Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Save Radio NZ! No mining in NZ's National Parks!

Or... How National And ACT Turned Me Back Into A Political Activist After Many Years Away...

In my dim and distant yoof, when I was still English, I was very politically active. I lived in the UK for most of Thatcher's 17-year reign, and my God it was a tough time to be a leftie.

I protested on behalf of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament); marched for Save the Whales; opposed the government's anti-gay legislation Clause 28; cheered Bishop Desmond Tutu when he spoke out in Hyde Park against the South African apartheid regime; welcomed Nelson Mandela to freedom at the huge concert in his honour at Wembley Stadium; demonstrated against the Falklands War and the first Gulf War; and was a local organiser in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign (I was at that riot in London - scary times indeed!).

One of the reasons why I finally left the UK was that I was just sick to death of banging my head against what seemed like a brick wall at the time. The day the British people voted the Conservatives in for yet another term (after John Major's coup that dethroned Thatcher as party leader) I was sitting on a little yacht in the Bay of Islands reading the paper and thinking "That's it. I resign. I no longer consider myself to be English. The British people are obviously too bloody stupid to be trusted with any kind of a vote on anything that means anything - and I quit." I've considered myself to be "formerly English" ever since.

Fast forward through the last 17-odd years as a New Zealander - I stopped travelling, settled in NZ, made friends, found a job, found a place to live, found another job, became a web designer/developer, moved house a few more times, eventually bought a house with a garden, got a couple of cats, worked my ass off - and somewhere along the way I lost my political activist streak.

I think it's partly because I was so involved in settling in a new country, which took up a lot of my energy, and partly because Kiwis on the whole are much more laid back and a lot less politically active than yer average pom. Or at least that's been my experience. Don't get me wrong - I still follow politics, I still have great political discussions when I get together with my mates, I'm a member of the Green Party - but in terms of actual activism I seemed to have pretty much given it up.

Until now.

I have National and ACT to thank for that. Yeah - thanks guys! You rock! Not.

I've watched with growing concern as they attack and dismantle one important part of my adopted homeland after another. National Education standards and closing down night classes, Paula "I used to be a beneficiary but now I'm not and you losers can all just GET FUCKED" Bennett's attacks on those least able to fight back, increasing GST when they specifically said they wouldn't, tax cuts for their rich mates and to hell with the rest of you, the Auckland Super City undemocratic debacle... the list goes on and on and on - not to mention pushing through a whole raft of new and potentially unpopular legislation under the cloak of "urgency" so they don't even have to discuss it in Parliament and no-one gets the chance to oppose it.

The final two straws that broke this particular camel's back have been their attack on Radio New Zealand's funding, and now - most egregious of all in my opinion - their plans to mine in our National Parks.

I'm so outraged by their mining plans I can't even begin to express how outraged I am. Talk about short-sighted! Do they not have children and grandchildren to whom they'd like to leave the few pieces of pristine wilderness we have left? Apparently not - or at least, if they do, they apparently don't care about them too much.

There are not many things that would get me to leave my nice comfortable life and go chain myself to a bulldozer in protest - but this is certainly one of them. This is our taonga, our heritage, it's what makes us special and unique, and it's what brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism - AND YOU WANT TO DIG IT UP???? You greedy bastards. How dare you???

I actually began my reawakening to political activism by joining the Save Radio New Zealand Facebook group a month or so ago. What a cliché eh? Join a Facebook group and do your bit for the protest! Except that... the group grew so quickly and became so motivated to get up off the couch and actually do something, that the media began to take notice. And the politicians, I think, have also begun to pay attention.

Whether this is because yer average pollie doesn't really "get" social media like Facebook but secretly thinks they should, and they hear that Web2.0 is the Next Big Thing and think they should show some interest so as to get down with da kidz - or whether it's because they also know that for every person who actually gets off their ass and joins a Facebook group (easy though it is to do), there are 100 others standing behind them, agreeing with them, but not actually ever getting round to pressing the blue "join" button, I don't know, but it does actually seem to be having some effect.

Anyway, whatever the reason, people-who-count started taking notice and the Facebook group grew and grew. Hundreds and hundreds of members made comments on the group's page (and continue to do so). Gaining 20,000 members in a little over a month is pretty impressive for our small country, even if it is "just" on Facebook.

It soon became clear that the Save Radio New Zealand people weren't all pointy-headed liberals from Wellington like they said we were - we come from all over the country - the world, even; we come from all kinds of different backgrounds and age groups; and perhaps most importantly for those politicians watching, we come from right across the political spectrum. There are many people in the group who voted National and are now wondering what the heck they signed up for. And they are not happy.

Some interesting things start happening when you join a group of any kind. Firstly you realise you're not alone, and that there are tons of others from all over the place who agree with you. That feels good! It gives you hope! Then someone comes up with an idea for more direct action - and all of a sudden instead of trying to persuade a couple of your mates to demonstrate outside Parliament about this thing you care about, you've got hundreds of people to get motivated with - who already care about the same thing that you do. It's brilliant.

