Protests. They are becoming more prevalent these days. Covid vaccination issues and current government policy are now spawning significant protest activity.
What are they saying about our country, are they relevant and more importantly, are they an instrument of change?
Certainly, Maori land occupations are not a new phenomenon and mostly seem to have achieved their objectives.
Approximately 70,000 Labour Party supporters and trade union members staged the largest protest in New Zealand in 1938 on the eve of the general election. Labour won with 56% of the vote and went on to increase wage rates, launch a public works programmes and state-housing construction. They also passed the Social Security Act 1938 that greatly expanded the scope of the welfare state. That act introduced our free health service and implemented benefits for the elderly, sick and unemployed.
So, maybe they are effective, are necessary and may not need to be accorded very large and wide-ranging favour to actually be successful?
A public protest is the physical manifestation of dissension and discord among the general populace and a very visual expression of the protester’s opinions and viewpoints on issues, generally political, they want revolutionized.
My research has found that nonviolent protests and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change. Wow, only 3.5%! That is a surprisingly small percentage needed to effect a change!
In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.
In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands. While in 2019, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.
In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.
There are, of course, many ethical and common-sense reasons to use nonviolent strategies. Certainly, in a democracy, violent protests are unlikely to succeed. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only a moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping national politics – by a long way. Especially so if only a threshold of 3.5% of the population is needed!
While voting is seen and believed to be the most effective way to generate political change, albeit determined by the next voting cycle, there is still plenty of proof that protests can and will alter voting behavior. Protest can shift the attitudes of marginal voters, and even mobilize many previously disengaged voters. Given objective media coverage, protests can attract and create government/political comprehension and be a force behind positive social change.
Graphically and by force of numbers, protests, highlighting the incumbent political party’s failings, have the ability to make an apathetic majority understand and sympathise with the demonstrators’ cause, this altered understanding is manifested at the ballot box.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,”
It was therefore, with a certain amount of sardonic interest, I read in the Sunday Star Times, 21/11, an article relating to the Groundswell protest to be held later on that day.
Rural industry group leaders were expressing opinions on the validity, effectivity and value of the Groundswell protest. The theme of the comments was, that while these industry leaders didn’t disagree with most of the issues Groundswell raised, it was the method of delivery they did not concur with.
One could be excused for presuming these rural leaders will have formed their opinions having met with the Groundswell organizer’s or by interaction with their members down on the farm, be in touch with the concerns of the rank-and-file farmers and rural people around New Zealand.
But maybe not given their reported comments –
Federated Farmers president – “…less broad support for the second protest… “This time the timing is not so great…”
Dairy NZ chair – “We do not support Groundswell.”
Beef + Lamb chair – “We believe having a seat at the table and conveying our feedback respectfully yet strongly to the government…”
Well, I would say this to Beef + Lamb chair, if you take off your rose-tinted spectacles, you would see that the people you are talking to respectfully are stone deaf so maybe you need to explore another avenue to get your message across.
So, have those rural industry leaders settled themselves on a lofty perch? Are they fully in touch with their members? Kissing babies and shaking hands has been the go-to act for politicians looking to earn the favor of their constituents. The George W. Bush Presidential Library's "Path to the Presidency" exhibit even has a section on the political history of baby kissing.
Time to read up rural leaders?
Will they, through their respectful discussions, be able to effect change that Groundswell protesters are requiring? Who knows?
What I do know is, that as a participant in the 21/11 Mother of all protests, I partook in a large, +/- 400 vehicle, protest that was most definitely not exclusively rural protesters.
An “Urban Groundswell” is forming and merging!
The Groundswell movement will only continue to grow! Think 3.5%! Groundswell
It was difficult to analyse those rural leaders’ comments and not be able to correlate their thinking with the disdain Ardern’s government has shown towards the Groundswell protests. That cabinet minister, Stuart Nash needed to stoop to comments like “… it's a mixture of racism, anti-vax etcetera, etcetera…” only serve to compound the growing belief that Ardern’s government is not only out of touch with public sentiment but also clearly illustrate the contempt they hold for anyone or any group with an opposing view.
Nash went on to say the Government would continue to meet with farming leaders. Well, of course he would. Those leaders obviously, only speak respectfully!
For all the repetitious pronouncements of transparency and “Be Kind”, this government does not do respectful. They are under absolutely no illusion, they know best!
On the 23/11 Ardern was asked in Parliament by Mark Cameron (ACT) - “Does she believe it acceptable conduct of a Minister in her Government to label tens of thousands of New Zealanders attending Groundswell protests as a "mixture of racists, [and] anti-vax," and how does this not fit into the proposed definition of hate speech—that is, to use words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting and likely to excite hostility or ill will?”
Ardern replied – “I reject the premise of that member's question”. Where have we heard that before?
Cameron then asked – “Will she agree to meet the Groundswell organisers this Thursday, when they deliver their petition on behalf of tens of thousands of New Zealanders to Parliament?”
Ardern responded – “I conduct and will continue to conduct regular engagements—in fact, some of the most regular engagements I have are with Dairy New Zealand, Beef and Lamb, our horticulture representatives, and Federated Farmers. I will continue to meet with those representative bodies”. There you go! She has an absolute aversion to facing hard and unscripted questioning. Apparently, she has met with the aforementioned rural leaders 3 times in 2021.
Groundswell is no longer solely a rural movement. It is growing and will continue to grow as urban dwellers who are absolutely disenchanted and disillusioned with Ardern’s separatist agenda, highhanded, undemocratic rushed law making seek a body through which they can with coalesce and be able to convey a larger and stronger voice to a tone-deaf government. People see it as a legitimate vehicle for protest, people are now starting to stand up for what they believe.
Take heart and take strength from this support Groundswell!
Working on the “Team of 5 Million” number; To reach the hallowed 3.5%!, Groundswell only need to attract 175,000 to their cause to bring about change!
Even easier; The Electoral Commission website estimates there are currently 3,772,100 eligible voters in New Zealand. Hey, Groundswell only need attract 132,000 to bring about change!
John Porter is deeply concerned about the loss of democracy and the insidious promotion of separatism by our current government.