Puneet Varma (Editor)

Occupy protests in New Zealand

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Occupy protests in New Zealand

Occupy Movement protests took place in New Zealand, beginning on 15 October 2011 with the Occupation of Auckland. Occupy protests have taken place in Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Lower Hutt, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill.



The Auckland Occupation was the largest of the Occupy Movement protests in New Zealand. Auckland had 350 occupiers at its peak, while Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin typically had fewer than 50. The success of the Auckland Occupation was largely attributable to the size of the city; nearly one third of all New Zealanders live in Auckland, and the involvement from the first moments by professional activists, Trade Unionists and the Mana Party. Other contributing factors included the concurrent Rugby World Cup and the impending 2011 New Zealand general election, held on 26 November 2011.

The occupations in New Zealand benefited from the existence of the New Zealand Bill of Rights, which protects free speech and free assembly. The Bill of Rights expressly anticipates the use of local bylaws to stifle and thwart political protests. The New Zealand Police made it clear that they do not wish to be used by local Councils to repress peaceful democratic protests. Dunedin City Council issued a Trespass Notice against its Occupiers on 2 November. Auckland City Council issued theirs on 28 November, followed immediately by a request for an Injunction. Wellington and Christchurch Councils are waiting for the outcome of Auckland's Injunction court case.


  • Auckland (began 15 October) Sites occupied: Aotea Square, Albert Park, Victoria Park.
  • Christchurch (Began 15 October)
  • Dunedin (Began 15 October)
  • Wellington (Began 15 October)
  • Inception

    Soon after the commencement of the Occupy Wall Street protests two groups attempted to simultaneously form an Auckland-based Occupation. The "Occupy Queen Street" and "Occupy Auckland" groups were quickly amalgamated. The larger group consisting of social justice groups, unions, student activists and political organisations met at Unite Union on the 7, October, 2011. The following day, Saturday, 8 October 2011, a meeting was held in the gazebo in Albert Park, attended by approximately 30 people under the auspices of "Occupy Auckland". Many of those in attendance were long-time activists, or represented various social constituencies, and some of the participants had been at both meetings. This first meeting laid the foundations for the association with the global Occupation Movement, the adoption of the principles of absolute adherence to peaceful non-violent resistance, fundamental leaderlessness and the formal adoption of the General Assembly processes. A motion to appoint a spokesperson for the group was initially rejected because, "a spokesperson is just another head to be lopped off by the press". The date set for the Occupation was 15 October, final location to be announced.


    A meeting was held in a Cafe on K' Road the following day, where fliers, web pages and basic structures were created. During the remainder of the week, planning sessions and promotional activities were conducted, including the scouting of Aotea Square and Albert Park by four Town Planners. On Thursday of that week, the General Assembly finally chose Aotea Square of the two locations surveyed. Aotea Square was chosen for its political significance, its central location, and because it had recently been "taken" from the people of Auckland by "The Edge", and was no longer used as a marketplace and speakers' forum. Albert Part was seen as being less contentious, more centrally located in terms of the overall geography of the city, more suitable as a camp ground and closer to natural allies at the university; however, the site was rejected and at least two organisers dissented from the majority view in their preference for Albert Park.


    On 15 October, a march of over 2000 people set off from Britomart, up Queen Street to Aotea Square. A rally was held on arrival in the Square, followed by a concert that evening after tents were set up. There were approximately 70 occupiers on the first night. Stiff resistance was anticipated, but apart from a misunderstanding with Police, the Occupation began without incident.

    Few of the original occupiers were homeless, or unemployed. Most were young professionals, students and members of the middle class. Many were experienced protesters and professional activists. The involvement of the trade union movement in the initial weeks of the occupation was significant. The Unite Union, First Union, the SWFU, the Mana Party and Legalise Cannabis Party were either directly involved, or members of their organisations came on their own time. Unaffiliated participants regularly expressed their gratitude for this support.

    Over time however, for various reasons, this support began to drop off for reasons of other commitments, particularly the looming elections. By the fourth week of the occupation, Unite members were only irregular participants. Expected support in strength from the middle class did not materialise, although support off site was always strong. Donations began to drop off, in large part due to decisions made in the first days of the Occupation to use Facebook almost exclusively. The website was neglected, and so it became difficult for the public who were not familiar with Facebook to see what was needed and make donations. The Occupation became more or less invisible, except to approximately 5,000 Facebook friends, most of whom were not located in New Zealand. This error was compounded by the loss of a number of media-savvy personnel responsible for Press Releases. This loss was not off-set, even by the brief participation of Dr. Campbell Jones, an academic from the University of Auckland. The loss of support from the professional activist network gradually accelerated until the issuance of the Trespass Notice by Auckland City Council.

