My nomination for the 2023 Mitre 10 Community of the Year Ngā Pou Whirinaki o te Tau is for community organization Voices for Freedom (VFF).
Over the last few years, VFF has been a powerful expression of kotahitanga for New Zealanders, embodying community spirit and enhancing the social, economic and cultural prosperity of our country.
During an incredibly stressful time for many resulting from the Covid mandates, lockdowns and related stressors, VFF created a platform from which hundreds of welcoming spaces were created for people to come together, both online and in person, as a vital outlet for their frustrations and concerns about the cultural impacts on freedom and democracy in New Zealand.
For those facing economic hardship wrought by the covid response, VFF facilitated support, networking and countless opportunities for those affected to empower themselves, advocate for themselves with their employers, carve out new paths to work and economic resilience, and support each other as a community.
As the traditional societal markers of acceptance and expectations have shifted, VFF has encouraged brave conversation, pioneered healthy debate, created opportunities for a marginalized and bewildered community to come together and fostered and promoted a return to everyday nurturing, inclusive, considerate and respectful Kiwi values.
As we approach 2023, the work of both VFF as an organization and its satellite local groups, which I understand number more than 150 throughout the country, now directly impacts over 40,000 members as well as supporting more than 100,000 people through education, connection and resilience.
VFF groups are actively growing strong, connected communities with social and recreational opportunities, resilience projects such as disaster preparation, collective food growing and buying initiatives, and knowledge and skills sharing and teaching.
Thousands of people have worked tirelessly in a volunteer capacity to establish and strengthen VFF local communities. The risks of volunteer and member involvement include being shunned by friends and family, ridiculed, vilified and derided by others. It takes courage to be part of a movement that’s been labeled and lauded as dangerous and destructive.
Despite this, VFF continues to meet and rise to the challenge of slander and unpopularity, thanks to effective leadership, a strong vision for the future and a strict code of conduct which guides member activities. With extremely limited resources, this volunteer-led organization has grown larger and more visible than any movement of its kind in NZ history.
Winning this award would validate the incredible work VFF has done for disadvantaged New Zealanders, and those marginalized and discriminated against. It would also allow the organization to continue to serve the needs of all Kiwis to return to true heart-centered community living, and a flourishing existence in which neighbours support each other, through healthy collaboration and the desire for mutual success, stability and prosperity.