Poly Hart

Recorded Twenty-sixth January 2014

Byron: I'll start by asking you, how did you get involved in Occupy Christchurch?

Poly: I think I saw on Facebook the initial march when people were saying, you know, we're the 99 per-cent and I was working nearby at the time so I came down just for the tail end of the march and joined in. Then I realised people were setting up camp and stuff, and there were a few people there I knew- lots of people I didn't, but everyone seemed really friendly and I was delighted to see such a big gathering of interesting people in Christchurch at one time so I sort of hung around and went to a few meetings to find out more.

Byron: OK, so who were the people you knew? Were they people you know from, had you been involved in political activism before?

Poly: A little bit, I'd been to the odd protest much, but it was more just people I'd engaged with in a social context, like Popx, and I think I saw my friend Dean Hallowich as well, and a few, yeah, a couple of others, but there were just other really friendly people, Lucy I think as well, Lucy Matthews was the other person I knew.

Byron: So what were the meetings you went along to, after that initial march?

Poly: They were some of the general assemblies, I've always had a really strong interest in, processes, community meeting processes and how people come to a consensus and how its facilitated and all that, I like to just sort of, sit and watch, and you know, when those things work and they flow it’s really cool to see, because decisions get made and things get actioned. I was quite impressed with how it ran given that for the most part it was a disparate group of people coming together, I mean there was common interest obviously, but I, you know, I appreciated it.

Byron: And did you stay at the camp there?

Poly: I did, I did, I was mostly involved with Occupy Christchurch from I guess, mid to late September through till the end of October 2011, and I was about 20 weeks pregnant at the time, but I did come along, I got really enthusiastic about it actually, and brought down lots of tents, and extra tents for other people and spare hot water bottles and things like that, I really was impressed with how, I guess there was this level of organisation where everything was quite well created, there was a lot of creative energy flowing around, you know things were pretty and I like that kind of combination, you know, sometimes it’s just one or the other.

I had lots of energy, I was in my middle trimester and I suppose I should have been nesting really, rather than pouring all my energy into a camp full of hobos [laughs]. No people were lovely, I probably only stayed one or two nights, but I popped along every day and offered what I could in the way of equipment and support, and I met a lot of really interesting people through it.

Byron: So what sort of interesting people did you meet?

Poly: Ryle James, he was doing a lot of the cooking, and yeah he became quite a good friend, we stayed in touch since Occupy, Ruben Pond I remember really getting on well with, got a bunch of faces and the names have faded away now. I was there for a good month kind of being involved and then I was up in Auckland for a while, I spent a week actually at Occupy Auckland which was quite cool, they treated me like a princess and then I came back to Occupy Christchurch and it was very different at the end, my initial experience for that first month was very positive and then it was a completely different group of people when I came back in November, and you know the equipment was all over the place and damaged, so you know, it's mixed, I learned a lot of about, I guess trust and having to be responsible for my own stuff and taking care of all that as well.

Byron: So what was it initially that made you want to come and bring all this equipment and to trust people with that, why do you think you felt that way?

Poly: I guess because it seemed really organised and together, people seemed like they were in it for the long haul, and you know there was a need for it and I knew that my family had various large tents and things like that, and I was really, I guess enchanted with the idea of setting up a massage space, setting up an office space, you know, a meeting space, and just having these, I guess kinda zones, I've been to festivals like Convergence and rainbow gatherings where people did just kind come together and create these things, and whilst the lack of clear leadership I always find a little bit scary when it’s sort of this, what's the word I'm looking for? "anarchical" process where there's no sort of fixed person of authority, people did seem to be stepping into those positions at Occupy, so, I guess I just wanted to contribute and be a part of something, yeah being a part of something was a bit part of why I wanted to give to the project.

Byron: Do you think that, that sort of method where it was non-hierarchical and no leaders, did that work as a way of organising?

Poly: In the short run, and then people lost interest, wandered off and did other things, and I guess it could work if people were really clear and took responsibility for their roles and handed it over to someone else who would take of the role. I still think there needs to be a structure for that to some extent, I mean, not saying we need layers of bureaucracy, but I think there wasn't a heck of a lot of accountability really, you know, people ran off with money every now and then and you know, people could just leave and go on holiday, which was great and fine, that's what I did as well, but a lot of stuff just got left there, and it was really hard to tell, especially if it wasn't labelled whose the stuff was, you know, and whether if, even if it was labelled if it was a donation or a loan or whatever, or part of the free pile because we were doing a, what would you call it?

