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Putting Community Back Into Law: In Conversation With Carwyn Jones And Valerie Morse

In September 2020, Community Law released the latest edition of the Community Law Manual. With over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info, on just about every area of community and personal life, it provides comprehensive answers to common & current legal questions. From its very beginnings as a loose-leaf ring-bound folder in the 1980s, the manual has evolved, while staying true to its kaupapa (purpose) to make our justice system fairer and more accessible to all.

Committing to this kaupapa wouldn’t be possible without the wisdom of our communities. To keep pace with rapid law change and urgent issues in society, the Manual gets updated every year. As part of this, Community Law is constantly producing new content that prioritises collaboration with people who have lived experience of areas of the law directly affecting marginalised communities. For the 2020-21 edition, this has resulted in a brand-new chapter on Activism and the Law.

So, what does a just Aotearoa look and feel like? What do we mean when we talk about access to justice? These are some of the questions that the new chapter, ‘Activism and the law’ picks up on. Equal parts story-telling and handy guidebook on what the law says about different types of activism, the new chapter is brought to life by the experience and wisdom of our contributors Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou), Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungungu, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki), Pania Newton (spokesperson for the Protect Ihumātao Campaign), Dr Frances Hancock (Research Fellow at the Social Futures Research Hub University of Auckland) and Valerie Morse.

The Activism chapter covers the relationship between Te Tiriti o Waitangi, protest rights, and different types of activism. It aims to support those pushing for change in Aotearoa. But there’s more depth to this chapter than a quick summary could provide. So we spoke to Carwyn Jones and Valerie Morse to tease out more, and why this chapter matters so much as we enter a new decade.

“We are in a moment of widespread awakening, built on decades and centuries of struggle.” As a lifelong Pākehā peace activist, Valerie is firm that rather than being a point of arrival, justice is a journey. When power shifts and real debate starts to happen, this doesn’t come from nowhere. It is a continuation of what has been done.

Carwyn reminds us of Moana Jackson’s taiaha metaphor. “People think it’s the pointy end that’s dangerous, but they’re not used like that. It's the long shaft that’s dangerous. So, change happens in a similar way.” Well known activists like Tame Iti (Tūhoe) might represent the pointy end of the taiaha. Those at the pointy end keep pushing the boundaries and that helps move issues forward for everyone, pulling the shaft of the taiaha along. It’s when the shaft starts to move that things really start to happen.

Carwyn and Valerie’s insights on the arc of justice speak to the kaupapa of the new Activism chapter. For Valerie, the chapter is a “deep resource” that works like a reference book. Take a look at the contents of the chapter, and you’ll see what Valerie means. The chapter opens with fundamental rights to protest and organise, leading into Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the rights it guarantees, the process for making a Waitangi Tribunal claim and how that might support a political movement. Then it takes a deep dive into criminal law, trespass, and rules about different kinds of protest. These complex ideas have been made easy to understand with practical and useful case studies written by Pania and Valerie.

The struggle to protect the unjustly confiscated whenua of Ihumātao continues to this day, and it has taken shape in lots of different ways since the SOUL campaign was founded in 2015. In the Community Law Manual, the case-study on Ihumātao showcases how land protectors have strategized to build their movement and support for the return of their land, all whilst navigating the restraints of the law. From making a Tiriti claim, engaging with United Nation processes to community organizing and a facilitated process by the Kingitanga.

These real-life case stories bring to life the information of the chapter. Valerie hopes that these stories can empower activists to “put their organising into perspective, and to see that the law is important but not the whole story”. Valerie’s experiences in direct action protest have proved that knowing your police rights is essential, because when police arrest, “that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it lawfully.”

For Carwyn, the chapter helps us to think critically about the law as a social and cultural construct. The law is not neutral, but is influenced by values, and it pays to consider whose values can influence the impact of law on the community. This means that activism isn’t just about protesting unjust laws but is actually an important tool for change. A sign of a healthy and dynamic legal system is when it can respond to the need for change laid down by activists, and to "consider how to reflect community decision making and needs.”

Taking a step back, the new chapter forms a part of a wider whole—where an alignment of work across different communities builds up the strength of the taiaha’s shaft to move behind its point. Transformation happens when activists, scholars, and workers alike coordinate just visions. Having the right practical resources along the way strengthens the momentum, something that Carwyn and Valerie believe the new Manual provides. Between us and our contributors, the new chapter in the Community Law Manual 2020-21 is here to bolster those who are forging pathways for justice in 2020 and beyond.

You can read the Community Law Manual online for free here: https://communitylaw.org.nz/legal-information/, or visit your local Community Law Centre to take a look at the new Manual.

Or order yours online here: www.communitylaw.org.nz/product/community-law-manual/

Email publications@wclc.org.nz for more info

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