Before we begin this conversation, I want to make one thing crystal clear.
If you’re reading this and disagree with me, that’s ok. We are not other.
Us and Them is something we create.
We are constantly being conditioned to believe that disagreement and discussion equal’s opposition and division. However, refusing to discuss issues of import can have an equally devastating effect on relationships. In this moment, ignoring this conversation will not bring us together, what we must learn is how to disagree, how to discuss that disagreement, and how to still choose to Love each other and hold respect for one another through it all.
In that spirit I want to acknowledge those who have made the decision not be vaccinated.
I’ve discussed my own perspective on the vaccine here, and as we’ve engaged in this conversation, and I’ve sought to hear and understand your perspective, I’ve heard that some of you are genuinely afraid about potential harm that might arise due to the vaccine, some of you sincerely believe our government is trying to oppress and enslave us, some of you just feel like you don’t have much control, and that all your choices are being taken from you. Hearing that, I imagine that yesterday’s announcement was devasting for you. I am sure that the news brought with it a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, even anger.
Perhaps you felt like the world had been ripped out from under you, perhaps you feel even now like you’re being dictated to, that your freedom has been stolen with little hope of it ever being returned.
On one level, I understand that.
Peter Mortlock, Pastor of City Impact Church, addressed and encapsulated in his recent video a lot of the sentiment which I’ve been hearing from within our faith whānau. In his video he named yesterday’s announcement as the beginning of a Nazi Germany like regime in our country, Brian Tamaki also spoke to it, calling it the first step towards segregation, and the extermination of a whole portion of our society, drawing comparisons to the segregation imposed on blacks and whites in the States, and the genocide of our Jewish whānau under Hitler.
Other various voices within our faith community have named this as the end of what was once a beatiful and free nation.
If I’m honest whānau, I struggle with that.
Both the comparisons to Nazi Germany, and the insinuation that yesterday’s announcement altered the state of what “was once a beatiful and free nation.”
What was announced yesterday was the reality that many have been calling for.
Covid is in our community, and we now must figure out how to live with it.
What the government has announced is a series of steps that allow us to open up, while also doing what we can to contain the virus. In many ways it’s hard, because it means that while delta exists in our communities, the only way to protect those most vulnerable from this disease, and minimize pressure on our already struggling health sector, is to keep a level of restrictions in place.
Not to protect the vaccinated, as some have said, but essentially to protect those who either can’t, or have decided not to be vaccinated. Again, the data is fairly conclusive, without a vaccine you are both more likely to contract covid, and also far more likely to be seriously harmed by covid.
And Covid, thanks to Delta, is not going away any time soon.
So, we are faced with a decision. Stay in lockdown and attempt to grind it out, open up completely with no restriction, or open up with a level of restrictions still in place.
The first option just isn’t going to work, that’s clear. We’ve already lost the social will for hard lockdowns, and as much as I wish we’d stayed in Level 4 just that little while longer, that time is gone, and people’s willingness, or perhaps ability, to stay in a hard lockdown is waning.
The second option is one advocated by Peter Mortlock, Brian Tamaki and others. Peter specifically in his recent video spoke about the low risk of the virus and emphasised that those who die are predominantly those with comorbidities, specifically people who were obese or had diabetes. Look I don’t know the specifics here, but even if this is true, these are still unnecessary deaths. People with diabetes, or who may be classed as “obese” don’t need to die from Covid. But, comorbidities could also be someone with serious asthmas, or someone who is immune compromised, or perhaps our koro or kuia who may have another 10-20 years left to live.
These deaths are preventable, and Covid rampant in our community will mean that people who do not need to die, will.
So, here we are, with the third option. We begin to release restrictions for those who have the lowest risk of contracting – and thus passing on – the virus (those who are vaccinated), while leaving a level of restrictions in place for those who are at greatest risk of expierencing covid, and thus at increased risk of passing it on (those who aren’t).
Now, I get that you may view Covid through a totally different lens, if you have chosen not to be vaccinated you have reasons for doing so. But let’s look at these restrictions, keeping in mind the logic here. Covid is still in the community, it can still spread rapidly, and those who aren’t vaccinated, both those who choose not to, and our most vulnerable, our children, and those who are immunocompromised and can’t be vaccinated will be most at risk.
In the RED level, we have mass community transmission, and if you’re not vaccinated, you sort of stay in a similar lockdown level to what we’re in now, contactless take-aways, gatherings of up to 10 people, we know the drill. In the ORANGE level, there’s an increase in community transmission, putting pressure on our health system. So, restrictions still apply, though a lot less than what has previously been expierenced. If you’re not vaccinated, there are still a level of restrictions, but mahi continues, and now social gatherings of up to 50 people can go ahead. And then there is GREEN, the place we hope to get to, COVID is in the community, but it’s being managed. To prevent widespread transmission there is still some restrictions, but basically, even if you’re not vaccinated you can live life as normal (whatever that is), albeit with restrictions around distancing, and the amount of people who can attend a gathering at any one time (limits of 100).
Now, let’s compare this to Nazi Germany.
Under Hitler, Jew’s, who could not change the fact that they were Jews, were singled out, driven into concentration camps, and exterminated. In New Zealand, in this current Covid world, people who don’t get vaccinated will have some restrictions on their lives but will still be able to go to the gym, go to work, get a latte, and post their disdain and disagreement with the government online. They will also have the choice to be vaccinated at any time, thus decreasing the risk of Covid for themselves. When we look at it, the comparisons just don’t add up.
Comparing what is happening to Nazi Germany and contrasting what is going on with the genocide of the Jewish people, and the slavery and segregation of African American whānau in the states, is like comparing apples with an all-terrain vehicle. They aren’t the same thing. In fact, for those who have expierenced these forms of oppression, and suffered under these regimes, the comparisons – I can only imagine – are extremally offensive.
For those of us who are pākehā, and also for those of us who identify as Christians, these sorts of comparisons only demonstrate that we have never truly expierenced genuine oppression before. Nor did this nation become less free, or less Just after the Government’s announcement. Injustice and oppression have always been a defining mark of this nation. Pākehā have just never expierenced it before. I will speak to this further in my next blog, but for now I want to leave you with this.
As we wrestle with this new reality we are in, let us reflect on the comparisons we make, and the consequences of such comparisons.
Already, there are faith leaders calling for riots and resistance in the streets. Because, if this government can be compared with Hitler, who oversaw a holocaust, then violent resistance might not only be justified, but some might also even call it necessary.
As people of faith, whether we agree with these measures or not, our voice should be a voice of unity, Love, and compassion. Calling our nation, and our society to another way, another path, even in the midst of disagreement.
Even, if you and I disagree with what we have discussed here, let us model another way.
A way that seeks to listen and understand each other’s perspective.
A way that seeks to respond to the concerns the person we disagree with outlines, and place their actions in the context of their understanding of the situation we find ourselves in.
Let us not misrepresent each other, naming each other Nazi’s, selfish, or stupid, simply because we do not share agreement on this incredibly intense issue.
Let us model that strong disagreement can exist, alongside respect and love for those we disagree with.
This moment is not an easy one.
Loving each other through it may just be harder still.
But, in the end, as we always say, only Love is the way.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.