Wellington is a weird place to live in right now.
Today, on the day that New Zealand’s COVID-19 cases first hit more than 1000 across the last 24 hours, I took an e-scooter ride around the protest camp set up on Parliament’s grounds.
It’s been nine days since the Freedom Convoy set up shop on Parliament’s lawn, the grounds of the law school, the bus station, Molesworth St, and various other parts of Thorndon, and it’s been a long and messy time.
If you’re not currently living in this city, here’s a rundown of things. A ton of the roads around Parliament are closed, buses have to divert well off their normal routes and there’s cars parked at the bus station.
It sucks. Significantly. This time last year I had a broken ankle and my mobility was minimal. If that was this year I’d be fucked. Thoughts to those needing to work and travel in Thorndon at the moment, it’s not at all an easy place to get around, and accessibility considerations are minimal. A lot of the public toilets around Thorndon are closed or unusable, and the footpaths are blocked with cars. If you’re travelling around that part of town, you’ve got to divert wildly out of your way, or walk on the road, both of which are terrible options if you’ve got mobility issues.
The protest camp is sprawling and fragmented. Slogans and signs are dotted about the place, absurd messages chalked upon the ground. They range from neatly printed “Unite against mandates ASAP” to incomprehensible rants about “natural law” — a common talking point of those who call themselves ‘sovereign citizens’ (David Farrier does an excellent breakdown of that mentality here) — and other such conspiracy theories.
While there may be some harmony within the protest camp itself — the livestream most news sites are running predominantly shows a flurry of unmasked faces, dancing on hay — the messages are not. From anti-mandate to anti-mask, to hanging Jacinda Ardern for crimes against humanity, the protest camp is made up of splintered views from a variety of different groups, all seemingly united in one goal — to piss off Wellingtonians as much as possible.
Tino Rangatiratanga, United Tribes and New Zealand flags hang from street posts, trees and cars. I find there to be a smidge of irony in flying a colonialist flag — if there’s one thing these protesters have done, it’s certainly colonized the streets.
Two protesters block my scooter on Bowen St and laugh at me while I try to squeeze past. “Take the mask off.” I don’t want to.
Last week I was heading home late at night and got screamed at from a ute by protesters. My friends and colleagues are avoiding Thorndon because of the harassment they’re constantly getting for wearing masks. When will enough be enough?
A sign reading “Toot for freedom” stands at the end of Lambton Quay, facing out into the intersection. No-one toots during the time I’m in the area, presumably because there’s not exactly a whole lot of freedom of movement down that end of town right now.
My workplace sent out a statement against the occupation of Wellington’s streets on Monday. They, as do I, respect the protesters’ right to protest on Parliamentary grounds but want them to move from the streets, the university grounds and the bus station. Go ahead, protest at Parliament all you like, but don’t take up the space of those trying to work or commute.
As such, upon the release of my workplace’s statement, I’ve found myself, and my workplace, bearing the brunt of a ton of protester hate. From conspiracy to claims that we’re snowflakes for not protesting (spoiler alert, I don’t actually want to enter that morass of gastro bugs and likely COVID-19), the internet complaint machine has been in full force.
It’s been a fairly unfun couple of days particularly as all the protesters who have been on site have been stressing that it’s a ‘peaceful protest’ and they’re just looking out for our ‘personal medical rights’.
Some may say that it’s “just a few bad eggs”, and the “majority is fine”, but personally, I’d have trouble supporting a cause that actively allows white supremacists on site and calls for the death of those in power.
(Don’t worry, protesters, I know you’ll think all the sources I’ve cited so far are ‘fake news’ and the ‘mainstream media’ and I should be getting my news from Counterspin or Facebook livestreams. That’s fine with me, if you’ve gotten this far down my article you’re definitely just going to leave a hate comment and run away, so I don’t actually care all that much. ❤)
One argument that I’ve run into in the last few days is “what about BLM/the Climate March/other protests?” Yes. I’ve marched on Parliament multiple times. The first thing I did when I moved to Wellington was join a PSA march. Y’know what we never did? Harass children. We also only blocked roads for a couple of hours max. Even during Occupy Wellington they only took up Civic Square.
Something needs to be done, and no-one is making an effort to try. I’m not saying this from a ‘cops should just go in and arrest them all’ point of view — believe me, I’m about as anti-cop as they come, and there have been incidences of over-policing against the protesters earlier in the protest that were excessive — but Wellington City Council, the police, and Victoria University seem wholeheartedly keen to sit on their asses and let this protest worm its way into our city. It’s been nine days, folks. Put some effort in.
Let’s get Welly moving? Can’t do that when the city is like this.
Examples of more protester harassment and violence: