Some further thoughts on Camp Molesworth:
■ A fascinating political and sociological fault line has opened up – one that defies the normal understanding of New Zealand’s political dynamics. People at the bottom of the heap, as political scientist Bryce Edwards describes them – many of them working-class and provincial, with no formal organisational structure – have risen up in defiance of the all-powerful political class, the urban elites who are accustomed to calling the shots and controlling political discourse. I would guess most of the protesters outside Parliament have not previously been politically active and may not feel allegiance to any particular party. They appear to be angry about a number of things. Covid-19 and the vaccination mandate galvanised them into action, but it’s possible there are deeper, less easily articulated grievances – such as perceptions of powerlessness and exclusion – simmering beneath the surface.
■ Most commentators in the mainstream media are framing the occupation of the parliamentary lawn as being orchestrated by sinister right-wing extremists, and therefore devoid of any legitimacy. How paper-thin their tolerance of the right to dissent has proved to be. The clear implication (where it’s not explicitly stated) is that the occupation is not a legitimate expression of the right to protest by sincerely motivated New Zealanders who present no threat to anyone, but an alarming phenomenon driven by alt-right agitators with an ulterior agenda. But there’s a very marked discrepancy between reports from people who have actually been on the ground at Molesworth St, who generally describe the event as peaceful and good-natured, and those who make judgments from afar and take refuge in simplistic stereotypes about the type of people who are protesting. This was starkly encapsulated on Morning Report this morning when Bryce Edwards (who has been at Parliament) and Morgan Godfery (who hasn’t) presented strikingly different perspectives.
■ Do I detect a gradual change in the overall tone of media coverage? As more journalists and commentators take the trouble to familiarise themselves with the protesters’ concerns, so the tone is becoming more sympathetic, although most commentators are still careful to distance themselves from the anti-vaccination message and the tactics of the more extreme protesters. My own ground has shifted somewhat, as readers of this blog may deduce, as we've learned more about the nature of the protest action (and also learned to disregard some of the more hysterical media accounts). It would be no surprise if the attitude of the country gradually shifts too, from one of impatience and condemnation to understanding and tolerance. Trevor Mallard’s spectacularly childish, cack-handed and ineffectual attempts to drive out the protesters will very likely have helped bring about a national mood shift. Needless to say, it would also help if protest leaders (whoever they are, assuming they exist) could rein in the few wild-eyed extremists whose antics enable the pro-government media - apologies for the tautology - to discredit the event. But good luck with that, as they say.
■ Jacinda Ardern displays a telling lack of empathy, one that’s strikingly at odds with her supposed embrace of inclusiveness, when she tries to discredit the protest by suggesting, apparently on the basis of a few Donald Trump and Canadian flags, that the idea was imported from North America, as if none of the protesters at Parliament are capable of thinking for themselves. A more valid comparison might be with les gilets jaunes, who rocked the French political establishment in 2018 in protests that predated Covid-19 by more than a year.
■ I get the distinct impression that politicians from all the parties in Parliament, even ACT, feel threatened by this sudden gesture of assertiveness by the great unwashed and don’t know how to handle it. MPs have done themselves no favours by refusing to engage with the protesters. For one thing, it looks cowardly; for another, it reinforces the perception that the politicians prefer to remain isolated in their bubble rather than sully themselves by talking to a bunch of scruffs who dared to challenge the political consensus. Unusually, this protest is a rebuke to the entire political establishment, which the politicians probably find unsettling because it's outside their realm of experience. But they need to get off their high horse; the people standing in the mud outside Parliament are New Zealanders, after all.
■ The protest has brought to the surface a level of intellectual and class snobbery that is normally kept carefully concealed. I’ve already referred to Lloyd Jones’ savage putdown in which he basically characterised the protesters as ignorant bumpkins who don’t know their place. Yesterday, Stuff’s Andrea Vance exhibited the same admirable broadmindedness when she, like Jones, sniffily dismissed the protesters as a rabble. But the commentator who most carelessly dropped his guard, unblushingly revealing himself as a closet totalitarian, is the veteran leftist and supposed champion of free speech Chris Trotter, who condemned the police for not getting tough enough with the demonstrators – and who, by so doing, confirmed that at heart he remains a believer in the brute power of the state. When he was subsequently called out by blogger Steven Cowan, a frothing Trotter went even further, denouncing the protesters as a “dangerous collection of angry and deluded lumpenproletarians”. Well, I guess we should be grateful to this friend of the working class for letting us know where he really stands.