How do we reconcile a deep belief in the right to peaceful protest with what we've seen in Wellington in the past week?
There have been signs talking about love but there has also been a swastika painted on a memorial. There have been students abused for wearing masks while walking past to school. There have been threats to kill. Some of the people there are directly linked to neo-Nazi groups and others normally campaign against gay marriage and women's rights.
I've been part of passionate protests over the years and share criticisms of Government, past and present, but this particular occupation has a few factors present that would be enough for me to walk away from, quickly without looking back.
I'd like to say I don't understand why the reasonable and genuinely caring people amongst those protesters haven't disavowed themselves of the violence being spoken. But I know the answer and it is more than falling down a rabbit hole of misinformation and manipulation. It relates to the tragedy that has grown in our country over recent decades – inequality.
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The scale of inequality we now experience fuels deep distrust and there are opportunists taking these cracks in community and wedging them open. They magnify pain and reinforce selfishness, because our society is becoming more a place of the haves and have-nots.
This protest may represent a tiny number of people on a percentage basis but it does provoke some sympathy, and not just from the very few unvaxxed remaining. However, it is misplaced in my view.
Once you are part of death threats, you've got a decision to make. These are not passing or isolated comments and possibly not idle threats. We have seen people die in America when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. And there are known connections between these groups.
I remember watching the insurrection in Washington just over a year ago and wondered why the police weren't being tougher. But, similar to here, I appreciate they don't want a riot or for more people to get hurt. However, it is somewhat bitter to compare how this protest has been treated with others, like last year's removal of four people occupying land at Waiheke Island protesting threats to penguins from a marina development.
And let's not gloss over the literal global pandemic going on and our Covid case numbers skyrocketing. These protesters are not wearing masks – I feel for the police given the likelihood of exposure to unvaccinated people. And for the supermarket, petrol station and bottle store workers all exposed too. It seems inevitable this protest will drive up Covid cases in Wellington.
Finally, to share a tweet from @faintingincoils that summarises my views: "Stop saying 'nobody wants pandemic restrictions' in an effort to appease the other side. I do. I want pandemic restrictions. Also, let's stop calling them 'restrictions' and call them 'sensible precautions you should take when there's a highly transmissible, deadly virus'."
Nicola Patrick is a mum of two boys, a Horizons councillor, leads Thrive Whanganui, is a Green Party member and has a science degree.