“I hear the voice of my granddaughter saying climate action now,” sing protesters at the main entrance to the SkyCity convention centre. Image: Del Abcede/Cafe Pacific/PMC
By Mackenzie Smith
Climate change activists formed a singing blockade around the SkyCity Auckland Convention Centre today in an effort to disrupt the Petroleum New Zealand Conference.
The protesters dispersed peacefully around 10:30am after a dawn start and were confident that the action was a success.
Chris Hay, an actions coordinator for Greenpeace NZ, said that the conference was effectively shut down for 2.5 hours and that was “a really great achievement”.
“More than 200 people committed to, if necessary, being arrested in order to tell the oil industry that it’s no longer business as usual,” he said.
He believes that the “radical” image normally associated with protests is beginning to change due to increased awareness from the public regarding issues such as climate change.
“The men and suits that we saw today… those guys, for too long, have been determining our future,” he said.
“This is democracy in action. Democracy doesn’t happen every three years, it happens every day.”
Last month — February — was reported to be the hottest month in recorded history, something that Greenpeace NZ, which organised the protest, wanted everyone to remember.
The organisers have drawn comparisons between today’s “peaceful civil disobedience” and civil rights movements such as the 1981 Springbok Tour protests and Rosa Parks’ effort to end segregation in America.
“The climate justice movement has in front of it a job which is as big as the civil rights movements had in front of it,” said Greenpeace NZ executive director Russel Norman.
He said that although the historical movements had their differences to what was achieved today, the tactics used in order to achieve a civil rights victory were extremely relevant — and that with that history came a certain validity.
Organisers felt that while getting their message across was the main focus, it was important to preserve the kaupapa, which Hay explains as being “the spirit of things”.
Greenpeace NZ officials made it clear to protesters that today’s protest was to be non-violent and would involve no shouting, chanting, loudhailers, or active resistance of arrest.
Any protesters who did not conform to this definition of non-violence would not be provided with the customary legal support.
Greenpeace NZ chose not to apply their brand to this protest in a move that Norman describes as being “quite experimental”.
They hope that this will bring the strength and diverse representation of a people’s movement rather than that of a singular body.
Norman believes there is a “balance to be struck” between the building of broad social movements and providing support to the institutions that support them.