Reaction to freedom protests show our relationship with state power is changing – and not for the better
This week we’re publishing two reflections from writers from Oceania. The second is a powerful analysis of events in New Zealand originally published on The Looking Glass on 2 March 2022 and republished by Holding The Line.
This morning state force is being brought to bear on peaceful protesters at parliament grounds, with the apparent sanction of the middle class liberal laptop set.
Hundreds of police and riot police, many with red tape over their badge numbers according to Twitter reports (update: it’s now understood the tape was not covering badges and was likely used to differentiate between brigades), are working to clear the freedom camp at parliament as I write.
A three week media campaign to demonise and mislabel the people at parliament as right wing extremists, loonies, unwashed ferals has been largely successful. It wobbled for a moment as some in the media began to question the validity of police reports on the protesters behaviour, but after doubling down it appears to have convinced middle New Zealand of the ‘filth’ status of protesters.
New Zealand has probably never been more divided than at this very moment.
One post on facebook yesterday opined: “For any friends and family who have been affected by conspiracy theories and misinformation, I hope you’ve taken an honest look at why you’ve been susceptible to these in the first place – take a breath, seek some help. I truly hope we can connect again on the other side. For those of you who’ve been cooking for the protesters and washing their clothes, it’s time to play ‘go home, stay home’. For anyone else – there’s this petition.”
The post included a link to a petition to ‘end the protest’.
My own heart is heavy, as are those of many other Kiwis who can’t believe this is happening in our country, with the support of so many former friends and family – supposed liberals.
Here is a press release from the various groups spearheading the protest condemning this the police activity on 2 March.
Let’s hope it does not turn out to be our ‘darkest day’, but the Government has clearly decided to follow Canada’s lead.
In February Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau successfully brought the power of the state down upon peaceful democratic protest by the implementing emergency law – drafted for use against terrorists – and the use of economic sanctions against them.
It was crickets from our Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, however, who failed to condemn or even mention it. Now it’s clear why she stayed silent.
This ought to raise alarm bells about the state of our democracy because what is happening here, and in Canada, is a complete departure from core liberal values. Until recently we believed these to be enshrined in Constitutions and Bills of Rights, which seem to have been rather useless in the face of covid’s emergency legislation.
Until the end of February, when the Supreme Court ruled the vaccine mandate for police and military was illegal, the courts did not uphold our rights in a number of similar cases. Is it the power of protest that swung the pendulum finally?
Either way, it was marvelous to see the courts finally side with the people and I hope to see this continue. But it looks like Ardern has chosen to double down on her authoritarianism rather than cede any credit to the protesters.
New Zealand is awash with Illiberal liberals
But this hasn’t come out of nowhere.
We have all noticed the increasingly stifled ability to publicly debate any of these changes, the politicisation of people’s private medical choices, and a general nastiness and intolerance from the punditry and media towards people who want to uphold the values of free speech, individual autonomy and democratic due process.
The fact that half the country believes the protesters at parliament are neo-Nazis illustrates this clearly, with many people reveling in and egging on state force towards them.
The attitude by at least some of the public towards those who don’t want the jab is bigoted and abusive. We would have to be blind not see that this has been relentlessly encouraged by both our leaders and the legacy media. There is a sense that many people are enjoying the freedom to abuse and bully this minority with apparent public sanction.
At the end of February the Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt finally met with leaders from the protest and other groups and individuals critical of the Government’s undemocratic covid response. He subsequently put out a statement, which acknowledged these devastating harms.
“The job given to the Human Rights Commission, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, by Parliament is to listen, conciliate, educate and advance human rights and responsibilities for all.
“It’s clear that the protesters who I have met with have very real stories of loss and suffering. They feel broken and discarded due to the impact of Covid-19 health measures on their lives.
“These are people who have told us they have lost loved ones, who say they have suffered severe side-effects of vaccination and lost jobs.
“I have a duty to listen to their concerns to understand how their human rights have been impacted,” Hunt said.
This hopeful glimmer that there may be life yet in our democratic organs (frankly far too little too late), was immediately pounced upon by one influential ‘liberal’ pundit.
This from lobbyist Neale Jones, former adviser to Jacinda Ardern.
The left’s drift away from liberalism
Twenty years ago, the left cared about quite different things. Our concerns were the advancement of neo-liberal and globalist policies that preyed upon the developing world, the rights of indigenous people, and other vulnerable minorities.
We were appalled at the apartheid policies in Palestine (still are), supported the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, and protested against the World Trade Organisation and World Bank for their predatory prying open of third world economies to be raped and pillaged by multinational corporations. We were against regime change wars. But we firmly believed in civil liberties, freedom of speech, bodily autonomy – certainly the right to protest.
The left today bears little resemblance. Instead it champions the politicisation of everything, toxic cancel culture and increasing authoritarianism and censorship.
It seems to me, at least, that these bullying tendencies are more in line with fascistic ideals, than anything to do with liberalism. Although, I’m sure many ‘liberals’ would be horrified to realise it.
Canadian writer Julius Ruechel said last year in a brilliant essay, “Those in charge have long since signaled that they have no intention of returning to a liberal democracy founded on the recognition of inalienable individual rights and freedoms. If data were the ingredient required to confront them, they would have folded long ago. They are impervious to data. This isn’t about a virus. This is a psychological game and it’s all about power and control.”
