John A.Z. Moore: Liberal New Zealand versus the protesting “mob”

John A.Z. Moore: Liberal New Zealand versus the protesting “mob”

The Democracy Project’s John A.Z. Moore argues that liberals and lefties decrying the occupation outside parliament have only got it half-right at best and says a nuanced leftwing and evidence-based analysis of the protesters’ motives is desperately needed.


The anti-mandate protest outside New Zealand’s parliament has caused genuine alarm and fear amongst liberals and a large section of the political left in this country. The occupation in the heart of Wellington has been labelled fascist, white supremacist and under the control of foreign far-right figures including former Trump adviser and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The liberal condemnation of the protesting “mob” has been shaped by mainstream media reports, pro-government political pundits and internet-centred researchers. But the reality on the ground is very different from the liberal painting of the protesters as dangerous rightwing nut jobs.

What’s happening on the ground?

It seems that few of those liberals calling the Parliament grounds occupiers Nazis and fascists have actually gone to the trouble of speaking to the protesters themselves. An exception has been Dr Bryce Edwards of Victoria University, who has been going down and observing the anti-mandate protest on a near-daily basis. Reports that he has put up on Twitter, Facebook and on the Democracy Project have given an on the ground view of the good, the bad and the very ugly that make up the anti-mandate rally.

In contrast with media reports that suggest the occupation has been dominated by white far-right extremists, Dr Edwards has revealed the politically eclectic nature of the convoy. It turns out that the demographics of the occupation are actually predominantly working class and often brown. Dr Edwards’ reports of protesters decrying violence and anti-social behaviours stands in stark contrast to media reports of a mainly violent unhinged rabble.

Dr Edwards has emphasized that he does not support the politics of the occupiers, but does have an appreciation for their right to protest and the economic plight and social alienation that many of the anti-mandate protesters face.

For his efforts of interacting with and critiquing the protesters, Dr Edwards has been accused of white-washing the protesters by the University of Otago’s Morgan Godfery, of even of being an outright reactionary by Wellington left-wing intellectual Giovanni Tiso. Others have called for Victoria University of Wellington to cut ties with Dr Edwards.

Fascists under the bed

Liberal pundits and political actors are desperate to characterize the Wellington occupation as fascist. Left-wing academic Morgan Godfery on Radio NZ  painted the protesters as internet trolls, “so-called moderates” and far-right extremists. His musings on the occupation feel like a cut and paste job from a liberal analysis of the alt-right and pro-Trump movement in the United States. Leading anti-fascist researcher Byron Clark has made almost identical comments about the occupation, as has the Speaker of the house Trevor Mallard and deputy prime minister Grant Robertson.

The fact that the protest is dominated on the ground by white hippies and Māori seems to have been lost on these commentators and distinguished politicians. Morgan Godfrey’s analysis of the occupation are particularly puzzling, as he is a leading expert on kaupapa Māori politics, and is able to give an astute class analysis on political developments. Yet his comments on the Wellington action make little or no mention of the dominance of Māori at the occupation, the large presence of tino rangatiratanga flags and banners, and the poor and working class faces that seem to make up a majority of those camping out in the centre of the capital. Godfery has also made an explicit call for the state to violently smash the occupation, due to its apparent extreme right nature.

Most liberal commentators have avoided the difficult questions around how class and indigenous identity has shaped the nature of the occupation. Instead, such pundits have been publishing conspiracy theories that claim the protest is an alt-right American plot by the likes of Steve Bannon, in cahoots with local Nazis. Certainly, far-right and extreme right media, both foreign and local, have seized on the occupation as worthy of their support. But being able to list a number of despicable online sites ostensibly championing the Wellington occupation does not equate to a fascist leadership dominating the politics of the protest.

The disenfranchised versus the righteous

For the past several weeks the media, politicians and liberal commentators have emphasised how the occupation represents only an insignificant minority of nutters and extremists. After all, over 96 percent of the population are vaccinated, which apparently equates to overwhelming support for government covid policies. Yet, a recent survey showed that 30 percent of people in New Zealand support the occupation. And it is likely a far greater number at least defend the right of the occupiers to protest. It seems that the media, politicians and liberal commentators have little idea of the growing feelings of discontent in the poorer suburbs and in the provinces.

Protesters one after another have talked about the economic hurt they have faced during the lockdowns and mandates. But their voices continue to be ignored by the likes of politicians and especially public media. On Friday, TVNZ ran a story on the 6pm news that claimed  New Zealanders were quickly losing tolerance for the anti-mandate protesters. Several Auckland and Wellington locals hostile to the protesters were interviewed on the street. And a few of the more deranged protesters were given a say. No mention was made of the recent poll showing significant support for the occupation. Most viewers would have been left with the impression that the occupation was predominantly white and a fringe affair.

A need to reengage with those at the bottom of the heap

It is not surprising that righteous liberals have found through their opposition to the occupation a convenient enemy to unite against. But what is alarming is the number of pro-working class lefties that have embraced the liberal decrying of the “mob” on parliament grounds. This left has even championed the call for police violence against the protesters.

What has caused this leftwing disconnect with some of the most poor and disenfranchised? This left needs to once again take up traditional progressive demands for economic security for workers and the poor, for a huge transfer of wealth from the rich to the majority, for old fashioned class war to strengthen unions and take power back for those who have been ignored and forgotten.

Rather than hailing the achievements of the Labour-led government’s management of the covid crisis, this left should have been decrying the government’s lack of an economic programme for those hurting due to the exacerbation of poverty and inequality.

Liberals and leftists have found a new cause in decrying a rabble of poor, brown and angry protesters. They have embraced the police and even the army as the necessary agency to push back this mob. Where is the left that once saw the millionaires, billionaires, the police and the oppressive state agencies as the real enemy? A new left that reengages with the mob is desperately needed.


John A.Z Moore is a podcaster and writer for the Democracy Project as well as a precarious worker in the provinces.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.