Contributed by Adam James Ring
The #TPPAWalkAway Week of Action climaxed Saturday with simultaneous marches across the country. With as many as 25,000 protesters reported countrywide, 5000 people gathered and walked in solidarity from the business-district centre of Midland Park to the steps of Parliament.
Perhaps sympathetic to the cause, the rain managed to hold its breath as the people gathered en masse, marshalled by a variety of political groups, trade unions and community movements. True to the modern paradigm, social media played an important role in the organising of so many people; the online mechanisms of Facebook events and groups, Twitter hype and updates a vital part of mobilizing thousands at 21 different locations and from a wide variety of ideological and social backgrounds.
As a true testament to the unifying strength of the cause – the collective spirit – the march was orderly and peaceful; children marched with their parents, husbands with their wives, Pakeha with Maori – every variety of New Zealander joining together in common purpose. Throughout the afternoon, democracy in action could be seen through the blurring of social lines such as ethnicity and class, sexual orientation and political belief, age or level of financial mobility. At least for the purpose and length of the protest, everyone present was banded together as a unified and common people.
This sense of togetherness and purpose was made visible among the crowds, perhaps the manifestation of mutual responsibility and concern; the chants and placards, so characteristic of protests, were inclusive and empowering. The care and respect that everyone showed each other acted as a beautiful and renewing reminder of how powerful true democracy can be. Under the banner of the cause the people had come out to stand together; a powerful sense of community was abundantly evident in the way the march moved as one entity, cheered as one voice, and made sure that all had a space to occupy.
As the crowd made its way through the streets of the capital’s capitalist hub, the city seemed to momentarily stop and look up from its weekend productivity; lines of cars, temporarily halted, beheld waving families and the smiles of fellow travellers. Bus drivers called out merrily through their open doors – teenagers captured images and video of the crowd with brightly coloured smart phones, and the perfectly styled hair that to an untrained eye looks unkempt and wildly asymmetric.
Time seemed to slow down to extended micro-seconds; the world took on a different and overwhelmingly bright intensity. There was the strange sensation of lightness without knowing the cause of such joy and release. One finds it easier, in these slow movements of shared time, to feel as though the future holds something bright and meaningful; some new reality where our future children can recreate the world to new and better specifications. Where the crises of our former age will become the history that we learnt from, never doomed to repeat again.
At the steps of Parliament the people were greeted with some rousing speeches from a variety of well-known protesters. Sandra Grey, the President of the Tertiary Education Union, as MC, providing a suitable anchor for the day; her bubbly and down to earth personality well-suited to the energetic calm of a peaceful protest.
Award-winning journalist and documentarian Bryan Bruce focused on one of the core issues expressed by many in the movement – the potential lengthening of medical patents under TPPA – and what that could mean for the average New Zealander. When he spoke of ‘human misery’ via the death or suffering of thousands unable to afford the increased cost of non-generic medicines, the crowd made their feelings evident – the loud and echoing calls of ‘shame’ most audible above the noisy throng.
Local blues legend Darren Watson, backed by his band, revisited his controversial song ‘Planet Key’ to some raucous applause and played a new number, written specifically for the march, which involved some playful hand gestures directed towards the Beehive, lavishly mimicked by the crowd.
Much has been made already of the ‘protest after the protest’, and while it’s predictable that the press would take this angle, there is nothing that can be honestly reported that could detract from the success of the day. The protest ended among high spirits and with no sign of the violence the US Consulate had warned of.
The people have spoken out against the TPPA in the best way possible; estimates of 25,000 marchers across New Zealand is no small feat. Whether it affects the course of the negotiations to come remains to be seen, but at least the cause has been amplified for all to hear – even by the key players of New Zealand’s Government, who were noticeably – if not unsurprisingly – absent from all proceedings.