Today a crowd of several thousand marched on parliament. This is what it looked like.
Today’s Freedom and Rights Coalition protest saw thousands march on the Beehive. It’s hard to pinpoint one clear reason why. While it was seemingly a march against vaccine mandates, crowd members were also protesting the Three Waters reform programme, the media, and the United Nations. Flags and signs waved support for Trump, QAnon, and Jesus Christ. Some attendees were wearing masks, and two admitted they were fully vaccinated. When asked why they were here, they said it was because New Zealand was becoming too “communistic”.
It was, broadly, an anti-government march.
The crowd first gathered at Wellington’s Te Ngākau Civic Square, where speakers including lawyer Sue Grey rallied the growing numbers. Grey was leading the team challenging the “no jab, no job” mandate in court; they lost their case yesterday. She described the failed case as “a step in the journey,” and pointed out the sheer numbers turning up today as a sign the fight isn’t over. “Look how much power there is when we do this,” she said.
While Telegram channels suggested as many as 50,000 people would show up to the protest, this was, obviously, not the case. Crowd estimates range from 3,000-5,000, and protestors told me they had no intentions of replicating the United States’ January 6th Capitol riot. There were children and elderly present, and most were pleasant to chat with. Unless, of course, you openly disagreed. A trio of university students holding small pro-vax signs were challenged by protestors: they were asked if they felt it was OK to coerce people into abortions or chemotherapy (a reference to the “my body, my choice” argument popular with anti-vaxxers), asked if they were aware vaccines “killed people”, and, in one instance, spat on.
“You won’t see the mainstream media covering this,” one attendee told me. A crew from RNZ was standing behind him.
The march moved quickly along Lambton Quay, with motorcycles bringing up the rear. It took half an hour or so for the stream to pour onto the grounds at parliament; they climbed stairs and clambered over fences, filling the paths and lawns. Some had brought blankets and snacks. One girl was blowing bubbles. At the back of the crowd, the vibe was more Laneway than Freedom rally. At the front, protestors rolled tennis balls with upsetting messages at the press.
There was a large number of swastikas and Nazi imagery; signs calling the prime minister “Jitler,” “Jahitler,” and the more rare “Stalinda” were dotted throughout the crowd. One man waved a sign stating Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield would be tried for their crimes at Nuremberg. By the end of the month, he reckoned, New Zealand would only have one TV channel. “Do you think they’ll really do that?” a woman asked him. “No,” he said, “we will.”
Among all the Holocaust comparisons, one very simple and grotesque sign simply bore the Star of David and read “Juden”.
A man hoisting a “stand up to the vax” sign smiled and waved at me. “You’re gonna need a doctor one day,” he promised. Nearby, Voices for Freedom was handing out pamphlets endorsing the use of the horse paste Ivermectin; he may need a doctor one day, too.
New Zealand is currently 79% fully vaccinated against Covid-19.