Day six of the Freedom/anti-mandate occupation of Parliament grounds (maps at bottom of post for those that don’t know Wellington).
I’m going to say three things things up front,
Micky has a post up from a conventional left wing perspective, The right to protest, worth a read for both an explanation of some of the problems with the protest, but also to see the left’s particular slant. In my post I want to look at the legitimacy of the protest, and some of the meta issues.
I’m double vaccinated, I generally support the government’s pandemic response while also seeing its flaws. I haven’t been particularly negatively affected by the response or covid but many of the issues that have affected people in the past two years have been regular companions over my adult life as a long term disabled person on a benefit.
I’m not anti-vax (I believe that people should be free to make choices vaccine by vaccine). I don’t believe that vaccines have no side effects (all pharmaceuticals do, sometimes seriously). I strongly believe that people shouldn’t be coerced into medical treatment of any kind, and yet I see the covid vaccine mandates as a necessary evil in late 2020 to get New Zealand’s vax rate high enough to give us the kind of protection we needed to remain relatively free of covid-19.
Going into our first big covid wave via omicron is not the time to remove the mandates. We should be looking after the people worst affected by them, and we haven’t been. Unvaccinated people in New Zealand have been treated badly including by ridicule, ostracisation and gaslighting, and the current occupation is just one of the chickens coming home to roost from that. I disagree with much of the demands from the Convoy protest.
For thirty five years I have been in and around new age, alt health, and hippy counter cultures. I have friends that are anti-vax, non-vax, vax hesitant, and/or anti-mandate, and who are normal parts of my community where they contribute just like everyone else. They’re not nutters and they’re not aligned with white supremacists. They tend towards libertarian but are generally apolitical, often politically naive, and those that vote generally vote on the left.
Saying all that because I want us to get past the binary. I see a lot to criticise about the convoy protest, but I also see legitimate concerns and understanding the people involved helps resolve the contradictions. On the ground this morning,
Sorry for the use of language 😅
These Kiwis are truly magnificent 🙌 pic.twitter.com/5alYkyE95K
— Heisenberg Rob 🚛🚛🚛🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦 (@Rob51891739) February 12, 2022
My main problem with the occupation at Parliament is the serious risk to the wider community from a potential super spreader event. Wellington, but also the whole country when the protestors eventually return home.
Beyond that, they are have a right to be there. If this was a climate protest or indigenous occupation, I’d be cheering them on. That some on the left have objected to their presence points clearly to the problem the left has with dissent in a democracy. It’s hugely problematic for the left to be saying it’s ok to protest so long as we agree with you.
There are however some other significant problems with the protest, and our task here is to reconcile those with the right to protest.
One issue is the connections with the far right. I highly recommend reading all of this Special Report by Marc Daalder at Newsroom yesterday morning, ‘Splintered realities’: How NZ convoy lost its way. Daalder looks at what happened online in the build up to the Convoy, how it was infiltrated by the far right, and how there are competing, splintered realities. Note here it’s not just the protestors that are splintered,
As the occupation stretches into its fifth day, it is now being seen in starkly different ways by extremists on the ground, by a more moderate anti-mandate minority and by the general New Zealand public.
“There’s something going on here that’s actually quite disturbing, in terms of splintered realities and lack of a shared narrative,” Sanjana Hattotuwa, who monitors extremism and misinformation in New Zealand for Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Disinformation Project, told Newsroom.
While police are now managing the physical event on the ground, the battles being fought over narrative online threaten to further fray New Zealand’s social fabric, he warned.
“Chantelle Baker is, with five videos, generating more video views than 73 videos put out by NZ Herald in the same 24-hour period. There are dynamics here that are unprecedented. You are talking about a small misinfo/disinfo community who are pushing out real-time footage and coverage and framing about something that is happening that is fundamentally different to what the mainstream media is putting out.
That alone should be sounding an alarm bell for us to pay attention. And this,
These splintered realities risk setting us on the course towards splintered societies, Hattotuwa said.
“There are three different ways the convoy is being perceived and I cannot stress that enough. There is nothing that remotely connects what Counterspin is putting out about the convoy, in real time, to what the convoy’s chatter on Zello is, like for example at the start of Thursday. It’s totally disconnected.
“This is hitting, hard, social cohesion right now. It’s a very sophisticated playbook. It is not original because it has been played out in developing countries like mine and also on both sides of the Atlantic, but here, it’s playing out right now.”
It’s been clear for a long time that progressives are losing this battle, so maybe now would be the time to stop and think about whether ostracisation and pushing people into the arms of the far right is a good strategy.
