“This is not a weapons trading event, this is normal everyday New Zealand businesses that supply goods and services to support the New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence” is what a representative said of yesterday’s Weapons Conference in Auckland’s Viaducts Event Centre, which was sponsored by none other than the world’s largest weapon’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.
This quote’s description of the conference as “normal everyday New Zealand businesses” is reminiscent of the phrase “there’s nothing to see here”; which always means that there is something to see. “Normal everyday” is a strange combination of words, one that might be used by someone caught doing something wrong. “No, don’t worry, this is just a normal everyday grenade I always carry around.” Putting the words “normal” and “everyday” in front of a concept doesn’t remove the violence it represents.
However, this sentiment has echoed through the “mainstream” media reports about the 500-strong blockade of this conference on Wednesday. The general message is that we protesters were “misguided” and needlessly concerned, because this conference had no weapons (other than “high end rifles”) and was absolutely not about war (it was about “defence”).
Before I get into a recount of the protest itself, I want to dispel this sentiment. There should be absolutely nothing at all “normal” or “everyday” about rifles. There should be nothing “normal” or “everyday” about the military or “defence services”. While the spokesperson claimed the rifles on display were little different from hunting rifles, they are fundamentally different in that they are not going to be used for hunting. Their purpose is to kill people. The “services” mentioned are not just simple stocking of food and supplies, but also the technological systems that support drone strikes, global surveillance and these are the same companies involved in supporting private prisons. In that short (and grammatically confused) sentence so much is revealed about the normalisation of war, and why it is that we should resist it.
The New Zealand Defence Forces are not normal or everyday. There seems to be a conception that when protesters protest war, we are only protesting the aggressor, the “bad guy”. The fact of the matter is that defence is war. The aggressor can be the “defender”. For New Zealand to feel the need to defend itself against the military aggression of other nations, the world has to be embroiled deeply in the poisons of nationalism and war. “New Zealand Defence Forces” is only a meaningful category in a world of conflict and borders, a world of patriotism and violence. A world in which these things are not deplorable concepts, but rather important fuel for capitalist profit. These things exist, and are perpetuated, by those who make a profit from them.
And who are those people? Well, yesterday it was a collection of (primarily) greying white men, dressed in fancy suits, standing around outside the bars by the event centre, looking increasingly annoyed. And why were they annoyed? Because they were prevented from entering the conference due to the blockade.
It was not a “misguided” blockade, nor was it a “violent” blockade. It was a blockade that had been planned months in advance, and that was ultimately successful. Despite media reports of the conference continuing undisturbed, a large number of delegates were prevented from entering, which means a large number of delegates were prevented in participating from the “normal everyday” perpetuation of war.
The protest was attended by around 500 people from around 8am-3pm, and not a single arrest was made; which surprising seeing as many were arrested at the protest in Wellington last year. The lack of arrests, however, definitely does not mean that the police should get good press. They were violent and brutal towards protesters, and despite any PR spin, were not present to protect us. Blockaders were pushed, punched, kneed, thrown to the ground and yelled at. Police also informed us they would potentially use batons, pepper spray and tasers. Luckily, none were used.
At one point, I overheard a “Police Liaison Officer” saying to someone “…I’ve been in countries where protesters were thrown to the ground and shot…”. Followed up in the report from the New Zealand Herald (16/11/16) the chair of the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA), Bernie Diver stated, he was annoyed up to 350 of those who had paid to go the conference were prevented from getting in. Also stating that he was disappointed the police didn’t clear a path for them through the peaceful demonstrators. I suppose they want us to be grateful then? Only the concerted organising of the protests and the heavy media presence prevented the cops from bringing out the tasers and batons they carried that day.
Well, we will not be grateful. Not until the capitalist institutions of violence and war (including, absolutely, the police) are dismantled. And even then, the only ones we will need to be grateful to are ourselves.