New Zealand Law Society - Action Station

Action Station

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Long before Marianne Elliott took up the role of ActionStation national director, she had plans to pay off her student loan by being a litigation lawyer at Rudd, Watts and Stone before backpacking around the Middle East.

In a hostel in Jerusalem, Marianne met a Palestinian family. It was there Marianne decided to travel with the grandfather to visit his family in the West Bank.

"It was shocking to say the least. It was life changing to go through checkpoints with an elderly man and see how he was treated. I guess I was raised in a relatively pro-Israeli environment but that experience profoundly altered my perspective."

The Tokoroa native and foundation LLM student at Waikato University had always envisioned a career in human rights and advocacy, because she has always had a strong sense of justice.

photo of Marianne Elliott
Marianne Elliott

"When I got to Gaza I realised really quickly that local lawyers were best placed to do legal activism. Instead I found advocacy in a general sense to be more effective. It's about rallying people who aren't directly affected to see human rights issues through a human rights lens."

In her capacity working for the United Nations in Afghanistan, Marianne would meet with the chief of police to talk about how Afghan police failed to prosecute cases of marital rape in spite of the rights afforded under Afghan legislation, for example.

"I wasn't trying to change the law or go to court but instead meet with people and advocate for greater respect and enforcement of the law."

When Marianne decided to come home in 2008, she wrote a book about her Afghanistan experiences and once her partner finished opening a restaurant she began reflecting on all the changes she was seeing around the world.

Positive change

"I was convinced positive change and the well-being of all depended on active, engaged and empowered citizenry. When ordinary people feel defeated or they don't know how to use powers of democracy, that's when power ends in the hands of few.

"You've got people like me, who don't have much money and yet want to feel powerful. By pooling the resources of a lot of people, I don't feel as powerless in the face of the corporate powerhouse or lobby groups."

Co-founded by a team consisting of another lawyer and designer, ActionStation was launched in 2014, with the aim of supporting New Zealanders who share progressive values to become more effective and active agents of change.

"Our mandate is to help New Zealanders who hold what we would describe as progressive values, which we define broadly – whether that's protecting human rights, promoting fairness, deepening democracy, protecting the planet and promoting peace."

The term "progressive" is seldom used in New Zealand, she says, and ActionStation chooses to use it because it isn't politically aligned.

"New Zealanders have a tendency to talk about a 'right wing' or 'left wing' agenda. 'Progressive' is a more politically neutral term for core values held by people across the political spectrum whether that's the importance of human rights, addressing climate change or the promotion of peace, for example.

Running campaigns

"We do that by taking member suggestions, filtering those suggestions through a set of criteria to determine whether they are suitable for campaigning, and aligned with our members' and movement's core values, and then running campaigns that our members and others can participate [in]."

It's about providing tools, resources, and advice to community members and groups so that they can drive change themselves.

"Growing inequality has had an effect on democratic engagement. People feel powerless because they can see the reality that power is increasingly unequally distributed. At the same time, with life demanding more and more of people it's no surprise that people have less energy and time so we need to make engagement as easy as possible for people."

ActionStation helped the community group Save the Basin raise enough funds to successfully litigate over the potential building of the Wellington flyover last year, for example.

Success isn't only measured by a "win" but also by promoting and facilitating greater civic engagement, she says.

"A woman the other day told me that she completed a submission through our digital platform and it was something she would have never otherwise done. That was a big win for us."

Of the 2,810 submissions made regarding the Government's Transition Recovery Plan following the Christchurch earthquakes, 2,600 of those were submitted via the Action Station digital platform.

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