Earlier this year, Sam Johnson, formerly of the Student Volunteer Army, tweeted how “embarrassing” it was to hear of a protest outside the Festival of Education in March: “Go in & discuss issues or go home”.
It reminded me how polarising protest can be. Sometimes it’s seen as an irritating rather than agitating action, pointless instead of powerful. But it’s also an act of democracy, a way for those who feel shut out of decision-making that they feel is important.
Former MP and activist Sue Bradford told me that governments have pointed in retrospect to protests – for example, those against the Springbok tour, and more recently in favour of same-sex marriage – as helping to bring about significant social change, as well as being important milestones in New Zealand’s history.
Of course, in the digital age, we can express our opinion online and in great numbers. At a time when everyone has a platform, is turning out to protest in person more relevant or less? Sure, it’s part of New Zealand’s history – but does it have a place in our future?
READ Hamish Parkinson on slacktivism, social media and the ice bucket challenge.
As a member of a generation that’s not turning up to the polling booth, I was interested in what drives some of us to engage on the street. Along with The Wireless’ Lena Hesselgrave, camera in tow, I went along to a protest in Aotea Square in Auckland two weeks ago to find out.
There was an optimistic feeling at the protest, despite the heavy rain. The variety of unionists, activists, and non-affiliated members of the public calmly stood around, chatting happily to each other, some dancing to a Bob Marley song playing over the soundsystem. It felt like any other family-friendly social event.
Though they had different reasons for being there, everyone wanted change – or at least to be part of the discussions that might lead to it.
WATCH Hamish Parkinson at the protest, shot by Lena Hesselgrave:
This content is brought to you with funding assistance from New Zealand On Air.