Natalie Hughes

Recorded Twenty-seventh October 2012

Byron: OK I'm going to start by asking you, how did you get involved in Occupy Christchurch?

Natalie: I was attending Hagley Community College at the time, in [2011], and I was taking some art subjects to fill in my time and sort of up skill, because I'm a bit of an artist, and I noticed the tents went up so I just approached one day and asked if there was anything I could do to help, and looked up online and then thought I should get involved.

Byron: So what inspired you to get involved?

Natalie: Mainly the political aspect with the whole anti-government corruption aspect and sort of the idea of, equality and socio-economic justice and stuff like that really inspired me.

Byron: So what sort of response did you get when you came and approached and asked if there was anything you could do?

Natalie: Very positive.

Byron: Very positive? So what sort of things were you doing to help out with Occupy?

Natalie: Putting up signs really, not a lot, I did some dishes, to begin with, and then once I got fully involved and I understood more about the principles and the sort of mission statement stuff like that, I took it upon myself to explain to passers-by who wanted to know as well, to give a bit more knowledge.

Byron: So did you attend the general assemblies?

Natalie: Yes

Byron: And what was a general assembly like? How did that work?

Natalie: I did join at quite a late stage so I think the general assemblies were still quite formal though because I was there on day 89 I think was my first day, so it had a bit of a structure, you had an agenda and you'd go through all the points on the agenda and then there’d be room at the end for general discussion, but as time went on the agenda became the focus rather than the general discussion at the end, and so it sort of got even more formal, and then after a while it got less and less formal and there was more general discussion, so a bit of an evolution over time.

Byron: So with all this general discussion what sort of things were being discussed?

Natalie: A lot of different people's opinions and worldviews were only discussed which was something I'd never come across before, because everyone was very accepting and after a while it was sort of to do with maintenance of the camp and stuff, less so with the political aspects, but once the camp stage was over and we all got moved on by the Council a lot of the political and worldview stuff started to come back again, and "where too from here" and stuff like that.

Byron: So what sort of worldviews were you exposed to by these general discussions?

Natalie: A very, wide range.

Byron: A very wide range, so Occupy wasn't a sort of homogenous kind of view; it was a mixture of a whole lot of different world views?

Natalie: Yeah, with the same purpose.

Byron: What were some of the activities you participated in during your time at Occupy?

Natalie: Open Air University, was a good one.

Byron: And what was the Open Air University?

Natalie: A chance for people to come and educate anyone who was in that area on different subjects and stuff, people who had qualifications in that area, or people who just knew a lot about the subject and wanted to get the word out about it, I think the one time I talked about something was right at the end of the camp stage, and I talked about Globalisation.

Byron: And were these quite well attended, these Open Air Universities?

Natalie: I think so, and not just by people from Occupy.

Byron: So that was a- brought in more people than were staying at the camp site and were involved in the day-to-day?

Natalie: Yeah.

Byron: Was there much in the way of protest action at the time when you were involved?

Natalie: At the time when I was involved yes I think so. There was a protest outside Gerry Brownlee's office to do with housing after the earthquake, and I had a lot of invitations to go to different protests, but I never really attended since then, stuff like welfare reforms I think was one of them, which I didn't go to, not that I didn't agree with it, but yeah.

Byron: So you stayed involved after the camp site ended in Hagley Park, how did the movement change after the campsite packed up and left?

Natalie: It was almost like a filter, in that it left the movement with a lot of the people who were most dedicated, therefore the discussions were more focused I think.

Byron: So it was a positive move to end the camp site do you think?

Natalie: I think so.

Byron: What are some of your best memories from your time being involved in Occupy?

Natalie: To be honest the last day of camp, because it brought everybody together and everybody was smiling even though the camp was over, and The Press were there and there was a lot of interviews and things but it was just a really nice feeling to have been involved in such a global movement so I was really stoked that day, that I stuck it through to the end, and I also met my partner at Occupy, and that's awesome [Laughs].

Byron: So with it being a global movement did you feel connected to people in Zucotti Park in New York and London and all these other cities, you feel there was a connection between Occupy Christchurch and the other Occupies around the world?

