Encouraging people to get vaccinated has been a challenging but rewarding journey for Auckland Councilor Josephine Bartley.
Josephine Bartley is on a mission to vaccinate more South Aucklanders.
The Auckland Councilor has been an ever-present ball of energy at the city’s emerging vaccination sites, handing out encouragement and gifts to those awaiting his jab. At the recent Rally Our Village event at the Vodafone Events Center in Manukau, she took on the role of lead entertainer and MC, using the comedy skills she has been honing on late-night open mic nights.
“People were waiting for years, sitting in their cars looking pretty worried, so I took over MCing and decided to liven things up, and just started making people laugh,” she says.
Bartley, speaking on the phone before a day of back-to-back online meetings, became the first woman from the Pacific to win a council seat when she won a by-election in 2018. He then stayed in the seat in 2019 despite boundary changes favoring his center-right opponent.
He made headlines last month after calling for vaccinations to be carried out as people lined up for KFC. He took his idea to the owners of the fast food restaurant, Restaurant Brands, who subsequently entered into discussions with the government about the proposal. Along with this initiative, Bartley is currently planning an event for the Auckland chapters of Black Power to get his jab. She says she is also willing to host a singles-only event to help those seeking love and protection from Covid in one place.
“[Pasifika healthcare provider] South Seas had their biggest turnout when they did the KFC vax event. People love love so I suggested we have to do a speed dating vaccination event and I think South Seas is open to the idea. “
Bartely says his KFC proposal drew a lot of criticism from obesity activists in particular, but he wants people to just “get off their horses” and see the bigger picture.
“I’ve had so many people who have really attacked me, but are they from these communities? [with low vaccination rates]? I do not believe it. But it is for everyone’s benefit that South Auckland increases its vaccination rates because we will all be on the same bus or in the same shopping center at some point. “
Despite the success of his vaccination campaign, Bartley believes his public efforts may cost him in the local body elections next year.
“When I started to realize about the vaccine, the people who had voted for me now post [on social media] about me negatively, “says the Maungakiekie-Tāamaki neighborhood councilor.” And some church groups that supported me in the last elections are now helping organize anti-vax demonstrations. “
She says her professional concerns are nothing compared to the anxiety she feels for young people facing abuse online after helping out at events. But his biggest concern is how many still don’t realize how deadly Covid is.
“I have people telling me not to spread this propaganda, which is just the sobs. But I wish they had seen the reaction of the church minister after the death of the sāmoan man. I was there when the call came. When they said she , she burst into tears. It really surprised me how real this is. “
When he’s not rooting for those awaiting their vaccinations, Bartley also finds time to deliver food packages to those in need. In the first confinement, he opened his own personal food bank to help those in his immediate area, until social services began to fill that void. When the latest shutdown occurred, he saw that many Pacific families were getting lost, so he joined forces with local volunteers to deliver more than 400 food packages in the first week.
Then there is the issue of the homeless.
“I probably get a call every two weeks to help someone who needs a place to stay,” he says. “I can use my platform and my position to cut through shit, so people just contact me, even my enemies, to help the homeless, because they know I can help.”
Bartley is the vice chair of both the regulatory committee and the planning committee, so where does she find time to read through the mountains of reports that accompany these roles?
“Five in the morning” is his reply. “And I’m a good skim reader.”
When you speak to The Spinoff, a full day of meetings is about to begin, which will include two for the finance and performance committee, a planning committee workshop, media engagements, and filming a video to promote the vaccine. After dinner, host a Zoom session with Pacific women on managing your mental health during a confinement. She says it’s a pretty typical work day and regardless of her appointments, it usually doesn’t end until 10:30 p.m. M. It’s a huge workload, and Bartley says whether he’ll run again remains to be seen, despite recent speculation that he might have a higher position in mind.
“I heard people say that I am doing this because I am running for mayor and I know that some on the council think I am doing too much,” he says. “But I don’t even know if I’ll ever run again, so the way I look at it, I have nothing to lose, I’m just going for it.”
Since he usually relaxes by going to nightclubs or having a drink with friends, Bartley admits that this confinement was particularly exhausting for him. But she is determined to do whatever she can to help South Auckland overcome this crisis, she says.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the wrong thing [politically] but I know this will save people’s lives. “
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.