One of our team, Kyle MacDonald wrote a guest column in the Sunday Star Times on the 15th January.  Click here to see the original, and here for Kyle’s blog “Off the Couch.

The past 12 months have been a great time for protesting. Internationally, Time magazine made The Protester its Person of 2011. And it’s not surprising really. We are more connected to each other globally through our use of social media sites than the human race has ever been. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movements have used the tremendous mobilising power of Facebook, Twitter and blogs to easily locate people who agree with their cause, publish their point of view, and organise large global protests.

Here in New Zealand it is a little different, granted. But regardless of the reason, judicious use of social media is a great way to connect, become involved and – if you believe something strongly enough – take a stand.

In the past three years a relatively small part of the health sector has been close to destroyed under John Key’s watch.

The provision of treatment and support for victims of historical sexual abuse and adult rape has been funded and administered by the Accident Compensation Corporation since 1974. However, in 2009, under pressure from the National government to reduce funding and future liabilities, ACC staff, with help from some very clever people at Crown Law I’m sure, changed their interpretation of the legislation specific to “Sensitive Claims” to enable them to dramatically reduce the availability of funding for this very necessary service.

How necessary?

In New Zealand approximately one in four women, and one in six men, will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s pretty high. It also means someone you know has likely been directly affected.

So if you feel strongly about this sort of thing how do you protest and influence government in Aotearoa? If you’re reading this in New Zealand there is a 50 per cent chance you’re on Facebook or at least have heard of it.

What you may not have heard about however was just before Christmas a small group of dedicated staff at a small counselling agency called HELP, in Auckland, managed to get the government to provide funding at the 11th hour, in a little over a week, by skilfully leveraging the immense power of social media and, more specifically, Facebook.

The Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP service has been around since 1982, with the primary mission to support women who have been raped. It is primarily a crisis service, like a psychological ambulance. It helps them through the process, from the initial crisis call, to reporting, police interviews and medicals. Pretty essential, and no other part of the health or mental health system offers it. They’re it, really, in Auckland.

So when the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help service needed funding to keep its crisis line open, thanks to an ongoing struggle to secure funding, certainly not aided by ACC’s withdrawal of funding in 2009, it started an online petition and a Facebook page, and members asked everyone they knew to circulate it.
When they reached 7000 signatures, appeared on breakfast television to explain their plight, and organised a protest in downtown Auckland in the first five days, it became apparent that they had a lot of friends. However, the part that made the difference was to make it personal.

It was John Key’s government, and so you should ask him to change it. Directly. He has a public Facebook page, so tell him there. And so on the petition site they posted a link to take you directly to his page.

Over the course of Thursday and Friday, his page was bombarded with thousands of pleas to fund the Helpline, enough that Key was asked to comment in a press conference on the Friday. This was only a week after launching the petition. I hope it kept his staff very busy.

Late in the afternoon on Friday the government, via the Ministry of Health, announced it had secured a funding reassurance for a further six months, and a commitment to secure long-term funding beyond that.

That is what you can do with Facebook. Not just post photos of your cats. You can also have a say in how the country is run. The Protester in our New Zealand context needs only a laptop, an internet connection and some friends. It’s easy to forget that we all have the power to change things and that our collective apathy is the real enemy.

Otto Van Bismarck said that “politics is the art of the possible”. However, I believe it’s a sad indictment that the only way to get politicians to do the right thing is to make doing the wrong thing politically impossible.

Or is that just democracy in action?