Tuesday, May 11, 2004
I arrived at the station and joined the crowd hanging out around parliament. As it happened the battery on my camera ran out well before the whole march arrived (there were plenty of other photographers anyway) but I still have photos where the park in front of parliament looks full. In the end it was overflowing - there was no indication of what the police like to call "incidents" but my sympathy goes out to whoever has to tidy up the lawns and hedges.
It was big. The estimated numbers I've heard, compared to my amateurish guesstimates, vary from the high to the ridiculously high, but it was big. There was that community-mindedness you get on marches, knowing that a decent number of people agree with you about something, though in this case it was closer to town-the-size-of-Te-Awamutu mindedness. It's difficult to be with that many united people, even watching from the popular spectator spot in front of Parliament's church, without thinking they might have a point. I suppose that if I wasn't inclined to be influenced I wouldn't have been there in the first place, but in the end it really did feel as if the entirety of Maoridom had turned out to politely knock on the nation's front door and ask for their lawnmower back. It was big.
It was spectacularly Maori. I realise that won't surprise anyone, but this Dunedin boy was impressed by such a huge display of cultural vitality. In the circumstances it sounds patronising, but my generally sluggish patriotic pride was stirred by the uniqueness of a protest with haka going on all the time. Someone should cut a track of the call-and-response hikoi theme song, but my favorite chant was the charmingly maoringlish "Tahi Rua Toru Wha / What do we think about Parakura? / Hoha! / Hoha!"
And while we're looking at this from a whitey point of view, I'll also mention that I never felt personally threatened at all.
After a while I went and did some shopping.
By the time I made it back the crowd was breaking up in the rain but there was still a lot of them. I was also able make out what one of the speakers was saying, for the first time since the people in front of the march got down from their truck. As it happens, he was advocating that great bugaboo called Maori separatism. The idea of Maori publicly declaring that they've been betrayed by the current system and want one of their own must be a National strategist's wet dream.
Now, I was pretty sure the foreshore legislation was an alienation of people's real if unestablished rights for the unclear promise of probably insufficient compensation, basically unnecessary, unnecessarily complicated and tending to quasi-legal concepts like the lost and unlamented "public domain". Part of my ambivalence about actually protesting was the influence of Labour's communication strategy on the issue. Not the one about how we should move on and stop obsessing about victimisation and injustices such as, for example, how I'm grabbing your land right now. I didn't really buy that. The other ones, about how it's the best that the electorate will accept, and how one should consider the alternative. Previous Hikoi had an opposition more in line with their views. This one has National.
On the first point: this morning National Radio's Linda Clark (God bless her but she does have some interesting guests) spoke to James Flynn. Jim Flynn is Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at Otago, a former Alliance parliamentary candidate, mesmerisingly academic and enough of an expert on IQ issues to have the Flynn effect named after him. After the same discussion about IQ and genetics that (based on my experience) he often has with interviewers, Clark asked him for an opinion on the foreshore debate. He proposed an eerily simple solution.
Let the land court handle the claims. Legislate so that, if the court finding would confer the right to bar public access or to sell the land, that must be ratified by Parliament. That satisfies the public positions of everybody this side of National, and probably some people on the other side as well. Since National seems to think that the idea of customary rights under the common law was made up by the Labour government to satisfy their iwi masters, getting their backing on this one is pretty much out of the question.
And it wouldn't, of course, satisfy the recently-arisen political necessity of combating uppitiness wherever it appears. Sigh. Sometimes I wish we had actually had a debate about the Treaty rather than a bitch session followed by the government caving. I like to think it might have made a difference.