New Zealand Joins the International Crackdown on COVID Mandate Protests
Last week, with the world understandably distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, New Zealand authorities took advantage of the moment to disperse an inconvenient protest against pandemic mandates. Like Canada’s Freedom Convoy, by which it was inspired, the protest was grounded in grassroots disagreement with authoritarian policies, mixed with a little nuttiness, and had outlived its welcome. Also like its inspiration, the protest in New Zealand was forcibly shut down to the surprise of those with preconceptions about peaceful, tolerant democracies. Governments are most peaceful, it turns out, when there’s little dissent to test that tolerance and, under pandemic stresses, gloves are coming off in an increasingly illiberal world.
“Police in riot gear cleared a protest camp outside New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday, sparking violent clashes that saw dozens arrested as protesters hurled bricks and set fire to their tents,” Michael E. Miller wrote March 2 for The Washington Post. “In what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said was a planned operation to remove the camp, hundreds of officers assembled at dawn and began towing the cars and trucks demonstrators have used to block streets for more than three weeks, in imitation of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada.”
Weeks of protesters camped out in your city can fray the nerves even of people sympathetic to the cause—just ask Seattle residents who remember the degenerating condition of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)/Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) from summer 2020. Sanitation deteriorates, noise disturbs people’s sleep, and the situation can turn violent, testing everybody’s limits. But, like their counterparts in Ottawa, the authorities in Wellington shocked many observers.
“Officers, many bearing riot shields, responded with pepper spray and rubber bullets. At least 60 people were arrested, and three officers were taken to hospitals,” Natasha Frost noted for The New York Times of violence on the part of both cops and protesters. “Such scenes are rare in New Zealand, a country known for its relative remoteness, serenity and stability.”
Unlike Canada, which imposed a financial police state and is still hunting wrong-thinkers who dared to donate to the Freedom Convoy, New Zealand officials have so far stuck with old-fashioned head-busting. But politicians in both nations seem united in disbelief that anybody could disagree with them.
“After all, when we are in the middle of a pandemic, and 400 people hospitalized and 20,000 people becoming sick in just one day, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that people would stand opposed to efforts to slow that down,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern huffed of protesters camped around Parliament. It echoed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s slap at the Freedom Convoy for “unacceptable views.”
It’s not really obvious that protesters “stand opposed to efforts” to curb COVID-19. While decentralized movements represent a range of views, polls say many participants oppose vaccine mandates, travel restrictions, curfews, and othe
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