As I walked back to work after the Protest Picnic outside Parliament a few weeks ago, my portable transistor radio still switched on, trailing RNZ's music and words behind me like a stream of bubbles in the breeze, it occurred to me that I felt pretty good having got out there and taken the time to stand up for something I believe in. The last time I did that was the massive protest against the War on Iraq, but that was a long time ago.

It also occurred to me that as I'm a web designer/developer, I have a skill that might be of use to the campaign, and that as part of my activist re-awakening, I could actually do something more to help. That night I registered saveradionz.co.nz and offered my services to the campaign organisers. I've spent the last couple of weeks on WordPress finding and re-styling a suitable theme and writing the first 30-odd pages of the website, and we did a soft launch of the site at the weekend. It's getting a lot of hits already.

It's good to be a part of something, and it's good to be back fighting for what I think is right.

Last night I found Metiria Turei's No mining in NZ's National Parks Facebook group, and all day I've watched the number of members creep up. There's a lot of cross-fertilisation that can happen in a social networking environment (hence the term "networking"), and I know there are many people who, like me, have joined both groups. I know, because I invited a whole bunch of 'em myself! That's another awesome thing about Facebook - the "invite friends to join" function. Talk about helping groups to go viral! It's brilliant!

One of the things an online group can do is to help members fight in all the range of legal ways possible - again it's about getting the information out there and the motivation that comes from being part of that group. The No mining in NZ's National Parks group will be helping us to make submissions to the innocently-named Schedule 4 Stocktake discussion paper, and I'm most definitely making a submission with their help. This is too important an issue to sit by and hope someone else does the protesting for me. I have to do it myself, and I have to make my voice heard in every way I can.

I'm hoping the NIMBY vote will kick in in Auckland, especially about Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel, but there's the risk that (assuming this isn't the most politically stupid move ever) they're announcing these two places first so that they can then "back down" in the face of massive opposition - "ooh look we listened to the people!" - and then quietly go and mine somewhere else like the West Coast or Stewart Island where they think the opposition won't be as strong. We need to stop that from happening, and that means we all have to do our bit - including me.

I renewed my Green Party membership today (and gave them a bit of a donation to help the cause) and I also joined Forest & Bird today. Hey government! You want to stop the Department of Conservation from talking to our oldest and most well-respected conservation group? You want to start gagging people like that? Oh yeah - that's really going to work well. In fact - just because you've done that - I think I'll join them. Go check out the banners on their homepage - they're really cool. I particularly like "Forest & Bird. HYSTERICAL about nature since 1923". Ha!

It seems to me that an issue such as freezing (and thereby in reality, cutting) funding to our only remaining public broadcaster and then expecting a change of mindset at said broadcaster in order to live within those diminishing means - or an issue such as opening up our pristine(ish) wilderness to foreign mining companies so that they can rape and pillage te whenua to their heart's content - has to be shut down fast, shut down hard, and shut down now.

If we don't get off our collective arses and force the government to back down fully on both these issues, then elements of our country, our heritage, our culture and our landscape will be lost, and gone for ever.

As Oscar Wilde once said:

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
...which seems to sum up our current government's mindset pretty well.

...and as Joni Mitchell famously said (or, rather, sang):
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

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The Stitching Maven said...

Thankyou for writing about this matter so intelligently and sensitively and passionately - these are issues dear to my heart. You are definitely NOT alone in caring about these issues and being outraged. A great many people are outraged and will do whatever it takes to fight the planned cut backs and mining. Please keep an eye on the facebook page for updates on Radio NZ - we urgently need to save this taonga for ourselves and future generations! PLease keep writing about it to draw attention to the fight.
Many thanks :)

The Stitching Maven said...

Fantastic - great passionate coverage of both these issues dear to my heart - please keep blogging about Radio NZ and Mining! People need to wake up and smell the coffee - this is no time to be apathetic - if we don't act now our grandchildren and future generations will grow up hearing synthesised music and may never know what a real instrument and real orchestra sound like - this is our cultural heritage and we desperately need to save this beauty. You are definitely not alone - keep an eye on the facebook page - look at the discussion area and the wall and some ideas for action will be coming up pretty sooon - looks like you are a seasoned activist - just what is needed in this fight!
Many thanks for writing about this in such an intelligent and sensitive way - you will be a great campaigner for the cause!

Tim said...

I stumbled upon your site when I googled "mining in nz" as I was seeking more information on the issue. Your blog really touched a chord with me.

I'm actually a kiwi in London and I think one good thing we can take from such disheartening events is the fact that web 2.0 means that somebody like me isn't restricted to watching from afar - powerless. I have a voice and I can express my anger. Especially with people like you to help.

Good on ya.