Fuck politics. Let’s volunteer.

How many people-hours were spent door knocking and putting up billboards at the last election? How many hours were spent writing blogs about politics? Imagine what could have been achieved if those hours were spent on something that actually helped people. Seriously.

“But politics helps people! The state has unique power to bring about positive change!”

Yes, that’s true. But politicians are not the only factor in bringing about positive change. They’re probably not even the main factor. Politicians are basically an input, rather than an output or outcome. They are a few steps removed from actual beneficial outcomes. The flow goes a little like this:
1- You plug some politicians into the parliament (inputs)
2- They do some politician-y stuff like making laws and telling the civil service do some policy-ing
3- Ideally, the new laws and policies change some things and do some stuff (outputs)
4- This new stuff is hopefully good for some people
5- Hopefully those people are the ones the you were trying to help (outcomes).

In case you haven’t heard, this inputs/outputs/outcomes thing is a big deal in public policy. I did a politics degree and heard nothing about it. Then I did a policy degree and learnt nothing but it. Anyway, I digress.

Some inputs lead to outputs, which then lead to good outcomes (like less poverty). This is good policy. But not all ‘good’ inputs (eg. more funding, Labour governments) lead to good outcomes. Some do, but not all. Labour governments are especially unreliable (rogernomics).

Basically, it’s a bit of a gamble. Politicians, civil servants, service deliverers, or opportunistic assholes might act in their own interests. Again, Labour. Sure, inputs can do good things, but they aren’t that reliable.

But what if you look at it from the outcomes end (gains for people), instead of the inputs end (picking the politicians you like)? You discover there are many factors that lead to good outcomes (community, family, the actions of individuals), and many factors that prevent them (bad systems, bad people, no resources). One of these factors is the government. It’s a unique factor, but it’s not the only factor.

It makes sense to pour your efforts into things that are more likely to cause good outcomes, right? Of course it does. Unless you have a hidden agenda, like getting power, privilege, or playing the saviour. Labour.

Think of it like this: Imagine there is a populated area that needs more water. It has a lot of streams leading to it, one of which is pretty big and comes from a lake up the hill. That lake also feeds other streams that go elsewhere. If you want to get more water to the area you can do one of the following:
1- pour more water into the lake. It might make a difference to the stream that feeds the area, it might not. Hydrodynamics is complex (take it easy physics nerds, it’s a metaphor).
2- pour more water into the streams that you know run into the area. Lots of these don’t come from the lake. They come from little valleys and springs. These streams aren’t perfect; stuff might still go wrong, but it’s less likely.

You choose the latter, right? Because you can be fairly sure it makes more of a difference. There are less steps, less maybes, less things to syphon off the water. So it is with politics.

“But working with the streams instead of the lake is still an ‘input’ approach, isn’t it?”

Well spotted. Yes, it is. But there’s a much shorter and more certain path between input and outcomes. Less things can go wrong. There are less people to capture the benefits.

Ok, so what does choosing ‘streams’ actually mean? It means volunteering at the coalface. It means working on focused single issue campaigns.

Now look back to National contributing to a food in schools programme or extending free doctor’s visits to under 13s. Did you support that or oppose it? Did you care more about the outcomes for kids, or about which input politicians decided to do it? The fact that so many lefties cared more about party politics than outcomes for the most vulnerable really pissed me off. I think it shows where their concerns were. Sure they were imperfect policies, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

So fuck politics. I’m going to do some more volunteering and single issue campaigning. If you care about positive change then you should too. Politics has it’s place, but let’s not kid ourselves that it is the best way to make a difference. Just think of what we could have done if we’d helped out in our communities instead of putting up billboards for people to pull down, or door knocking people in the rain.



One thought on “Fuck politics. Let’s volunteer.

  1. […] Increasingly, figures from the Left are looking outside political parties as a means of enacting political change. This is unsurprising when we look at the state of our parties: one was destroyed (MANA), one is deeply structurally damaged (Labour), and the other can’t achieve much with Labour (Greens); not an enviable position. But hey, political parties were always an imperfect means to progressive ends. […]

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