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Saturday 08 April 2017

Advocacy and Activism: Garth Browning

Posted in: People
By - 12th January 2017

What does advocacy and/or activism mean to you?

This to me is about justice and fairness, about people being treated with respect and being able to access what they have a right to. I would go one step further and extend this beyond people into animals and the funny little ball we all share. We all have an equal right to our place on this planet and what this life has to offer.

How did you first become involved in advocacy and/or activism and what kind of work do you do?

I first became involved in activism with the Anti-Vietnam War demonstration against Spiro Agnew outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Auckland in January 1970. I was 14 at the time. Since that time I have been involved in many causes. My work grew out of this passion for what is right. I am the Co-ordinator of NETS, the Needle Exchange in New Plymouth. My involvement in a wild life in Sydney during the 80s in which I watched many friends get left behind during the HIV epidemic was a catalyst. Knowing Bobby Goldsmith in Sydney when he was first diagnosed was a start of a drive in this direction. Circumstances when I returned to New Zealand led me into this organisation. The stigma around addiction is a huge barrier to gaining support and treatment.

What issues are you most passionate about?
It is very hard to pick and choose as I think all issues are inter-related. Justice and fairness should be there for all. Everything comes down to respect and an understanding of the repercussions of what you say and do on everything around you. The old saying that you must earn respect is crap. Everybody and everything deserves respect, this just grows or diminishes by how they react to you and how their behaviour impacts on others.

How do you see these issues being addressed - what needs to change?

At the core of almost all injustice is greed. Greed has taught us to be fearful of those we perceive as a threat to what we have. Greed isn’t just about money and ownership, there is also the greed of entitlement; “I am white, educated and middle class and as such worthier than you”. Change will come when people understand and embrace that what and who surrounds them is what makes them. Things will start to change when people stop judging others and start judging themselves.

How do you think activism has changed over the years and what does it look like today?

Social media has changed things a great deal but we forget that we are usually just preaching to the converted with in the privacy restrictions these groups require in terms of self-preservation. It does mean that we can interact across borders so it is always nice to find likeminded souls across the globe but this gives a false impression of a larger drive through number than there often is when translated to your own community. What we have lost is the intimacy of eye contact and that is not a good thing. We need to pull down the hoody and remove the sunglasses and learn the art of eye contact again.

What is one thing that you have learned from your activism or advocacy work?

That most people are looking for the same things in life and the only things that change are the paths we take. Everybody however is a minority of one. We all would spark disapproval of others in some aspect of our lives. It is what makes this world the remarkably diverse place it is. We need to own what makes us whole, both the good and bad, and celebrate that entirety.

Who inspires you to keep going?

My inspiration comes from the people around me, the community I am a servant to. My standards were set by my Mother, a nurse and a remarkable lady whose life was dedicated to others in both her job and outside it. I also look to my niece Bronwyn who is working, at Matang in Borneo, for a sanctuary for Orangutan and Sun-bears. My sister has spent her working life in Disability Support and is always there as a sounding board. I have a very strong community around me.

What would you say to anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community but doesn’t know where to start?

Talk to people because unless you are prepared to communicate you will never learn that there is such a huge group of people out there who share your concerns. Talk to your MP, your Local Council member and local groups like Citizen Advice. Be bold and state your case in a time when it is no longer fashionable. We are losing community more and more because people are afraid to speak up and the only way to turn that around is to get informed and share an opinion. Our focus must always be on what we are leaving behind for the generations that follow us.

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- 12th January 2017