Where to next for the progressive left in Aotearoa?

By Kassie Hartendorp

Illustration by @fufighterarts

If you are leftwing, pro Te Tiriti justice or consider yourself progressive, you may be in a spin right now. 2022 has not been a slow news year. Whether you are watching events unfold overseas, at Parliament, in your local community and even your own family – there is plenty to be concerned about. 

Over the following decade, we will need a strong Te Tiriti-based progressive movement more than ever. 

And yet, this is not the time to despair. 

If we value our taiao and all of the interconnected ecosystems that make up this incredible planet, we must prepare to protect it. If we value collective wellbeing and the ability for everyone to flourish, regardless of their age, whakapapa, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and ability, then we must be prepared to take care of each other. If we value governance that is tika and pono, and truly for the people, then we must be prepared to call for it, create it and hold it accountable. If we value life, then we must be prepared to nourish it. 

We can never predict the future in all its infinite possibilities. But we can start preparations for dynamics that may unfold, and adjust as we need to. 

From my small corner of the world, the areas I am pulled to prepare for include: 

  • Destructive climate events
  • White, patriarchal power blaming progressive movements for societal problems and trying to seize back control
  • A rightwing populist movement which allows the far right to strengthen, and centre-right parties to gain ground
  • Long term effects of the pandemic on the hauora of the wider population in the wake of deepening inequality, social isolation and long COVID
  • Over-saturation of real time information via social media and news media
  • Inability of governments to keep up with a rapidly changing environment, and respond to social unrest which corrodes the trust in public services

These all seem like bleak futures, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. I will also be preparing for: 

  • Our relationships within communities to deepen, as we realise we need each other to get through shared challenges
  • Hapū and iwi to grow and flourish in their mana motuhake
  • Our country to widely embrace the role of Māoritanga in our national identity
  • Constitutional change that will see Te Tiriti o Waitangi honoured at the highest decision making levels
  • A generation of savvy and values-driven young people who understand that colonial capitalism does not serve us and are already actively participating in changing our political reality
  • Neoliberal capitalism to be viewed as a horrific experiment that has failed, and must be completely transformed if we want to look after our people and planet

Perhaps you may be preparing for different futures. Or maybe you are too tired to even consider preparing. That’s ok (please rest).  But I think those of us who are ready and willing to actively build a stronger progressive movement need to be considering where to next, based on what we are seeing unfold so far. 

These are some offerings of what we can do next to strengthen our movements so that we can build the world we dream of, even in these growingly dystopian times. 

Make time to hui

A kaiako once told me, if you go back to our creation story, the purākau of Papatūanuku and Ranginui, we can find the tikanga that our tūpuna used to be able to guide us through troubled times. She said that when the children of Rangi and Papa were struggling to live in their parents’ tight embrace, the first thing they did was hui.1

“They sat down where a few trees sprawled against the sky, twisting their branches into strange shapes. 

“What shall we do?” asked the Children of the Gods.2

They met, and they discussed the issue, before deciding the way forward. The children didn’t all agree. Some took different paths of action. But the first task was to gather, and talk it through.

We know that face to face conversations are the best ones, but they have simply not been possible during pandemic times. I worry that in our isolation, we have become less natural in our instincts to hui. When one room, or building becomes our world, it is so easy to remain within those walls, both physically and socially.  

But when we gather, and discuss, we come up with answers together that would have been unthinkable on our own. We all leave with more. Hui have the incredible power to bind us back together in thought and spirit. In a world of ‘splintered realities’ they build a shared foundation of understanding. They clarify differences. They prepare us for action. 

We need to hui across issues, groups and organisations. We need to hui with our families and loved ones. We need to listen and learn from each other, so we can make sense of the world around us. If this step never happens, then it is hard to build the energy to take on our shared challenges. If we miss it, and go straight to action, we risk individual or ego-driven impulsiveness. If hui was necessary for our atua, then it must be useful for us.  

What’s worked for me:

Don’t overthink it. Start with one other person, or a very small group. Don’t get stuck in a scheduling black hole. A Facebook video call or old-fashioned phone call is better than a Zoom. Prepare simple tikanga, kawa and necessary information before the hui so you can get to the kōrero. Karakia like there’s no tomorrow. Take the time to be human with each other. 

Have robust discussions about things that matter

We need to be willing to talk about the things that matter. And this means accepting that we will have different perspectives, even among people who share similar views, backgrounds and values. 

