“It symbolizes a spear, and in this sorry world the symbol is the thing.” 1
It is a longtime ago. When I first started “appearing” at the Papakura District Court my hair was ginger-brown long, curling on my shoulders and I wore homemade dresses. It was before I adopted the symbolic suited-armour of a real lawyer.
On a visit to this outlying palace of justice I was part of a small group “invited into chambers” to converse with then Magistrate Ken Mason. 2
One of the topics Mason talked about was “the gangs”. Magistrate Mason wanted us always to be aware of the fundamentally different values and beliefs system we were dealing with. To never think that we, supposedly educated and middle class purveyors of local law, were ever really getting it.
You could think this was entrenching Pakeha perceptions and prejudices of these highly visible, predominantly Maori, social groupings. Who could miss those patches. Who could avoid hearing the mechanical roar as the battalion of the helmet-headed went by.
So offensive and distressing to the wider community did the sight of those patches become, as the personification of social evil and disruption, they were eventually banned in many places.
What I took away from my florally dressed, hair beribboned meeting with Mason was, to be aware of group think, group speak, group values and beliefs whether it was us as “The Law Society” or the local chapter and now the personal brand of the current president of the United States of America – Make America Great Again.
As I inched my way towards my eventual work in “the Family Court” I was subjected to some interesting observations from friends in the wider community. “they stay because they like it” was often said to me with the same stupidly straight face as those telling me “that prostitutes do it because they love it” or “they keep having children so they can stay on the benefit”
None of the women I ever met stayed because they liked it. And the women I met who resorted to prostitution did so out of financial desperation. I met so many formerly married women of all ages and stages trying to survive and do the very best for their children on relatively small amounts of money. It always interested me how quickly the critics forgot they grew up in the era of “The Child Allowance” the weekly government payment made in respect of every child in New Zealand. 3
The Family Court taught me a lot about our society and our fundamental beliefs and attitudes. Most importantly it taught me the abusive effect of persistent and demeaning words and marginalizing behaviours. Suggesting someone, usually a woman, was “mad” or “mental” was a common classic.
I’ve watched the current President of the USA resort more often, towards anyone who challenges him in the slightest way, to verbal behaviours which would be regarded in the New Zealand Family Court as abusive and a form of violence. Pelosi is “mental” “sick”. Sessions his first Attorney General is “untrustworthy”. White House reporters ask “nasty” questions. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…..they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Being a lawyer taught me about the “rule of law” – it’s not about having more policemen. It taught me how important it is for all of society to understand and value the checks and balances within the democracy. My perception is that American democracy is unraveling.
Not so long ago the State Highway near where I live was “supervised” by the Police when a phalanx of the patched faithful attended a tangi at a local marae. The symbolism and power of the patch continues.
A patch is a political statement. A swastika is a statement of political evil. That yellow star “the Jewish Badge” is an unforgettable symbol of the Shoah – the Holocaust.
Like a gang patch, a hat bearing the personal brand of the American president, represents his values, policies and behaviours and is a political statement.
Prominently displaying a bright red MAGA hat in your New Zealand Parliamentary office is a political statement. And no amount of prevaricating can change what it is or what it stands for. And it does matter. And in view of the economic issues facing New Zealand it matters even more.
- Neil Gaiman, American Gods
- 1970. In June Ken Mason is sworn in, becoming the first Maori to be appointed a Stipendiary Magistrate (and later District Court Judge until his retirement in 1988). New Zealand Law Society Te Kahui Ture o Aotearoa
- A brief history of family support payments in New Zealand July 2018
Rosemary Balu.Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
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