On Sunday mornings a group of dedicated activists and I attend Avondale Market in Auckland. We hand out material, give Labour balloons to kids and talk politics to anyone who wants to. We ask if people are on the electoral roll and fill out forms for them to make sure they can exercise their democratic rights. Interestingly the Election Commission used to pay people to do this work and they used to be a regular sight at the market. This year I have yet to see one.
The Market is situated in the electorate of New Lynn and is directly across the road from the electorate of Kelston, both Labour seats. People come from throughout the country however and it is not uncommon to meet someone from the far north or from down south.
The crowd is very diverse. Large numbers of Maori and Pasifeka and Asians attend, attracted by the fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables. There are stalls selling Samoan dance music, carpet tiles, cleaning fluid, hats and clothing, cellphone accessories and pretty well anything you can think of. The market feels like it has a bit of every culture in it.
The people are friendly and good natured. They also represent something of a political barometer. In 2008 the tide of support for Labour was going out and the people were indifferent. In 2011 the phone was definitely off the hook. This year there is something of a resurgence and the crowd is much more friendly to us.
The experience is somewhat cathartic for me. Very few people that I speak to even read blogs let alone intently. Their concerns are not with the latest beltway issue. Their concerns are more fundamental, the woman living in a Housing Corporation house who is being moved out because the house is deemed to be too big for her, the unemployed welder suffering from chemical poisoning who keeps having his benefit cut off, the cleaner on minimum wage who cannot afford to feed his kids adequately.
Free of media distractions and the latest dark ops inspired hatchet job we can talk about Labour Party policy and what the party intends to do to improve the lives of ordinary people. This is retail politics in its purest form.
National has also been attending in a hired stall with a corporate looking gazebo and set up. On Labour’s side we have a suitcase and a portable table. The symbolism of this is significant. Despite their increased resources they struggle to attract the same sort of response that we are able to get.
A significant portion of our community are under severe pressure and are not affected by media attacks on Labour or the latest beltway scandal. They want Labour and the left to succeed. By doing the basics and telling them about our policy and making sure they are enrolled and know about the election we can make sure that this election will be closer than the right would let us think.