Monday 17 October 2011

They're Only 0.1 Percent - But It's A Good Start!

A Good Beginning: One-thousand-plus "Occupy Auckland" protesters gathered in Aotea Square on 15 October and constituted themselves as a "General Assembly" of Aucklanders. But, if it really wishes to speak for 99 percent of its fellow Aucklanders, the General Assembly must turn a good beginning into something much, much bigger.

IT’S NOT OFTEN that old age and treachery are bested by youth and idealism, but it happened on Saturday. The “Occupy Auckland” organisers gave themselves just one week to add New Zealand’s largest city to the growing list of “occupied” cities around the world. Too little time, I said. People aren’t angry enough, I said. Can’t be done, I said.

Well, I was wrong.

I had expected less than 300 people to show up. But it was clear from the moment I arrived at QEII square on Saturday afternoon that there were many more people than that. Between them, Facebook and the wreck of the Rena had assembled a reasonably respectable protest march. As an estimate, two thousand would have been too generous, and one thousand too stingy. But if you’d said around 1,400 protesters set off up Queen Street for Aotea Square, you wouldn’t have been far off the mark.

I like that number because it represents exactly 0.1 percent of Auckland’s 1.4 million citizens. In other words, the “Occupy Auckland” protesters numbered just one tenth of the 1 percent of fat-cat capitalist greedsters they were marching against. I’m not making this point to be snarky, merely offering it as a hopefully useful corrective to some of the over-ambitious claims being made by the protest leaders.

Because the people who have set up camp in Aotea Square are very obviously NOT representative of 99 percent of Aucklanders. They are far too young, far too white, and far too unencumbered by the burdens of job, mortgage and family to be anything like the twenty-thousand-plus ordinary Aucklanders who celebrated the All-Blacks victory over the Wallabies throughout the central city the following night.

But they do represent something. There was a pile of youthful energy and a playful sense of creativity permeating the Aotea Square “campsite” on Saturday afternoon. Even I, a staunch opponent of “consensus-based decision-making” for more than 30 years, felt my frown lines disappearing and a smile slowly spreading across my face as the “facilitators” (don’t, whatever you do, call them “leaders”) explained to the thousand-strong “General Assembly” the four basic hand-signals indicating Agreement, Disagreement, Point of Process and Block.

Here on the green lawns of Aotea Square, under a bright spring sky, I was witnessing something new under the sun – and I hadn’t witnessed anything new in left-wing political practice for a very long time. Suddenly, I was laughing at the speakers’ lame jokes. And, when the various “working-groups” who’d made the day’s events possible were introduced to the General Assembly, I found myself joining-in the crowd's very big round of applause.

I was, however, very glad the plan to literally “Occupy Queen Street” had been abandoned. Worried that there might still be some who refused to accept the decision to shift the focus of the protest to Aotea Square, I moved ahead of the march and took up a position overlooking the big Wellesley Street intersection. If there was going to be a street-based occupation, this is where it would happen.

The Police agreed. From a side street, 24 constables, led by a burly Police Sergeant, formed up into what was clearly a snatch-squad. They were decked out in stab-vests, hand-cuffs and appeared to be carrying batons. Further up Wellesley Street, three large “Paddy Wagons” stood ready to receive the constables’ “catch”.

I watched the protest march approach the intersection, saw it pause, gather mass, pause again, and then move on up Queen Street. The back-end of the march did the same: pause, gather mass, pause. A haka was performed – and then the last of the marchers followed their comrades up Queen Street to the Square. The Police snatch-squad about-turned and marched away.

Aotea Square was always the obvious occupation site. In the popular imagination, if not in strictly legal terms, it is Auckland’s most important public space – a city square – just like the city squares of Cairo and Athens, Barcelona and Madrid. Wall Street is a potent political symbol: Queen Street, for most people, is just a carriageway.

But now the rules of the General Assembly are agreed, and the tents pitched – what happens next? The weather is predicted to turn bad for most of the next week, and heavy rain will quickly turn Aotea Square’s green lawns into muddy wallows. A General Assembly of one thousand merry protesters is an impressive sight. An assembly reduced to 100 bedraggled campers will not look so good.

