Green and peaceful land

On June 25, Greenpeace New Zealand did an action at Parliament. That afternoon I knew that, were I raising children, it would be as activists

I have no personal memory of the 1981 Springbok tour: I couldn't tell you if I were for or against it because, as far as I can recall, I did not know about it until after.

I was eight years old, which should have been old enough for opinions. And yet: we were living in a tiny town almost at the bottom of the world. We had no TV. We didn't discuss politics and current events at the dinner table - nor follow sport, though of course, it wasn't about the sport.

Later, always, I did as I was told: trained lawyer, a law-abiding life quietly lived, law maker not law breaker; and then, I swapped sides. I was an advocate and campaigner.

I don't know when it was, that the kaleidoscope of it all shifted and the people I began at first to respect, and then, to deeply admire, were those on the edges and not in suits - people who grasped how much of it all was broken: that environmental reform is economic reform, is profound social change.

On June 25, Greenpeace New Zealand did an action at Parliament. It was joyous – not only the four climbers, delivering six working solar panels. "Parliamentary Question Time's a shambles, so we're holding our own..."; there was a "Reddit from the Roof"; there was helpful clarification, that key messages with the Prime Minister's face emblazoned on were not submissions on NZ's flag.

David Seymour ‏@dbseymour [ACT party leader] "Greenpeace show their arrogance and conceit, breaking into parliament to promote solar panels."
Greenpeace NZ ‏@GreenpeaceNZ .@dbseymour "hi David. We're actually outside. #realclimateaction"
Tane Woodley ‏@tanethegreen @GreenpeaceNZ ... "So you broke nothing and went onto Parliament? Is not-breaking and ontering a crime?"

That afternoon I knew that, were I raising children, it would be as activists - and they would be good citizens, because that's what the world most needs. People to speak and act. Lawful and, sometimes, unlawful participation: readiness to confront what's broken, not to submit to power.

Compliance might often be prudent, but I'm feeling defiant, and defiance feels like the right place to be. It feels like the end game of egalitarian NZ: I don't care if you're Prime Minister, knight of the realm or Queen. I care that you're brave, kind and clever, move mountains by climbing things perhaps, laugh in the face of stupidity, and dare the rest of us to be bold.

When confronted with abuse of power, what will I do: will I obey, will I speak - words having failed, will I act? Will I act non-violently, peacefully? Will I act unlawfully?

For now, I choose a quieter activism, more selfish too – trying to find some kind of peace, planting trees, listening, saving a place for what might come. These are my heroes: people whose courtesy and courage never falters, who put their bodies on the line. Who submit to arrest, so you and I don't have to – so that wrongs can't be swept out of sight. Putting the "civil" into civil disobedience, along with the courage and the wit, and the care to make sure that first and foremost, their actions do no harm. Who stop their lives for three days to sleep in the arms of a tree. Who won't be silenced by ridicule and oppression; who answer the call again and again to tell a different story, well.

I guess I'm on some kind of watchlist now.

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.

- H L Mencken

Or driven - not to despair - but to rage, to courage, to the impulse to act; in ways private or public, large or small.

When good-natured non-violent activism meets disapproval, it "alienates people" – perceived as somehow unconstructive, that placards and shouting at each other make no progress at all. Never mind the immense magic in making people laugh, even smile, on a sunlit winter day; there wasn't any shouting. I think that action does make progress: it doesn't get agreement, but starts to shift the cornerstones around in people's minds. I think the fear is a different kind: that it challenges power. These people are threats, not to your personal security, but because they make it harder to turn away. Threats to received wisdom, to untrue, self-serving stories – not to the people, but to power. And once that deck of cards starts falling, who knows where they'll land. We're campaigning for an ecosystem, not an hierarchical world, and ecosystems have lives of their own.