ANZ was our most problematic bank, mines were the greatest threat to our environment, and our unions stepped up their mascots. Josie Adams remembers all the major protests of the decade.
In 2010 I turned 18 and became a voting member of the public. I was very excited about this; about the same time I also became a big time member of the protesting public. Over the past decade I’ve watched a student union president piss in a bucket in a cage, marched down George Street for my right to wear short skirts, and cheered as the LGBTQI+ community threw off the shackles of banks and cops and returned to its glorious state of protest.
As a nation, our protests have moved on from reacting to the National government’s global financial crisis recovery attempts and become focused on the climate, which is current in a terrible state and getting worse.
The Spinoff’s Decade in Review is presented in partnership with Lindauer Free*, the perfect accompaniment for end-of-decade celebrations for those looking to moderate their alcohol content (*contains no more than 0.5% alc/vol).
We’ve protested for fossil fuel divestment, banning 1080, reproductive rights, and the return of our loved ones’ bodies. Our bus drivers, retail workers, nurses, teachers, junior doctors, psychologists, and supermarket workers have been on strikes. First Union was the most effective organiser of protests, but Auckland Action Against Poverty was the most exciting.
We’ve marched in solidarity with the women of the US, with the people of West Papua and Chile, and for the rights of First Nations in Canada.
Generation Z didn’t even wait to turn 18 before they started protesting.
Here’s a rundown of the top protests of the decade, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Keep fighting the good fights!
2010: the year we wanted to keep everything down under
The first-term National government had won the 2008 election based on restoring New Zealand’s economy to health following the global financial crisis, and opening up 7058 hectares of DoC land for the extraction of rare minerals was one way it could follow through on their promise. It didn’t follow through.
Another way it could make some money was by cashing in on Hollywood dollars, and The Hobbit film protests were on its side. NZ Equity, our actors’ union, asked Peter Jackson to offer them employment terms in line with what union actors abroad receive. In response, Jackson and Warner Brothers said they’d take The Hobbit films to another country. Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Robyn Malcolm lead the actors’ protests, which were soon eclipsed by a reported 3,000 nerds across Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch holding signs saying “we love hobbits”.
The protests put pressure on John Key to keep The Hobbit films in New Zealand, which he did by giving Warner Bros a tax break and slashing local actors’ working rights.
2011: the year we took up space
On the 15th of October, thousands of protestors occupied public spaces across the country with tent cities and handheld stereos (UE booms hadn’t been invented yet). Occupy Aotearoa, the local offshoot of the global protest against out-of-control capitalism, had begun. In Dunedin, the police refused to carry out council orders to disperse protestors. In Auckland, the council waited six weeks before issuing a trespass notice to the 350 protestors camped in Aotea Square.
One man occupied a space in a very particular way, and that man was Otago University Students’ Association president Logan Edgar, who locked himself in a cage in the middle of a Dunedin winter to protest the ACT-introduced voluntary student membership bill. He said he wouldn’t come out of the cage until John Campbell turned up. He left after two days because he needed a shit.
Women took up space in a big way this year with the arrival of the slutwalk. In one afternoon, 400 people took to Queen Street in Auckland, 500 marched on Wellington’s waterfront, and 400 paraded through Dunedin’s Octagon. Protestors were made up of men, women, and children, with many dressed like “sluts” to embody the point: no one invites sexual violence with an outfit.
2012: the year we stopped everything
In 2012 we had one task: STOP KONY 2012. Or was it that we needed to stop the ‘KONY 2012’ film? No one remembers who or what KONY is, now. Protesters in New Zealand postered city walls and bought KONY 2012 t-shirts, all in the name of “raising awareness”.
While the ongoing plight of abused children by warlords like Joseph Kony is horrific and warrants protesting, Invisible Children’s campaign has since been dismissed as useless and wasteful and the film’s director was arrested for public masturbation at the same time the campaign took off.