Natalie: Yes I think so, and I joined some mailing lists from Occupy New York as well, so I got a lot of information from them, and I remember seeing a big cardboard poster of a world map and lots of pins where all the different Occupy places were and I just thought "wow, that's huge and I'm a part of it" it’s a really good feeling.

Byron: And you met your partner at Occupy, how did that happen?

Natalie: He was actually the first person I talked to when I entered the camp site, and he was just so happy to see someone who wanted to help, because I think he often did a lot of the cleaning himself at that stage, but yeah, and then we got talking after that, and I moved into his tent.

Byron: So had you had any involvement in any kind of political activism before Occupy or was this a totally new experience?

Natalie: I think it was a totally new experience, yeah.

Byron: Do you think that Occupy Christchurch achieved anything? Did it change anything in Christchurch or in New Zealand?

Natalie: I think it changed a lot of people’s lives, because people met and lived with other people who were like minded and its built a lot of really good relationships from there, and a huge network of people who are politically active, is a really good thing for protest in the future I think because everyone sends each other messages about the next thing that's happening and they still have discussions and everything, I think it’s a good thing in that respect.

Byron: Do you think that it brought together a lot of people who, in other contexts probably wouldn't be associating with each other?

Natalie: Yes.

Byron: In what ways?

Natalie: People from all sorts of different socio-economic backgrounds were grouped together, so you've got very wealthy and established people and people who had no fixed abode living together, and I think that was great for both parties because those people who were previously on the street had a really safe place, a sort of family environment, community that they belonged to, and I think that was really amazing to see, and everyone brought their different ideas and world views and there were people who [were into] conspiracy theories for example, but they were still accepted into the mix, but with that I think there was a negative aspect because the amount of acceptance there was amazing, but it sort of skewed the focus on what Occupy was about at times.

Byron: In what ways?

Natalie: It just caused a lot of arguments and also people were bringing their own spin on it so to speak, and try to spread at that among people who didn't know what Occupy was about, so they'd be lots of different people with a different understanding of what Occupy was, in terms of PR type stuff.

Byron: So, kinda conflicting ideas about what Occupy was were being spread, wider than Occupy?

Natalie: I think so.

Byron: Do you think that that altered the public perception of Occupy at all?

Natalie: I actually don't know?

Byron: How did you find the public perception of Occupy Christchurch? Did you find it was positive, negative, a mix?

Natalie: A mix, leaning more toward negative, mainly because of the media coverage, they had quite a negative angle on it, but a lot of people that I talked to in my social circles thought it was a great thing, my parents were very supportive, so yeah, a mixture I guess.

Byron: Could you elaborate on your thoughts on the media coverage of Occupy, what did you think of the coverage that it got in The Press and The Mail and elsewhere?

Natalie: I saw a difference between the two major news companies, in their portrayal of the fact that Occupy was closing down at the end, one of them focused on the fact that it had been a valid protest movement, and the other one was like "oh thank goodness they're going finally from the park" you know the public place that had been occupied, and if it goes any further we're going to do this and this and all this terrible stuff, so they were both covering both sides, the positive and the negative side of public opinion but one of them was leaning heavily on the negative.

Byron: So was this the TV networks?

Natalie: Yeah the TV networks.

Byron: Do you think that being young and being female made your experience of Occupy different than it would be for some of the people involved?

Natalie: I think so, there was a lot of talk about, toward the end of the occupation, that it didn't feel to safe to be a woman or child, not that I'm a child, but women with their children didn't tend to arrive as much, and I think was, I was the last female to be full-time living at the camp, but I think the reason why I felt safe was because of the company that I kept. I had quite good friends who would look after me, in the camp. Whereas if I didn't know any of those people I probably wouldn't have stayed as long.

Byron: And there was a woman’s group that formed out of Occupy, you were involved in that?

Natalie: Yes, still am.

Byron: So how were you involved in that when it began?

Natalie: I supported the idea when it first came up, I think at one of the GAs before they stopped, and I remember I think there was one meeting but there wasn't another meeting for quite a long time and I really wanted to get to know the women more and talk about issues relating to women and stuff like that, so I think I strongly suggested that we get organised, and make a time, so I think the second meeting at a cafe in Christchurch was very much influenced by me [Laughs] so yeah I think it’s a great thing.

