Last week I raised a point about the social fabric of our country being at risk. Several people have got back to me saying they share my concern about how hazardous to our democracy the Wellington demonstration is right now. This feedback made me think about what we take for granted, and what is at stake. I’m sure that I’m not overreacting to my perceived concerns. However, the articles keep rolling out of media outlets which reflect other thinking deeply about our democratic future.
It seems to me to simplify the issues raised by this protest are:
- There are many in our society who have become disillusioned about governments.
- There is a nasty far-right element which is international.
The objection to, and the denial of, the pandemic and the public health regulations which were implemented brought these two groups together. Normally, I suspect, they would have little in common. If this protest is not handled properly over the next period in our history, and I think it has been so far, it could lead to it encouraging the seed bed of nasty politics. This will be supported by the social media warriors in our society made possible by global internet connections.
There continues to be well informed articles analysing what is, or has, happened.
Last Friday there was an article in Spinoff by Stewart Sowman-Lund who had spent a few days at the protest talking to people. It is an interesting read A week on the ground at the ‘freedom village’ | The Spinoff
Another article was one from Lisa Tumahai , Kaiwhakahaere(chair) of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, who wrote an excellent opinion piece for Stuff yesterday. https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/127893233/now-is-a-time-for-unity-not-division
This week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited our Ngāi Tahu takiwā, the tribal territory of our iwi within Te Waipounamu (South Island). Her trip marked a visit to Tuahiwi School which is located within the village of Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga, north of Rangiora and Ōtautahi (Christchurch).
I was shocked and saddened to see footage of protesters shouting abuse at the prime minister as she left a special school where tamariki deserve to feel safe. Her visit to Westport a day earlier saw her encounter similar behaviour from protesters. This is not who we are, Niu Tīreni (New Zealand).
For Ngāi Tahu, our takiwā is our home, and when our Te Tiriti o Waitangi partners such as the prime minister or minister of the Crown visit, they are under the protection of our korowai (cloak) and treated with respect at a mana ki te mana level (leader to leader).
Though Ngāi Tahu supports New Zealanders to peacefully exercise their democratic right to protest, we condemn the actions of a few who have been threatening, intimidating, and abusive to those who don’t agree with them. We support and appreciate the mahi of New Zealand Police who manage and deescalate each protest, in what must be a stressful and difficult situation which is constantly evolving.
I completely agree with Lisa. The level of abuse which is being directed toward our Prime Minister by those who are anti-mandate is disgusting. I was sent a series of slides about the Prime Minister recently and they made me sick. They were very similar to what seems to be normal politics in USA but are not welcome here. I replied to my friend who sent them that I found them offensive. I was disappointed that he sent them anywhere other than the delete file.
I really do wonder if the Prime Minister was male whether he would be subject to the level of abuse our woman PM is experiencing right now. Much of it is straight misogyny. Jacinda must lie in bed at night and question whether there’s an easier job somewhere else where she could really enjoy her family.
Anyway, back to Lisa Tumahai. She concludes:
We are proud many of our people have taken up the wero (challenge) to get their jabs, but we know that we still have more work to do as boosters are rolled out.
It is time for us all to focus on what is most important right now as Covid spreads – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata. I know New Zealanders are strong and resourceful, but we will only overcome Covid-19 if we end the infighting and support one another with manaakitanga.
The issue of social cohesion has been considered by many authors. Brannavan Gnanalingam in the Star Sunday Times today has coined it, “the pandemic has pushed a scalpel into existing inequalities”. Max Rashbrooke, is an author of several books on inequality in New Zealand said “The protest is very frightening to see in and of itself. But is it a threat to social cohesion in the wider sense? I don’t really think it is,”. He goes on to say:
The diagnosis of a social cohesion crisis is, reckons Rashbrooke, similar to attempts to characterise the protest action – with its assemblage of directly affected individuals, anti-vaxxers, natural healers, conspiracy theorists and insurrectionists – as a working class movement. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in poverty in New Zealand,” he says.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been made significantly worse off by the economic changes of the last 40 years – the huge increase in poverty, the widening gap between rich and poor – but those people are not out in this protest. They’re not conspiracy theorists. Why would we suddenly see inequality through the lens of a tiny number of people? Why is that the working class voice we have to listen to? Why don’t we listen to the much wider working class voice which is saying, as far as I can tell, we just want better healthcare, education, more affordable housing, higher wages?”
There is, however, something different about what is playing out now, Rashbrooke says. “I do understand why people are alarmed, and of course what we’re seeing is that the intensity of feeling and to some extent the size of the crowd of people who have entered an alternate reality is much greater than we thought. That’s absolutely true. People have become radicalised in ways that I think maybe we thought wasn’t happening in New Zealand, that we thought was just an American thing … It definitely is a very constant set of people who have detached themselves a bit from the rest of New Zealand socially. That is alarming. That is a problem. I just don’t think that’s a social cohesion problem, the way that people would normally phrase it.”
