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A group of women gathered last weekend to support a friend whose mother had recently died. We were each asked to bring something that reminded us of a woman no longer with us, who had been important in our life, and to share something about her.

Because I’d recently been writing a vignette about my political experiences the woman I chose was Janet McVeagh, Co-Leader of the Values Party during the 1980s. Today at my writing class we were asked to briefly write a paean, a creative work expressing praise, and I again thought of Janet.

She was an empowering inspiration to many of us, a true friend with whom I shared laughter and tears. We never lived in the same city, and we met just a few times each year. Often at Values Party national meetings we shared a room and would talk into the wee small hours. I can remember one gathering at our Auckland home where I abandoned the marital bed for a sleeping bag on the lounge floor so as not to waste any precious moments in her company.

In those pre-email days we kept contact through cards and phone calls. One day during a local body campaign Janet left an answerphone message to say that she was “off to Paris with Adam”. I wondered who this new man could be, and later found she’d gone with a peace group called ATOM, all part of her work to make the world a better place.

Sadly Janet died at the end of 2004, but she is someone I will always remember with fond love. In my garden the Raspberry Ice miniature rose is a lasting memento.

I can’t too highly sing her praise
she raised my life in many ways

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Early on a Tuesday morning in August 1995 I had a phone call from Rod Donald, Co-Leader of the Green Party.  He had a personal message from Jim Anderton of the Alliance, asking me to stand in the local body elections.  Green honour was at stake as there was only one Green candidate in the whole of Christchurch.  I said I needed to think about it.

Stephen said: “Go for it, you’d be great.”  I consulted the Tarot and came up with the Priestess, indicating pure, exalted, and gracious influence.  Perhaps I should have been standing for the Mayoralty?  The card also signified may be led away by enthusiasm unless careful balance maintained which seemed appropriate.  At the time of the Alliance’s formation I had been outspoken in my opposition and had since withdrawn from party political activity.  Could I ever fit into an Alliance team?

At work, my Task Force Green assistant, a fervent NewLabour supporter had already announced she’d be standing for the community board.  She had a Political Science degree and no electoral experience to dampen her enthusiasm.  I lunched with an old friend who’d also been a Values Party candidate and we agreed my chances of success were very slight.  Later that evening I had another call from Rod to say he’d found another Green women willing to stand in my ward.  Together we could be a green oasis in the central city – an attractive idea.

Next day I had a call from the Alliance campaign co-ordinator asking for a decision that day because there was a photo call for all candidates.  I agreed to the photo ‘just in case’ in return for another day to make up my mind.  My photo was taken by a woman at the Alliance office.  Internally I stereotyped her as a (Social Credit) Democrat and wondered whether she had a Skoda parked outside.  I collected a copy of the manifesto, candidates’ pledge, etc, and hastened off to a crisis meeting at the Women’s Centre.  At midnight I finally had a chance to read the Alliance material, decided I would be happy to associate myself with it, and drafted up a candidate profile before going to bed.

Next day (Thursday) I phoned the Alliance campaign co-ordinator to say I’d stand for the City Council, stressing that my campaign would be very low key.  I also phoned my Board Chairperson to inform him.

On the Friday there was a letter in the Press from a ‘Progressive’ Green suggesting that Greens were frustrated with the Alliance.  I drafted a reply during breakfast and remembered that elections can be fun.  I then raced around organizing my nomination form before heading off for a weekend away.

Sunday I returned home to an answerphone message from Janet McVeagh a dear friend and former Values Party Co-Leader.  She’d been persuaded to stand for an Auckland Community Board for the Alliance and was off to Paris for two weeks with Adam.  I wondered who was Adam?  When I phoned I discovered that Adam was in fact ATOM, a group of 50 New Zealanders going to France to protest against nuclear testing in the Pacific.  Janet would conduct most of her local body campaign from the depths of Europe.

On Monday my candidacy was announced in the Press.  Apparently no-one noticed.

Tuesday the Press published my letter.  A Board member phoned to ask whether I was the author and why I hadn’t informed the previous week’s Board meeting.  I explained that I hadn’t known myself at that stage.  Her husband was also a local body candidate and she was disbelieving.  Two friends phoned to congratulate me on standing.  Unfortunately only one lived in my Ward, but now I was sure of at least five votes.

