Speaker by Various Artists

15

Things I have learned running RockEnrol

by Laura O'Connell Rapira

1)  Politics makes people weird.

2)   Artists and activists are some of the most generous people on the planet.

3)   Good funding is hard to find.

4)   Young people are awesome and often political, they just don’t realise it yet.

I started RockEnrol because I am passionate about empowering young people. I believe my generation and younger have enormous challenges ahead - social, environmental and economic and that for us to turn these challenges into opportunities, we need to bring our ideas, our vision and our values to the table. As Pete Seeger says, “Participation - that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”

But it’s hard to get people participating when it’s all “Dirty Politics” this or “Kill the PM” that. How can we possibly expect young people to participate when it’s one big mud-slinging, name-calling, spin-driven chess game where only certain people know the rules? Where is the inspiration in that? Imagine what it could look like if we took those marketing budgets and billboards of miscellaneous candidates faces and turned them into pieces of art, ideas and inspiration. What would our streets look like then?

Politics makes (some) people weird ... and nasty. I have had bloggers search my entire social media history to question my motives. I have had awful comments made about my appearance in the comments section in media I have appeared in (I’ve learned to not look anymore).

The Electoral Commission fired us as Field Workers because a follower on our Facebook page posted a picture of “John Key: Not Wanted” on our wall and because we weren’t quick enough to remove it, they suggested we must have political leanings. They also stopped NZ On Air from being able to support us because NZOA rely on government funding and needed their endorsement.

The truth is, we don’t have budgets to pay social media staff to monitor our page 24/7. Besides, encouraging political engagement is hard enough without simultaneously banning political posts and opening the floor for debate. Don’t get me wrong I think the Electoral Commission are doing a stellar job but the things we could do with even 2% of the budget - holy shit.

The funding thing has definitely been the hardest part. We sell some t-shirts and calendars, get a couple of donations here and there but mostly we’re run on “sweat equity”. Derek Handley was going to match-fund a crowdfunding campaign for us by chipping in $1000, but then didn’t for some reason (he’s probably just really busy). I chased the offer up with a few emails, but it soon started to feel like begging so I gave up.

Later on at the Candidate launch on Ponsonby Road, when the Spark-sponsored bartab ran out - Derek put  $1000 on the tab for a bunch of probably already voting (because it is the ‘already engaged’ that turn up to such events) young people without batting an eyelid. That hurt a bit.

We drank a lot of that booze that night to console ourselves Even before that we were going to get some money from MobilizeNZ to help with the events and campaign costs, but they ended up running with InternetMANA, so we couldn’t do that, being non-partisan and all. RockEnrol only exists because a bunch of passionate people came together, saw a problem and were willing and able to give away time, skills and stuff for free. I actually think that’s pretty cool.

It’s moments like tonight (/this morning - 2.07am), that I find myself writing a guest blog, absent-mindedly scrolling my Facebook feed  - a mixture of Buzzfeed, bathroom selfies, #FJK, #3moreyears, #Green2014, #forabetterNZ, #icebucketchallenge, smaller government, ‘One Law For All’ and European summer festival photos that I think… how did my life come to this?

Two years ago I was living in the UK working at Glastonbury, holidaying in Portugal and living the Kiwi ex-pat dream. Why on earth have I decided to move back home, work 70 hours a week for very little money, share my salary with my best friend who quit her stable job at the bank to volunteer for RockEnrol to run this under-funded and over-stretched campaign?

And here’s why:

Since our birth in May we (as a collective) have had thousands of one-on-one conversations with young people about their issues, ideas, feelings and frustrations about life in democratic NZ and what that really feels like. I have spoken with and listened to students, workers, party-goers, conference attendees, youth workers, young-at-hearts, too-young-to-votes, young Labour, young Nats, young Greens, musicians, artists, bar-staff and everyone in between and I’ll tell you one thing: we are not apathetic, we are not stupid, we are not unaware (of course there are always exceptions, but this is definitely not the majority). We are waiting to be empowered, inspired and valued.

Through this campaign, I have been lucky enough to run presentations and workshops for countless groups of people. We’ve had two successful crowdfunding campaigns raising $8,000. We have had 30 local and national media hits, our social media presence has grown to more than 3,000 people, we've run 5 successful gigs around the country and attended more than 40 as RockEnrol'ers. We threw a house party with Tiki Taane, enrolled over  2,000 young people, gained more than 100 volunteers and just this week we've started calling all of our pledges to make sure they’re exc to go the polls this weekend.

There is a time in our lives where we can be radically optimistic with a greater ability to take risks. The time before the mortgage and kids, where we can quit our job at the bank and work overtime for a volunteer organisation, we can move into a flat with our friends and share bills to plot campaigns and organise gigs. We can get naked in Calendars and make banners that say “Vote or Die” or posters that say “Just Fucking Vote”. We can try anything, be anything, do anything and that’s what we’re doing.

My generation (and younger) are the most tech-saavy, connected and informed group of people that have ever existed. We could be our most untapped resource when it comes to solving societal problems but we’re just not turning up. Why is this? How can we get every media outlet, NGO, political party and celebrity saying, “Hey, you know that voting thing, it’s really important, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our country. so make sure you vote so we know.”  What do we need to do to ensure the voice of a generation is heard? I’ll tell you one thing, RockEnrol will definitely still be around to try and figure that out.

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If you’re in Auckland come along to the final RockEnrol shindig tonight at ST Paul St Gallery from 6pm - 9pm. The event is called WE WILL WORK WITH YOU and we are inviting people to submit ideas for a thriving NZ (not in Auckland, submit your idea here). We'll be presenting those ideas to the winning government (the Ministry of Youth Development specifically) within the first 100 days after the Election. The event will mark the beginning of a new phase for us, where our commitment will shift from getting out the vote to civics education and working alongside our young members we are being heard in the political sphere . There'll be food, drink, dance & poetry entertainment as well. Click here for more info & to RSVP.

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