Read also Charlie Mitchell’s piece at Stuff, Inside the disorienting, contradictory swirl of the convoy, as seen through its media mouthpiece, that looks at the disparate nature of the protest,
From the beginning, it was clear the protest’s loudest advocates would have to hold two contradictory thoughts in their heads: It would be a peaceful and non-violent expression of people power that would stop the sinister figures they believed were deserving of the harshest punishments imaginable.
While some joined the protest thinking they were making a peaceful stand, or objecting to specific laws, others saw their role as more active; to enforce the arrest of politicians.
Counterspin had been arguing for a complete occupation, a “dig in”, as Alp described it. “If people want a nice, peaceful end where the streets are not going to run red, you better get off your ass and join that convoy, go to Parliament, and stand them down,” he said during an earlier interview with a guest on the first day.
This has since become the central dissonance of the protest; peaceful in action, aggressive in rhetoric, with no acknowledgement that the latter may undermine the former.
The former broadcaster Liz Gunn gave a speech in which she called for “aroha” – “we will win with love over evil,” she said. She was standing next to John Ansell, the former ad-man, who was holding a sign comparing Jacinda Ardern to the terrorist who perpetrated 51 murders at two Christchurch mosques.
It is an uncomfortable, and confounding, thing to watch; calls for peace, next to a blown up image of a terrorist.
If somewhere in there there are legitimate concerns about the mandates and goverment overreach (and I think there are), much of this looks like political naivety on the part of the people not intent on violence. From the start of the pandemic, the various protest movements have been on a steep learning curve about messaging, cohesion, co-option, grifting, conflicts of ideas, and tactics. I hope the big one they learn this time is discernment and then how to organise.
The other serious problem is the death threats and presence of nooses, along with the harassment of journalists and people on the streets of nearby Wellington for wearing masks. The question I have is: who is doing these things? We know it’s the ‘protesters’, but which ones? I’m also not the only one wondering what the hippy aunties or mothers with kids onsite make of the abuse and push towards violence [link]. The mainstream narrative is that it’s the far right in control, the narrative from the supporters is that it’s the people wanting peaceful protest. I can’t tell from moment to moment.
One of the things I realised a few days ago is that I wasn’t actually following anyone who was posting a lot of content from the protest site. I was reliant on MSM coverage, which has an obvious mainstream perspective. This is what happened with Ihumātao, where the gap between the two stories was wide and the only way to understanding the protest side in the moment was to follow them on social media.
Once I started looking for specific content this week, I found a fair bit showing quite a different protest from the Nazi slogan/death threat/chaos that was presented by MSM in the first days.
meanwhile, the filthy Great Unwashed out there like: pic.twitter.com/zKfWGoNmeP
— 𝚛𝚊𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚊 𝚔 🌱 (@rahera_k) February 12, 2022
I also think there’s been a progression over the days of the protest about which disparate group is having influence, and that it’s hard to track that because of the large cultural gap between the protestors and the rest of society.
This morning the blokes are up on the barricades puffing their chests at the police. I’m guessing these are the ones that survived the storm overnight.
“Let It Go” playing at the Parliament Grounds Occupation pic.twitter.com/8JsueuP7el
— Bryce Edwards (@bryce_edwards) February 12, 2022
What I’m seeing in addition to the problems, and which pleases me a lot, is a kind of social cohesion despite all that. Obviously they’re well organised at the practical level. There’s been an effort after the first few days that ended in arrests to keep the protest focused on peaceful actions. People singing and dancing is a good sign. This points to the main thing being missed in the mainstream and left wing narratives: that underlying the politics people want to belong and they want to connect.
In fact I see a kind of working together not just in this protest but more widely from the people being pushed out of society during the pandemic, and this is exactly the kind of community building that we are going to need to get us through the next decades of climate/eco upheaval and other crises. It’s the antithesis of the neoliberal focus on economy over communities. I doubt it will be enough, but it’s something the left should be doing, and by and large we’re not at scale nor is it a main focus.
There’s a tendency on the left to think that if someone believes for instance that vaccines are dangerous, then everything else about their beliefs and politics is suspect. This is how fracturing happens. We are getting worse at working together across difference just at the time we need it most. This movement is incredibly challenging, because many of the belief systems have no evidence base and do seem completely bonkers.
But the needs and desires of the protestors aren’t hard to understand when we stop and talk with them. Here I don’t mean the people posting Nazi symbols or trying to arrest Andrew Little, I mean the larger number of people who left home and rallied because they feel deeply that there is something wrong with how things are going. At the moment the protestors are going their own way, and this alone makes sense. Maybe it’s time to accept that people cannot be ostracised, ridiculed and gaslighted into submission. They clearly don’t care what we or the MSM think of them, and they’re not going to to away.
This protest will end, and those people will go back to all of our communities. We should be building bridges and calling in those that we can as a matter of urgency, because at the moment the people telling them they belong are the far right. Is that what we really want?