The fight for justice and freedom continues

October 1, 2020

The legacy of Martin Luther King’s fight for jobs, freedom and equality lives on in contemporary struggles.

Martin Luther King’s Jr 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs attracted a quarter of a million people.
Martin Luther King’s Jr 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs attracted a quarter of a million people.

At the opening of the famous August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs at Lincoln Memorial Park, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr said: “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation…”

He fought for jobs and freedom and called for economic rights and an end to racism in the United States (US). His most iconic freedom speech was I have a dream – its most powerful lines resonate with, and are the guiding principles for all civil rights activists. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’…”

Amplifying the voice of nurses

In September, I was part of a panel discussion on the impact of COVID-19 internationally for the National Nurses United (NNU). The NNU is the largest organisation of registered nurses in the US, representing close to 185,000 members across the country. Its focus is to amplify the voice of direct-care nurses and patients into policy. The president, Bonnie Castillo, powerful in her opening address, articulated the issues of racism, xenophobia and nationalism as the NNU’s biggest battle, alongside COVID-19. The political voice and the mobilisation of their nurses was truly inspirational – the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr still evident in the fight together, as all of these nurses believed in this dream for their nation.

Unfortunately, what seems to be happening among some of our members is a divisive undercurrent designed to erode and try to undermine the mana of our organisation.

Our NZNO vision is to be Freed to Care and Proud to Nurse. We have much to be proud of and, during the recent pandemic challenges, nurses on the frontline, in aged care, palliative care, community, primary and secondary care, rose up, despite already being under-resourced, short-staffed and tired. Forever a dependable workforce, despite that lack of support, we pushed through because we are committed to caring for our communities.

However, our fight for freedom, nursing presence and voice is far from over. Our collective worth, power and solidarity must be united as we fight for professional rights, working conditions and equal pay. We are united in our struggles but this requires us to believe our dream for freedom to care is possible. Unfortunately, what seems to be happening among some of our members is a divisive undercurrent designed to erode and try to undermine the mana of our organisation.

In te poari’s opinion, over the last few months on social media and in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand there has been a relentless focus on NZNO’s bicultural framework and attempts to undermine it. Te poari also believes the journal has, as a result of unconscious bias and racism, advocated for western models of leadership and portrayed Māori leadership in a negative light. Te poari feels the results of this unconscious bias and racism are now forever documented in our history.

It seems that freedom for Te Rūnanga is somehow conditional and not available to us without a struggle. Minority voices seem set to undermine and destroy our right to freedom and we must stand together to stop this.

Equal rights and justice in our own country are under threat, as our voice and presence is constantly being undermined. I understand for many it is distressing to stand by and be a spectator to the never-ending attacks, based largely on our whakapapa.

Persistence and presence

I have been encouraged by the fight from Bonnie Castillo and NNU and expressed our international solidarity. Their persistence and presence does not waver, standing up for jobs, economic rights and an end to racism as we fight for freedom.

We will be judged by history and our actions. I invite us all to join in solidarity and kotahitanga and fight for our freedom and equal rights.