No TPPA! Grasping Tuwhare’s Elusive Star

Normally I’d open here with statistics. I’d give you a scale of numbers, refer back to the biggest estimate, talk, only slightly ironically, about the power in numbers. Power in a few hundred, couple thousand. Today, I’m opening with the power in tens of thousands. 20,000-30,000 people marching through Auckland city; shutting down roads, business, even shutting down the pre-organized plan for the march itself. I’ve been filled with pure excitement, telling comrades enthusiastically that this is historic. The kind of thing people will reminisce to future generations about. It was awesome.

In 1975 Hone Tuwhare (New Zealand’s second Poet Laureate) wrote a poem about the Māori Land March. It’s one of those poems that has embedded itself deep into my consciousness. It has occupied my mind during many protests, yet somehow its stanzas have always seemed somehow disconnected from the usual contained, speech-bookended Queen Street affairs. 

Of the protesters then Tuwhare wrote:

“They each have taken to grab the burning but elusive star together.

And together, not knowing what lies at the end of the star’s reach.”

These lines have always felt powerful, but powerful and historic. It may have been the case then, but presently the status quo is not protests that are carried by pure anger into unknown change. Normally, we grab our placards together. And together, know that it will end with a crackling sound system; speeches by the Labour Party, the Greens; a slow dispersal, trickle back towards carparks, buses, train stations. This was not how things went yesterday. Yesterday, we grabbed the burning but elusive star.

There were two separate demonstrations planned for yesterday (the blockade of Sky City and the midday march from Aotea square), but by the end of the day everything had merged. The blockade was re-enforced by the main march’s decision to go to Sky City, and the main march was attended by many from the blockade. The chant went around at both: “Whose streets?” “Our streets!” and it was true. Auckland city was overrun.

I feel like for the first time yesterday, I really did catch a glimpse of Tuwhare’s star. As the march pulled away from its intended finishing place, and headed up Hobson Street towards Sky City, it gained a life of its own; became an entity in and of itself. Its official organizers were literally left behind in the dust, their speeches drowned out by a haka. Decisions were instead made on the spot, and collectively. Being part of that was exciting, electric. Change actually felt tangible. It wasn’t enough to reach the end of the march and hear opposition parties speak about “What we would do if…”, because enough anger had been generated to actually do something.

This attitude didn’t arise suddenly either, and I have noticed it building gradually over the past year at various anti-TPPA demonstrations and meetings. Where once Labour party representatives (advocating for only slightly less evil free trade agreements) were applauded, they were gradually ignored, then booed, the shouted at. At the recent meeting in the Auckland Town Hall, a large number of people left as soon as politicians started speaking. It seems as if there’s a growing feeling in this movement that left wing parties in parliament are incapable of doing anything about the TPPA, and so we have to do it ourselves. This is a movement that has outgrown parliamentary politics, and with any luck, is steadily outgrowing reformist confines too. There is a momentum here that cannot be lost.

Another line from Tuwhare reads:

“Together, not knowing if they will get a punch in the face at the end of the road,

with much pain, learned it is just the beginning”

It wasn’t a punch in the face in ’75, it was history. It was also just the beginning. Perhaps it’s misplaced, but it seems fitting to be speaking of beginnings, to be referencing Tuwhare and the Land March, a day out from Waitangi. A hundred and fifty years ago another agreement was signed, and we’re still here, shouting in the streets with signs saying “Honour the Treaty” “Sovereignty Never Ceded”. As a country, we should know a thing or two about the importance and perils of agreements by now. And our deal makers, our ruling class, should know a thing or two about when to be scared. And if they don’t, now is the time that they learn.

The media has been emphasising both extremes of yesterday’s events: clashes with police, and dancing clowns. Some reports tells of the jolly good time had by protesters, who were all quaintly in it for fun and games. Others tell of the woman pulled from the motorway by her hair “for her own safety”. Such reports are clever in that both refuse to acknowledge that yesterday roughly 20,000 angry people marched through Auckland. People who weren’t there for fun; who weren’t there to be troublesome and violent; but were there because they want change, and have the power to demand it. These are the media’s caricatures of the protester: the funny hippie, the violent rioter. Yesterday, no one fell into these categories; there were no parties, and no arrests. Just a blockade, a march, and resounding “NO WAY!” to the TPPA.

Action like this needs to be consistent, and ever growing, to stop the TPPA and the capitalist mechanisms that create it. We need to keep fighting, always fighting. Grabbing every star that we can.