One of my favourite gems in Audre Lorde’s oft-quoted “The Masters Tools Will Never Dismantle the Masters House” speaks to the role of difference in the feminist movement.3

“For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is discovered.4 It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.”

“Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must not merely be tolerated, but seen as a kind of fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.”5 (my italics, ‘cause why not?)

This is a page I return to often. There are many layers here, but what I take away for now, is that, particularly as marginalised groups, we have many different experiences to share, and strengths to offer. We are able to discover and grow our power for a better world, but it requires going beyond the limits of the oppressors and into new charters. We can find our courage, power and fuel when we welcome our differences and allow them to interact in a kind of political chemistry. This process can ignite our creativity, and lead us to political imaginings that we otherwise may have never dreamed up. 

Perhaps a less nerdy version is from a whakataukī I once heard, ‘you can’t have harmony if we all sing on the same note.’ 

There’s no point in pretending that we all have the same experience and think the same way. It’s just not true, and we miss out on that crucial ingredient that sparks creative chemical reactions, when we pretend to all be the same. We do not need leftwing spaces that are pseudo cults, which encourage us to all toe the same line, or risk being ‘thrown out of the group’ if we say the wrong thing. We cannot punish each other for having different experiences, or shut others down because they do not offer the ‘right’ position. We must be in creative (and conflicting) motion together. 

I deeply believe that a better world requires our best creativity. It means spending more energy creating than critiquing – especially when our identities have become based on our ability to offer a (damn good) critique. If we deny our differences, particularly from those who have lived experience of our harmful systems, we deny the possibility of powerful, liberatory ways forward. I don’t want to organise the same event that I’ve organised for the last ten years. I want to know how we harness our creativity in this moment for something that will make a genuine difference in peoples’ lives, and shift harmful and oppressive systems and practices. That requires some explosive collective chemistry.  

What’s worked for me: 

Remaining open and curious about how other people have arrived at an idea, listening for the collective wisdom, being honest if an idea does not seem tika or pono, disagreeing in a way that upholds other peoples’ mana, being willing to have my own ideas disagreed with, always remembering that the best idea comes with group input.

Be clear about what we are doing, and why we are doing it

It should follow that if the hui has happened and the ideas robustly discussed, we will reach a point where we are clear about what we are doing, and why. And this becomes the strategy. 

I do not consider myself a political strategist. I have strong values that make it difficult for me to change tack at the drop of a hat. I have my favourite ways of making change, that I will always come back to because I unwaveringly believe in them, and they are as familiar to me as breathing.6 There are also some ‘tactics’ that make my skin crawl, which includes asking politicians or police for permission to do anything. 

We each have our own individual or shared ideas of how we think change happens. We have good reason to believe it, because we have probably seen the change happen with our own eyes. This is good, it’s all part of our differences that are creative sparks waiting to happen. 

But now is the time to become even more clear in our strategies, especially if we want to work collectively. Our strategies should not aim for perfection – there is just too much in flux. But when we know what we are doing, and why we are doing it, the path opens up for us. It allows us to easily communicate and collaborate with others. It tells us where others are focusing, and what areas still need work. It enables us to offer clearer support and solidarity to each other, or be straight up when we are not in alignment. When we share strategies, we can start to see the bigger picture of how we will collectively win. 

What’s worked for me: 

Finding a group of people who want to do good work together, getting to the root of why we do what we do, being willing to share ideas even if you don’t think they are the perfect ones, listening to the quietest person in the room, spending more time creating and clarifying strategy than questioning others, finding anchors and structures for ‘big picture’ talks so you don’t get too lost. 

Foster collective courage

Over the following decade, we will need to step up for what we believe in. New forms of rightwing groups are undeniably effective at communicating their ideas to a wide audience, offering a simple explanation of how the world works and building up support among every day people. I don’t want to get into what we might learn from rightwing tactics or not, but I do think that people who are working towards Te Tiriti based, leftwing, progressive politics need to put forward our ideas, and build a wider, stronger, deeper movement for the world we are fighting for. It means talking about it, working towards it, and at times, taking risks for it. 

This can clash with our values at times. For me, my value of collectivism often means I don’t like to put my individual thoughts out into the world (I am really challenging myself with this article – might delete later). My value of respect for elders, means that I find it difficult to politically challenge older people, and some of my most painful experiences have been in those circumstances. Our values are powerful, but they can also clash with how we are expected to step up. 

