I had a great time on Saturday, for someone who doesn't much like going on marches. Marches are a bit like petitions in my opinion – a huge amount of effort for something that usually gets ignored. Very often, marches do little more than demonstrate how marginal the issue is to the vast majority of people, and how bereft of ideas the campaigners are. Saturday was an entirely different matter.
First of all, it was HUGE. I started the day somewhere nearish the front, bemoaning what seemed like a poor turnout. Then I realised that the sidestreet was also full of people, that the front was quite a long way ahead of where I thought it was, and that people were continuing to pack in at the back. I spent the march drifting slowly down the line, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones and getting a sense of the size. By the time I got to Myers Park I was in the back row, discussing with John Whyte and Mike Finlayson whether this was the biggest march we have ever seen in Auckland, or one of the biggest. When you get to these sorts of numbers it’s a distinction that is of academic interest only.
Also important was that there was a broad cross section of people, although Maori were not fully represented. The biggest tino rangatiratanga flag in the world was there, but almost no Maori on the mic despite (I understand) being asked. After their shameful vote on the Emission Trading Scheme, I can't help speculating whether the Maori Party is leaving the door open to support the mining proposals. I hope not. Even so, no one who actually looked could argue that this was a crowd of anything other than a wide range of New Zealanders of all ages and walks of life gathering to say a resounding “NO” to the Government's plans to open schedule 4 conservation lands to mining.
Thirdly, it was creative, at least in parts. There is no doubt that the activist movement has been bunkered down for a number of years and this showed. The crazy theatrical displays of other times and places were not much in evidence and I saw no stilt-walkers, dalek beehives or bicycle power soundsystems running off the back of 6 person velomobiles. There was a blow up earth bouncing around, and – joy of joys – some satirical street theatre in the form of CRAP.
CRAP stands for 'Capitalism Represents Acceptable Policy' and CRAP stunts generally consist of people dressing up in suits and representing those corporate interests that are usually invisible at these events. The interesting thing is that attempts to articulate the most extreme and over-the-top satirical propositions actually sound very similar to the lines coming out of mainstream economic and corporate mouthpieces. It indicates just how wide the chasm between us actually is. However putting ourselves in the shoes of our opponents is always a powerful learning experience, and one that the green movement often shies away from. The issues that we campaign on are important and urgent, but this must not prevent us from both reflecting on how we communicate with other people and from thinking about what we can learn from our opponents. Sadly quite a few marchers failed to see both the joke and the point behind it.
Anyway, it was a great march. Lots of fun, empowering and inspiring. A huge thank you to all of the people involved in organising it, and all those who came from far and wide to attend. I went home with a renewed enthusiasm for the campaign. This was not dampened by the predictable response of the Government. Gerry Brownlee had to laugh it off in public and dismiss its importance, despite the consternation it must have caused behind closed doors. The fact is, no march has ever changed a Government's mind as far as I can see, but it will have them privately worried. It is the first serious public demonstration against John Key's Government. And it is at the beginning of the campaign, not its culmination.
What was important about the march, then, was not how it affected the Government, but how it affected those of us who participated. It was a catalyst for all the simmering discontent around this Government to become manifest. It delegitimised the Government's plans and legitimises the opposition. People can argue about how big the majority opposing the mining plans actually is, but regardless of that, like the Springbok tour of 1981, this issue is set to bitterly divide the nation if the Government goes forward with it. Polls do not tell the full story – the powerful passions that this issue arouses in the hearts of ordinary New Zealanders. The covenant that was made between Government, business and citizens in the past that drew the line around the conservation estate is being broken. This march was the first sign of a gathering storm, and one that will not be bought off with token gestures. John Key's Government will rue the day if it decides to ignore the message of Saturday.
(from my TV3 column, Monkeywrenching)