Yesterday 200 activists from Extinction Rebellion caused disruption in central Wellington. They occupied an A.N.Z. bank branch, blocked intersections and formed a group outside the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (M.B.I.E.). The protests which were part of a 60-city world wide disruption campaign were not well received by the Police, Prime Minister or members of the public.
Activism that is peaceful is perfectly fine and there are many examples of peaceful activism that have drawn impressive results. But activism where disruption involves illegal activity such as trespassing or causing nuisance, whilst gaining media attention, is not a great way to get public support.
Whilst being an activist myself, there is one thing I will not do except in exceptional circumstances: break New Zealand law.
The one instance where I believe breaking the law might be necessary is in the improbable – not impossible – event that indefinite martial law is declared or one of the core Acts of Parliament that form the basis of our constitutional framework is suspended. But as this is talking about the realms of the quite improbable, I see no need to break New Zealand law.
But to Extinction Rebellion an organization established to protest government policies that they say are leading humanity to its nadir, it is apparently okay.
The protests yesterday are not their first. A few weeks ago protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion trespassed into the railway corridor in Christchurch to stop coal trains. In doing so they delayed the transit of four freight trains for several hours. In doing so they interfered with railway track that would have had to be checked over for potential damage before trains could be allowed to pass over it.
I said I am an activist, and I am. I have much time for peaceful activism and believe that there are stronger ways of getting messages across than participating in activity that disrupts for the sake of disrupting. Extinction Rebellion could have had a protest outside Kiwi Rail offices, or crowd funded an advert in the media or handed out flyers.
More surprising was the belief of some at the Amnesty International New Zealand office, that such disruption as that caused by the railway protest was okay. Based on what I have been told in the past, this stance sounded like a departure from their normal law abiding approach.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly said that the A.N.Z. protesters were doing no one any favours. Disrupting a bank where people are trying to carry out their legitimate financial procedures is not likely to curry any favours with the New Zealand public, or the Police who probably thought they had better things they could have been doing.