Blessed Love

Denis the gardener. Credit: Stephen Robinson, Auckland.

Nga Kupu Aroha recorded a journey. It may well have been a saga. The quest started around 2003 with the self-realisation that taking meth wasn’t a very good idea. When my friend Hone Day went sideways the impact of his death relit the fire of direct action within me. It had been dulled working as a bureaucrat. I wanted my community to self-prohibit this substance called P, methamphetamine. Mountain high, ocean deep, the journey became relentless. Nine years. “Banging on” was a term Helen Clark used to describe the recurrent proclamations from people with a cause. It has a touch of the depreciative about it, as if raised awareness is good enough. The missionary’s mantra: Tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; Tell ‘em you told ‘em. We hear you. Shut up. Move on. No. Hammering away is pointless if the door isn’t opened (Mathew 7.7; Luke 11.9; Revelations 3.20). It’s all cold comfort if nothing changes. Action must be taken. Change must occur. And, as always, making change intimates action reflection, cause and effect thinking, praxis.

There has been progress with Aotearoa’s meth problems. The Key government has shown leadership. Hype about meth, in the main, has given way to evidence-based assessment. Help to beat meth addiction is more readily available. Our nation’s borders are slightly less porous. The cops have been given the power of pharaoh. But the scene has changed, and so too have the players. The old gangmen, pakeke like me, can’t directly foot it on the field of play. Generally, being a phenomenon of the 1970’s, the NZ gang community isn’t used to having its own elders. Our new role is emergent; advisory, mentoring, consciousness raising. There are new initiatives abroad. I get critical of how they are being rolled out. I don’t agree with this or that. I’d do it a different way, so forth and so on, blah de blah. It’s time to let go, to get the hell out of the way and let the new generation of change agent leader bring new game plans and new styles of play to a dynamic situation.

Moreover, new substances crop up. We have instances of people (mainly younger Maori) huffing volatile substances – butane and aerosol deodorants. We’ve had the arrival of ‘legal highs’ sold at our dairies and ‘adult shops’, including synthetic cannabis, the so called ‘Kronic’. Now there’s a new version ‘K2’ which seems to be leading to bizarre behaviours and psychological harm. Users report manic and psychotic episodes, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. There’s been a growing and world-wide appreciation that prohibition of substances on its own simply doesn’t work. The ‘War on Drugs’, like all wars, has proven to be wasteful of human life and resources and is full of contradictions. Have a look at this article from the Rolling Stone.

The New Zealand Government has recently reacted relatively quickly and more logically, as regards ‘drug law’, than it may have in the past. Testing of K2 has revealed that the major psycho-active ingredient is a chemical called EAM-2201. K2 has been banned from sale and the burden of proof that it’s safe to use has been laid upon the manufacturer or importer. There’s less of the moral outrage and more of the consciousness about actual harms of various recreational substances to health, be they licit or illicit. That includes alcohol.

And that brings me back to my original mission – to build community resilience against methamphetamine. Yes, community resilience: not a sole focus on individualised responsibility but a broad community response that includes all community members; and supports families to cope with and overcome addictions; and helps contain supply; and, maybe, even self-prohibits.

Earlier in the year I was recommended for an award for my work with ‘addictions’. I told the person nominating me that this wasn’t appropriate. I don’t deal with addictions. I’m more likely to be in need of addiction services than I am to provide them. I deal in community action. I know that over the last forty or so years my efforts, alongside others – collaborative efforts are always required – have had an effect on many of Aoteroa’s social issues, generally on society’s edge. This includes stopping rack renting by the likes of Wellington slum-lord Madhav Rama; countering systemic racism through efforts like Amnesty Aroha; reducing unemployment through the work co-operative movement; reclaiming ‘mana tane’ for myself and my gang brothers by the virtual extinguishing of gang rape; and, then, my input into policy development and delivery of community-oriented services and programmes in my twenty-year-long public service career in the Departments of Internal Affairs and Labour.

Blessed light. Across the Bay from Te Mata Peak. Credit: Jono Rotman, New York.

