It’s hard to write about my experiences of blockading the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA) 2017 forum at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. I think it’s because I’m showing signs of grieving – I’m exhausted, I cry unexpectedly and it feels like I’m yearning for something.
But why would I be grieving?
My guess is I’m in the process of saying goodbye to the world-view that I once knew. The world in which police were there to protect me, a place where people didn’t really, surely, enjoy making money from dealing in weapons of mass destruction and full of people who didn’t mind taking an extra ten minutes to get to work if it meant supporting a peaceful protest.
It was an early start on Tuesday for us and our travelling buddies from ROCC and SOUL. The aim was to meet up with all the other protesters at 6.30am and start obstructing delegates from entering Westpac Stadium. We felt prepared as we had attended the excellent non-violent training and had been a supportive presence at the blockade last year in Auckland. But the day was harder to handle than I had imagined.
The police violence against us escalated early on and was fierce throughout the day. A friend was arrested within a few hours after being picked up and dropped on his head by police. He was not aggressive, he was simply there. He was released with a pre-charge warning but is still suffering from slight concussion three days later.
Personally, I was terrified for most of the day. The wall of police walking towards us shouting MOVE, MOVE, MOVE as I sat cross-legged, linking arms with my friends I realised my privilege had protected me from so much in my life. However, this was the day that I would be pushed over, grabbed and yelled at by the police. I couldn’t reconcile why ‘our’ police force were treating us so badly while escorting delegates, the arms dealers, into the venue. I still can’t.
Read more about the ‘War Expo’ here but to give you an idea, the main sponsor of the event is Lockheed Martin, a company that profits from supplying nuclear weapons and other weapons used in warfare.
As I sat behind a line of police and watched the delegates file into the venue from their bus, I tried to see them as people. Maybe some of them were parents? I yelled not very clever things at them, which were almost comical , ‘Take the day off’, ‘Just go to the beach’ and ‘Ring your kids’. Sometimes I joined the other chants, ‘Army of the rich, enemy of the poor’.
More disturbing than the police kicking me as I sat there, was seeing those delegates laugh with one another as they walked past us. This was a joke to them. It was funny that people were risking arrest and harm to stop the profiteering and proliferation of weapons and war.
You see our government allows this madness to happen. The police are protecting those who are making warfare a profitable business. It was up to us to stop this event from taking place.
As I stood in front of a bus of delegates in my clergy collar I wondered if the delegates just felt inconvenienced. I was praying that they would feel challenged to think about how their actions affect others in war zones around the world.
I know for a fact that many office workers felt very inconvenienced. Some stated that they supported our cause but made it very clear, by yelling at us, how angry they were that they would be late for work today. Why is it so hard to see the big picture? I know I struggle sometimes too.
What I do know is that it is easier to put your beliefs/faith into action when you are supported. The blockade was a real mix of people from all over the country and we all came together for one purpose – to stop this War Expo. The sense of solidarity was overwhelming. The people we have connected with are inspiring. The leadership of Peace Action Wellington and Auckland Peace Action enabled us, ordinary people, to stand up together against a war machine that before, seemed too big to take on.
We woke up the next day, sore and bruised but happy. We seriously disrupted this event. Sleeping Marae style in the Catholic Workers House opposite the University I turned to Alan and simply said, ‘I’m glad it’s today’. Yes, I’m grieving for a world that possibly never existed but I am also grateful that I took part in this direct action. I have no regrets. After all, what would Jesus do?
Don’t be passive, get active. If you want to talk through getting involved in direct action like this – get in touch.