NZ antiwar movement

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sat Feb 15 23:29:08 MST 2003


Here's quite an interesting article from the NZ Herald, the
largest-circulation daily in the country.


Battle cry to activism as war looms

15.02.2003
By TIM WATKIN
In Opotiki, the Eastern Bays People for Peace group that Lynne Dempsey
started two weeks ago has grown from four to 10 members.

In Wellington, national peace networkers Peace Movement Aotearoa (PMA) are
receiving about 10 calls a day from people wanting to go on their contact
list.

And at Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, a peace group formed last
week attracted 49 students to its inaugural meeting.

Miriam Pierard and Jessica Bates are two of the students trying to shake off
the feeling that they are helpless in the face of high-powered international
planning for an invasion of Iraq.

Bates says many young people had felt powerless, but "the issues that people
were really passionate about, such as the Vietnam War, have passed". Until
now, that is.

"Iraq is becoming that kind of issue for them," she says.

"Iraq is a catalyst," Pierard adds. "Plenty of [young] people have been
concerned about other issues, but before now there's been nothing
significant enough for them to stand up and join a group.

"We're trying to tell them it's possible to get out there and make a stand."

As the United States and British leaders mobilise troops for war they are
also, inadvertently, mobilising people for peace.

The peace movement, slumbering in this country since the early 90s, is
experiencing something of a rejuvenation, with peace groups throughout the
country registering increased public interest.

While the leadership seems to be coming largely from the peace movement's
old hands, the marchers and volunteers include old war protesters reborn,
activists drawn from other social movements, and numbers of "ordinary
citizens".

Fear of war has replaced the need for an active recruitment drive, says
Edwina Hughes of PMA.

"We don't recruit people to the cause of peace. It's people planning mass
murder such as Bush, Blair and Howard who do the recruiting for us."

Today, from Auckland to Dunedin, peace groups hold marches and events as
part of the international day of action opposing war with Iraq.

Commentators in Britain and the US are suggesting it could be the biggest
single day of protest the world has seen, with action planned in more than
350 cities worldwide.

The Auckland march up Queen St from Queen Elizabeth Square has been
organised by an umbrella social justice group called Global Justice and
Peace Auckland (GPJA). Even though the organisation is less than a year old,
at the helm are veteran protesters John Minto and Mike Treen.

The pair expect today's march to be the biggest protest since Chogm and say
they are thrilled at the interest coming from outside stalwart activist
circles.

Minto says 20,000 leaflets have been taken from his veranda and handed out
around town. A further 10,000 were printed and are almost gone.

In Wanganui, long-time peace campaigner Peter Watson says that in little
over an hour on the street this week he gave out 400 photocopied letters of
protest to be sent to Helen Clark.

"There's certainly a sense that there are people getting involved who
haven't been involved in the peace movement before," says Peace Foundation
spokeswoman Marion Hancock.

"There will be people marching who have never marched before," agrees
veteran human rights activist Maire Leadbeater. "People who have sat on the
sidelines in the past but who feel they can't sit on the sidelines anymore."

She's found it much easier to talk to friends and colleagues about peace
issues in the past few months than any other time in the past decade.

The peace movement in New Zealand peaked in the mid-80s, when there were
more than 300 groups around the country, 100 of those in Auckland. But by
the early 90s it was fading away.

"It pretty much died," says Treen. "A lot of questions driving the movement
seemed to go away. The Nats stopped opposing the nuclear-free legislation.
Then there was the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the expectation there
would be a peace dividend from that."

But along with everything else that September 11 changed, it drew people
back to peace issues.

For some, such as Epsom Girls Grammar School teacher Diana Grieg, who is
co-ordinating the new peace group, it's a matter of returning to the saddle
after more than a decade away. She was involved in anti-nuclear groups in
the 80s, concerned about the world her children would inherit.

"I hadn't done anything for a long time. But I came back to school this year
feeling that this was another time that if I didn't do anything I wouldn't
be able to live with myself."

Dempsey has a similar story - she was active in the 80s and motivated to get
active again by concerns over Iraq.

She says most of the impetus is coming from people already sympathetic to
the peace movement.

"You will find with any movement, these people are around and are
working on
other issues, like the environment or social justice."

People such as Paul Maunder, who is starting a peace group in Greymouth
today.

With a long-term involvement in politics, he says the 90s were about
fighting local issues and the aftermath of Rogernomics. Now he's
increasingly concerned about international issues of war and peace. And the
few inquiries he's had about his group haven't been from radicals.

"These are people who are genuinely concerned, not rent-a-demo people at
all."

Treen and Minto set up the GPJA last year, when the bombing of Afghanistan
began. They, too, had been focused on other issues, but came to see the Bush
Administration as a threat that needed to be countered.

However, their monthly meetings focus on wider social and environmental
concerns, bringing peace issues to the attention of more people.

Hughes has been surprised by the diversity of people contacting PMA.

"It's some people who are coming back, some people all the way back to
Vietnam ... But the thing that's been interesting since September 11, it's
ordinary citizens [coming in], and they say to us 'I've never been involved
in any sort of protest or peace group'. They're the ones who are turning up
on marches."

Richard Jakob-Hoff is one of those people. A vet at Auckland zoo, he's never
been actively involved before. Now, he's emailing friends urging them to
march and write to Clark. He's halfway to raising $4500 to place an ad in
the Herald t urging people to get active to stop the war.

"I see that the situation in Iraq is unfair and wrong," he says.

"The fact that I'm a father and that I have a niece who was just 15 years
old when she was murdered in the US has made me passionate about finding
peaceful ways to resolve conflict."

He says it's been scary taking a stand. "Probably like most people I don't
like to put myself out there but then I think to myself, if not me, who?"

Many of the young people are coming to the peace movement through other
groups - environmental, human rights, and often anti-globalisation. And
they're bringing their tricks with them.

Most influentially, the internet is becoming a powerful tool. Geraldene
Peters, for example, is a founder of web news service Indymedia, working
with Minto and Treen at the GPJA. A PhD student at the University of
Auckland, she will broadcast the Auckland march live on the internet.

Not only does the internet allow people access to analysis and opinions
outside the mainstream media, it makes it much easier for activists to
communicate with the public, and for next to no cost.

They have even been sending out mass texts this week promoting today's
march.

The message is certainly getting through to the likes of Bates and Pierard.

"We care so much about the cause," says Pierard. "We're willing to put
ourselves out there. We feel we can make a difference."

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