EDITORIAL: This was never a peaceful protest

EDITORIAL: This was never a peaceful protest

Helluva week, huh? We’ve got a war, we’ve got a scary new climate report, and we’ve got the shitstorm that blew through parliament grounds on Wednesday. This whole issue of Critic has a bit of a calamitous fog hanging over it, which you can probably tell from the cover. I guess that’s sort of how we’re all feeling, and what’s going on in Welly really put the cherry on top.

In the livestream, I saw occupiers tear apart a Wellington sidewalk and hurl the cobblestones at officers. I saw them set fires, and then throw propane tanks on those fires. They exploded. I saw neo-Nazi hoodies, and I saw people who looked like they were just so stoked to finally have an excuse to try to harm another human being. Some of the cops looked the same, beating protestors as they dragged them away, and liberally applying pepper spray. And behind all of this, in the most surreal way, the Hare Krishas were singing. 

Nothing about this occupation seemed normal from the get-go. There was an overtly imported flavour to the entire movement, part of the wider anti-government craze sweeping through the global West. And this is a real shame, because a healthy distrust of the state is a genuinely good thing. It’s the cornerstone of all progressive societies. So it sucks to see an attempt at scepticism co-opted by a bunch of vagrant, violent muppets.

But wait! This is a peaceful protest! It’s about peace and love, see, that’s what we graffitied all over the Cenotaph! It’s about good vibes and music, bro, it’s about our freedoms. If you chuck a glass bottle at a cop, is it still a peaceful protest, even if that bottle was filled with nothing but good intentions?

No. A few years ago, I watched as Trump teargassed a genuinely peaceful protest in DC so that he could get a photo op at a nearby church. In that protest, the public yelled at police and held signs, sure, but not like what we just saw in Wellington. Nothing was thrown, and the language used was astronomically different to what we heard on the Wellington livestream. Unlike DC - a city that knows how to protest - the Wellington occupation isn’t peaceful, it never was, no matter how many hippies you saw.

It’s clear that the people drawn to these movements are often marginalised folks, with a real bone to pick and plenty of reason to distrust the state. And they have good reason to be that way; if the state had done a better job addressing things like child poverty and inaccessible housing, maybe the population wouldn’t have been so easily radicalised. But now, those feelings of indignity have enabled these people to fall prey to imported conspiracy theories and other backwater bogus peddled as “standing up for your rights”. 

Campaigning for freedom from mandates doesn’t make a lot of sense when those mandates are, quite quickly, being lifted (no thanks to the occupants). And it sucks to see that this wider message of governmental critique has been seized by a violent and misguided minority, because it means that if you’re skeptical of the government - which you should be - your most visible allies are now a group of conspiratorial nutjobs that rub shoulders with Nazi sympathizers. 

It’s not a peaceful protest if you have neo-Nazis in your group. It’s not a peaceful protest when you scream at a cop, “We’re going to get you, and your children.” It’s not a peaceful protest when you harass schoolgirls. You can’t just say “Oh, this is a peaceful protest,” and then magically be on the right side of history while your partners try (and fail) to make a Molotov cocktail. 

There are people opposed to mandates who have protested peacefully, like our Dunedin occupants, and I whole-heartedly support their right to air their grievances. Yes, Big Pharma is evil. Yes, the healthcare system doesn’t work for everyone. And yes, the restrictions were confusing and frustrating. But if you’re in the Octagon, you’d better take a close look at exactly what it is that your group is protesting, and you’d better be ashamed of what just happened. People carried your signs and your flags into an embarrassing riot, and have tarnished your reputation as a genuine protest. And the longer you continue to support these acts of violence, the less I’ll believe you when you say “this is a peaceful protest”.

This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2022.
Posted 1:06pm Sunday 6th March 2022 by Fox Meyer.