Get off the Grass

We shall not, we shall not be moved! We…Oh all right then. We might be nudged a little. Oh? We’re not allowed here and you’re a bit annoyed at us? Right. Wouldn’t want that. I’ll be off home then – shall I close the door as I leave? Yes. No trouble I’ll be sure to mind the grass as I pack up my protester tent.” Deafening roar of mute shuffling and benign resignation.

This could be the script for most protest efforts in New Zealand. It’s depressing. Preferable to the Latin penchant for blowing stuff up and running about in camo gear but still – it does seem rather lame.

When the banks in Argentina closed their doors and left notices outside saying that their clients’ money was now in a ‘playpen’ for four years where it couldn’t be touched by the people who owned it, they stopped all public transport and went into the streets banging every saucepan they had in the house to vent their frustration. They went through about 4 presidents in as many months until they found someone who could start to sort the mess out.

In New Zealand there’s the whimper of ambiguous protest and they all get sent home like naughty kids for ruining the grass.

It’s unfortunate that the Occupy movement couldn’t count very well and that its ranks were filled with the young, naïve, homeless and mentally ill. It doesn’t detract from the fact that they were intuitively protesting about a society from which they felt marginalised and betrayed – a society that had once prided itself on everyone getting a fair go. These were not the kind of people who could easily launch a credible legal defence for their actions or articulate the economic rationale for their unease.

Twenty years of listening to the reasons why the trickle down theory is going to work one day must begin to feel like just getting peed on from above, and the only option is to pitch your tent and sulk in it for awhile.

It’s not usually the powerful or the privileged who are the first to stand up and be counted when it comes to defending social or environmental threats. Which was why the Law Society’s submission to the bill intended to regulate off-shore drilling in our EEZ was anything but lame. When the lawyers are saying that the bill ‘does not adequately reflect international law’ you have to assume they’re not liking it either. Nobody’s told them to get off the grass. Yet.

This week in Argentina – protestors in a handful of provinces managed to paralyse the operations of one mega open cast mine in Famatina and suspend further exploration. The protests spread to neighbouring provinces and the riot police were called in using tear gas and bullets to disband the groups of mainly women environmentalists in Catamarca. I rode through some of these towns 11 years ago when the mines had already contaminated enough of the water in places north of there to cause mental retardation in the children. Despite the mines having now been operating for over 15 years the villagers still lack basic health care, primary schools and water that does not make an entire village into idiots. These people are not lazy misguided protestors. They’re hard working agriculturalists easily replaced by mining conglomerates. As an economist from Buenos Aires University, Miguel Teubas has said ‘ mining displaces other more sociably profitable activities like agriculture, industry and tourism. It’s simple. These people can live without gold but they can not live without water.”

I doubt Kristina would show up and tell them that ‘no one owns the water’ so they may as well all get off the grass.

What is interesting is the protestors were not saying ‘no’ to mining per se. They were only requiring that mining continue where the environment could be adequately protected. They weren’t ruining any grass. There’s not enough water to grow any.

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