The question of how to build the protest: of how to reach out to the 99.9 percent of Aucklanders who are yet to involve themselves in this bold political experiment; must be answered. Only when “Occupy Auckland” can gather together in one place as many enthusiastic citizens as the organisers of the Rugby World Cup, will their calls for change acquire genuine political heft. (And when the General Assembly numbers 20,000 - instead of 1,000 - I suspect its calls for change will turn out to be a lot less radical than Saturday's revolutionary speeches.)

The organisers of “Occupy Auckland” have made a good beginning – better than I thought possible. But, in the words of All-Black coach, Graham Henry: “The job hasn't been done yet.”

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Anonymous said...

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Wellington was a smaller crowd of mostly young hippies, looking and acting exactly like back in the '60s. Where they sprang from today goodness knows.
Several said they were 'not into politics', others saw it as a great achievement that they were promised an audience with the mayor to talk about light rail.
The second day of the week of occupation was six tents and twenty two people sitting in a "dream space"
muttering to each other in low solemn tones.
John Key must be shitting himself.

Anonymous said...

there's nothing wrong with a bit of consensus based decision making. A union official servicing a big site can tell you that a visit to a section to elect a delegate is often met with something like 'we don't need an election - we all want Mary to be our delegate'. these same workers will be fine with voting if there's a division among them.
there are some precious pompous gits out there who insist on 'consensus decisions' for everything. when the run is against them they simply ignore the policy.
voting and consensus are both just handy tools, sometimes you need a bolt, other times a nail will do fine.

Brendan McNeill said...

and... for a more conservative perspective on the 'occupy' movement.

Anonymous said...

I have never ever written anything like this before, but here goes...

Only a few years ago, I would have looked upon the gathering in Auckland as a rabble; part of the great unwashed, lefty leaning, dole budging, tree hugging, beatnik hippy types with too much time on their hands, and far too much of my tax dollars in their back pockets.

How things change. I suppose my ‘road to Damascus’ moment came just after the major ‘investment’ banks starting falling one after the other in America. This was, of course, seized upon by neo-cons in the good ole USA as being a symptom of all sorts of illnesses, which ranged from there being a commie president in power (and for some of the more unpleasant elements in that society, substitute ‘commie’ for ‘black’), to far too many banking regulations and laws distorting the market place, sending the wrong signals, inhibiting its efficiency, or any number of other clich├ęs so beloved by those whose livelihood depends on them commenting on such matters.

Previously I might have been quietly nodding in agreement with them, only about the interference in the market place being the root of all economic woes I hasten to add, when I suddenly thought what a load of crap these people were talking (from the usual suspects of course; Fox News, various conservative think tanks, TV evangelists, Harvard economics professors, Sarah ‘I can see Russia from my kitchen’ Palin etc). It suddenly struck me that it was the sodding ‘market place’ that was the problem, and the ability of a comparative few, and astonishingly self interested, groups to manipulate an economy to their best advantage. When the inevitable consequences of that sort of roulette capitalism manifested itself, you and I picked up the costs, the profits were still privatised, and all the while we were told that any attempt to tax those profits to recoup some of those taxes spent cleaning up their mess would have the deepest, darkest and most dire results.

After years of a right wing agenda championed by George W Bush, Americans have been left with banking regulatory bodies whose authority and influence was deliberately undermined; a good old fashioned Crusade into the Middle East which generations of Americans to come will still be paying for; and policies that concentrated more and more money(and power) in the hands of less and less people.

Why Americans aren’t calling for a grand jury to be convened and for Bush to hauled in front of it, after eight years of mismanagement, obfuscation and, more importantly, wilfully attempting to circumvent their constitution and bill of rights, will forever remain a mystery to me.

Those people who are currently occupying city parks and squares around the world, who say they feel more disenfranchised and disillusioned with the economic and political process with every passing election, and who are sick of being told that there is no alternative to current policies (you all remember TINA don’t you), are maybe, just maybe, saying enough is enough-there is always another way.

