Barry Soper: Theres an air of permanency at Parliament grounds


Normally politicians scramble over each other to get on the front steps of Parliament to address protesters.

It’s a political skill to be able to handle vocal critics, which the anti-mandate camp dwellers on the front lawn of Parliament and beyond most certainly are.

But across the political spectrum, they’ve decided those who have been singing and dancing out the front are a bunch of low lives, white supremacists, Māori separatists and everything in between. It seems they’ve come to that conclusion by looking at them and reading their placards from the safety of their offices because they mostly haven’t been outside to find out.

Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard even justified turning the sprinklers on them because he saw them defecating and urinating on the lawn. There have been reports of kids wallowing in mud and portaloos stinking to high heaven. There have been claims from the Prime Minister they’ve abused passers-by who aren’t wearing masks and of kids being prevented from going to schools in the area.

She’s even suggested they’re funded from overseas, citing Trump flags, whatever they are.

There was a glimmer of hope late yesterday though when word went around that Mallard had put on his big boy pants, talking to politicians and encouraging them to engage with protest leaders. That was quickly quashed by parliament’s landlord, which is what Mallard is, with him saying there’ll be no dialogue while vehicles are blocking streets, the camp is dismantled and until they stop intimidating Wellingtonians.

Mallard seems to have forgotten the much more violent protest he was once involved in, back during the Springbok tour of 1981 where they camped on Parliament’s front lawn for more than the 40 days the rugby players were in the country.

I’ve been down on the forecourt every day with a mask on and only once have I been told to go and do something unpleasant to myself. The rest of the time people have been willing to engage and, until the politicians do the same, chances are they’ll be there for some time to come.

The camp’s become a well-fed, ordered hippie village of sorts, including one protester – Tracey Jane, a medic from Tauranga – who brought around 150kg of avocados with her.She was asked to drop them just up the road from Parliament at what she describes as a massive garage warehouse full of food being prepared by volunteers.Jane says there are another two in the city.

Down in tent city, there’s everything from a medics’ tent to a barber, a childcare tent to a laundry where bags of clothes are picked up in the morning and delivered back at night. If you need a towel or a sleeping bag, they’re available, all free of charge.

People are flying in from all over the country, staying in nearby accommodation.

It was unruly last week. This week there’s an air of permanency and the only thing that’ll change it is dialogue.

Trouble is, politicians have painted them as illegal, dangerous radicals. Having talked to many of them, I don’t believe that’s the case for the vast majority.

The longer this goes on though, the harder dialogue is going to become.

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