So, now I’m asking myself how these various elements of change were affected. What happened? How might one replicate what worked and avoid what didn’t? Even now, when I reflect on this most recent work with Mokai Whanau Ora and the drive to combat the manufacture, distribution and use of meth, as recorded in Nga Kupu Aroha, I see that many of the things that I did may have been counter-productive. This includes the somewhat aggressive approach towards and demonization of meth dealers that I promoted early in the meth campaign. Looking back at it now I think this spoke much about my own fear, weakness and sense of vulnerability about my own predisposition towards addiction. However, on the other hand there would be few adults in New Zealand who now don’t know about the deleterious effects of meth and I know I’ve contributed to informed debate, and, I hope, to the now well established reduction of usage.

So, what to do now? Well, here’s the plan: starting in February 2013, presuming my application is successful, I’m going to commence doctoral studies at AUT University. Marilyn Waring is to be my supervisor. I’m taking a transdisciplinary approach to my question, but the lens could broadly be described as behavioural economics. The question is to be around the nature of effective community action in Aotearoa New Zealand. In fact it could be effective community action on any issue anywhere. For instance the challenge faced by the citizens of the United States to develop effective gun control has parallels with drug control. No laws on their own will win the day. The community has to decide that ‘enough is enough’ and be willing to work collaboratively to self-prohibit for the common good.  So, developing the question, as with any academic enterprise, is always the question.

In 2013, to move on from Nga Kupu Aroha I’m going to write six on-line essays (Blessays?). These will deal with the streams of my reflective thinking on the nature of community action and my opinion of what needs to be done to make Aotearoa a better place for all. I’m not into navel gazing. This new mission is aspirational, ad astra, star gazing. I’m calling the series “Nga Kanohi o Te Rangi – the eyes of the sky”. Hang on to your hats.

So, this is the last posting of Nga Kupu Aroha. It concludes a chapter in my life. I’m sixty, dangerous with insight and experience, and ready to spread the word. When I was a young fulla, 17 years of age and filled with belief in the necessity of social justice, I left school and my home in Timaru to join the Marist Fathers seminary at the Mission, in Hawke’s Bay. Naïve young fool. How deluded to think that the Church would provide the platform for action. I might as well have run for Parliament. Funny how things work out though. The holy fathers sent me away with a good education and a taste for red wine. I took a different life trajectory than my peers. However, living at Waiohiki, under the shadow of Otatara, I’ve not moved far from the Mission geographically.

Otatara Maunga. Credit: Jono Rotman, New York.

I retain my core beliefs in the essential goodness of people and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. I have ended up being a father in my own right. I wouldn’t have swapped this journey for the world. And now I’m excited about what lies ahead. What will I need about me to keep? What do I leave behind (1 Corinthians 13:11 – put aside my childhood things)? What personal capacities will I need to create that I have never had before?

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2012 is about to morph into 2013. Much has been done and achieved and much is still left undone. CART (www.cart.org.nz) has had a successful year. Its forty years since Jimmy Baxter died. We honour his memory by continuing our best to provide the cloak of aroha in practical ways, even in these tight fiscal times. On that, out of the blue, Hemi’s son, John Baxter rang me yesterday to say that as the trustee of one of Hemi’s bequests he’d decided to make a substantial grant to CART. Maybe, he mused we could buy some books and set up a library for those in prison, perhaps.

Memorial notice, Dominion Post, Labour Weekend 2012.

At the recent CART AGM, after over a decade at the helm, I resigned as chair. John Bishara (CEO of Te Mangai Paho and Chair of the Ngati Tuwharetoa Trust Board) has taken over and the waka is under a proven captain. I’ve got out of the way.

Last night we had our final Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust meeting for the year. Things had got a bit messy for a while during the year. I asked the troops to take on too much and our systems failed under the load. I need an engineer behind me, locking nuts and ensuring screws are tight. The indefatigable Frau Weichbrodt has returned from her international travel for just long enough to take over as manager and help us trim the rigging, clean up the deck, get rid of unnecessary ballast and get us back on an even keel. Dankeschön. We’ll have acceptable 2011/2012 financial outcomes for both the Waiohiki Community Trust and Waiohiki Intellectual Property. The positive social impact though has been huge and we can all rightly enjoy a sense of satisfaction. As part of the regional CAYAD effort (www.cayad.org.nz) Kevin Tamati and Anahera and Tareha’s team, in collaboration with Johathan Rodgers from video and electronic media in the School of Arts and Design at the Eastern Institute of Technology (www.eit.ac.nz), are setting up a ‘Transmedia Studio’ at the Creative Arts Village.