    Political contributions

    After the immediate arrival at the camp site, work was divided roughly into three large categories: "Town Planning Activities", "Political Establishment" and "Group Activism". Those who had been heavily involved in the original organisation then began to distance themselves from their initial roles as logistical organisers in favor of more political involvement. In the first two weeks, especially, key strategic and political goals identified prior to arrival at the Square were carried out to insure that the Occupation was truly established not only as a physical occupation, but as a primarily political event.

    Call for unity of 16 October 2011

    The first political resolution of the Occupation was passed on 16 October. The resolution rejected anti-semitism, islamophobia racism and sexism, and called for unity between the 99%. The purpose of this resolution was to immediately diffuse destructive religious tensions between Jews and Muslims, which could have been incited by opportunistic attacks from elements of the radical left against "Zionism" and "Israel". The perceived position of the Occupation as a cosmopolitan forum and "neutral ground" required this, if there was any hope of having the safe involvement of either Jews or Muslims in the Occupation. The close proximity of the Jewish Synagogue in Grey's Avenue and the not-inconsiderable Muslim student population in the area made this an imperative, in order to avoid even the possibility of offense. The resolution appears to have been a success, as no serious complaints were received, and there were no major anti-semitic or islamophic incidents during the Occupation. Muslims and Jews moved freely through the camp and frequently engaged in friendly and enjoyable political discussions.

    Safer Spaces Policy of 23 October 2011

    The Auckland Anarchists Network has a "Safer Spaces Policy":

    On 23 October, a "Safer Spaces Policy" was read and approved in a single session. This policy is almost an exact duplicate of the Anarchist policy, with the exception of certain insertions which seem to be misplaced political assertions far beyond the scope of a Safer Spaces policy.

    The over-reaching nature of the Safer Spaces policy resulted in significant issues which would surface repeatedly in the Occupation. The SSP was poorly understood, and rushed through on one vote. Because it was complex, it could not be referred to except as a non-violence and no-drugs charter. It pledged New Zealanders to give back all of the land originally owned by the indigenous peoples, but it also prevented hugging without permission. It compelled the Occupiers to automatically believe anyone who made any kind of accusation of abuse, without evidence, and decreed that to challenge them in any way was deeply offensive.

    It is estimated that over 30% of all GA time is consumed addressing some infraction of the Safer Spaces Policy and deciding on what to do about it.

    An open Letter to the Prime Minister of Australia, 22 October 2011

    Following the repression of the Occupation of City Square in Melbourne, the GA approved an Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Australia, denouncing the actions of the Victoria Police and calling for an end to the suppression of the Occupation Movement in Australia. This letter cited the "exemplary professionals" of the Auckland City Council and the New Zealand Police, and suggested that the Prime Minister could take advice from these bodies, who to this point had a positive working relationship with the Occupation.

    The Declaration of the Occupation of Auckland, 3 November 2011

    On 3 November 2011, the Declaration of the Occupation of Auckland was ratified. This statement, which was workshopped heavily for 10 days was addressed to the people of New Zealand, though it was understood that it would be read widely in government circles throughout the country. It was intended to express the justification of the Occupiers for their actions, "We wish you to hear those concerns which have driven us to make this Occupation. We do not do this lightly. For we live with the risk of arrest. We have put our reputations, our persons, our careers, our property and our relationships in jeopardy. We wish to impress upon you the depths of our determination and our sincerity."

    The Declaration was not intended to be a policy statement or political platform, though it does explain the purpose of the Occupation. It consists of an introduction, in the form of a Preamble, a list of formal Grievances, and a Call to Action, requesting the reader to judge for themselves whether the Occupiers are justified in their actions. Three choices of response are offered; to join, to support or to fight the Occupiers. An appeal concludes, suggesting that the reader should come and help the Occupiers by reasoning together to discover of solutions for the benefit of all New Zealanders. The Occupiers then declare a challenge, declaring that they will remain in the Square "until the 99% awaken".

    The Declaration was received enthusiastically by the Occupiers and was ratified unanimously. Five days after it was ratified, it as printed and laminated on A0 and posted on three sides of the Occupation. It has remained there ever since, and has been read by thousands of visitors. Most visitors are observed to read it in its entirety.

