Here two members of Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) offer their personal reflections on the ongoing convoy protest outside parliament in Wellington/Whanganui-a-Tara, New Zealand/Aotearoa. It therefore does not necessarily reflect the opinion of our membership as a whole in every aspect. Some of us like marmite, some don’t.
Q: What are your personal thoughts on the Convoy 2022 protest as a movement?
B: It is an important and complex phenomenon and should not be ignored.
W: I think the convoy is misguided at best and dangerous at worst.
Q: How do you feel about the individuals?
B: There is clearly a wide range of motivations for individuals who are involved in the convoy and protest. You have to approach them on a case-by-case basis. The tricky thing is you still have to be able to make some generalisations about the movement as a whole. As long as its understood in that way, that’s alright.
W: Honestly I feel empathy for the individuals, for the most part. They understand the state is unjust, they just haven’t come to a fully formed understanding that the whole of the state is unjust.
Q: Do you feel that it’s a genuine grassroots movement?
B: It is a hybrid movement that does not have obvious support from mainstream establishment entities and involves a number of organisations, some are small and others have relatively substantial infrastructure. There is no single overarching control from above. So in form it is grassroots.
W: I think it probably started out that way. Though as more money, political clout, religious groups, popular figures got the involved it inevitably became about that.
Q: What do you think of the role of the corporate media in this protest?
B: The corporate media have been hostile to the protest. There is nothing new or surprising about this. While there may be no official policy saying they should take such a stance, simply by the nature of who they are, they are going to take such a position. The media exist to defend the status quo.
W: I’ve actually been avoiding direct consumption of corporate media takes on the matter. I’ve heard a lot of different analyses from a lot of different people though; some saying that the mainstream media is ignoring the protests (which I find hard to believe. It’s pretty hard to avoid at this point); others saying the media is painting the protests in an unfair light (portraying them as yokels, addicts, trashy, crazy, etc). I’m not super informed on this matter but I’d imagine that the corporate media is botching the coverage in the usual ways; sensationalising the salacious details, completely ignoring the fact that people are fed up with state power (no matter how misdirected that impulse is.)
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the state’s response to the Convoy?
B: They initially took a hardline, probably because they never imagined the convoy was serious in its intentions to stay, so there was a certain contempt and arrogance to it and the government noticed that initially none of the parliamentary parties supported the convoy. Now that [free-market purists] ACT is opportunistically trying to reach out to the protest and [Centre-Right National Party Leader] Luxon is a bit more critical of Labour, the united front amongst politicians is cracking. So while the government has backed itself into a corner, you might see more subtle moves going on behind the scenes.
W: I was very disturbed by the way the arrests were handled a few days ago. I know that anything they’re willing to do to these convoy folks, they’re willing to do x1000 worse to anarchists when we next protest. I think that any time people’s right to protest is curbed, no matter the persuasion, is something to me rattled by. I also think it’s pretty evident that the government will acquiesce to as much of the demands as they feel they can get away with. It’s just ‘funny’ how selective the government is about listening to protest movements. If anarchists were to organise a convoy for, say dismantling of prisons, ending beneficiary surveillance, housing the unhoused; I don’t think they would budge. I think we’d be rounded up and summarily beaten.
Q: What do you find complicated or conflicting about the Convoy?
B: Its composition is disparate and peoples’ motivations and goals are diverse. I guess the main conflicting thing is the contrast between its form and substance. In many ways its form is potentially liberatory but its substance takes that and uses it to promote views that are aren’t. It’s a difficult paradox.
W: I find a lot of thing about the convoy conflicting:
1. Classist rhetoric used by liberals as the main counter-narrative/criticism. When I call people (and myself) out for this behaviour, it can be mistaken for support for their cause.
2. My impulse to support people’s right to protest butting against our collective need for public health to be taken seriously.
3. Revulsion at people supporting police violence simply because they disagree with the people at the rough end of the billy club. Do they see the state as an extension of their will? That, in itself is disturbing.
4. Distaste that the state is forcing me to sympathise with a protest movement I fundamentally disagree with.
Q: What parts of the protests do you dislike/ make you uncomfortable/ abhor?
B: All of it!
W: Oh, just the whole damn thing really.
Q: Are there aspects to the protest you admire at all?
B: The ability to organise in a grassroots way, to be persistent, to go beyond the normal rituals of protest. Its just a pity its for the wrong stuff.
W: I admire their ability to rally folks. We could learn from their tactics.
Q: So ultimately, should Anarchists be giving support to the protest? If yes, what form and to what extent? If no, why not?
B: No. The politics of it are wrong. The difficulty is if Anarchists did get involved, we would be swamped by all the essentially Right-wing (acknowledged or not) elements and therefore badly compromised by association. On the other hand, to not get involved means we risk being labelled as elitist snobs who don’t care about people and/or allies of the government. That’s why we have to start working on something better we can offer.
W: Omg no not really but as I’ve been saying, it’s a complicated issue. People have the right to protest. I don’t think it’s enough to say it’s against the rules to camp on parliament lawn, therefore it’s illegitimate. Why tf is it against the rules to occupy parliament lawns? They should expect and encourage people taking time to demonstrate. If anything, we should have more occupations of parliament grounds.
Q: Do you think the protest will alter the future of protesting in this country?
B: Depends on the time scale. Occupations of space has been done before. Think of all the tangata whenua/indigenous people land rights efforts over the decades from Bastion Point, Moutua Gardens, Ihumatao or things such as the Occupy protest which was also in Wellington. The difference with the current one is probably the direct challenge to the government in its literal own backyard. It will probably lead to more security measures around that physical space. It may also have the effect that future protestors will feel the need to up the ante in order to get noticed.
W: yes I think this will be quite impactful. This could change the way protest is done for a while to come. I’m not mad at the tactics, just the goals and messaging.