I like Max’s analysis normally, but I’m a lifer in politics and I smell the turgid stink of a political movement which isn’t the compost for the seedbed of a political debate which is healthy. I share his observation and concern for those who are missing out in our society. Below is an article from my lifetime activist friend, Vivian Hutchinson, from New Plymouth who enunciates what Max is saying extremely well.
My major concern is the growth of unhealthy extremes amongst a group of people with a real gripe which needs attention. It’s about poverty and a feeling of being left out. This feeling has been created by both our main political parties in New Zealand. Both Labour and National have reinforced in our society a neo liberal approach to policy making. It’s still happening.
The 3 Water debate is a classic example. It’s imposing a business model which bypasses democracy and fills the room with business people who know how to run the country better than mere politicians. That’s neo liberalism.
Below is a link to several articles expressing concern about the links to extreme politics. It is worth noting that the website for the fundraising by somebody within the protest group at parliament is registered in Canada. Stuff covered it last week https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/local-papers/the-wellingtonian/127838802/new-zealand-occupation-fundraising-website-registered-in-canada
In an article https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/127864883/the-follies-of-camp-covid-mask-a-serious-challenge-to-the-state Morgan Godfrey wrote:
High vaccination rates are the gold standard in protecting against the virus, dramatically reducing hospitalisations and reducing symptom severity. The vaccine helps us keep society running, from the health system to the education system. How, then, do you go from the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are personally and societally beneficial to the idea that the mere presence of a vaccinated person near a lamb can kill it and turn its blood black?
Speaking only of the people I know at the protest, conspiracists preyed on their existing distrust of government and anyone vaguely “official”. The people who are most likely to fall for the idea that the government is rolling out a death jab that – on the best interpretation – might track you to – on the worst interpretation – kill you are people who are already at the sharp end of government neglect.
DR MICHAEL DAUBS wrote in an article Radicalisation in Real Time | Newsroom
The mix of wellness and self-help discourse with extremist ideas on display in the “freedom convoy” protests show two key issues. First, that extremist ideologies are not necessarily as marginal or fringe as they are sometimes framed, but are instead present in mainstream discourse. And, second, as Becca Lewis explains, how networking “makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions”.
The interaction of communities – online and offline – prompts Cindy Ma to suggest that downplaying extremist influences or “alt-lite” figures is a mistake, because they “sometimes serve as people’s introductions to far-right talking points”.
As Jehan Casinader argues, indoctrination to extremist ideologies “doesn’t just happen to angry young men who spend too much time on the dark web. Here, radicalisation is taking place in broad daylight – on the front lawn of Parliament.No amount of guitar-strumming or bubble-blowing can mask that”.
In Newsroom Anthea Whittle wrote:
I fear that with the lack of central organisation and leadership among the protestors, and the welcoming of all protestors (including far-right extremists and anyone with grievances against our government), that there is something very ugly brewing in this crowd. The anxiety and fear they are provoking in the wider public is feeding attention their way; if that wanes while we are focused on mitigating Omicron I wouldn’t be surprised if violence and destruction follow.
There seem to be a large portion of people with grievances about the impacts of mandates on their lives who may be able to be reasoned with or accommodated, but their bedding-in with people calling for mass executions of media and community leadership makes those with milder views inaccessible, and at risk of being radicalised. The protestors have all found community in their pain – will they only move on if they feel they have had a victory? There is no way their demands are tenable if public health is to be protected.
Though very worrisome, this small group of protestors are contrary to the actions, sacrifices and solidarity of the rest of the nation.
So, let’s go back to the start of this article. As a society we must listen, and respond, to the disillusioned in New Zealand. We cannot write this large number of people off as “nutters”. They are a political challenge. They are demanding a new and fair society. We must insist that they are not driven into fruitcake political movements which only use them as cannon fodder. The major political parties must produce plans for a more inclusive society. Where the issues are addressed, not camouflaged. It’s more than time for the traditional style of the two major parties of one saying “black” and the other saying “white”. You’re wrong. No, You’re wrong. The unity they have displayed toward the demonstration could also be a good place to start.
The other challenge is to put the spotlight on the evil influence of overseas websites linked directly to many of the turgid lot who stormed Washington on 6 January 2020. We don’t need that lot influencing our society. They represent everything we don’t.
As the world stares at the disastrous activities in Ukraine as Russian aggression moves across their borders, we could also experience the sort of aggression through the internet toward our political setting if we stay naïve to our challenges