Gisborne woman Samantha Wood was a late bloomer in political engagement, she says. If that’s true, she’s making up for lost time. Mark Peters tries to keep up as she tells her story . . .
Labour intensive is one way to describe former Campion College student Samantha Wood. Sure, she might cringe at the dad-grade joke, but not only was the politically-minded fourth year Victoria University student elected as president for Young Labour she’s a volunteer intern with East Coast List MP Kiri Allan. These are roles that for most of us would fill up most days of the week but Samantha is also studying towards a double degree. One is in law, the other is a bachelor of arts in political science and international relations. Despite her passion for politics — or because of it — her study choices give her plenty of choices.
“I always knew I was going to jump around a lot,” she says.
“In politics there’s always the opportunity to do that. I have no set end-goal but I would like to practise private law at some stage.”
When she says she has a good work ethic and good research skills it doesn’t sound for a moment like she’s skiting. She might have said she is right-handed or has grey-blue eyes.
“I had that focus at school,” she says.
“Very early on, in Year 9, I thought about doing business. When I started getting involved in governance and managerial stuff after I went through school I got more involved with politics and law because I enjoyed it so much.”
Politically, she was a late-bloomer, she says.
“I was politically-minded in school but decided not to join a party back then. In university towns there are active branches. They are more involved. I had some projects in mind and Kiri suggested I look into it.”
A big part of politics’ appeal is being able to implement change.
“As a teenager you like to complain — well, everyone does — but getting involved with politics, and through law, I’m learning where I can take grievances.”
Samantha’s role with Ms Allan came about when the double-degree student approached her after the 2017 general election. Although a Labour Party advocate, Samantha maintained a neutral position during the run-up to the general election so she could dedicate herself to encouraging people to exercise their democratic right and vote.
“That was my goal. I met all the candidates running in the East Coast and Maori electorate and I was impressed with Kiri. When it was all wrapped up, I sent her an email to say ‘if you need anyone based in Wellington but with strong ties with the East Coast let me help’. She said ‘let’s grab a coffee and talk.’ I got to do really cool things like help her when constituents come to her with problems like ACC claims and rental disputes.”
Mostly though her role is to manage files, to make sure Ms Allan has all the information she needs and to keep track of bills.
Like electricity and rates and stuff?
“A bill is basically what a law is before it becomes law,” says Samantha.
“It’s a written document generally used to address issues or create a programme.”
Child poverty reduction was one such bill.
“That came out of Labour’s promise in the run-up to the election. The bill was introduced to the House and went through a debate with a select committee. The select committee is where anyone in New Zealand can write and say something, even as simple as ‘I agree’.”
A role Samantha particularly enjoys as Ms Allan’s volunteer intern is facilitating the East Coast Youth Advisory Council; she found “amazing” high school students from Whakatane, Kawerau, Te Kaha and Gisborne.
“We’re putting together mentorship to help make a difference in their own community.”
Last weekend, Samantha and Ms Allan’s youth council travelled down to Wellington for Young Labour’s annual conference.
All the East Coast councillors were elected for positions on the Young Labour’s policy council or the executive council. Samantha was elected president of Young Labour New Zealand.
“It was so refreshing to be surrounded by people from the East Coast in Wellington,” she says.
“I think we really shook up the traditional make-up of the executive.”
In February Samantha joined young people from around the world at a UN Youth conference in Asia. Over 21 days they met with diplomats and companies from five countries and six cities.
The experience was invaluable, she says.
Participation in Campion’s debating team and social media sites such as the short-form blog platform Tumblr helped stir political awareness in Samantha. But are those of us who are non-stirred, and only occasionally shaken, ignorant of political currents in the world?
“The point of a democratic system means every-day people don’t have to be engaged with politics every day,” says Samantha, democratically.
“You can get involved in incremental ways now and again. It’s the media’s role to break the information down.”
Moving right along — for recreation Samantha surfs, and follows the Netflix series RuPaul’s Drag Race, a US reality competition for America’s next drag queen superstar.
“Quite a few people in Wellington watch it. It’s quality drama,” she says.
Speaking of drama, don’t get her started on Trump.
“No other president in the history of America has advocated for violence against journalists or undermined organisations such as The New York Times or Washington Post.
“It makes me grateful to have any party where you don’t have people advocating violence against the media.”
The Weekender nods sagely.
New Zealand has a history of political parties working together to find solutions to social issues such as child poverty, says Samantha.
“You wouldn’t get that in America.”