One of my dear friends and daily inspirations, Fetūolemoana Teuila Tamapeau shared something with me years ago that resonates deeply with how I see my political practice. They talked about the roles in their family. They mentioned that as an individual, they don’t necessarily need to perfect certain meals, or perform particular dances, because there are other people in the family who bring that strength instead. They talked about “releasing the individual need to master all cultural practices that we as many peoples have temporarily lost. To be interconnected enough that we are all things we need together. That everyone in our families to come will have the opportunity to answer their calling.”

How I understood it is that when we are connected, we don’t need to be proficient in every task, because we are a part of something bigger. We already organise ourselves in ways that make the most of what we each have been given in this lifetime, in service of the wider group. There are some tasks we thrive in. There are many we will not. The great thing is, we don’t all have to make the same offering. Spend less time worrying about what you cannot do. Focus fewer hours on how others should perform their task, and find a way to be thankful that they are part of the wider whānau. Work out what you do best, and bring it to the table.

The truth is, if we are serious about changing the world, there will be times when we need to challenge people or power that we are afraid of. We will need to speak up through a lump in our throat. We will need to leave the familiarity of an echo chamber, and put ourselves in culturally unsafe situations. There are times we must be willing to address our own flawed behaviour or risk sabotaging the wider group. We will be called on to heal relationships rather than run from them, and draw (and maintain) boundaries to protect what matters. We will constantly be asked to transform ourselves, and most of the time it will not feel liberating. It will trigger us. It will bring out rage, defensiveness, sorrow, grief and hopelessness. The world we want is one of aroha, peace and care – but it will be a painful transition to get there. And if we are unchanged in our own selves, have we been honest in our work of changing the world? 

But we are not alone. Ask the caterpillar how it felt to dissolve itself into liquid, to transform into a butterfly. Ask the mothers how their bones rearranged to give life. Ask your loved ones how they overcame their most painful moments. We are capable of great transformation, and if we want a real revolution, we will have to do some of this transforming together. 

Fostering collective courage is about bringing us all along. It is about knowing we each arrive with unique strengths and abilities, and we don’t all have to know how to cook the same meals, or perform the same dances. When we know what song or skill we will bring to the hui, it’s easier to work as one. When we recognise and uplift the contributions of others, we build a collective courage that is hard to break. If we accept the fact we will experience fear, pain and change, and support each other through it, as groups, and as movements – we can make an even bigger difference. We can explode beyond the known charters together, changing everything we touch and celebrating our own transformation as we go. 

What’s worked for me:

Taking the time to build up leadership in others (especially marginalised communities), recognising each others’ strengths and what we can each offer to the kaupapa, offering pep talks to others when they are scared or doubting themselves, asking for pep talks from others when I am scared or doubting myself, taking my own healing seriously, supporting others in small practical ways. 

Here are my offerings of where to next. If we do these, I know we can strengthen our progressive movement, have concrete wins that take us closer to our dreams, and truly transform this country (and perhaps even the world). 

If you want to hui, have robust discussions, share strategies, and foster collective courage – get in touch at kassie@actionstation.org.nz

Kassie Hartendorp (Ngāti Raukawa) is a community organiser who has organised across different movements such as Te Tiriti justice, LGBTIQ+ rights, feminism, anti-racism, economic justice and the union movement.  She is the Director for ActionStation, a community campaigning organisation, and is passionate about movement building and harnessing people power for bold and imaginative political change.


  1. I remember this discussion during a wānanga in Ahunga Tikanga, Māori Laws and Philosophy at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. My kaiako was the wonderful Freda Moffitt, although there may have been other people involved in this discussion that added to the idea.
  2.  Reed, A.W. Māori Myths and Legends. New Holland Publishers. NZ. 1999. p.11.
  3.  I want to mihi to a dear friend Nadia Abu-Shanab, who reminds me of this quote at least once a year, and truly demonstrates the redemptive nature of radical relationships.
  4. Audre Lorde’s work was focused on the oppression of Black women, and did not discuss trans women or different gender identities at her time of writing. Activists like adrienne maree brown have asked the question of how she might have written about this now, but we may never know. I think there are elements of this example that might also be true for different marginalised groups.
  5. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Penguin Classics. 2019. P. 104.
  6. I want to community organise a way out of every problem. Even when this is not the best strategy for the issue. Which is never, because community organising is always the answer.

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