Mandate protests: our crying need for agreeable disagreement
Frankly, the anti-mandate protesters who illegally camped outside Parliament have done themselves—and their message—few favours.
Might it be that politicians have failed those protesting?
While the protests began peacefully, they quickly disintegrated into a chaotic carnival. Illegally parked cars jammed inner city streets—one preventing a local from getting to hospital. House Speaker Trevor Mallard ordered the protesters out of Parliament’s grounds, because they were living in tents. When they didn’t go, Police arrested 120 of them. Local business owners have seen their trade (already diminished by red light settings) drop by up to 70%. A pub owner was in tears; journalists have been spat at; and yes, Trump flags were waved.
Such actions make the construction of a “rabble” narrative quite straightforward, and that’s quickly become the consensus. If you fail to behave properly, you erode your ability to be taken seriously, and your message is lost. Go home. Shut up. Let people get back to their lives.
But vaccine mandates are clearly affecting these protesters’ lives, jobs, and businesses already. That’s why they’re doing this. Might it be that politicians have failed those protesting? These are disenfranchised people crying out to be heard, yet both Jacinda Ardern and Chris Luxon refused to meet them. The National leader said, “We do not want to be associated with any anti-vaccination messages”. While likely true (and politically prudent) this statement ignores that the protests aren’t actually about vaccination, so much as the mandating of vaccination.
“Even though I’m a fully vaccinated person, I’m concerned about the legalised discrimination in the vaccine mandate.”
That’s been a blazing issue overseas. For some New Zealanders it remains incendiary. Massey associate professor Grant Duncan has noted, “…these restrictions are controversial. Even though I’m a fully vaccinated person, I’m concerned about the legalised discrimination in the vaccine mandate.”
“Legalised discrimination.” Strong words for an academic; and surely a necessary subject to debate?
Meanwhile, the PM observed, “…it would be wrong in any way to characterise what we’ve seen outside [Parliament] as a representation of the majority.” The same could have been said of Civil Rights protesters in the 1960s. Majorities aren’t automatically moral.
A conversation that involves listening, humility, then response.
I’m not attempting to assign—or dilute—blame. There’s already plenty of that. What we need is a mode that applies to how we engage during the pandemic’s collateral bedlam, and beyond.
We need to be able to disagree better. How?
Civility goes a long way. No spitting, ever; after all, we tell our kids not to do it. Fewer slogans, more explaining. Give people on both sides the dignity of being understood rather than miscategorised. The protesters aren’t unilaterally rabid anti-vaxxers; politicians aren’t suited fascists. Oh, and can we please spare a thought for the police officers who have an unenviable job? Don’t dismiss people out of hand.
Then what? Talk. A conversation that involves listening, humility, then response.
There were always individuals in the team of five million. And it would be a surprise if everyone agreed about measures taken to combat COVID. That’s been the case overseas; it’s the case here. We can disagree; let’s disagree agreeably.go back