It has been an amazing ‘Week of Peace’ action here in Auckland. The things that we have achieved collectively during this campaign – culminating this week – will go a long way towards building a stronger and more focused peace movement.
One of our main goals at Auckland Peace Action is to “Build solidarity across movements by recognising the interconnected and disastrous consequences of war, colonialism and capitalism for the majority of people in NZ and the world.”
The presence of a huge number of allies at our blockade of the arms expo on Wednesday demonstrates the possibilities of combining our power to tackle the root causes of modern warfare: the use of extreme violence by those who hold power to protect and enhance their power and to steal the resources of the powerless.
Friends and comrades from the Pacific Panthers, No Pride in Prisons, Auckland Action Against Poverty, the Student Housing Action Group, Save Our Homes, Peace Action Wellington, the Quakers, Pax Christi, Racial Equity Aotearoa, Asians for Tino Rangatiratanga, the Health Sector Workers’ Network, Palestine Solidarity Network, West Papua Action Auckland, union members, climate activists, environmentalists, faith-based activists, and many, many other groups and individuals stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the arms dealers on Wednesday and disrupted the expo at significant cost to the organizers. People from all of these movements put their bodies on the line, and many suffered significant and repeated assaults by police and private security guards throughout the day, in order to spoil this event.
And we did it.
By the NZ Defence Industry’s own accounting, at least 350 of the 550 expected guests could not get into the conference. By our own accounting, there were fewer than 130 who actually got in. That represents a very real economic cost to those companies that had planned to attend the Expo. The costs are not just the direct cost of the conference, the custom-made display stalls, the person-hours, travel or accommodation, but the opportunity costs of lost deals with the big boys, “the primes” – that is the major weapons companies that will get the big contracts to build new warships and weapons systems. We made a real, albeit small, dent in the global military-industrial complex.
The spontaneous joy of the dance party at the end of the day was the best evidence that everyone who had blockaded long and hard all day knew we made that dent, and felt really, really good about it.
Karanga against appropriation
One of the most powerful parts of the Week of Peace was the Karanga Tangaroa, an event hosted by the Pacific Panthers at Mission Bay on Thursday morning. The sky grew dark grey and a bitter rain fell as a circle of wahine toa, powerful women, called out to Tangaroa, the god of the sea, to reclaim him from the grip of the military.
The NZ Navy chose to call its war preparation exercises, “Operation Mahi Tangaroa” e.g. “Operation Sea Work.”
The challenge brought by these people against the appropriation of the name Tangaroa has initiated a conversation by and about Māori and and their relationship to the military; it has created a rupture in the military’s license to utilise the language and culture of Māori. That conversation – and the inherent challenge in it – will carry on. So, too, will the aspirations of many of the participants to strengthen the connections with Pacific brothers and sisters who are raging against violent colonialism and militarism in their island nations
Unsurprisingly, the karanga event itself was a target of the state’s violence, or at least the overt threat of it. As a group of mostly women stood on the beach, a police helicopter hovered overhead watching, and uniformed officers – some wearing vests stenciled with the politely ominous name of “Police Liaison” (as if that somehow made them less than police) – assembled around the group. As the call and kōrero continued, the police presence mounted, a paddy wagon arrived and the helicopter circled.
Ostensibly, this was because the police wanted to talk to someone in attendance about the blockade the day before. The police sent no less than 13 police officers and continuously deployed a police helicopter in order to talk to someone that they later decided not to charge with any offence whatsoever.
Utter overkill? Yes. Surprised? No.
We all know and hear the statistics about institutional police racism: this was but one small scene showcasing the ordinary lived experience of Māori in dealing with the police. It must serve as a stark wake up call for anyone who thinks of themselves as a peace activist but who does not recognise the urgency of ending the systemic violence of New Zealand’s own police towards our indigenous people.
USS Go Home Stay Home
The re-scheduled Saturday Peace Flotilla sailed against a massive wave of continuous state propaganda extolling military virtue. Some of the warships and naval vessels were deployed to respond to the Kaikoura earthquake. Such disaster response is what the NZ Navy and other armed forces love to publicise. It was the role of the Peace Flotilla to remind people that massively-armed navies, some nuclear-armed, are involved in a great deal more disaster creation than disaster relief.
The USS Go Home Stay Home, a DIY submarine, took to the waves on Saturday in opposition to US bombing and wars around the planet. The US destroyer Sampson that is in NZ waters is armed with four types of missiles, including 96 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.
The NZ Navy, too, has a blemished history. In recent years it has been deployed to the Persian Gulf where the frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha joined the escort of US warships to their illegal invasion of Iraq. They boarded and inspected ships in the Gulf under the US-mandated “Operation Enduring Freedom”; apparently on the assumption that US military domination gave the NZ Navy the right to intercept and inspect the private property of shippers on the other side of the globe.
The NZ Defence Force will be the first to tell you that their core purpose is fighting wars. They prepare and train for that purpose 24/7. While it is true that the military does some good work, it is not necessary that humanitarian aid or disaster relief arrives armed with cruise missiles or machine guns; furthermore, if we didn’t spend vast quantities of money on preparing for war, we could use the money to do much more meaningful, beneficial work.
“Peace through Justice,” was Marama Davidson’s call at the karanga. It sums up where we need to go from here with the peace movement.
It is not a new call out, but an affirmation that the struggle for peace is not about being nice to each other. It is about access to power and resources – who has them and who doesn’t. It is about reconfiguring the world where people and communities are empowered and in charge of their resources and well-being. Put simply, it is about what is just. That doesn’t happen without a struggle – a big struggle – so we should settle in for the long haul, get to know each other, care for each other and build our movements to be resilient against the inevitable blowback from organised violence.
Inspiration comes from so many young people who already see that – they know that you can’t build peace in a society founded upon inequality, injustice and privilege. They see the intersections of oppression and the assemblages of privilege that must be dismantled.
There have been numerous conversations and, hopefully, much reflection by people this week about the roles of the military and police in our society, roles that are increasingly intertwined. The idea of disbanding the military or closing the prisons may seem to some like naïve idealism. These ideas are considerably more realistic than continuing to participate in the for-profit global murder crusade known as the “War on Terrorism” and continuing to build vast new for-profit human warehouses for our indigenous people. This way of life is not sustainable. We cannot go on like this.
We have got to take action, and we have got to commit ourselves to sustained and systematic organised political action; that work is best led and directed by those most directly affected by war and institutional violence, using tactics of non-violent direct action.
We can make revolution. We can make the world what we want it to be.
Roll on 2017: the YEAR of PEACE ACTION.