As activists, we're used to a scrap. Like those who fought for civil rights, gay rights and the five-day work week before us, we're aware that power doesn't cede anything without a fight.
You'll be told it's just the way the world works, that these rules are an inevitability that reward "hard work". No, not the hard work of a cleaner. Not the hard work of raising children whilst carrying the bulk of household chores; not the hard work of teacher, nurse or midwife. The hard work, it seems, is when you own assets and watch them appreciate.
If you keep fighting, if you keep reminding those in power that everyone deserves to live in dignity, that everyone deserves opportunities, you'll eventually be handed some scraps. Instead of being offered a seat at the table that dishes out the plates, you'll be told not to bite the hand that feeds you. It's just the way the world works, they'll say.
It was in law school that I realised there's a whole lot of complicated words we use to describe quite simple concepts. They are usually Latin. They're phrases like "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware), "actus reus" (guilty act), "mens rea" (guilty mind) and "tort" (civil wrong). This is the language of an ancient profession that arms and protects the people who want to use the law to get the things they want out of it.
They are the bricks that build a fancy house of legitimate-until-proven-otherwise. In Aotearoa, it's literally the tongue that sought – and to this day still seeks – to justify the murder, pillaging and theft of mana whenua and their whenua.
Those who know these words have the keys to the kingdom. They're more comfortable in suits and ties. As Parliament's proceedings last week showed, they see Nike Air Jordans as foreign and out-of-place, because they're not accustomed to the uniforms of pop culture, the streets or regular people.
Those who don't know these words are more likely to have a really hard time navigating a system that was not made for them, doesn't respect or value them.
Quarterly benefit statistics show us that 3408 additional sanctions have been applied to those on welfare. The main reason for sanctions is failure to attend appointments. At the height of a global pandemic outbreak, the poorest people in this country have had their benefits cut.
These sanctions were removed in the 2020 outbreak. Rents were also frozen. Tertiary students had a borrowing allowance for "course-related costs" doubled; while it was laughable to pretend that there's anything "course-related" about paying for groceries, power bills or rent, this money – that eventually must be paid back – saved students' education.
None of these supports have been brought back this time. In its place, the Government last week announced a $940 million per fortnight package for businesses.
Nobody is denying that small business owners are doing it tough. A week ago, I was fighting at Select Committee with National and Act MPs who would rather we rely on commercial landlords' goodwill than require they reduce rent during lockdowns. I've tabled an amendment in Parliament to require the legislation goes further and faster in tilting the balance towards those small businesses. We'll wait and see how political parties vote on that this week.
This pandemic became difficult to manage as soon as it took root among our most structurally marginalised communities. I say "structurally marginalised" because nobody is inherently marginalised. Decision-makers, like politicians, have over decades made decisions that have built a system that decides who is rewarded and who is not.
As I said in my 2017 maiden speech, "These decisions inform who is rich and who is poor, who gets sick, and who gets better." The point has never felt more uncomfortably poignant.
Child welfare advocates do not have the ear of ministers like business lobbyists. Renters' advocates, student presidents, social workers and community problem solvers don't have parliamentary swipe cards, as those lobbyists do.
The bags in their eyes show sleepless nights trying to get whānau out of cars and into stable housing, delivering food parcels and writing yet another damn report in vain hope that it might change things. The evidence, in the eyes of decision-makers, is nearly never enough.
Scraps won't do it anymore, especially when they dwindle and people become too exhausted to ask. But we're not getting a seat at the table unless we organise and fight to take it.
Aotearoa's first Labour Day was held in 1890, when union members celebrated their incredible fight won in 1840, for the five-day work week. For weekends. A decent day's pay for a decent day's work. That's as valid a future as it was our past. If this pandemic has taught us anything, nothing is politically impossible.