I’m not saying that banging a drum, growing your hair long or smashing up the local McDonalds is a substitute for informed debate, or constitutes some sort of alternative economic system, however when this many people across the world are coming together to express their displeasure with the events of recent years, surely its time to at least give thought other ways of doing things.

Simon said...

OK 1% exploit the 99% what is the plan to change this? What will things look like afterwards?

In NZ who are the 1%? How does 1% specifically exploit the 99% of New Zealanders? (quite sure this happens internationally but how in NZ?)

Is it even a problem in NZ?

What the specifics of the protest? Who are the facilitators? What are their backgrounds? How are the facilitators accountable?

Awareness is fine for issues but what are the plans for change? How is change to be implemented?

Dave Kennedy said...

Simon, New Zealand has one of the fastest increases of income inequity in the OECD. The wealthiest 1% now earn the same as the bottom 60%. The median income in New Zealand is only $27,000. We have around 270,000 children living in relative poverty. The tax cuts to the rich provided them with around $2 billion extra income, while the real income of most New Zealanders has dropped. $480 million was spent on new Bentley cars last year and for the first time in our history we have spent enough on luxury cars for Rolls Royce to see that opening a dealership is viable. Around 40% of the incomes of the wealthy is through capital gain, which is largely not taxed. Our largest companies saw an average of a 20% increase in profits and this has not been passed down to employees. It is being currently suggested that many company directors need to have their remuneration increased by 50% if we are to keep the best in New Zealand.

"Is it even a problem in NZ?" Yes!

Gerrit said...

bsprouts envy answers is typical on why this protestery will fail.

Simon posed a series of very good questions possibly best summarised by a few more.

How will you measure when we have this "equality"?

What are the statistics that will prove this magicical configuration?

bsprout sees "equality" as no one owning a Bentley.

Myself I would like to see "equality" where every one owned a Bentley.

So lets have the revolution, lets sort out the corporate sector back paying their fair dues.

Noone is not in favour of that.


How will you transit from here to there?

How will you know you got there?

Only M$480 was spent on Bentleys, it should be B$480.

How do we change New Zealand society so we can all own a Bentley?

Word verification is "mintio". Answer maybe?

Probably not if we all want to own a Bentley.

Anonymous said...

FFS Chris
Graham Henry never had to try and train a shower of hygiene challenged hippies.

Dave Kennedy said...

Gerrit-No envy on my part, I am financially comfortable and have a lovely lifestyle.

I just have difficulty living in a country where poverty and food parcels are a growing reality for many and even for those in full-time work. For a population of less than 5 million, and rich in resources, there should not be such huge disparities.

You need to read "The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, who explain why allowing the current situation has a detrimental effect on the wealthy as well.

My measures would be:
-Minimum wages that support families without relying on government assistance.
-A huge reduction in food parcels and the prevalence of third world illnesses.
-An improvement in educational achievement in our lowest achievers (mainly due to home environments not a failing education system).
-Falling rate of suicide amongst our youth (currently highest in the OECD).
I could go on but I think you get the picture.

Victor said...

Anonymous@October 17, 2011 7:03 PM

An excellent post.

Welcome to the increasingly populous ranks of those of us who doubt TINA's existence.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm fucking envious. I've worked and been shat on. I voted against Goff when he was selling assets in the 80's and National sold them in the '90's and will sell some more. I've seen the media fall into fewer and fewer hands and trivialize everything except sport. Private enterprise build leaky homes and insurance companies refuse to pay out on them. Telecom crash the phone system and the CEO gets a bonus.
Well fuck that. Fuck the ballot box. Time for the brick.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'd love to see a proper critique of Cathy Odgers' what I think is a nonsensical rant from someone who know their onions. There seem to be a lot of plain contradictions in what she says but it'd be great to see someone having a proper crack at what she's trying to say (if it can in fact be deciphered). One of the main problems with what she says is that she assumes the individuals themselves are directly or indirectly part of the 1%, but importantly ignores the possibility that people can in fact be concerned for others. Have you got the time, or inclination to have a go? It's interesting why she and others appear so concerned by those they describe as "a bunch of smellie hippies". Here it is here: