Martine Rolls: Protest rally tends to fall flat

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Growing up in the late'80s, my friends and I protested against everything.

We felt strongly about all the injustice in the world, but also thought it was great fun just to get together and be against something.

We were wearing Dr Martens with neon laces, shabby leather jackets from the flea market, ripped and badly bleached denim, and we were proud of our crazy haircuts.

I remember joining protests against racism, against poverty, against the Berlin Wall and the Cold War, and other issues that I cannot remember now, but it was important enough to take to the streets for.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

With the exceptions of a few organised and usually peaceful demonstrations, many of today's protests take place on the internet.

The big social networks Facebook and Twitter in particular create a good platform. That's where people go when they don't agree with something, from the safety of their couch or office chair.

Vent your opinions, whatever they are, and plenty of people will "like" and "follow" you.

One of the first people I started following on Twitter was British comedian Stephen Fry, who is living in an apartment in Wellington while filming The Hobbit. Fry is a prolific tweeter and I am just one of the 3,980,594 followers of www.twitter.com/stephenfry.

 

Since staying in New Zealand, Fry has praised the lattes our baristas make and the wonderful scenery, but he has also slammed the weather and, of course, our slow broadband. When Fry used Twitter on February 20 to call on Kiwis to demand better broadband service, it was big news.

"[New Zealand] has probably the worst broadband I've ever encountered. Turns itself off, slows to a crawl. Pathetic," he wrote.

I couldn't agree more and for someone in my line of work, there is little else more frustrating than a slow internet connection.

I've got high-speed broadband, or so my provider says. But on my machine at home, it takes forever for a video or high-resolution photo to load. I won't even try to get TV on demand. The connection at my place is shocking, yet I pay top dollar.

To make things worse, the cell phone reception at my house is rubbish, too, and my Freeview freezes up as soon as the weather gets a bit wild.

Fibre-optics will make things better. It'll speed up my broadband and help keep my blood pressure down. I'm sure it will make things more productive but in the meantime, I am still waiting. Also, I'm worried what the price tag will be when superfast internet finally does roll out in my neighbourhood.

Faster broadband, yes, we should demand it. But at the moment, the people of Tauranga are more concerned about the rising water rates. As published on the front page of yesterday's paper, there are two Facebook pages rallying support to protest against the rising cost of water in Tauranga.

People have been quick to comment on bayofplentytimes.co.nz and on both of these Facebook pages. They accuse the council of mismanaging rates, and ask what would happen if people would refuse to pay.

"Total red herring. It's about council taxes and rates, not water usage", says jedmeister who is one of the regular commenters on bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

"This so-called ring fencing is purely an artificial construct dreamed up by the council. Had water taxes been higher than required, the surplus would have been diverted into the council coffers. It certainly would not have been returned to ratepayers.

"The real problem is the council itself - their spending is out of control as evidenced by double digit rate rises and failure to control debt. Certainly it seems council employees and contractors are richly remunerated," he says.

Another person who often leaves comments, the - 4th - estate, says: "I think this Council needs to be shown who's actually in charge. I can see a massed demonstration in Red Square and Mr Crosby being dragged from his offices to face the mob ...

"It's time those in council understood that we've had enough of the endless increases in rates and other charges - try doing more with less like the rest of us! I can't wait to see what Nick Smith's new legislation has in store for the likes of TCC ... your freewheeling big spending days are numbered! It's our water it's our network it's actually our council so stop raiding our wallets!"

The reaction so far from Tauranga City Council to this public outrage? Not a lot.

Wouldn't it be great if online protests like this would actually make a difference?

A protest online is a bit like a petition, I guess. Thousands of signatures and still nothing happens. At least it grabs the attention. As long as it is big and important enough, or quirky, the media will report.

Reality is, though, that people will move on to the next big thing before the paint is dry. We are simply too used to putting up with whatever it is that the decision-makers have decided.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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