Whale Rider star marches as protests go global

Last updated 19:43 15/10/2011

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Hundred of protesters, including Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes, are tonight occupying Auckland's Aotea Square as part of a global movement than began in Wall Street, New York.

Around 2000 people gathered at the square this afternoon and around 200 turned out in Wellington and 30 in Christchurch.

Galvanised by the past month's Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed, global protests were due to ripple round the world to Alaska via London, Frankfurt, Washington and New York.

Auckland's action began with 300 people marching up Queen Street - avoiding a much larger gathering of Samoans in Shortland Street where Manu Samoan player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu was facing the International Rugby Board over his tweeting habits.

They were tonight listening to speeches and planning further action.

A number of tents were set up on the grassed area of the Square tonight, with police watching but taking no action.

In Wellington there was just one tent in sight and that was barely big enough to cover the guitar case housing the guitar belonging to Kapiti Coast musician Matiu Te Huki.

Organisers addressing the very disorganised rally said the weeklong occupation was necessary for many reasons, particularly the issue of the gap between rich and poor.

Te Huki said he volunteered to play his music at the demonstration - his music focused on the internal revolution going on within many human beings -  to help unify the people present at the gathering.

"My songs are all positive, uplifting tunes.  There's a group of random musicians here who are doing their own thing," Te Huki said.

He liked the idea of people getting together and creating a collective energy.

"I don't think every house on the street needs a  lawnmower these days. A  lot of us here are starting to head towards living together in communities.

He said Maori had always exhibited a strong sense of community so the vision being pushed by the people behind Occupy Wellington was not really new for Maori.

Occupy Wellington lists its demands as "a return to real democracy, a government by the people for the people and an economic system that works for 100 per cent of the people.

About 200 people turned up for the beginning of the demonstration, which occurred on the wooden bridge between Civic Square and the Wellington waterfront.

One of the many random speakers who addressed the gathering was Succinno Vermeltfoort.

Vermeltfoort was critical of the fact a small percentage of people owned a major proportion of the wealth in western society.

"This demonstartion is  mostly about stating how we feel. It is about sharing and it is about acknowledging we live on a small round planet."

He was particularly concerned about people needing to care for the environment.

"We live in a limited world and some people want more than their fair share.  Conservation is a big issue. People here are really concerned about the environment," Mr  Vermeltfoort said.

When the impromptu speeches and a march to the nearby building housing the Stock Exchange  concluded, Te Huki removed his guitar case from the small tent protecting it and helped kick off the entertainment segment of the programme.

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The Occupy Wellington group is also planning to protest in front of the Reserve Bank from November 5 to November 30.

Wellington foodbank worker Graham Howell, a regular protestor outside the Reserve Bank in recent years, was police liaison officer for the demonstration.

He was not anticipating any problems.


For an October revolution, dress warm.

That's the word going out - politely - on the web to rally street protests around the globe today, from New Zealand to Alaska via London, Frankfurt, Washington and, of course, New York, where the past month's Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a worldwide yell of anger at banks and financiers.

How many will show up, let alone stay to camp out to disrupt city centres for days, or months, to come, is anyone's guess. The hundreds at Manhattan's Zuccotti Park were calling for back-up on Friday, local time, fearing imminent eviction. Rome expects tens of thousands at a national protest of more traditional stamp.

Few other police forces expect more than a few thousand to turn out on the day for what is billed as an exercise in social media-spread, Arab Spring-inspired, grassroots democracy with an emphasis on peaceful, homespun debate, as seen among Madrid's "indignados" in June or at the current Wall Street park sit-in.

Blogs and Facebook pages devoted to "October 15" - #O15 on Twitter - abound with exhortations to keep the peace, bring an open mind, a sleeping bag, food and warm clothing; in Britain, "Occupy London Stock Exchange" is at pains to stress it does not plan to actually, well, occupy the stock exchange.

That may turn off those with a taste for the kind of anarchic violence seen in London in August, at anti-capitalism protests of the past decade and at some rallies against spending cuts in Europe this year. But, as Karlin Younger of consultancy Control Risks said: "When there's a protest by an organisation that's very grassroots, you can't be sure who will show up."

Concrete demands are few from those who proclaim "We are the 99 per cent," other than a general sense that the other 1 per cent - the "greedy and corrupt" rich, and especially banks - should pay more, and that elected governments are not listening.

"It's time for us to unite; it's time for them to listen; people of the world, rise up!" proclaims the Web site United for #GlobalChange. "We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers who do not represent us ... We will peacefully demonstrate, talk and organise until we make it happen."

By doing so peacefully, many hope for a wider political impact, by amplifying the chord their ideas strike with millions of voters in wealthy countries who feel ever more squeezed by the global financial crisis while the rich seem to get richer.


"We have people from all walks of life joining us every day," said Spyro, one of those behind a Facebook page in London which has grown to have some 12,000 followers in a few weeks, enthused by Occupy Wall Street. Some 5000 have posted that they will turn out, though even some activists expect fewer will.

Spyro, a 28-year-old graduate who has a well-paid job and did not want his family name published, summed up the main target of the global protests as "the financial system".

Angry at taxpayer bailouts of banks since crisis hit in 2008 and at big bonuses still paid to some who work in them while unemployment blights the lives of many young Britons, he said: "People all over the world, we are saying 'enough is enough'."

What the remedy would be, Spyro said, was not for him to say but should emerge from public debate - a common theme for those camping out off Wall Street since mid-September, who have stirred up US political debate and, a Reuters poll found, won sympathy from over a third of Americans.

