Residents set on protest mode

JANE BOWRON
Last updated 08:21 24/09/2012

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Jane Bowron

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OPINION: The boy walking ahead on the way to Wednesday evening's protest held a sign that was both endearing and amusing.

Inspired by Harry Potter, on one side the poster read "Voldemort is behind this" while on the flipside he had written "Dumbledore wouldn't have let this happen".

Another sign bobbing above the heads of the crowd relating to the reappointment of commissioners to ECan dropped an H with the Cockney sounding message: "E Can't do this".

Former kids' TV host Olly Olson, who back in the 1980s told kids on his After School programme to "keep cool till after school", shepherded a selection of angry pupils from schools affected by the announcement of mergers and closures, as the kids spoke to the crowd begging for the Government to reconsider, and vowing to fight the closures.

Three days later at the Saturday protest peopled by families, school kids and teachers, weeping children spoke of the fondness and pride they had for their schools, how they had become safe and supportive havens throughout the quakes and aftershocks.

A girl trying to speak through tears wanted to know: 'Why I can't stay where I am because of this lady?'

It brought to mind the harrowing spectacle I witnessed in the early days after the February quake of children unable to attend schools wandering the streets crying as their mothers walked stony-faced ahead, struggling to cope with their own fears.

Adult speakers spoke of children being 'experimented on' in a greater plot by the Government to use the quakes as political opportunism to close schools in a national scheme to supersize education, obliterate school trustees and boards, and pave the way for charter schools. Another likened the changes to Canterbury schools and vulnerable children's lives as a form of 'child abuse'.

Kids with solemn faces held up a myriad of signs, one in Tui ad mode saying: 'National supports quality public education. Yeah Right', another saying: 'What the Hekia thinking?', 'Where's my voice Hekia?' and 'Democracy is falling through the cracks'.

In the minds of children 'this lady' Parata will be solely responsible for breaking up their peer group gangs and taking them far from neighbourhoods to attend new schools where they will have to fight for a place in, and survive the rigours of, a new peer group.

(Who would have thought that bussing would come to New Zealand?)

If you thought Paula "Benefit" has become the most loathed female Cabinet minister since Ruth Richardson, it seems Hekia Parata is giving Bennett a run for her dole money.

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Invited to attend the rally, neither Parata nor any other National MP, not even the thick-skinned Emperor of Epidermis Gerry Brownlee, or the very positive Nicky Wagner, MP for Christchurch Central, aka Rebecca from Sunnybrook Farm, showed up to front the crowd.

During speeches a spontaneous haka broke out.

The crowd chanted in aversion to Wellington, calling all the shots with 'Nothing about us, without us', and the 1979 Pink Floyd protest song Another Brick in the Wall had its cynical "we don't need no education" line appropriated.

A middle-aged clown arrived on a unicycle to weave in and out of the crowd juggling, while dogs fought or lay low on the warmth of the netball courts sheltering from the cold wind coming off the snow-covered mountains.

Like the 1981 anti- Springbok Tour protest movement, these protests, like many others taking place in Canterbury for a variety of reasons, is predominantly of the aggrieved middle-class and with each protest is developing into a match-fit habit.

Pre the education announcement, the rest of the nation might have thought that Christchurch was collapsing under the weight of its own grumpiness, but the message that the Christchurch experiment with education could spread to the rest of the country seems to be getting through.

In the meantime, the kids are getting an education in civil rights, democracy, the power of protest, and on the way might even grow up to become the generation who make exercising their franchise sexy again.

- The Press

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