The Mana By-Election. An insider’s view

Commentary- Shanna Olsen Reader, Unite Delegate and Matt4Mana activist

A lot has been said on Matt McCartens Mana by-election campaign, but unfortunately mostly from people who had little to no input or in fact any actual experience of it at all.

I took annual leave from my Administrator job to spend three weeks volunteering in Porirua. I walked the streets, I knocked on doors, and I shook hands with the people. I made real connections with residents and they were kind enough to give me their time and tell me their stories. If anyone should be commenting on Matt’s campaign it should be the people who were there on the ground.

This is the real story of the Mana by-election.

Matt McCarten gave people a choice. A real choice. 800 people took that opportunity and voted for him on polling day. We didn’t need catchy slogans or a drive-by loudspeaker at 8 in the morning to get our votes. We ran that campaign on the bones of our asses out of a makeshift office in the Porirua mall and got 800 votes in 3 weeks. In 3 weeks we went from being unknowns to being recognised as affiliated with the candidate the locals affectionately referred to as the “minimum wage man.”

In 3 weeks I door knocked thousands of houses in Titahi Bay, Waitangirua, Cannons Creek, Pukerua Bay, and Elsdon. In those thousands of houses I had a grand total of 3 people who weren’t interested in what I had to say. 3 solitary people. Half of the houses we door knocked signed our petition for a $15 minimum wage, 3000 jobs for Mana and No GST.

We had people walk in off the street and volunteer. One man bicycled from Auckland to door knock the whole of Linden. One elderly gentleman leafleted every house in Whitby by himself. We had good solid policies. We didn’t need an established party or massive funding behind us. We were lucky to have a team of volunteers from all walks of life, but at the end of the day we were all there for the same thing. To give the people of Mana a choice.

We were never going to change the world in those three weeks. But we did change Mana. 800 people voted for Matt on polling day. Most of which had never heard of him before he stood as a candidate. 800 individuals took a risk and voted for Matt. No he didn’t win, but then again those of you who know Matt will know that was never the point, or the aim. In those three weeks the other candidates went from kissing babies to being forced to actually think, to strategise, and to debate politics the old fashioned way instead of just relying on their lovely smiles to do the work for them. 800 people- that's not something to sniff at. I challenge anyone to gather together a rag-tag band of dreamers, limited funding and get 800 votes in 3 weeks.

I must say that even though I attended most of the candidate debates I still cannot recall any actual policies Labour or National came up with. I hope now that Faafoi has won he might think of some. This would have been an easy ride for Faafoi if Matt hadn’t entered the race. I noticed an improvement in him as the campaign went on and I think he will be a better politician for it. I just hope that he knuckles down and makes some real and measureable improvements for the people in his electorate before the next election. You just never know who could come out of the wood work next time around.

We won’t forget about Mana and the people we met there. The foundations have been laid and the people are ready to stand up. When they do we will stand with them, and more people will follow. That is when the real wins will be made.

Whether commentators consider the campaign a success, a failure or simply an amusing experiment my personal opinion is that it was truthfully the best three weeks I have spent in a long time, and possibly the most worthwhile thing I have done to date. The simple fact that it got so many people talking means that we made a difference. And the very fact that you have spent time reading this only goes further to prove my point.


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