A suggestions log posted at 15october.net ("This space is ready for YOUR idea for the revolution") range from a mass cutting up of credit cards ("hit the banks where it counts") to "use technology to make education free".

For all such utopianism, the possibility that peaceful mass action, helped by new technologies, can bring real change has been reinforced by the success of Arab uprisings this year.

"I've been waiting for this protest for a long time, since 2008," said Daniel Schreiber, 28, an editor in Berlin. "I was always wondering why people aren't outraged and why nothing has happened and finally, three years later, it's happening."

Quite what is happening, though, is hard to say. The biggest turnouts are expected where local conditions are most acute.

Italian police are preparing for tens of thousands to march in Rome against austerity measures planned by the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Yet in crisis-ravaged Athens, where big protests have seen violence at times of late, a sense of fatigue and futility may limit numbers on Saturday, local time. In Madrid, where thousands of young "indignados", or "angry ones", camped out for weeks, many also feel the movement has run out of steam since the summer.

Germans, where sympathy for southern Europe's debt troubles is patchy, the financial centre of Frankfurt, and the European Central Bank in particular, is expected to be a focus of marches calling by the Spanish-inspired Real Democracy Now movement.

Complicating German sentiments, however, a series of small bombs found on trains has stirred memories of the left-wing guerrilla attacks that grew in the 1970s from frustration at a lack of change after the student protests of 1968.


British student protests a year ago were marked by some acts of violence by what authorities say were hard-core anarchists. Days of looting in London in August were put down to motives that mingled political discontent with criminal opportunism.

As an international centre of finance, the city of London is key target. But organisers know strong police powers make setting up a Wall Street-style protest camp there far from easy.

"There's quite a bit of fatigue setting in," said one young veteran of last year's protests against higher university fees. "But if it's still going by Monday or Tuesday, I think that will excite students and they will head down. The city is much more the focus of people's anger now, compared to a year ago."

A long Saturday of rallies may start in New Zealand, where the Occupy Auckland Facebook page provides links recommending "suitable clothing ... a sleeping bag, a tent, food" - but, in a family-friendly spirit, strictly no drugs or alcohol.

Asian authorities and businesses may have less to fear, since most of their economies are still growing strongly.

Tracking across the time zones, through towns large and small ("Occupy Norwich!" reads a website from the picturesque English city), the New York example has also prompted calls for similar occupations in dozens of US cities from Saturday.

In Houston, protesters plan to tap into anger at big oil companies. As the world's day ends, hardy souls will be marching in Fairbanks. "We will be obeying traffic lights," insist the authors of OccupyAlaska.org, and they "will be dressed warm."

History suggests such actions are unlikely, of themselves, to change the world. As one anonymous poster at 15october.net writes, "Fleshing out ideas into living reality has always been the bugbear of radical politics." And while anger at corporate greed is widespread, there are plenty of voters who would agree with the Australian who posted on the OccupySydney site that those marching will be "the lazy, the paranoid, the confused."

But some analysts do see a potential for political change.

Jeff Madrick, a prominent economics writer, speaks warmly of the serious and reasonable debate he found at Zuccotti Park. Revolutions may be rare, but the protests could push lawmakers to act on some of the demands, he said last week: "It may begin to change public opinion enough to give Congress, people in Washington, the courage of their own convictions."


Anti-Wall Street protesters are cheering after beating back a plan to clear them from the park they have occupied for the past month, saying the victory will embolden the movement across the US and beyond.

"We are going to piggy-back off the success of today, and it's going to be bigger than we ever imagined," said protester Daniel Zetah.

The showdown in New York came as tensions were rising in several US cities over the spreading protests.

The owners of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan had announced plans to temporarily evict the hundreds of protesters at 7am Friday (local time) so that the grounds could be power-washed. But the protesters feared it was a pretext to break up the demonstration, and they vowed to stand their ground, raising the prospect of clashes with police.

Just minutes before the appointed hour, the word came down that the park's owners, Brookfield Office Properties, had postponed the cleanup. A boisterous cheer went up among the demonstrators, whose numbers had swelled to about 2000 before daybreak in response to a call for help in fending off the police.

In a statement, Brookfield said it decided to delay the cleaning "for a short period of time" at the request of "a number of local political leaders". It gave no details.

Brookfield said it would negotiate with protesters about how the park should be used. But it was unclear when those discussions would occur.

Though the park is privately owned, it is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

Brookfield, a publicly traded real estate firm, had announced plans to power-wash the plaza section by section over 12 hours and then allow the protesters to return. But it said it would begin enforcing the park's rules against tents, tarps and sleeping bags, complaining the grounds had become unsanitary and unsafe.

The New York Police Department had said it would make arrests if Brookfield requested it and laws were broken.

As the morning deadline drew near, some protesters rushed to scrub and sweep the park and pick up trash in hopes of preventing a crackdown.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is on Brookfield's board of directors, said his staff was under strict orders not to pressure the company one way or the other. He noted that Brookfield can still go ahead with the cleanup at some point.

"My understanding is that Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them and saying, 'we're going to make your life more difficult'," he said on his weekly radio show.

In Philadelphia, protester Matt Monk, a freelance writer, was cheered by the news out of New York.

"That means at the very least, the powers-that-be, wherever they are, know that they have to contend with us in a less heavy-handed way," he said.

- Fairfax NZ, AP


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