Laura O’Connell Rapira describes herself as a ‘possibilist’ these days, but her path in life has taken her from being a struggling teen in search of a tribe, to being Bloods, to being a mentor and a bit of a hippy. Now, in her role as director of campaigns at ActionStation, she works on empowering New Zealanders to act collectively to make change possible.
I was born in Taranaki and later moved to West Auckland. My Mum and Dad are both one of eight kids, both Māori, both grew up poor and both experienced family violence. They both broke those cycles, as did their siblings. But the other thing my parents have in common is that their grandparents were the last in their whānau to speak Māori. This intergenerational loss (or theft) of identity was handed down to my parents, who handed it on to me.
When I got to high school, I was determined to find my tribe. In an effort to be cool, I became Bloods. I would wear red clothing head-to-toe, wag school and smoke weed. I found solace in music and used all my spare money to buy hip hop albums.
I was heading toward expulsion when two things happened. I was trained as a peer support mentor in a programme for issues of sexuality, body image, mental health etc. And then I went to my first ever music festival and saw Shapeshifter, The Black Seeds and others. For the first time, I was hearing music about life in the South Pacific by people that looked like me. I felt at one with myself – and other humans and nature – for the first time.
After that I decided I wanted to organise music events so I could give that feeling to others. I stopped being Bloods and became more of a hippy.
Now, at ActionStation, my job is to direct our members’ precious time and energy for maximum impact, whatever we’re doing. We are an independent community campaigning organisation, representing over 160,000 New Zealanders. Our platform empowers those people to act collectively on a range of issues through channels like petitions, mass emails, crowdfunded media campaigns, vigils, hikoi and more.
My role involves research, strategy development, fundraising, creative tactics, copywriting, volunteer management, field organising, analytics, campaigning and building relationships. We talk to experts about important issues and we talk to people with lived experience of those issues to better understand how policies impact everyday New Zealanders.
My other job is RockEnrol, which is a nonpartisan organisation using social media, music, art and events to engage young people in the political process. Politics is not set up to appeal to young people, and therefore our country is missing out on the creativity, vision and insight of hundreds of thousands of young people in political decision-making. Our goal is to reach and inspire the significant number of 18- to 29-year-olds who are not voting.
With those two jobs, I am very busy. I’m also pretty bad at saying no to other opportunities, so you’ll often find me teaching a workshop to young people on weekends. For me, the key to living a busy life is being organised and delegating effectively. When I’m not working, I hang out with my amazing girlfriend Gemma and our dog Franklin, and we go to the beach or walk in the forest.
Not everyone has to be like me and work six days a week fighting the good fight. Small, everyday choices, when amplified by the many, make a huge difference – for example, if every single person in Aotearoa planted one tree this weekend, we’d have 4.7 million more trees!
RockEnrol and ActionStation are in their startup phases, so some ‘sweat equity’ is required to get them to being self-sustainable, and to bring them to the point where we can employ more people. I believe in the mission of both organisations wholeheartedly and want to see them succeed. I also feel really lucky to work on what I love and to get paid for doing it, and I want to give that opportunity to others.
Visit www.actionstation.org.nz and back amazing campaigns for a better Aotearoa.
Words by Esther McLaren and Image by Magdalena Bisley.