The Battle of Portaloo – Wellington, March 2022.

But first, a note: this may not make sense, as I’m in week two of being Officially Fucked Up with Covid. Let’s begin.

Aotearoa, and Pōneke in particular, are having a bit of a tidy up this morning, following the protests staged on Parliament lawn over the last three weeks. Yesterday I received a link to three streams on twitch.tv, from my brother;

‘Shit is kicking off in Wellington’,

Which indeed, it was. The police, after three weeks of standing, watching, waiting, moved in and removed the protesters, using force. It’s led to the usual angst over who the motivations and group identity of the protesters as everyone seeks to over-analyse a bunch of tired fuckwits setting fire to tents in a howling Wellington gale.

The responses are so predictable, but I’d make a few, highly contestable observations. The final accounting will be delineated according to good old fashioned racism. It will, in the final shake down, be the fault of Māori. Not entirely, of course – there’ll be some finger pointing at foreign influences, but the crass violent stuff? Guess who gets lumped with that?

Let’s be clear, I live in a racist country. No-one in their right mind would ever argue that Australia was not deeply, irretrievably racist. It is. But so is New Zealand. New Zealanders just do a better job of telling themselves they’re not.

Indeed, the subsequent chatter is part of a well attended project to upholster the protest in high minded, socially responsible, kindness. Standby for statements like, “we need to hold space for…” and “we need to consider what it means to be….”.

And of course, look closely at how not-racism is framed.

The jeunesse doree consume media laced with Māori words and have gaily incorporated a kind of New Age spiritualism into their everyday lives, expressed, quite naturally, through the idiom of hard core neoliberalism. Large corporate entities ‘lead the way’ to ‘radically include’ Māori ‘ways of doing and being’ into their commercial operations.

The New York Times expressing its horror at New Zealand’s lack of manners this morning

Here the New York Times wrings its pale, sclerotic hands over the creep of what they see as American-style dissent. Everyone sees their own motivations, prejudices and experiences reflected in these things. It’s a kind of Rorschach test.

A quick story; When I was about 8, I went to stay with my grandparents. My cousin lived with them – shifting kids around was pretty common in my family. So, me and my cousin, (who, I should mention, was the coolest person ever because she was almost three years older than me and extremely sophisticated by virtue of saucily wearing the F out of her white bubblegum jeans) were sitting in the back seat of grandma’s car, outside the 3 Guys, in Papatoetoe. We had the back windows cranked down, and were horsing around in the back seat. It was warm, sunny and a bit rainy, in that foetid Auckland kind of way, and this Pākehā guy walks up right beside the car. My cousin looks out the window at him, and he takes one look at her, and pale-face me, sitting on the other side of the back seat and says, “Fuckin Hori” and spits at her. He missed, and she just wound up the window and went back to giggling about whatever we were doing.

This wasn’t a million years ago, it was the late 1980s. And it was very, very common. If you didn’t see this shit growing up, you weren’t looking very hard. Or, it didn’t affect you and you could ignore it.

Let’s leave that there and just observe the predictability of the narrative around the end of the protest. I think I could predict the end date of the protest because about one week earlier hand-wringing Pākehā twitter started to say shit like this;

“I’m not at the protest but I’ve noticed that the white hippies/yoga mums/middle class women are leaving because the whole thing is getting too brown for them”.

And then, the absolute nail in the ‘send in the headkickers’ coffin – “Poor Māori are turning up because they’ve been brainwashed into doing the bidding of a protest movement they don’t know much about. It is mobilising their grievances for the purposes of the nasty middle class yoga mums”.

These ideas are so common – the idea that this is all the fault of white middle class NZ, who’re committed to their hobby politics (anti vaccination/wellness bullshit) right up until the point that things get more serious, at which point, they manipulate silly “brown” people to do their bidding, while they retire back to their bench-top oat grinders.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve heard triumphant social media claims about, ‘the guys at XX petrol station gave us our tank for free!’. Guess who gets free petrol?

And then, we get the Māori public-servant, professional cheerleaders too – anguished over their cousins and friends making cocks out of themselves, looking like ignorant rural bumpkins.

Of course, there’s a kernel of truth to all of these ideas, but the reality is a lot messier, and it’s very hard for me to not notice the overwhelming drive or purpose of these narratives – Māori are violent, and the violent end of the protest was about them.

Now I’m seeing bullshit about Māori ‘warriorness’ – which absolutely confirms it.

In the last few days the argument centred on whether Māori were unwitting dupes, or ‘warriors’ pushing their own sovereignty issues. It doesn’t matter either way, because the point of these arguments is to make the idea that the responsibility for the violent and extreme end of the protest lies with Māori. This becomes the underlying, unquestioned part of the narrative.

Here’s a slightly different take that might act as a prophylactic in the coming days;

The anti-mandate protest was kicked off by a loose coalition of wellness ‘yoga mums’, paranoid sovereign citizen delusionists, ordinary, privileged, mostly Pākehā people unaccustomed to being told what to do by the government and those who ‘just want it to go back to 2019’. I said mostly Pākehā for the simple reason that Māori have got a pretty clear idea about what would happen if a bunch of them turned up and started camping on Parliament’s front lawn. As the camp became more established, and the police held off, other groups, those who would usually feel less able to march around in front of the police swearing at them, turned up.

Then, two weeks in, the inevitable happened – the early, un-vaccinated protestors had the finger of predictability inserted up them. A pandemic of “radiation sickness” (Covid) spread through the camp and hollowed out the initial group, leaving those later arrivals in their place. Emboldened, some of the Māori protesters called for others to bolster the ranks, much to the relief of the politicians, who’d been waiting until the crowd was sufficiently brown enough to send in the head kickers.

And now, a small but influential group of self aggrandising Māori carpet-baggers will seek to talk up the role of Māori in the protest, as a means to feathering their own nest, while the rest of Pākehā NZ get on with telling themselves that the protest was nice except for the crazies in the beginning and that the messy ending was mostly a (brown) ‘gang thing’. It also conveniently obviates the need to call this a political protest. It’s most politics, it’s just crazy people and Māori.

People often look to make sophisticated explanations about events like this, partly, I think, because they like to feel like they’re the authors of them -whoever tells you what is going on has some power over it all, a high fungible form of capital in the era of late-capitalism.

But the reality is a lot more banal. The holy trinity of race, sex and class is usually a perfectly serviceable explanation, if only people care to answer one question – are we racist?

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