Byron: And so what was the Occupy women's group doing?

Natalie: It was more of a social get together, but it was, again a chance to share political ideas and for some a way to, sort of get away from certain members who tended to have quite a lot of control in the GAs and there wasn't much... I think there was a lot of conflict at the time, so it was a way to get away from certain people who just happened to be male, it’s not that they're male, they're just the people they are, caused quite a lot of conflict between the men and the women, so it’s a way to have a peaceful discussion, is another aspect of it.

Byron: So the discussions going on at the Occupy women's group were similar to the general discussions that had been going on at Occupy early on?

Natalie: Yes.

Byron: Are you still in touch with many people from Occupy still?

Natalie: Yep whenever I see anyone who was involved I go and say hi and start a conversation with them.

Byron: So in what ways has being involved in Occupy changed your life?

Natalie: I think it’s really broadened my perspective on community and the humanity of people from all different backgrounds and how there are a lot of similarities, in people striving for justice and equity and stuff like that, no matter how they've been brought up, and it just takes that mind-set to really try to make a difference and strive for something really good. So that's inspired me to be a lot more politically active as well, and yeah its formed friendships for life I think.

Byron: So what ways are you politically active now, post-Occupy?

Natalie: I like to share by opinion a lot, bolder than I had before, and research I think is a major thing that I do a lot more now, so I can back up my opinions because they are constantly challenged at Occupy and it’s important to really know what you're saying, whereas the teenage me would have just gone "I think this, therefore this".

I plan to attend more protests, that fit with my own values, not for the sake of protesting, but for the sake of getting ideas across that I believe and also in my field that I'm about to into for my career, which is mental health, I want to work on service development and a lot of policy issues that are in that area of things. So yeah, I think that comes from Occupy.

Byron: So at Occupy where there was this mixing of different of different world views and things you were finding your own views were being challenged at Occupy?

Natalie: I think so, and in my social sphere.

Byron: In your social sphere outside of Occupy your views were being challenged as well?

Natalie: Yes.

Byron: And you felt that that was a positive thing people its led to you doing that research to be able to back your views?

Natalie: Yeah.

Byron: So what sort of research are you doing?

Natalie: I'm looking more into adequate sourcing, so looking for actual scientific studies and things, and sometimes really stunning things to do with people you can't be totally accurate but the more people you have in a survey the better your results will be, the more accurate the results, so stuff like that.

Byron: If something like Occupy were to happen again, in that same sort of form, of a large public on-going protest, do you think you'd get involved again?

Natalie: I'm not sure actually, I might not, because Occupy was what it was, it was amazing and it was the first time I'd ever done something like that, so it really changed who I am now, but there was a lot of... it’s very hard to work to be in that sort of environment, so I think I would prefer to put my efforts into other areas. But I'd love to encourage people to be a part of that in the future.

Byron: So what made it hard work?

Natalie: The camp lifestyle, having to deal with people every day, it was so diverse and a bit out of your comfort zone at times, constant backlash from, my school, Hagley College, because they'd hired security guards, I'm not sure whether it was for the purpose of keeping the students away from the camp or keeping the camp away from the students, and Hagley Students opinion of Occupy was very negative, so that's a different peer group I was having a clash with.

Byron: Why do you think their opinions were negative?

Natalie: I think young people today, in my experience, tend to really pay attention to media and social media, and the popular sort of opinions of things without really doing the hard work and effort of checking sources and backing up things with facts. But that's not necessarily everybody, I just think, yeah.

Byron: So is there anything else you'd want to say about, about Occupy?

Natalie: I think reiterating what I said before, about how it’s changed so many people’s lives, it’s been a real force for good I think, in Christchurch and that if this were to happen again I think people seriously consider getting involved because it's such an amazing experience and you learn a lot and its life changing, so yeah.

Byron: So do you feel that while it may not have changed much in the short term, but while its changed so many people’s lives do you think that will go on to lead to, in the long term some societal change?

Natalie: I think so, especially because there were quite a lot of young people involved, and it’s sort of, planting the seed really, to use a really corny metaphor, for change, I think, and people really have quite a strong voice now who've been involved, not outspoken but yeah.