    In the weeks that followed its ratification, criticisms of the Declaration began to emerge, though there has been no serious or concerted attack on the document, and support remains strong. A few persons outside of the Occupation felt that key issues were not represented, pertaining particularly to indigenous rights and ecological concerns. Others felt that it was difficult to read. It was also criticised as being "too American", because of its resemblance to the OWS Declaration and its echoing of sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence. Its strong language and unambivalent tone and its enumeration of grievances rather than political solutions was considered to supposedly be out of character with other more traditional New Zealand political statements. However, when the grievances are removed, parallels between the Declaration and the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand can be observed. Similarities between the two documents include the citation of the authority of the framers and the strong reference to logical assertion of sovereignty, a common theme in populist political thought in New Zealand. The author of the Auckland Declaration was unaware of the New Zealand Declaration of Independence at the time, and so these similarities are best attributed to the familiarity of both authors with the common roots of Western Political Democracy.

    Occupation of the University of Auckland Clock Tower, 17 October 2011

    Approximately 200 student activists from the We are the University Movement occupied the Clock Tower of the University of Auckland for several hours, until Police arrived with dogs and threatened to make mass arrests. After leaving the Clock Tower the students marched to the Occupy encampment.

    Feeding the homeless

    As the first Occupiers were for the most part neither homeless nor unemployed, the level of donations were more than adequate to cover the needs of the Occupation, and standards were very high. However, as word got around in Queen Street that the Occupation was providing three hot meals a day to all comers, the homeless gradually came to the camp, swelling numbers. At its peak, the Occupation fed 350 people three meals a day. Many of the homeless assumed responsibility in overseeing and performing kitchen and cooking duties, replacing the original Unite Members who set it up initially. Eventually, it became impossible to feed so many people for free, and a nominal charge was instituted of $1 per meal, well within the means of everyone at the camp.

    Experiments in direct democracy

    From the beginning, the Occupation of Auckland always reserved the right to modify the procedures and processes of Direct Democracy as received from OWS and adapt them to local New Zealand culture. This is in spite of the disproportionately high number of Americans participating in the Occupation.

    Early conflicts surfaced between Pakeha (European) Occupiers and "Tangata Whenua" or "People of the Land". The open hui style of assembly of the Maori is different from that of the heavily structured and disciplined format of the General Assembly. Within three weeks of arrival, approximately 20 Maori left the camp, purportedly over this issue. These tensions were never fully resolved, but rather, elements of both meeting styles were eventually blended to make a distinctively informal New Zealand format. The People's Mic was never used consistently.

    The General Assemblies were constantly assailed by the practical challenges arising from the initial decision to Occupy in a place previously occupied by the homeless. The homeless who had previously lived in and around the Square came into the Occupation and took up their place in the Assemblies. However, long standing issues of race, violence, drugs and alcohol abuse continually affected the Occupation from outside, and occasionally adversely affected the Assembly. The Occupation fought these negative influences continuously, working successfully to keep them out for the most part, in spite of the fact that the entire site was open to the public continuously. Not only were these influences resisted, but if anything, the Occupation was able to demonstrate a viable alternative to these behaviors, one involving a rejection of violence and substance abuse and embracing personal responsibility and accountability.

    While from the perspective of the Homeless the Occupation has been a success, from the perspective of the original activist-organisers, it has been less so. For the most part, the Occupiers were successful at keeping violent personalities and destructive influence out of the camp. But the effort involved was constantly fatiguing, and took its toll in flare-ups of one sort or another in the Assemblies. Few of the original activists had spent this much time working directly with large numbers of street people, and it was necessary to learn and adapt as they did so. Persons with serious mental health issues were a problem from the first day. Because of this, the political purpose of the Assemblies, which relies on cool deliberation, was constantly undermined. Eventually, the ability of the GA to pass subtle, politically sophisticated resolutions diminished, to the point where the GA become completely consumed with security issues, conflicts needing resolving, and domestic business. This had the effect of making an already politically difficult situation more difficult as Council and the Occupation failed repeatedly to respond adequately to messages and requests.

    Increasingly, it became evident that this was the way the Occupiers wanted it to be. The GA was no longer interested in politics or its original mission. The key activists who had been responsible for the early political accomplishments of the Occupation were all but driven off. By the first week in December, the Occupation effectively ceased to be a pro-active, outward-looking political force. Instead, it became a largely inward-looking experiment in the politicisation of the homeless.

    This was almost entirely unexpected. The occupation had become a homeless camp unlike any other in recent Auckland history. The homeless had been "radicalised", being introduced to self-governance methods and direct democracy as a new way of resolving community problems without reliance on force, intimidation, gangs or drugs. The Occupation of Auckland became a self-governing, self-funding, democratic community, living in an extremely difficult and challenging environment. Those who did not conform to its drug-free and alcohol-free policy were found and ejected, although it was a constant struggle to keep them out.


    Occupy protests, events and actions have occurred in the New Zealand city of Dunedin.


    Occupy protests in New Zealand Wikipedia

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