Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th November 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown


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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ...

CHOGM, CHOGM, CHOGM ... it sounds like the noise your sink makes after you've poured too much hot fat down it, doesn't it? But here we are, it's real and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is upon us. Everyone knows what the biennial bunfight should achieve - a spanking for John Major and a warning for the murderous government of Nigeria. Whether we get that far remains to be seen.

And, of course, there are the protests. Now, Sue Bradford seems like a nice person and she continues to do fantastic work with the People's Centre. She's just a crap protestor, that's all. If the CHOGM Action Coalition has been planning this week's activities for six months, then they're in the wrong game. It's hard to suggest that the government is making a bad job of running the country when your own organisation gives the impression of not being able to organise a piss-up in a brewery.

Here begins a primer in effective direct action. First up, keep it simple. The majority of New Zealanders - even those who might be sympathetic - are quite mystified as to what is being protested about. Economic justice in New Zealand? Human rights in the Commonwealth? Bad stuff in general?

Demanding "decolonisation" on your billposters pretty much ensures confusion. I have asked both Maori and Pakeha what they figure that means over the past two weeks and the answer was different every time. Sue Bradford told me it meant that we Pakeha should voice our support for Maori grievances. Well, I'm down with that. So why not say that? Or demand more resources for the Waitangi Tribunal?

Secondly, do it by the book. Apply properly for a permit to march in the street. If it is denied, cry foul and express public fears for the state of our democracy - and then march anyway. You will have the moral high ground.

Begin your actions quietly, then escalate over the protest period. You're unlikely to get the numbers after the nation has seen the police picking you up by the ears at the first event. And getting banged up on the first day of a five-day protest schedule is simply inept.

Never, ever take on the cops directly, unless you can count on the numbers - and, more importantly - the broad will for massive civil disobedience or a riot.

Know how far you can push things on the day. The police decided they would allow the marchers on Wednesday - even without a permit - to take to the street, so long as they kept to one side of the road. Not good enough for the C.A.C., even though there were barely 100 of them. I've marched in Queen Street in a body of *thousands* and we kept to one side of the street easily enough.

To put it another way, don't expect the sympathy of ordinary folks if you're messing up their day so you can sit down in the city's main thoroughfare to watch street theatre. Street theatre does not command great public affection at the best of times.

So what should they have done? Okay ... they should have baked an enormous and delicious cake, iced with a map of New Zealand. They should have cut it up into small pieces and given away the pieces to passers-by, accompanied by leaflets emphasising that too many New Zealanders still aren't getting a fair slice of the national cake. They'd have actually enhanced the day of Auckland's citizens and they'd still have gotten on the news. And it didn't take me six months to come up with that ...

As it was, Wednesday's debacle clearly affected the turnout for Thursday's Major Outrage anti-nuclear rally in QEII Square. This protest was legit and it had an aim that people could understand. In the end, of course, it was buggered up by Eva Rickard and Hinewhai Harawira, who decided they'd work someone else's crowd. So what made the news? A large group of people gathering to express their will and be entertained to boot? No. A shouting match which made the whole thing look like a rabble.

Odddly enough, there were two platinum-plated issues on which the government could have been nailed this week. First, it was Lockwood Smith in Canada, preaching the virtues of a far-right education policy - vouchers, bells, whistles and all. It was ACT's education policy, basically - and we might reasonably regard that party's pathetic level of support as indicating the public mandate for such measures.

What the our papers didn't tell us was that Smith made this speech at a conference organised by a right-wing group called the Teachers for Excellence. The conference had been boycotted by both state teacher unions and the Candian Education Ministry. What on earth was he doing there, at *our* expense, proposing something that supposedly isn't even government policy? Frankly, I'm appalled - and it seems even the delegates were a little stunned.

Then there was what amounted to a covert announcement that our public hospitals would be encouraged to devote facilities to fee-paying patients, even as the waiting lists for those facilities grows. This is the thin end of a very large wedge. Fortunately, the businesspeople running most CHEs appeared to have more moral sense than the government - this is an ongoing problem with the health reforms - and pointed out that they'd have to get a bit better advanced with their main tasks before cashing in on private jobs.

The police had their own problems this week. An independent medical report came out with the fairly obvious conclusion that being an undercover drug cop isn't very good for your health. Let's look at the nature of the police undercover programme.

Unless things have changed greatly, step in one the process involves taking fresh-faced young policepeople to some godforsaken training centre and requiring them to smoke fistfuls of confiscated hell-weed. The kind of pot you or I would be jolly careful with, frankly. Where most of us are socialised into the use of dope, in concert with music, friends and good vibes, these poor cops are pretty much poisoned with it.

Then, if that doesn't induce any latent schizophrenia, they're sent off to smoke even more pot with the heavy-arsed gang members who run most of the marijuana trade. Did I say smoke? Sorry, I meant "simulate". The police brass still insist it's possible to "simulate" the smoking of marijuna in such situations. Sure. It's also possible to have the crap beaten out of you. You or I would be anxious in these circumstances - a policeman simulated to the bone must be absolutely beside himself.

The report said some officers were at risk of cannabis dependence. On the other hand it said "many" undercover officers became alcoholics. The authors quoted cops who admitted to drinking for eight to 10 hours a day to establish their new identities. They drank as much as 10 jugs of beer and 40 ounces of spirits in a session. It didn't get the headlines, but it makes starting the day with a bong look like a pretty mild option, does it not?

The problem, of course, is that marijuana law enforcement has driven the trade into a sector of society so violent and stupified that it doesn't care about the law. If 10 gang members are busted in a drug sting, the gang just re-deploys 10 more to replace them. Undercover operations don't work because they deal with people who just don't give a shit.

Well, that's it ... the fact that you're hearing this means I've contrived a way through fortress Auckland to deliver it. Actually, it was a breeze there was no one about! And in a way, you can't carp too much about security measure in the same week as Rabin's assasination. However remote the possibility of, say, Mandela being shot while he's here, the consequences would be to frightening to think about.

If the government manages to carry off the conference, then it will be a feather in its cap. It's a bit of a coup for Auckland, too I imagine they're livid about missing out in Wellington. But don't be fooled into thinking that has anything at all to do with the state of the nation. It has no more to do with the quality of our democracy than the America's Cup did. Don't believe the hype. And if you feel yourself being sucked in, just think of Lockwood Smith. G'bye!

EXCLUSIVE POSTSCRIPT FOR INTERNET READERS: Well, I thought I'd better pop down for a look at the white-hot CHOGM action on my way home from bFM. It was as surreal and comical as you'd expect. When I arrived, Mike Smith was remonstrating with police, who'd moved him off the footpath on the Aotea Square side of Queen Street. Eventually, he walked back across the street, declaring through a megaphone that the police has courteously admitted they were "completely in the wrong". One other bloke came with him. Trouble was, so did a pack of 20-odd media people, who blocked traffic. The main cop shouted out them to get off the road, but, mindful of getting the best camera angle, they ignored him. So the police did the "move-move-move" bit and shuffled the whole sideshow back to the other side of the street. After a bit of shouting about freedom of speech, things went quiet. Smith presumably decided he'd better get himself arrested, so he strolled back across the street. That didn't work, so he stepped over the barrier into Aotea Square and got what he wanted. I don't see why it took four police and a wrestling match to arrest a man who wanted to be arrested, but they probably bored. So was I, by then. Over and out from the Tiananmen of the north ....

Oh, and don't forget the exclusive bFM test rugby commentary, from around 2.30am on Sunday morning. No French-made rolling papers will be used ...

G'bye!

    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]    russb@ihug.co.nz                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?
              _________________________________________
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