I had forgotten about the farmers' protest last Friday until I was driving down Featherston St and got stuck in a jam that was longer than the usual two sets of red lights.
I thought it was an accident, so I turned left at the fruit shop and ducked in behind Mitre 10 Mega, past Breakers and out on to Rangitikei St where I was confronted by wall-to-wall tractors, trucks and utes.
Being a semi-socialist, I do not mind a good protest and I respect everyone's rights to voice their opinion. The great thing about protests in Aotearoa is they usually end with the participants patting themselves on the back and merging back into the general population while ordering a flat white from the closest cafe. In many countries protests end with bricks through shop windows and a baton charge by the heavily armoured thin blue line.
Being a born-and-bred city slicker, I didn't really have much empathy for the people who are the backbone of our economy and the suppliers of my Sunday roast, the farmers. So, I asked a farmer friend what it was all about.
Farmers feel they are the victims of a bureaucracy that does not respect their contribution to our economy and our society. They are asked to do reports, consents and planning that their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents could not even conceive of, and were not equipped to do.
Farmers feel they are being unfairly blamed for the degradation of our waterways and our land, that cities create more negative environmental issues and are not being asked to make sacrifices like they are.
Having to pay an extra $3000 for their new ute, that pine trees can be a better option than sheep, and not being allowed to graze their own cows in their own paddocks when it is too wet, are the issues that got their hackles up.
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All these pieces of legislation that our rural comrades are complaining about are designed to slow down climate change and/or water degradation. It was ironic that while some were protesting, other farmers were fleeing their first, second or third "once-in-a-century" floods.
The issues don't appear to be economic as the cost of a new ute has no effect on someone unable to afford one and we don't hear about farmers walking off their farms anymore.
It sounds to me like the real issues are communication and empathy. Farmers are stoic creatures, used to less talk and more work, battling the weather and the angry bull in the bottom paddock. They don't want to battle paperwork as well. The massive increase in depression among our gumboot-wearing whānau is an indication we need to show them love and understanding.
Let's not make this an "us and them" situation depending on our postcodes. Let's get together and acknowledge that climate change is happening, and we have to make our water clean. But we also have to keep our rural people mentally strong, as they keep our economy ticking over with the loss of our other big overseas exchange earner, tourism.
Next time you see a cow cockie, tell them you appreciate them and all the work they are doing to make our water and air cleaner. Ask them how you can help as we are all in the same waka.
The only constant is change.
• Dave Mollard is a Palmerston North community worker and social commentator.