What is fascism, and who are those exhibiting fascist characteristics?
The left throws the term fascism around a lot. I was called a fascist for attending the anti-mandate, pro-freedom protest at parliament, which is nonsensical. Here’s why.
Fascism is a denial of the individual in favour of the social whole, a total subordination of the individual to the state – the direct opposite of liberalism. And really the opposite of what the protesters are working for.
Another characteristic of fascism is a devaluation of intellectual life, in favour of emotions that drive political activism and a rejection of traditional moral principles such as caring, sympathy and compassion in favour of loyalty, duty and self-sacrifice. The protesters have a far more nuanced take on the events of the last two years than Guardian or Spinoff readers do and they are interested in dialogue and debate, where the latter are not.
Fascism favours a strong and unquestionable leader, and considers rule by elites as both natural and desirable. Fascism courts big business with its concept of corporatism – Benito Mussolini said something along the lines of fascism being a merger of state and corporate power – although 1940s corporatism probably bears little resemblance to today’s globalised version.
Fascism relies on propaganda, the kind that inverts meaning to create a kind of Orwellian un-reality. Anti-corruption is corruption for example; inconvenient information become ‘misinformation’. And in the topsy-turvy world of the 2020s, freedom fighters become ‘fascists’.
Fascist regimes monopolise the tools of mass communication – radio, tv, cinema and now the internet – to ensure only politically correct views are expressed. Censorship is normalised.
To mobilise popular support for the regime, out groups are created, ‘us and them’ to promote the idea that the dominant group are victims. For example, men are the victims of women, whites are the victims of blacks, the vaccinated are victims of the unvaccinated, Wellingtonians are the victims of protesters – or whatever serves the regime at the time.
Fascism is totalitarian in nature, because it seeks all-encompassing political control over the private lives of individuals. Just think about how many people told their family members they had to spend Christmas alone last year for the crime of being unvaccinated.
Another pillar of fascism is widespread surveillance and a bureaucratic apparatus to diligently collect information. What do people suppose the vaccine passes and tracer apps, are? What do they suppose centralised digital currencies will be used for when they are invariably introduced (the Reserve Bank is preparing for this now)?.
Essentially the protesters want the Government to get out of their lives, put an end to its overreach and to reassert their individual rights. Nothing could be less fascistic.
A glimpse into the near future
Consider what Trudeau has just done, with zero condemnation from the global leaders of the West. He gave himself the power to freeze people’s bank accounts, cancel their insurance and fine anyone involved in the trucker convoy protests, or who supported them in any way. Perhaps this is a blessing, because he gave an all too real window into what the ‘new normal’ has in store if we don’t stop it.
This is what political satirist and writer C.J Hopkins calls ‘new normal fascism’. He makes the point that the current form taking the world by storm is not like the racialised version Hitler employed, but is rooted in global capitalism. It is the inevitable end point of globalisation, the machine doing what the machine does.
Before Trudeau suddenly walked back his emergency powers just two days after parliament approved them (starting a bank run isn’t great politics), saying the measures were no longer needed, the ‘new normals’ were for a short time cheering Trudeau on. Why? Because he was dealing to a bunch of ‘anti-vax, white supremist, misogynist insurrectionists’.
Just like Ardern is being cheered on for refusing to speak with the ‘fascists antivaxxers’ at parliament.
We need to talk
But here is the thing, in democracies we talk things out. That is part of the social contract, as is the right to protest.
Since Canada and New Zealand are practically mirroring one another’s current politics, take a listen to this speech to the Canadian senate by Senator Donald Plett.https://www.youtube.com/embed/YIZO3OhqCUY?feature=oembed
The senator accused Trudeau of stoking the flames of division and admonished him for not speaking directly to protesters but “speaking down” to them and characterising them as Nazis.
We haven’t yet heard anything this sane and reasonable from a serving New Zealand politician, but we can live in hope.
Now, I’m not asserting that we have gone “full blown fascist” yet, but I think democracy is in a very dangerous place.
In this compelling discussion between Canadian ethicist Dr. Julie Ponesse (she taught at Ontario’s Huron University College for 20 years and was placed on leave and banned from accessing campus due to the vaccine mandate) and Laurier University professor David M. Haskell, he comments:
“Whenever society gets to this place, from an historical perspective, you don’t get out of it … we’re just on the tip. We’re not full blown totalitarian, we’re not full blown authoritarian. But we definitely are where other countries were just prior to going full blown authoritarian. When you lose the ability to dialogue and to have competing ideas, you are reduced to competing in other ways, and that is ugly.”
What is happening right now on Parliament grounds is ugly. And we must not forget the Government’s outright refusal to dialogue with the protesters ahead of today, even when a third party mediator was put forth as an option.
For those genuinely interested in understanding both sides of this story, please inform yourself, the media will not do that for you.
On the Voices for Freedom telegram channel there are numerous ‘voices from parliament’, videos in which protesters explain who they are why they have joined the camp. Similarly, on Liz Gunn’s Free NZ Odysee page.