Greenpeace New Zealand coordinated one of the largest civil disobedience climate protests in their country’s history... and it was a beautiful thing.
More than 200 people descended on New Zealand’s largest oil industry conference in Auckland and blocked its entrances as part of a Greenpeace-organised demonstration of peaceful civil disobedience.
Inspired by the peaceful civil-disobedience of Te Whiti o Rongomai, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Rosa Parks, close to 300 people blocked all entrances to New Zealand’s largest oil industry conference on Monday. They did it simply with their bodies, and when the police asked them to move, they politely declined.
The message it sent to the oil industry was unmistakable. We are not going to stand by and allow the search for oil that we cannot afford to burn to continue. People power is strong and this peoples’ climate movement is getting stronger by the day. We grew stronger and we re-learned something important. If your strategy is good enough you can let everyone know what it is because nobody will be able to stop you...
Greenpeace New Zealand co-ordinated the protest, but it wasn't just Greenpeace activists blocking the oil conference. It was a diverse group of New Zealanders, many of whom had never participated in something like this before.
There were people of all ages - nurses, teachers, parents with kids, faith leaders, representatives from several iwi and members of the Tuvaluan community. The common thread, a strong belief that we urgently need real climate action and a clean energy future, and pride. Pride for everyone there taking action to stand up against the oil industry, against injustice, and for the future of our planet.
This was the first time in New Zealand that Greenpeace has openly invited people to take part in peaceful civil disobedience en-masse. To signal what we were going to do and invite people to join us, we sent out thousands of emails, set up a public Facebook event and issued press releases well ahead of the day. 350.org founder Bill McKibben even posted a shout out. Almost zero secrecy. There’s no doubt this was deeply unnerving for the oil industry and the Government who already know they’re on the wrong side of history.
That it worked so well seems inevitable now - but I can tell you it didn’t always feel that way!
This was new ground for the team here at Greenpeace. We had no idea how many people would actually come and join us... That was until the open briefing day saw a full house of 150 people packing into the venue.
There we discussed tactics, created affinity groups and established a kaupapa, or shared set of principles, for what we meant by nonviolent civil disobedience. It lasted about 4 hours and the atmosphere was electric.
If your strategy is good enough you can let everyone know what it is because nobody will be able to stop you...
The next day at dawn, hundreds of people met in a variety of locations around Auckland City, and together, swooped on SkyCity where the oil conference was to be held. Everyone conducted themselves with poise and dignity - they followed the peaceful values of the protest and were able to react to circumstances with amazing fluidity and coordination - moving to block doors as the oil-industry delegates tried to make their way into the conference.
Instead of banners, we had hundreds of of red and white “Oil Against Humanity” cards - a spin-off of the popular game Cards Against Humanity. The cards posed a series of questions and answers about climate change, oil, and the New Zealand government's collusion with this dirty and destructive industry. This provided an almost endless number of possible question and answer combinations that conveyed the message that more oil means climate catastrophe and we want a safe energy future! There's lots of photos here on the live feed from the day.
We hope this demonstration of peaceful civil disobedience on March 21 has left New Zealand and the rest of the climate movement feeling invigorated. We’ve learned from this and it certainly felt to me like the movement grew a little stronger on this day. That’s a good place to be as we head towards 350’s Break Free mobilisation, a week-long global wave of mass actions that will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, from May 4-16, 2016.
Sign up to your local hub: Waves of actions will be rolling out all over the world so that we can keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and secure a future for generations to come!
Nick has worked with Greenpeace for more than 10 years and is now Head of Digital at Greenpeace NZ.