The reality of what occurred yesterday in Wellington is ugly.
Bricks thrown at police.
A driver threatening to ram their vehicle into a line of officers and onlookers.
A police officer dragged across the ground by protestors, their compatriots forming a line to prevent the officers colleagues from rescuing him, as acrowd gathered around and began kicking and beating the helpless officer on the ground.
Peace and Love.
The Wellington protest has made a mockery of those words.
How did we get here?
There will be many people this morning asking that question.
Already, the leading voices within the protest are seeking to distance themselves from complicity in what happened. And it’s important that even in this moment – especially in this moment – we don’t paint everyone with the same broad brush. The majority of protestors desired a peaceful movement, they wanted peace. The majority of people that supported the protest weren’t neo nazis, or alt right extremists. And yet, regardless of intention, this ended how it was always going to end.
In violence and chaos.
In this moment I think it is important (for all of us), to reflect on the manner our words, the rhetoric we support, the narratives we empower, have the power to develop flesh and move into our reality.
For those who have – for years – promoted the idea that journalists are working for the government to enslave and oppress our minds…
For those who have encouraged the fantasy that the Government is part of an elaborate world wide conspiracy to committ genocide through the vaccine and enslave humanity…
For those who leaned in, creating space for fear and paranoia to grow, giving credence to the stories of “Jacinda the socialist dictator”, who compared our government to Russia, who aligned their movement with Ukraine, who told “the people”, that “if we don’t fight now, if we don’t make a stand here, our future and our kids futures” will be lost.
If you supported, fed, encouraged this kōrero, you may never have picked up a brick, but your words ignited the feul that impelled it into the air.
But, there are two sides to this. The path of violence takes two feet to tread.
In these moments it’s easy to push people into a nice and tidy boxes, lump them in as a bunch nutters, and walk away feeling a false sense of moral superiority. And yet, we are all in this, bound together in an inescapable tapestry of mutuality.
Extremism grows on the fringe, it feeds off people’s feelings of exclusion and marginalization. For those who discarded relationships because they had disagreed with the health response, for those who used social media to shame, demean, harass people who were fearful of the vaccine, for those that othered, excluded, rejected, willfully misunderstood, the measure we did these things, is the same measure with which we must weigh our own culpability.
For when we turn from the path of Love, when we choose hate and bitterness, when we pick up the weapons of shame and exclusion, we provide the fuel that feeds the flames of paranoia, fear, and extremism.
And so here we are.
Today is a day for us to mourn.
Let us grieve, lamenting the steps we have taken that led us to this moment.
Let us reject the easy path of trying to push people into nice and neat little boxes.
Let us embrace complexity and contradiction.
What happened was ugly. And though today we grieve, through our grief, let us raise our eyes in the hope of glimpsing tomorrow.
For tomorrow is ours to make. Where we go from here is up to us. The decision to embrace or exclude is one you and I must choose.
The path of healing is not beyond our reach, and yet it will take courage to walk. Courage to acknowledge complexity and contradiction. To see the humanity of those we disagree with. To refuse to dehumanize people and spurn their pain.
The violence of yesterday, will define our future.
And yet, what that future looks like, is up to us.
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.
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