Q/ Why is John Key telling us that the US back down on visiting ships is not a victory for New Zealand’s nuclear free movement?

A/ Because if things are to stay the same (which is how the Prime Minister likes them), it is vital that people don’t feel they have the power to change anything. Hence it’s important for him to never acknowledge that people power works.

But people power does work. In fact it’s one of the few ways we get positive change. People power stopped the Marsden B power station, it made Antarctica a World Park, it drove  Shell out of the Arctic and ended Government logging of West Coast native forests. And people power made New Zealand nuclear free and kept it that way for 30 years and counting.

Public rally as flotilla leaves Auckland for Moruroa to protest French nuclear tests, 1995

After 30 years of vociferous opposition, the US Government has finally agreed to accept the terms of New Zealand’s 1987 nuclear free legislation. This means that before any US ship can visit New Zealand, it will have to be cleared by the New Zealand Prime Minister as not nuclear powered or armed. The US Government had, until yesterday, always said this was unacceptable, as it undermined their policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons on their vessels. But now they’ve backed down.

New Zealand’s nuclear legislation came out of the nuclear free movement that stretched over a number of decades. It only exists because of people power.

The victory of New Zealand’s nuclear free movement is important because it shows that ordinary people can change things for the better. Not only can we decide what happens in our backyard, we can also have an impact on the world. And it’s important because it shows that a small nation can successfully stand up to bullying by a much larger nation.

The last thing John Key and the US government want us to do is to celebrate our victory as civil society. The last thing they want are further instances of David triumphing over Goliath.  For the established order to get away with whatever it is it wishes to get away with, it must never admit people can win. That way people feel perpetually powerless and the establishment always wins.

Of course we don’t celebrate militarism, we campaign against it. But right now in a world more at risk of nuclear weapons than in 30 years, it is important to celebrate people-powered victories over nuclear weapons.

Let’s not let John rain on our parade. I say ‘celebrate’. People power is an essential ingredient of positive change. And at its best it makes the world a better place.