“Our most valuable asset is the right to protest.” – Matt McCarten
Yesterday, I found out what this actually means in the eyes of some unionist protesters. I have always believed in the right to protest, despite not always agree with what is being protested. Heck, most of the time I strongly disagree with the protest message, but so long as the protesters don’t directly harm anyone, I tend to be fine with it. At the March 10 Save Our Ports protest, organised by the Council of Trade Unions, I found that this feeling is not always mutual.
I am reminded that there is no virtue in wanting to protect popular speech. The virtue is in defending the rights of free speech for people whose message you totally disagree with. Hence I have supported the right of holocaust denier David Irving to come to NZ, and speak.
So David (former AoC Auckland President) and I decided to take to the streets with placards, joining the march from the opposite side of the road that they were on. My placard read “Union Strikes, Efficiency up 25%” and David’s read “Who still has their jobs? Helen Kelly and Garry Parsloe”. I had made a decision from the start that this would be a silent protest, as I knew we would be shouted at and thought that we would have been just as bad as them if we shouted profanities back.
As predicted, during the march we were screamed at, being called things such as “Fascist pigs”, “f**ken scumbags”, and “NAZIs”. Although I was expecting people to shout at us, I was not expecting that extreme verbal abuse. Those are names I would never use to describe anyone, simply because they are extremist and are offensive to both the person you’re shouting at, and the people who were victims to the NAZIs. I would think that the people who like to think they fight most for so called freedom would understand that.*Sigh* I guess not.
While distasteful, free speech even extends to the marchers screaming Nazi names at Brogan and David.
Into about fifteen minutes of marching, we were rushed by a bunch of protesters. One of the protesters knocked my arm and stole my placard, one punched David in the back of his head and stole his placard. They both ripped the placards and chucked the pieces onto the road, receiving cheers from many of the marchers. One of the protesters had been filming it, and came up to us, narrating his ‘film’ by continuously calling us “f**king fascists” and “fascist pigs”, telling us that we were going to be famous on Facebook. Within about 30 seconds, one of the police officers that had been on duty came running and that seemed to be the cue for the protesters to run back into the mob.
The irony is that it was the protesters who were being fascists, with their violent suppression of messages they disagreed with.
The police officer, instead of pursuing the people who had offended, came to ask us to leave. He had seen everything, but told us that there were too many protesters for them to protect our right to protest. At the time, I was quite shaken. I was in no mood or state of mind to argue with the officer, and so we left peacefully. Although David and I have protested and counter-protested before, this was the first time things had become physical, which is something we thought New Zealand was above. It seems we were wrong there too.
The Police Commissioner should instruct the Auckland Police that the next time this happens, the appropriate response is to call for more police officers to protect the rights of peaceful protest.
After the march on that part of the street was finished, David and I returned to pick up the remains of the placards. Although we knew we were not the cause of the litter, we still thought that we shouldn’t leave it lying around the road and footpath. During this time, thankfully, drivers were actually relatively friendly and respectful of what we were doing. A few protesters coming back from the Vector Arena were not though. We again were verbally abused with the same extremist labels. One protester in particular encouraged cars to run us over, and said if they didn’t, he would do it himself.
What a pity Brogan and David didn’t have a friend along with a video recorder. It would be very interesting to identify those who resort to violence to suppress speech they disagree with.
I recall an anti-EFA march in Wellington. A handful of (mainly) Young Labour activists did a counter-protest. When we got to Parliament we actually offered them a chance to speak to have their view heard. A stark contrast.
Hat Tip: Whale OilTags: Brogan Powlesland, free speech, Maritime Union, Police