Alongside his cousin Te Kaha Hawaikirangi, who is working for DOC, Tareha has also successfully negotiated with the three TLA’s to dig a hole in the Tutaekuri River so the kids can have a decent swimming spot for the summer.

Te Awa Tutaekuri. Credit: Richard Brimmer, Hawke’s Bay.

The idea is to establish a few pro-social parameters around behaviour (call it a tikanga) and ways to help ensure safety. A swimming hole at the river – how simple does life get?

I’m less happy with my performance in leading the fundraising efforts for the Waiohiki Marae. The impact of the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes haven’t provided the ideal conditions in which to raise $3.6m. To some degree we’ve hit the wall. On the basis that if you keep on doing the same thing you’ll get the same result we’ve taken on a team of professional fundraisers called Giblin Group. Whilst large, the Waiohiki Marae Complex project is doable. All the necessary bits of the jigsaw puzzle are present, but we need to pick up our standards of governance and our breadth of hapu engagement to bring it home. The major impediments are human, relational.

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It’s warm in the Bay. The orchard is flush with plums and apricots. Yesterday the kids picked fruit and Taape, Daniela and Zharday made jam as gifts for friends and neighbours. I’ve dug about half the garlic crop for the same purpose. My garden is pumping, bountiful. I’m looking forward to crisp garden fresh summer salads.

Bacchus and the miracle of the corkscrew and knives.

I’ve been partying a bit as you do at this time of the year. Its my Dionysian wiring. I felt like Bacchus himself when Al Mackie and Tom Allan at Band Design (www.band.net.nz) let me open a jeroboam of seven or so year old Trinity Hill Homage pinot noir. We had no suitable tool available so I had to improvise with a standard corkscrew and two knives. I behaved though and I intend to improve even on that in 2013. Ad astra!

And with that, Merry Xmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year to all. Much aroha to all who read these lines. I am blessed by the friendship of my friends and the deep love of my whanau. I experience, as Jimmy Cliff puts it, ‘Blessed Love”.

After Jimmy Cliff – Blessed Love – Rebirth

Blessed Love to all the World
Blessed Love to Everyone in all the World
Blessed Love and Salutation
Blessed Love and Appreciation
Blessed Love and Salutation

Bless up with this greeting:
Blessed Love
Bless up at every meeting
Blessed Love
Bless up with thanksgiving
Blessed Love
Bless up for your leaving

Bless up all the Mothers
Blessed Love
Bless up all the Fathers
Blessed Love
Bless up all the Youth
Blessed Love
Bless up with the Truth

Even in your home
Blessed Love
Wherever you may roam
Blessed Love
Out in the street
Blessed Love
Everyone you meet

In North and South America
Blessed Love
In Europe and Asia
Blessed Love
In Africa, Australia
Blessed Love
Caribbean, Jamaica

To all the folks in Gaza
Blessed Love
To everyone in Aotearoa
Blessed Love
Bless up with respect
Blessed Love
Bless up without regret

Blessed Love and Salutation
Blessed Love and Appreciation
Blessed Love
Blessed Love to all nations

Bless up all the Youths
Blessed Love
Love is what I bring
Blessed Love
Love is what I sing
Blessed Love
Bless up all the gangs
Blessed Love
Up town,
Blessed Love
Round town,
Blessed Love
Down town,
Blessed Love
Across town
Blessed Love

Blessed Love to One and All
Blessed Love
As it was in the beginning
Blessed Love
So it is in this time
Blessed Love
and for evermore

Blessed Love

Ka mutu. Denis


Tags: Denis O'Reilly  Drugs  Hawkes Bay  Maori  Methamphetamine  Nga Kanohi o Te Rangi  Nga Kupu Aroha  police  Rolling Stone  Waiohiki