More than Kony, we wanted to stop asset sales. There was a 2,000-strong march through Auckland, and a long campaign that laid some of the ideological common ground for the current government. Labour, the Greens, a range of NGOs and groups pretty sympathetic to NZ First got together to try and force a referendum on the partial sales of four state-owned power companies and Air NZ.
The campaign collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, and won a handy two-thirds majority in the subsequent postal referendum, which was then blithely ignored by the government.
400 protesters stopped traffic at the Symonds Street/Grafton Road intersection when they blockaded the budget to protest the 2012 National government budget, with the end result of 43 arrests and an investigation into police violence against protesters.
Protesters were largely made up of Auckland university students, with support from Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) and two members of the Urewera Four.
2013: the year we asked people to stop being bigots
Anti-racists, which should be all of us, began to protest white supremacist Kyle Chapman’s annual “right wing resistance” march in Christchurch. In 2012 only one man, Patrick O’Connor, had bothered to tell Chapman and his 50-strong crew of inbred Nazis (not conjecture; they were wearing swastikas) to shut up. In 2013, a whole 100 turned up.
Chapman doesn’t do the marches anymore, but the Roast Busters are still out there. Thousands took to the streets of Auckland and Wellington to protest the treatment several young girls had been subjected to by the Roast Buster rapists, Avondale College staff, and the police. More than 100,000 people signed a petition asking the government to ensure justice for the girls, some of whom were as young as 13. There wasn’t any. The boys, now fully-grown adults, remain unrepentant.
More righteously, Lucy Lawless was arrested off the shores of Taranaki. The actress/activist and seven other members of Greenpeace were arrested after boarding a drilling ship. She was sentenced to community service and asked to pay reparations of $651, about 0.1% of the $600,000 Shell Todd Oil had asked for.
2014: the year we cared about money
John Key’s post-budget address was once again blockaded by protesters including AUSA and AAAP members. This time, he didn’t give a fuck, complaining only that the budget had been dropped as a lead story.
Fellow bankers ANZ faced striking workers, who picketed with a giant blow-up pig. The workers were objecting to a “casualisation” of their work schedules, and asked for a 5% pay increase to compensate for the insecurity. ANZ’s CEO David Hisco had just received an 11% pay increase, taking his total annual pay to $4.7 million.
In the search for increased national revenue we began to consider signing the TPPA. Around 2,000 protesters marched through 12 New Zealand cities to protest a free trade agreement between 12 countries.
The global financial crisis and the resultant Occupy movement had shown us we were economically vulnerable to the whims of U.S. corporations; now this trade deal threatened to allow them to actually intervene in our laws. Pharmac and other large companies would be able to sue TPPA-signed governments if they felt they were in breach of the agreement – and we could breach the agreement by creating more eco-friendly policy.
On the plus side, it would decrease tariffs for many of our products in the international marketplace, adding around $2.7 billion to our economy each year.
2015: the return of AAAP and John Campbell
AAAP had become synonymous with a certain kind of protest by this point. Sometimes their actions resulted in bizarre incidents, like the time Paul Henry was jostled by a crowd outside a 2015 Budget event at Sky City.
Fellow TV host John Campbell was the subject of his own protest when Mediaworks announced it might cancel Campbell Live. A whole 80 marchers camped out on the steps of TV3’s Auckland offices to Save Campbell Live, but the movement wasn’t successful. John is now having a great time on TVNZ’s Breakfast.
The battle against the TPPA continued when more than 25,000 of you marched in protest.
2016: the year protests actually got shit done
In 2016, 12,000 of you asked for a Land Wars Memorial Day, and it happened. The Raa Maumahara National Day of Commemoration is now the 28th of October every year.
First Union’s giant inflatable rat proved to be the most fleet-footed protester in our history, making appearances at Pak’N’Saves and New Worlds in Nelson, Invercargill, and Porirua in the span of only a few weeks.
While the pickets successfully got supermarket workers better treatment, an even more important battle was won: the courts ruled it is legal to insult your employer. Taking things from insult to injury, more than 10,000 protestors threatened the security of the 12 world leaders, who had inexplicably chosen SkyCity as the venue for signing the TPPA.
