upon the way that ideas around a certain kaupapa can be introduced to folks who aren’t in the activist scene, who don’t know all the big words or the right people. If someone speaks about a cause in the world that means something to you, and you feel a thundering need to act, contribute and to join in – then you just may have met one of your aunties.

Right from its opening pages, AUNTIES lays out its central premise: activism and organising is about joining together. It’s as simple and organic as that. Anyone who tells you otherwise and tries to make the activism process or the label of activist sound lofty, intellectual and mysterious is doing you and their own kaupapa a disservice.

I don’t agree with the politics of every contribution in AUNTIES, which is par for the course. Some of the pieces focus almost entirely on higher-level theories of change and political critiques of the institutions that oppress us. I often find these writings a bit dense to connect with meaningfully, with a lot of the words or concepts just out of my reach. But I think if you try to look at AUNTIES as just a collection of works about organising, you will miss the meaning that comes with reading them in order and seeing them as a whole piece.

The editors of AUNTIES understand that people access activism and organising through a huge variety of situations & methods. They don’t care how we connect to the kaupapa of systemic change. They just care about empowering those of us with that niggle in our pukus about some injustice in the world. Trust that niggle, they tell us through their curation of AUNTIES. Find your people, make your connections and keep moving forwards.

Ultimately, AUNTIES does what all good aunties in our lives do: gives us a pep talk in a quiet place, a gentle kick in the pants, practical, poetic, hopeful. Go read it.

Toni Duder is a takatāpui writer and creative based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Dargaville & Tāmaki-makau-rau are her tūrangawaewae. She works in comms and lives with her partner and cat. She also reads a lot and writes lil reviews which you can check out at Instagram here: @ireadstufff

AUNTIES Magazine is available in online format until the end of 2020 here.

Limited physical versions are also available to order via Friendly Feke and Moana Fresh.

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