“They are us”.
These were the words Prime Minister Ardern uttered straight after the Christchurch massacre.
The people camping outside Parliament are also us.
We don’t have to agree with them.
We can tow their cars and put their extremists in front of a judge.
But they are still us.
They can wee on the front lawn, believe stupid things, and be completely imbalanced about necessary tradeoffs of human rights. They may have no ideological core, no leader, and little they can agree on. They may be supported by no political party in parliament. And still they are us.
Where else ought they go? Back to no job, no MSD help, no network other than that online? We don’t even do that to prisoners coming out of jail. Why did this government think they would get away with such a fast and massive change in societal rules without demur?
The only right place for a protest is right outside where our national democratic representatives gather. It is their job to make you feel uncomfortable. Bars don’t have a human right to customers. MPs and Parliamentary staff should all be working from home on Teams as per the government’s own COVID advice, not complaining about being yelled at. The location, scale and length of the protest is proportionate to the degree of deprivation these people have experienced.
At Ardern’s address about the Christchurch massacre, she unified all of Parliament by bringing all party leaders on her air force flight from Wellington to Christchurch. At Christchurch’s vigil she stood and said simply “You are us.”
Where has that Prime Minister gone? Why are these people not us? It is contempt.
Ardern used to be globally renowned as one who would with skilled communication embrace all. Ignoring crisis is her new mode, and her polls are tanking almost as fast as that of Labour itself. Two months after the 2019 Christchurch massacre Prime Minister Ardern and French President Emmanual Macron used a G20 summit to launch the Christchurch Call to Action as a partnership between government and Big Tech to deny “terrorist and violent extremist content” online. They made a difference while not solving the problem entirely.
Where has that statesperson gone in 2022? Multiple countries have faced COVID civil rights crisis after crisis, but there is no call for common position or approach from Ardern. Where is that same solid moral and logical foundation we once knew? Why has her courage left her?
The current inaction by NZ Police and government is turning the inchoate rabble into a cause celebre. This will only start being solved – as in the Canadian approach – when local police start towing the cars away. So instead into that cold political air consisting of pure fire-ready oxygen, Russell Coutts is joining, Dame Tariana Turia supports them, the cars keep coming week after week. We know now this is going to grow, and with that dumpster fire will come broader and unwelcome international political support.
The protest will continue to grow until Ardern sets out a specific timetable that ends the vaccine mandates. As she should, and like she has for every other COVID-response step.
Few other than Government Ministers actually agree that the vaccine mandates should continue. Whatever solidity is left has little foundation. Just maybe they have a point.
But now to her, any response looks like caving. Every protester, according to Minister Wood, is harbouring Nazis.
Ardern, not Mallard, is responsible for the growth of this protest.
Yet the people whose job it is to talk to protesters – politicians – dare not speak to the unclean. They speak above them directly to the media, and repeat how un-principled of them it would be to speak to them as if at stake were principles higher than packing up a tent. The politicians are treating them like the societal outcasts they are so they behave like outcasts even more.
The slippery slope of political shunning will grow into a social pileup. Disease. Injury. Crime. Counter-protest. Public v protester violence. Deeper extremism. Calls that they all be infected and let the protest+disease “sort itself out”. Calls for ever-greater martial force from left, centre and right.
This used to be everything Jacinda Ardern stood against. So did we.
Actually let me show you how real New Zealanders deal with outcasts when you’re not an MP: Salvation Army and City Mission and Te Whanau Waipereira staff are abused dealing with the homeless and wasted every day. Police are regularly abused as part of their line of work. Courts engage sensitively with outrageous crime in socially and culturally sensitive settings. DHB mental health teams deal with the delusional and their wake of damage in group conferences every hour of the day. Social Welfare and Oranga Tamariki staff deal with outrage, incoherence, living condition squalor and fact-free stupidity every day.
They do the hard mahi these politicians won’t.
The ordinary public service know better than the politicians that not engaging with difficult people just makes the whole situation worse and worse, and they do so with skill not evident in Ardern’s current leadership.
Ardern has changed for the worse and her reaction to this protest can only recall Robert Muldoon’s darkest days.
They are not “them”.
They are us.