by Don Franks
The NZ Herald reports that police outnumbered around 80 students and Poverty Action Group protestors at this weekend’s National Party conference.
Poverty Action Group spokeswoman Sue Bradford said: “We’re really pleased with the turnout, especially on such a wet and windy morning and I think it just shows how many people actually care about these issues, and want to let National know that we’re not sitting down and letting this be done to us.”
Those who turned up and protested outside the Auckland National party conference have my unconditional support and respect. Successive Labour and National governments have presided over decades of increasing poverty in New Zealand. The human cost of these parties’ capitalist policies may be counted in a steady increase of Third World diseases, family violence, wasted human potential and miserable stunted lives.
However, in terms of political weight, this weekend’s protest turnout could only be accurately described as a pitiful few.
There are close upon one and a half million people in Auckland. Even if the Herald report was ten times wrong and there were more like 800 than 80 protesters outside the conference, should anti-poverty advocates really be “pleased with just how many people actually care about these issues”?
It can be hard taking a radical stance in New Zealand. The considerable remnants of the welfare state, long-running plethora of small business, collaborationist labour union tradition and the establishment’s fostering of mindless nationalist culture raise barriers for radical activists.
On top of such barriers, we have a bad habit of making obstacles for ourselves.
One such persistent bad habit is talking up or inflating small protests, instead of frankly admitting, and examining why, they were small.
An early memory of my own activism is hearing a critic of the Communist Party of New Zealand complain: “There were just 20 people at the demonstration, but another hundred joined them in the pages of the People’s Voice“.
The People’s Voice was the CPNZ’s party paper, and for some years its reports notoriously exaggerated demonstration numbers to try to impress overseas comrades.
We no longer have such an incentive. Yet, today, the tradition continues. Inflating or talking up tiny numbers serves to make us feel better about a disappointing effort. Or, to try to convince the working class that we matter, that we are big and significant enough for them to come along and join us, just as the gods took pity on Mao’s Foolish Old man who tried to move the mountain.
However well intended, leftist lies are in vain. The working class is not, at the moment, feeling revolutionary and false words will not alter that fact.
When we pay workers the respect of telling them the truth we will become more entitled to their political support.