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The situation in Wellington is growing more tense and volatile. (Image: RNZ)
The situation in Wellington is growing more tense and volatile. (Image: RNZ)

The BulletinFebruary 23, 2022

On the ground in Wellington

The situation in Wellington is growing more tense and volatile. (Image: RNZ)
The situation in Wellington is growing more tense and volatile. (Image: RNZ)

Tensions rising at parliament as police tighten the perimeter around the ongoing occupation, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

Protesters woke yesterday to a second morning of police tightening the perimeter around their encampment. The clock is ticking on the ongoing occupation of streets around parliament, with police warning that only days likely remain. Before dawn, a large group of officers moved concrete blocks closer to the centre of the occupation. They were met by protesters who threw acid and one who drove a car towards a phalanx of police carrying riot shields. The NZ Herald’s Adam Pearse described the scene as tensions rose and violence erupted. In a statement, police have said the protest is now “absolutely disgraceful” and warned that peaceful elements have lost control of a movement that is in its third week of being camped outside parliament. There’s been a stark shift in tone from the police commissioner’s call for patience and de-escalation last week. Stuff reports a “grim mood” has now settled over the occupation.

A live view of the Wellington protest. The Spinoff’s Stewart Sowman-Lund is in Wellington and writing live updates from the occupation outside parliament. He arrived on a busy day where former deputy prime minister Winston Peters showed up maskless and addressed protesters. Nearly at the same time, Wellington’s ambulance service announced that it is now too hazardous for emergency crews to access the site. Despite that, the Dominion Post reports that Wellington’s mayor has met with protesters. Any support within parliament seems to be fizzling though. After National and Act briefly considered adopting anti-mandate messages earlier this week, the opposition seems to have tried to distance itself from the increasingly ugly occupation in central Wellington.

Three things about the protest that you might not know. I asked Sowman-Lund what people outside of Wellington might not know about the occupation at parliament, here are three points he made:

This is not an anti-mandate protest. While many of those in attendance at the Wellington occupation will continue to proclaim that they are there to speak out against mandates, it is clear from walking around the tents and stalls that it is about more than that. Most protest signs spread misinformation about the vaccine, while others simply target a myriad of other unrelated issues: three waters, significant natural areas, religious freedom and more.

It is (almost) a peaceful protest. I’ll be honest, I felt perfectly safe while wandering around among the protesters. I wore a mask and spoke to numerous people and only once was I told to ‘Take it off bro’. That being said, many of the signs that remain do not create a safe feeling. Misogyny directed at the prime minister is rife. Conspiracy theories about her partner are prevalent. Hatred directed at the media is commonplace. If the protesters are peaceful, maybe they should consider making their propaganda match?

The protest is really big. Like, really. Having reported on this protest from Auckland for the past two weeks, I thought I appreciated quite how big it was. In person, however, it’s significantly larger. The scale is almost impossible to describe. The streets around parliament are a bit like the first days of a zombie apocalypse, with empty cars parked haphazardly. Bus stations have become makeshift homes. It takes three times as long to walk anywhere. This is a big protest and, by the looks of things, it’s here to stay.”

The next few days will test New Zealand’s justice system. The Dominion Post reports that a number of arrested protesters have refused to give the court system their names, which has put them at risk of remaining in custody. Some who have given their names don’t seem to like being called by it. Attention is turning to the funding of the occupation, with a local businessman telling RNZ he’s donated money because of his opposition to MIQ. Of all the causes being highlighted at the protest, and they are many, the border isn’t one. Finally, The Conversation writes that the independence of the police is under strain as some members of the public loses faith in the police commissioner’s calls. Some of the protest leaders are now promising to spread the pain across New Zealand unless all Covid rules are scrapped in the next six days.

Keep going!