I can think of few more effective ways to show contempt for the rights of your fellow citizens than by preventing them from going about their lawful business in order to draw attention to a cause so precious (to you, if to no one else) that any inconvenience to others is assumed to be morally justified.
Neither can I think of a more surefire means of alienating people and ensuring hostility toward whatever objective you’re trying to promote. All it does is stoke fury and resentment.
It's a marvel that no motorists, outraged at being prevented from keeping a vital appointment or catching a plane, have taken matters into their own hands – at least so far, despite ample provocation. One grabbed a protest banner and threw it away, but stopped short of directly taking out his frustration on the people blocking his path. I sometimes think New Zealanders are too damned passive and law-abiding. After all, the protesters show no respect for the law. Why should the people they obstruct play by the rules?
Similarly, when a protester squeals that he can't be removed by force because he’s glued himself to the tarseal, there’s a good case for the cops to reply “Tough, mate, you should have thought of that before” and pull him off regardless, rather than solicitously inquiring – as one officer did last week – whether anyone happened to have any nail polish remover. Leaving a bit of skin on the road would serve as a reminder that there are consequences for inconveniencing hundreds of motorists.
For me, the right to protest stops short of conferring permission to obstruct others. (I’ve commented before on this blog that I’d make a useless revolutionary.) But there’s a certain type of activist whose belief in their cause translates into an overweening sense of entitlement.
In this case, an obsessed and infinitesimally tiny minority is demanding that other New Zealanders defer to its will. This is profoundly anti-democratic, since the protesters have no mandate, nor any evidence of public support. But hey, why should that be a problem? It’s sufficient for them that they have right on their side – or so they’ve convinced themselves – and are therefore justified in interfering with the lives of others.
Ideological zealotry is often an expression of elitism. The devoutly Christian peace activists who cost taxpayers $1.2 million when they sabotaged the Waihopai electronic listening post in 2010 probably never thought of themselves as elitist; in fact they made a show of their humility. But elitist they were. They persuaded themselves they knew better than – indeed were morally superior to – the democratically elected governments that had decided it was in New Zealand’s interests for Waihopai to exist.
It’s also possible to detect, in the posturing of the newly emerged group that calls itself Restore Passenger Rail, the authoritarian tendencies that are characteristic of the woke Left. On the extremely shaky premise that getting us all out of cars and onto trains would prevent catastrophic climate change, Restore Passenger Rail is demanding that the government reinstate the passenger rail network that existed in 2000. (Why 2000? That isn’t explained. Neither is there any reference to the massive capital cost of providing trains and other infrastructure, the lack of any public demand for mass long-distance rail travel or the inconvenient reality that few countries are as topographically ill-suited to passenger trains as New Zealand.)
Unstated but implicit in Restore Passenger Rail’s agenda is the element of compulsion. New Zealanders love cars for the very good reason that they enable people to travel to a place of their choosing at a time of their choosing in comfort, at speed and in relative safety.
Such freedom is anathema to those on the woke Left, who dream of a tightly regulated society in which human behaviour is controlled wherever possible by a beneficent state – all for the common good, of course. In their ideal world, a compliant and grateful citizenry would travel everywhere by public transport, with destinations and timing determined by state planners. The primacy of state control over individual choice remains a fetish among many on the Left.
All of which helps explain why the Restore Passenger Rail activists targeted motorists in the first place. They are, after all, the enemy. Since they have no right to be in cars, there can be no reasonable objection to the disruption of their morning commute. And the protesters will go on making pests of themselves until we accept it’s for our own good.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.