An American Expat Visits the Occupy Auckland Protest- Part 1

I had a surreal experience the other day. To understand why it was surrreal you need to understand that I was born and bred in the Bible Belt of America. I’m a white, Caucasian male who was named after a white, American, Caucasian, male war hero. I’m an honorably dishcarged veteran of the Iraq war with three rows of ribbons on my ribbon rack. I’m also an expat who just celebrated my two year anniversary of emigrating to New Zealand, and I left America for all the reasons people are protesting on Wall Street today.

Coming from that perspective, I went to the “Occupy Auckland” protest the other day. For those of you who don’t know or couldn’t guess, the “Occupy Auckland” event was inspired by and is being held in solidarity with the “Occupy Wall Street” “movement.”

At the time there were 40 tents camped in a public park directly off of Queen St., in downtown Auckland, which is sort of like a smaller scale version of Times Square. There were two extremely bored police officers wearing neon green reflective vests loitering in the vicinity of the protest grounds. All they had to look at to amuse themselves was a bunch of empty tents (the residents were at professional jobs and would return in the evening), a few bored hippies and a meandering stream of passing rugby tourists.

In a lot of ways the protest was anticlimactic. The protesters I spoke with said that most of the pedestrians who stopped to talk with them were either mildly curious what the protest was about or wanted to express their support with the movement. The protesters also told me that on the first day of the occupation they held a march down Queen St, which drew an estimated 2000 participants, and they received $2000 in donations in their first weekend, and there has been a regular stream of old women stopping by giving them free home cooked meals….not that they seemed to need the food because by the time I arrived they had set up a better kitchen than I have in my house.

I literally paid $160 over the past weekend to camp at a camp ground for 4 days, and I had access to less amenities, less camaraderie, less excitement and less picture opportunities than I would have had if I would have camped with the protesters on Queen St.

Now I’m thinking about taking my tent over there and going camping for the fun of it. Needless to say, there are a lot of Kiwis hold that the fact the protesters are so comfortable is proof that they have nothing to protest in the first place and should just go home. Even though life in New Zealand is far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than in America. Kiwis are happier and have a quantifiable better standard of living than Americans because the system works better in New Zealand.  There are fewer problems, and the problems they do have they’ve responded more effectively to. From this perspective, some Kiwis feel the people camping on Queen St. should really just be celebrating instead of protesting.

Superficially they’re right, but if you trace the problems the Queen St. protesters are standing against below the surface to any depth at all you will understand why all the Occupy movements are relevant and even vital.

The root of the problem that all the Occupy movements are protesting against trace back to income inequality. All around the world it’s the norm for political leadership positions to be given to those with the most money. Laws are passed that maximize profits at the expense of human life. Every business pays their workers as little as possible and charges their customers as much as possible. You literally can’t shit without being taxed or fined or otherwise billed. Poorer people pay a higher percentage of their income to shit. You need a fortune to get an education, and you need an education to get a fortune. People are even getting charged to save their money now, and it’s illegal not to pay the government whatever bizarro number it tells you that you owe the tax collector.

These are universal themes that are getting worse everywhere. Those statements may be less true in some countries, but “as America goes, so goes the world.” If the economic/political climate continues on its current trajectory then every country in the world will end up in the same dystopia within a lifetime. Soon we will all live in cookie cutter houses doing service level work for no benefits and no securities for our entire lives. We’ll have no medical care, no education, and everything we buy we’ll have to go into debt for. The only legal options we’ll have for escaping the monotony and anxiety of our lives will be tobacco, alcohol, sports and television. Then we’ll numb ourselves to our numbness and kill ourselves as quickly as possible, not because we’re irresponsible, but because we’re unfulfilled and miserable with the unnatural, inhumane environment we’ve been forced to grow up and live in.

Even if none of that happens to any of us, that exact same story (and much, much, much, much) worse is happening to billions of people all over the world right now through no fault of their own. Every country uses varyingly modern versions of the caste system, and they’re all moving towards the American model of corporate dependency.

The Pacific Islanders have a long literary history of complaining about how colonial forces took their islands and gave it to foreigners. Well, American commercialization is the new colonialism. If you want to see what Tonga is going to look like in 30 years, just visit Oahu. It’s going to be ghettos and strip malls separated from ultra wealthy subdivisions by dull grey roads and concrete walls. The entire world is devolving into Office Space under the American economic model. That’s not the society humans have the potential of building. That’s not humane, and that’s not how anyone wants to live.

It may not look like the protesters are changing the world yet, but they’re already changing people’s minds, and the more time they have to get organized the clearer and more persuasive their message will become. The more that message spreads the harder it will be for any single government to silence the overall movement. The protesters are planting seeds right now that may not bear fruit for a while, but the check’s in the mail, and they may prevent all of Polynesia from getting completely turned into internationally owned chains of strip malls.

In a world where all you see on the news is gloom and doom the protesters are little ray of hope. They just want a better world, and they’re not going to take no for an answer. Heroes have been immortalized in movies for less. There’s nothing to be gained by opposing the protesters and everything to gain by supporting them, and at this point you don’t even have to sacrifice anything to help them. Just go on vacation to one of the protests and enjoy yourself. You’ll have a better time than if you went to an impersonal, overpriced resort. If you still don’t understand the protesters then you definitely need to check out the closest protest. Go ask the people. You may be surprised how friendly and informed they are. Just don’t naysay them from the solitude of your mom’s basement without going downtown and finding out for yourself what the Occupy movement is all about.

If you decide you do support the movement but can’t afford to leave work and go camp out you can always put a tent out on your front yard to show your solidarity.

An American expat visits the Occupy Auckland Protest: Part 2

However you felt about this post, you’ll probably feel the same way about these:

Police and the Law

Occupy Wall Street


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