Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Our most valuable asset is the right to protest

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Protesters have turned the world upside down this year. Photo / AP
Protesters have turned the world upside down this year. Photo / AP

Protesters of the world take a bow. Time magazine, that international publication of record, salutes you as their Person of the Year.

When Time celebrates street radicals fighting against their ruling classes, you know the world has been turned upside down.

For those of us in this country who take to the streets to draw attention to a cause or an injustice, whether it's union workers fighting for a living wage, Maori opposing seabed and foreshore confiscation, environmentalists against mining, or social justice campaigners marching in solidarity with some overseas oppressed people, it is high honour indeed that such activity is recognised as a legitimate and effective role outside the usual power structures.

Not since the anti-nuclear campaign and the anti-Springbok rugby tour protest in the 1980s have we seen mass street movements that changed our nation by drawing attention to injustices.

Those who continue this noble tradition are accustomed to being abused and marginalised. It seems New Zealanders have no trouble being inspired by a lone Chinese shopper in 1989 defiantly standing in the pathway of a military tank. Yet when most of us see Kiwis protesting in support of some good cause in our own neighbourhoods, we can't even be bothered tooting our car horns as we drive past, let alone joining in.

Ah, if only I had a dollar for every moron who thought they were being witty yelling out for us to "get a job".

For years it seemed the Earth's population had bought the New World Order mantra that there was nothing you could do as an individual to change the status quo.

Street protesting became a waste of time. If you were lucky, you could cast a vote to elect people who - the day after the election - promptly ignored your concerns. Maybe that's why a million New Zealanders didn't bother to vote this year.

But something in the cosmos must have affected people in the rest of the world. Protesting is back in vogue as a legitimate and effective way to not only change the discourse in a country, but even to overthrow authoritarian regimes everywhere.

This year it started in North Africa. Now it has spread to the Middle East, Russia, Europe and the United States. Protesters are marching in their millions and dying in their thousands fighting against oppression and injustice.

In New Zealand, our protest culture has been on hold. But here's a warning to Prime Minister John Key: in the next few months, it's our turn to step up.

He believes, with the backing of the financial and media elites, that National's electoral victory gives him a mandate to sell off our profitable assets. He's wrong. Two out of three New Zealanders oppose that. He's on an ideological mission to flick off assets to make the wealthy even richer without doing an ounce of work.

If there was ever a time for Kiwis to join with Time's people of the year, it is now.

We couldn't stop these asset sales at the ballot box last month, but we sure can do it by protesting in the streets.

Democracy isn't just about ticking a bit of paper every three years. We all know friends who voted National who are opposed to asset sales. I say to them and others who oppose selling our children's future that they should join a national movement of protest against these sales.

A million people sat at home on election day and allowed a Government to be elected that will flick away our birthright. Those people who feel voting is beneath them can now prove they are worthy citizens, step up and become active members of the protest movement.

If they can't be bothered and would rather stay home watching the inspiring footage of protesters in other countries putting their lives on the line, they should turn their TVs off. They aren't worthy.

- Herald on Sunday

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