Protestors or real people?

Words are funny things. Some carry weight while others are frivolous frippery.

 Like the last two.

They frame how we see the world in such a way as to change our mind about it. Which is why, smooth guys in PR get paid such a lot to put a good spin on them. It’s also why an honest argument can be blindsided with good bluff and a lot of quick banter. Actual numbers and information is not necessary – it’s all in the delivery, which is why the recent HAC debacle has a lot to do with the mining argument that is just starting to wind into gear.  Dr. Martin Esser is right when he said in Monday’s letters to the ed. that the financial burden to be carried long term from toxic mining will far outweigh the costs of the museum. We should all save our breath. 

But he’s wrong in thinking that the issues are completely separate and irrelevant to each other.

Any argument that there has been a real consultation process on either issue is moot if only one group in the community has been consulted.

In the case of the HAC – the results of the consultation were ignored and in the case of mining, only those with a vested interest have been invited into the discussions. Yesterday a few sustainable living advocates showed up at the stadium to show that there is a part of the community that questions the benefits of mining in Northland. Undoubtedly they will have been made a joke of by those inside and classified under the‘ protester/activist’ label, and their opinions filed under ‘ vexatious misc’ where they can be forgotten.

Officially, a ‘protestor’ is no longer one of the ‘real people’, who can be whoever you want them to be depending on where your interests lie.

Substitute ‘real people’ for ‘the silent majority’ and it’s just another way of saying ‘the people I choose to listen to’, unless you’ve got the verified numbers to back you up.

It’s unfortunate that those with concerns over mining have already been forced into ‘protestor’ mode by being excluded from the process from the outset. Perhaps mining is good for Northland. But who will ever know if this is the level of debate that is made available to the community by our political leaders?

Recently I attended a Mine watch Northland meeting and was surprised to find there were no professional protestors there. Everyone I spoke to had jobs. There were business people, farmers, tourism operators, refugees from ex-mining towns, an entomologist, a physiotherapist, a retired nun, an engineer, a trustee of a local marae, health workers, educators and more than a few Mums. And yes. There was one, dreadlocked and very entertaining advocate for the ecology who works for Forest and Bird. There was ‘no whining’. But there were a lot of questions. Questions that had not been answered by Phil Heatley blithely telling those left on the outside of the non-information meeting at Waitangi to; ‘go ask a geologist.’

But what would happen if we reframed the labels a little? What if the ‘anti-mining’ lot took on the mantle of ‘pro-healthy waterways’? Because that was what most of the people there were concerned about.

If I were a dairy farmer relying on rivers that could be contaminated by a potential mine I would be worried about what could be in the milk concentrate that I was sending away as baby formula. I wouldn’t be an ‘anti-mining’ lobbyist. I’d be a ‘concerned business man.’ The same would apply if I had an oyster operation and the mine was in the catchment, or I had a license to fish eels, or was a small holding agriculturalist.

What if ‘protesters’ were just Mums who were not sure that a bit of Persil would be enough to get rid of the dirt once it’s been through Newmont’s mill? So if these people’s questions are entirely invalid, if in fact these are not ‘the people’, then someone please – tell me where the ‘real people’ are.

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