Oh yeah, she’s running for Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city.
Having spent the past several years juggling careers and study, at 22 years old, Chlöe Swarbrick’s CV reads like the biography of someone double her age. Now shes wound up with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and a Bachelor of Laws, the Basement fam’s found time somewhere to have started a number of different businesses, work and collaborate with multiple artists and musicians and create/curate several prominent gigs and pop-ups across Auckland city.
She’s spun yarns as a Radio Host on the country’s top alternative radio network (95bFM) for the last four odd years, dancing politicians around the ring of live broadcasts; sold artwork to high-profile collectors; produced limited edition burgers with the city’s most renowned establishments; drawn in a crowd at a guerilla side-show at Fashion Week for her label and brought a small time blog idea to the scale of a mass online culture publication with over 40 contributors. Now, she’s opening an art-gallery-donut-shop hybrid with friends, hiring an employee for her and her partner’s Digital Marketing business – oh, and she’s running for Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city.
So Chloe, we actually have spoken a few times before – care to tell the audience how we first came to?
Funny you mention that, Tayler. If I’m honest, I’d actually forgotten about it given the mad chats we’ve had subsequently, but you’ve now caught me with a grin.
It was earlier this year, around the time The Basement Admins put the ban hammer in full effect for using sexualised imagery of women as PFAs – something which I’d been a big advocate of, having been a woman in the group feeling quite weird about the misogyny of sorts it perpetuated, in legitimising sexualised commenting on women’s fit pics and otherwise.
The Basement blog had just come to fruition, and you penned a piece about women in streetwear for International Women’s Day. It was a really good piece of writing, and I agreed with its substance, but in the opening few paragraphs you’d prefaced it with something along the lines of not wanting to be labelled a feminist. That took me aback a little, especially as you were writing a piece in support of women. Feminism, to me, has always meant that you see women as on the same level as men – I know it’d become a dirty word with the perceived alignment to extremism in certain anon forums, but I didn’t expect to see feminism treated that way in The Basement.
I think I commented on your piece about it, and we got into a dialogue about it. You let me in our your perception of the word – that to you, it held cultural connotations that you didn’t want to be affiliated to lest your point in supporting women be diluted with certain guys thinking you were something which they’d come as a matter of dogma to see as negative. I think I just suggested something along the lines of your being in the position of influence that you were, that you had the power to change those negative connotations, and just drew light to the real meaning of the word: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes. We discussed why it held weight, and why it was necessary, and drew comparisons to the likes of Black Lives Matter, and other movements, where drawing light to the inequal plight of one subsection of our society doesn’t mean that we’re minimising the life experiences of anybody else.
An hour or so later we were Facebook friends, and have had a few good convos since.
And now you’re running for Mayor?
It’s funny, because I’d never seen myself in politics. When I was a nerd growing up, reading the dictionary (literally), friends and teachers always joked that I’d be Prime Minister one day – you know, that classic thing said to the kid who’s a bit weird for caring about politics, the environment, equality, or our society.
I decided quite early on that actually working within politics would be a waste of time, and that I could do more outside of it, without the bureaucracy and systemic inefficiencies – let alone the systemic injustices, which I saw as difficult to change playing the very game that created them.
That’s how I think I ended up in journalism, questioning the status quo, and in a roundabout way, how I ended up working with artists. Artists are my favourite kind of people – and I think there’s an artist in everyone. It’s just most poignant in traditional artists. Artists have passion, and unique talent, but like everyone else, they suffer from self-doubt, and anxiety. This cripples them. It cripples their ability to grow, holding their work so tightly it doesn’t have the breathing room to capture the eyes and hearts of potential millions. Their work is the stuff of their children, made of blood, sweat, tears and emotion, and it has the ability to make the world a better place.
When you give an artist a platform, you give the world a new perspective, and you give life to passion and self-belief. The latter two things have built the best things about the world as we know it today.
So, I was bound up in all this stuff, and then at the end of last year, my producer at bFM suggests I run for Mayor as a bit of a joke. We laughed it off. Then, I got looking into stats on local government for another interview, and I was shocked by a turnout of 34%.