As I left work on Wednesday I suggested to my assistant that I would see her at that evening’s candidates’ meeting.  She knew nothing about it and my faith in the Alliance’s organizational ability dropped.  The Alliance meeting was full of unknown faces.  I introduced myself to my neighbour who turned out to be my Green Ward-mate who also knew none of the others.  We all sat in rows facing a desk and I wondered why they couldn’t have a circle so we could at least see each other.  The room smelt faintly of paint and unwashed socks.  A man took his place at the desk and started the evening’s business.  He didn’t introduce himself and it was a while before someone addressed him by name so I could identify him from my candidate list.  Two-thirds of the group remained anonymous for the whole evening.  I considered making comments on the process but decided against it.  After all, I was a last minute addition and expecting to be active for only six weeks.  I thought longingly of Values meetings with their lengthy sharing rounds.  The woman next to me fell asleep, and I promised myself I needn’t attend any more Alliance candidates’ meetings.

The following Sunday billboards arrived and one went up on the side of my cottage.  My name had never before been writ so large and kept jumping out at me as I drove around local streets.

1995 election postcard

Next Saturday my mother had a stroke and my campaigning was reduced to the absolute bare minimum.  I spoke at two candidates’ meetings and answered five letters.  At the election I received 1,612 votes (15%) and was the first runner-up in my ward.  I doubted I would have done better if I’d campaigned intensively, and wondered what that proved?

My swansong as a Green candidate was in 1999, when I was Green List candidate number 34.  Seven Green MPs made it into Parliament that time, including Jeanette Fitzsimons who won the electorate seat of Coromandel.

1999 Green List Candidate no. 34

I found Alliance process shoddy
and never quite made local body

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So sad to learn yesterday of the death of Jeanette Fitzsimons, a woman of Values who did so much and worked so hard for our country and our planet.

I first met Jeanette back in Auckland in early Values Party days.  That group/movement had an immense and ongoing impact on my life.  What I remember is the generous and open sharing among us all, and the tremendous support and encouragement of each other.

So many shared meals, often pot luck, but also regular meetings of the Auckland Values women at Duxbury’s Restaurant where we ate from mis-matched plates, and Edith Piaf provided the background music.

My earliest memory of Jeanette is visiting her home in Remuera in the late 1970s.  My younger daughter and her older son became friends and often played together.  Jeanette grew cabbages in the front garden, unheard of then and now!  From a visit to a later smaller home my memory is of a cello in the sitting room (not sure now if it was hers or one of her son’s) and wide-ranging conversation.

I’m grateful for all that Jeanette did and meant.  As an M.P. she was a tremendous beacon of hope, and an inspiration and mentor to the young Green M.P.s who have followed,  Thank the Goddess for MMP!

Her cabbages are on my mind
and that Jeanette was always kind.

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I’ve been a member of the Green Party and its Values predecessor for more than forty years.  Their commitment to a society that is just, sustainable, and community-based is the most likely to bring about the world I hope for.  In the past I’ve given much time, money, and energy to this cause (including twice standing as a parliamentary candidate), but these days my activism is restricted to delivering pamphlets, hosting an election hoarding, and voting Green.  I cannot imagine that I would ever vote for a different party.

I am saddened by recent events.  Metiria Turei took a tremendous personal risk for the good of the Party.  Her revelations led the general media and public to finally realise that social justice has always been important for the Greens, despite efforts to label us as ‘environmental’ only.   Subsequent events, and the resignations of two Green M.P.s mean Metiria’s effective and inspiring political career is now likely to be cut short.  The Greens have always been admired for their integrity, personified by such leaders as Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald.  That integrity has now been called into question.  Civil disobedience is acceptable when you’re protesting in a picket line or during a Springbok Tour, but not when it happened quietly decades ago.

I will continue to support and vote for the Greens.  I pray that Metiria will find a way through this situation that gives her comfort and peace of mind.  I await with great interest, and some trepidation, the outcome of this year’s general election.

“Despite the changes in the scene
I hope that many will vote Green.”

 

 

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