A day of protests and babies

he weather forecast had been ominous. But it was the perfect winter day – the sky was blue, the sun was shining, the sort of day that they made up the slogan ‘You can’t beat Wellington on a good day’ for. And I was going to protest. I had a busy protesting schedule. Youth rates at midday and then slutwalk at 2pm (in New Zealand we got rid of some but not all age discrimination in minimum pay rates a few years back. The current government is threatening to reverse these changes.)

The youth rates demo was 25 people with banners and a megaphone – theoretically we were outside the National Party Headquarters, but actually we were down the road a bit, which didn’t matter, because it was a Saturday, so not many of them would have been there either. A perfectly respectable way of demo-ing, but not sustainable for very long.

But I didn’t have to spend any of my time concentrating on demo-ing, because I saw a friend I hadn’t seen for ages, and he had his baby with him. “I’m here for you” I tell the baby. The baby responded by dropping a rattle and making sure gravity was working.

2 4 6 8

No More Youth Rates

“Technically, the fact that there isn’t a minimum wage for those under the age of 16 isn’t a youth rate – it’s a lack of rate.” Pedantry over slogans written around bad rhymes and worse – it’s my favourite.

I think fighting youth rates, and demanding the same minimum wage protection for under 16s that over 16s have, is incredibly important, and there’s nothing wrong with hastily called demos (I have organised enough of them in my time). But hastily organised demos are not a substitute for that fight, or even a beginning – actual fight back needs organising, not just calling together the same two dozen people to stand outside Unity Books.

The demo was mercifully short, leaving plenty of time for a between demos coffee (or ginger beer in my case – I’m not a coffee fan). We talked a bit about slut-walk – because one of the people there had never heard of it.

I had resolved to go, but the Close Up piece on Friday night had nearly made me change my mind. I’m going to leave my thoughts about the problem of ‘slutwalk’ as an idea for another post. But I knew, ultimately, that I had to go. As this report of two demos in one day demonstrates – I go to demos. I think standing collectively with people who are advancing a cause you agree with is important enough to over-ride any non-monumental disagreement. I went along to a CTU budget day rally where Phil Goff was speaking – the finer nuances of the politics of rape, bodies, gender, sexuality, dress and good sound bites were not going to keep me away from ‘slutwalk’.

I walked up Courtney Place and down Tory St, quite astonished at the wonders of the sun. Would Slutwalk be big? One of my friends had thought over a thousand. I sort of thought he was right, but didn’t want to be disappointed.

I wasn’t disappointed. When I got there, the not-yet-march was spread out along several different paths – so it was multi-pronged and hard to guess at size, but it was big. I saw so many people I knew from areas of my life besides trouble-making. My ex-next door neighbour, and her no longer tiny children, someone who I’d met at a friend’s wedding. And, most exhilerating for someone who makes a habit of going on protests, there were so many people I didn’t know.

Then I saw Strypey.

I had made a mental list of men who shouldn’t be there. He hadn’t been on my list, but he should have been. I know little about how he has treated women, but I do know how he treat rapists. I’ve known him defend multiple rapists and abusive men. I’ve seen him criticise survivors of intimate abuse and those who stood with them. I couldn’t believe a man who was so open about doubting women’s accounts of rape would dare come to this event.

I saw some people I knew, got distracted, spent some more time being impressed at the size and adorableness of babies. And then the march was off.

I made my way to the front to do a head a head count (at this point it’s become a compulsion) – and it was a fab march for counting – long and not too wide. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to count everyone. I counted groups of ten up to 100, and used that first hundred to count out blocks of a hundred down the march. Not 100% reliable, but better than journalists “make up a random number about half of what it actually is.” I reckon there were about 1,200 people on that march, and it was beautiful.

Then, just as I stopped counting, I saw Strypey again. I walked up to him and said “I don’t think you should be here. The way you have acted as a rapist apologist, and defended abusive men. I can’t believe you would come along to something like this. I don’t think you should be here.” As I said this I remembered the time his bullshit discussion of lying women had driven people out of the room. He didn’t leave, just said “I appreciate your point of view.” But I was so glad that I’d said it.

It was quite literally a slut ‘walk’ – as the route was pretty inaccessible for those with buggies or in wheelchairs (and possibly rollerskates – although it wouldn’t surprise me if regular roller skaters have less problems with stairs than I do). The march went over the city to sea bridge, and while there were ramps it followed the steps. Then on top of that the council was doing some works on the other side of the bridge which blocked the ramp alternative to the last lot of steps. Obviously any form of march is inaccessible to many people, but steps make things inaccessible for people. Those with buggies, in wheel-chairs, or with other problems with steps had to peel off from the main group and take the bits with steps on their own (or in a small posse). In a demo that was about collective solidarity, I thought this was a real shame (an organiser’s perspective is here).

The rally was up on the bridge over civic square. I heard part of the first speech, (if I inherit vast sums of money from an eccentric relative whose existence I wasn’t previously aware of I’m going to buy a really good sound system and the generator to power it and provide it free for Wellington demos*) but then I went to meet a friend and after that I wasn’t somewhere I could hear the speeches. Except Brooklynne Kennedy – whose speech was both audible and amazing.

As I didn’t hear the speeches I don’t know if anyone mentioned (or anyone knew) that the City to Sea Bridge, the very ground we were standing on, was designed by a rapist. To me that’s the most important message, that rapists are not a scary other group of men, they’re just men who have listened to the many messages in our society that they shouldn’t take consent seriously and they’re everywhere. And while I can understand why a woman brought a placard “rapists R Freaks”, to me the opposite message important, rapists aren’t freaks, they’re the people you know, so believe people when they say they’ve been sexually violated.

It was an amazing day. Two of my friends have just had daughters, and the day felt like a promise to them, and all the kids I saw that day – a promise that said “we’ll keep on fighting. We know this world isn’t good enough. We want it to be better for you.”

* The demo of October the 28th 2007, protesting against the raids and demanding bail would have always been memorable for me. But it was the most captivating rally I’ve ever been part of, partly because the speakers and singers were amazing, but that would have been meaningless if the sound system hadn’t meant that you could hear every word.

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