Less aggressively, bags of coal were stacked against the front doors of the Lambton Quay ANZ as part of 350 Aotearoa’s nationwide protest against the bank’s fossil fuel investments.
Activists claimed that ANZ had invested $13.5 billion in the fossil fuel industry, largely in coal and gas exploration in Australia. ANZ responded by saying that less than 0.27% of its total lending in NZ is to fossil fuels, which actually supports the protesters’ cause: divesting surely wouldn’t be a big issue, then?
2017: the year we were internationally outraged
In Greymouth, 29 effigies kitted out in mining gear were lined up outside the entrance to the Pike River mine, an eerie and effective means of preventing Solid Energy from continuing their work there.
Solid Energy, the government-owned company that had taken control of the Pike River mine, was planning to seal it off. These protesters – many of whom were related to those killed in the tragic Pike River mining accident – wanted the bodies of their loved ones returned.
We also supported our sisters in the US when over a thousand people congregated outside the US consulate in Auckland for the women’s march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Twice that number marched down Auckland’s Queen Street to protest the Tonga-England rugby result, which the protestors believed was the result of “disgraceful biased refereeing”.
2018: the year things looked grim
It is wild that in the Year of our Queer 2018 we had to have a conversation about whether gay conversion therapy should be banned or not. A 2000-strong petition started by a rainbow group in Rodney exploded to nearly 20,000 signatures but to no avail.
A select committee commented, “thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained”. Not good!
In other bad news, alt-right protests had become much more prominent. At a couple held around Aotea Square in late 2018 and early 2019, figures like extremist English nationalist Tommy Robinson and US President Donald Trump were lionised.
2019: recency bias means these are the meaty ones
Hundreds of protesters outside parliament this year demanded the Ministry for Children, also known as Oranga Tamariki, stop taking Māori children away from their whānau.
Criticism of Oranga Tamariki made headlines following the department’s shocking attempt to take a newborn from its mother in Hawkes Bay Hospital. The protests caused a series of inquiries into the government’s actions and policy, the long-term effects of which we won’t know for some time.
Speaking of the long term, did you know the climate is fucked? Schoolkids do. The school strike for climate was the largest single protest event ever held in the country with up to 170,000 people taking part on the day. What makes that even more remarkable is that they were organised by people who weren’t necessarily even old enough to vote.
Pride director Max Tweedie led an incredibly successful #ourmarch Pride alternative. “After Auckland Pride asked police not to participate in uniform in the Pride Parade, and the subsequent clusterfuck that erupted after (almost) everyone pulled out of Pride, you’d think that Auckland Pride was doomed, and that our subsequent down-scaled event, #ourmarch, would be an absolute flop,” he said. “Well you’d be wrong. Starting at the home of the first Gay Liberation Protest in 1972, Albert Park, and taking the graduation route all the way to Myers Park, #ourmarch was, as Jade put it, “at least three thousand beautiful people, of every background, wearing every colour, flooding Queen street with queer excellence”.”
Epitomising protest excellence, the occupation of Ihumātao has been well documented this year, but Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL), the organisation behind the land’s protection, was founded in 2015. Of course, the land was occupied for almost a thousand years until it was wrongfully confiscated by the Crown in 1863 and sold off.
The land protectors were served an eviction notice by Fletcher Building, and over the course of several months there were rallies, marches, and protests nationwide; at Ihumātao itself there were standoffs with over a hundred police, a music festival, and a visit from the Māori King, Tūheitia Paki.
Currently, it looks as though Auckland Council might buy the land from Fletcher.
In May this year our humble nation of hard workers saw the largest industrial action in our history when more than 50,000 teachers closed their classrooms. The “mega strike” included both primary and secondary school teachers, meaning the government had to notice who was looking after the more than 700,000 school-aged children in NZ every weekday.
In June, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a commitment to pay parity and more teachers in schools.
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