I’m unsure if you know much about Auckland, but we’re a rapidly growing city with numerous teething problems, and as someone experiencing those issues on the daily, I was gutted. So, I took the joke seriously and decided to try and do something about the future of this city.
A key factor for you running, as you’ve also mentioned in earlier interviews, was trying to change the tide of that lack of political interest – the 34% – why do you think things are this way?
Well, there’s a number of possible explanations. It could be apathy, but I think that’s the lazy answer if I’m honest. In my mind, it’s a combination of multiple things, from a basic lack of civic education and understanding, a lack of understanding about how much local government is responsible for multiple different facets of our daily lives, a disconnect between what politicians talk about and what people want, and potentially even a general distrust of politicians and the system as a whole.
It’s also incredibly interesting looking at the disparity in turnout across generations. Anecdotally, it’s dismal, and the most recent stats, from 2010, show that 89% of those 70+ years old voted in local body elections, whilst only 34% (it’s a funny recurring number, isn’t it) of those aged 18 to 29 years old did. Only one third of those who will inherit this city are exercising their democratic right to decide what that inheritance looks like.
How would you plan on engaging the youth?
In the same way that I’m planning on engaging the whole city – by having them decide the starting point of my campaign. Instead of arriving on the scene pretending to be some kind of saviour, I’m putting everything on the table. I’m asking for a conversation, to get Aucklanders to become stakeholders in their own future by thinking hard about where they want to see their city, entering into a dialogue in place of the traditional political rhetoric. Everyone’s voice is welcome, and valid. I’m no more important than anybody else.
Following that, my policy will come after numerous consultations with those who’ve dedicated their lives studying city planning, transport, the environment, housing, the economy, and everything and anything else relevant. I’m seeking to disrupt the notion that politicians somehow have all of the answers. The public called bullshit on that a long time ago.
In this global political climate, it’s hard to ignore the growth of ‘nationalism’, manifesting in the likes of ‘Brexit’ and the legitimacy of the Trump campaign. The common refrain is “we want our country back.” Why do you think that is?
I think the world’s in a bit of a frightening place right now. Disparity between the rich and the poor is growing, our climate’s being ripped to shreds, wars continue to rage on, penal populism continues. Technology is developing, making redundant more and more jobs; others are being outsourced internationally by large monopolies taking advantage of globalisation and cheap, often ethically dubious labour.
Those not cemented among the most wealthy are struggling more and more, and they’re looking for a solution. My personal opinion is that lazy politicians seeking a silver bullet are aiming the gun squarely on minorities which is actually, depressingly, history repeating itself. A scapegoat is easy. Seeking to really, truly address the complex problems underlying our increasingly inequal society – and act against self interest, when you’re a politician with your own capital stock and wealthy backers to account to – is not.
How do you think we can transplant the democracy we’ve seen in youth culture online into real world politics?
At its core, the Basement is and always will be an online forum to discuss streetwear and related culture. However, anybody who’s been in there long enough will know that it transcends that pigeonhole – just look at the generosity on every other post, the way advice is shared freely and openly, and support and solidarity is given in the context of anything from break-ups to international terror attacks.
In creating a safe space where people can discuss ideas freely and frankly, without being shut down on irrelevancy, like the way they look, you’ve fostered a community that is able to generate new ideas, and support difference of opinion. This is the furthest thing from seeking to pin the tail on the scapegoat – it’s the progression of society through dialogue.
When we bring that mindset of letting others speak, listening to them and recognising they carry different life experiences and subsequently a different perspective, we learn. We put aside our dogma blinkers, the rose tinted glasses, our little frail egos, and we discover we’ve all got to live in this world. We find genuine truth, not the unbalanced, unchecked stories we tell ourselves. We find new ideas, and new ways of doing things. We acknowledge everyone as human. As equal.
Bringing this mindset into the real world, we begin to disrupt the political climate of baseless rhetoric. We question things, and we listen. We begin to realise that when there’s no real answer, therein lies our opportunity to build a better system.
You can check out Chloe’s Facebook page here.
Image credit Dexter Murray and Imogen Wilson.