The Hikoi of Hope

September 16, 2018

Christine Costley

Ordinary 24

 

Tena Koutou Tena Koutou Tena Koutou Katoa

I am up here this morning to talk with you about an event that happened 20 years ago! The Hikoi of Hope.

To share what being part of that event meant to me. 

And to ask the question if that event has relevance to our lives today?

In May 1998 The Anglican Synod, Te Hinota Whanui, the church’s governing body listened to testimony from it’s three Tikanga – Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia & heard stories of desperate poverty

  • Poverty that was entrenched in some communities

  • The widening gap between New Zealand’s richest and it’s poorest citizens

  • Maori and Polynesian communities carrying the heaviest load of unemployment, ill-health and despair.

The response of the Synod was to undertake this country wide initiative, a Hikoi. A march to Wellington to our elected representatives. To present them with the stories of those who were suffering the most. To ask them to hear what the people who are hurting most in this country are saying. It was a rallying call to act and many of us did and were excited, pleased and proud to. It seemed the Christian church really did care about its most vulnerable people. It was demonstrating Christ like action & showing compassion.

The Hikoi of Hope was to walk to Wellington, to be led by the Anglican Bishops of Aoteaora.

There were 5 planks/demands that the Hikoi wanted addressed:-

Creation of Real Jobs

Affordable Housing

Dependable Public health

Accessible Education

Benefit & wage levels that lift people out of poverty

Real Jobs – In the 1990’s there were high levels of unemployment. Jobs connect us to the economy, to society, give status and opportunity. Not having a job can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness. The recently passed Employment Contract’s Act changed the employment environment, the minimum wage was low & casualization of some jobs.

Housing –Affordable housing that is dry & warm is the cornerstone of any programme to reduce poverty. The government of the day had altered the way State Housing rents were set, these now came to be linked to market rates, ie at a higher level. This meant low income families were spending more of their income on rent, and having less money for other essentials, like food and clothing. There was an increased need to access food banks to help families put food on the table. A lot of the rental houses were cold and damp – state ones as well as in the private sector. Cold damp housing leads to health problems especially for babies, children and the elderly. Overcrowding is more likely to occur when rents are high & places are scarce. Overcrowding has detrimental effects on the health [mental & physical] of family members.

Pause – these issues sound familiar?

Health –The need for a public health system that New Zealanders can access & trust. A user pays system excludes those who have vulnerable health due to poverty. Services and agencies working with vulnerable populations had their funding altered or cut, increasing anxiety in this sector.

Poverty –The Hikoi of Hope called on the government and the nation to listen to the voices & experience of the poor & to acknowledge the need for different policy approaches which enable justice & dignity for all New Zealanders.

Education – Accessing high quality affordable education was proving difficult for many New Zealanders. Government funding for schools was not meeting the cost of running the schools. The wealthier communities could fund raise with greater skill and success than the poorer communities. 

[Just look at the facilities that are present now for schools in affluent parts of Auckland and the condition of the buildings and facilities in the poorer suburbs.]

On the 1stof September 1998 the marchers were to start, in the North Island at Cape Reinga and walk south and in the South Island to start at Bluff and walk north. All were to arrive in Wellington on the 1 October.

Sir Paul Reeves wrote that ‘‘The Hikoi of Hope is not simply a powerful way of saying ‘Enough is Enough’ it says the future is ours and not in the hands of some anonymous economic process. The theme of the Hikoi is to show every New Zealander who lives in poverty that we see their plight, find it intolerable and are walking to change it.’’

Everyone who sees this poverty as intolerable is welcome to join in. And many did. There is an estimate of 30,000 or possibly more who converged on Wellington. There were many who walked the full length of one of the islands, others walked or gathered for sections of it. 

Peter Beck was the vicar here and he was one of the leaders & organizers. I was, at that time part of the St Matt’s social justice group. Here was something we could do. Jenny & Pat Blood, Jeremy Younger and others. We used to meet in a room at the Presbyterian church, just across the road. That building is no longer a church. Meryvn Aitken was the minister. There was a covenant between the two churches. It was a positive relationship.

Then there were the meetings to plan, promote & strategize. Weekly meetings from July onwards. These meetings were held in the choir practice room downstairs. George Armstrong, Peter, Rod Oram and others participated. There was talk about previous events e.g the protests around the 1981 Springbok tour. I felt I was in the company of special people. People I see & meet here, people who moved on from St Matthew’s and I am happy to see when our paths cross.

There was energy in this parish to do all that was necessary to make the Hikoi a success.

I went with Peter, Andrew Willis and Meryvn to Northland for the start of the walk, up to Cape Reinga. That was an amazing experience, the place, the people, the prayers and blessing. Then we set off. Waiora has given me some photos to share with you. We walked for most of that day. And returned to Auckland the next day to pick up our day jobs.

There was amazing levels of hospitality made available especially in marae along the way both in South and North Islands. Maori are such good hosts! The two nights I had on marae in Northland I remember feeling so privileged to gather outside and be welcomed in and hosted in comfort and style. That was repeated throughout the country. It was like these communities were ready, willing and able to facilitate this Hikoi. These Maori communities showed us the importance of hospitality sharing what they had. We were all grateful.

On the 13 September St Matthews hosted the walkers for lunch [soup & rolls etc], right outside the church. They came up after the service & Eucharist in Aotea Square. They had walked up Queen Street from QE2 Square - which is now Britomart and a construction site!

Then on the 30 September many of us got on the overnight train to travel to Wellington and getting off before it reached the city so we could walk with the banner waving, chanting crowd along the Hutt motorway down to the Railway station before then march to Parliament.

There was a spectacular church service in front of Parliament steps. We participated in prayers, bible readings [the ones given here today] singing hymns, praying. It was an uplifting and unforgettable experience. I was there. We were there!

There are some items of interest on display, papers lists, the background pieces from the Hikoi office. And photographs. Please look through them.

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What happened to this momentum for change once the Hikoi was over. It seemed nothing? Why? I don’t know?

Maybe we had done too much walking and talking and then after it was over ‘we went home!’

Maybe some in the church this morning have ideas/thoughts on this & wish to comment.

I know I went back to the things I was doing before. I got on to Vestry and had that responsibility for the next 3 years.

Significant levels of poverty, homelessness, employment issues, the beneficiary system, our tax system, concern about access to public health and quality education are present2018 issues.

There was a ground swell of action calling for change 20 years ago. I am asking today if there are people in this congregation that are interested in undertaking some initiatives that connect us to the plight of the poor?

Please, while you think about that question, I need to say that the close supportive hands on relationship St Matthews has with its neighbour the Auckland City Mission is most commendable. Maybe concentrating on enhancing that relationship is sufficient. It has a long established history.

Any thoughts/ideas please share them.

My desire is to continue to live in this country where the most vulnerable members of our society receive a fair deal – around housing, health, education, social welfare, justice & employment.

How I might work towards that as an individual or as part of a congregation or community of like-minded people is up for discussion. Let us talk more of this after the service. 

Na Ku Te Rourou

Nau Te Rourou

Ka Ora Ai Te Iwi

With my basket and your basket we can feed the people.

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