Byron: The really free market.

Poly: Yeah the free markets, so everything just jumbled together and shoved under canvases when it rained, and then people took their tents away so there were no tents left to store it in, so just be like a piece of tarpaulin, that was the stuff management side, and yeah I guess had there been people clearly taking responsibility for one area or another, yeah, so that lack of structure I guess fell through in that particular area, and you know in some ways it did allow a lot of flow and a lot of movement and a lot of stuff to happen in a short space of time, so there were definitely positives to it.

Byron: So what were some of the activities and events you were involved in?

Poly: Um, a far as the marches and things went, there was one about, gosh it was... I can't even remember what it was about, I know there was one where we went down to the art gallery I think, and a lot of people talked about...

Byron: Oh yes, on Labour Day

Poly: Yeah it was that one, went past the bridge of remembrance and then down to the art gallery and a lot of people spoke on the megaphone and a lot of people talked about the unemployment situation had affected them, or how, you know the job loss and the change, basically the market crash and its flow on effects. That was a really cool day actually because people spoke from the heart quite a lot, it wasn't just sob stories it was really, well this happened but this is what I've made of it. I remember one, older, elderly man, talking about, basically his life savings had vanished when one of the investment companies went down and you know, but he was trying really hard to be positive about it all, yeah just, it was touching that day.

There were other little marches and things, something about McDonalds one day, I think the way there were treating their staff, so we jumped in on that, we were outside Riccarton McDonalds for a while. I think I was more interested on the whole on how things were at the Occupy site, and tried to jump in on any art project basically, I organised a bunting making workshop, we made lots of little triangular prayer flags and sewed them on and there were, you know people we really happy to donate old fabric so we made it look a bit more pretty and festive, and planting some little pansies and things around the place as well, in Hagley Park or keeping them in little pots, that was quite fun, just doing that, yeah "how can we make it pretty" and draw people in, rather than having a kind of grungy energy, because there was that side of it as well.

Byron: Do you think it drew people in having that, having it pretty?

Poly: I think so yeah, people appreciated that, festivity and colour it was uplifting, and having music around, it was the same effect. Yeah there were people there, someone taught a dance workshop at one point I think, there was a lot of energy for that kind of thing, you know, a lot of the circus- there seemed to be a lot of fire spinners and circus people at one stage and they've got a lot of energy, they're fun, so yeah it drew them in more, and like attracts like I suppose.

Byron: And how was it different when you came back from Auckland and went to the site?

Poly: Ooh, there were a bunch of, the only people there were a bunch of men with shaved heads dressed in black, chain smoking, I was quite obviously pregnant by this stage, I would have been about 25 to 27 weeks pregnant, so quite far along, and you know, I asked them for some help with dismantling the tents and all I got were these kind of lewd comments about who'd knock me up next after I'd given birth and it was, it was pretty grotty, and you know, I just pretty much just stood up to them and said "actually look, I'm a pregnant woman, there's a tent I need to take down" marquees actually, two marquees, and you know, "I need some help with this" and then one of them pulled himself together and came and gave me and hand with the poles and the carrying and things like that.

One of the marquees was damaged and it was my fathers, so I was feeling really bad because I felt responsible for it and the people I'd kind of left it with weren't there anymore and I'd just made the assumption that people would [be there] and that they would look after stuff and you know, so my dad was not happy.

You know, I'm not wanting to have a big whinge about it at all, because yeah, forgiving people, but it’s, it was just the state of where things were at that time, it was getting closer to Christmas, it was November by then. Just trying to find my stuff and just rummaging under these damp tarpaulins for bits of my tents and you know, I think my fly had gone, so you know people just had grabbed stuff, and some of the stuff I found and it was salvageable but it was really impossible to tell what was, what was junk, you know what was donated, what people wanted to pick up later, and there was a lot of unhappiness around that, on the internet as well. You know it was unfortunate really I suppose, Yeah had there been some people- I don't know, it’s like, who? Who would do it, who would be those ones to stick up? And I guess that's, if we want someone else to fix our problems, we want the one per-cent to fix our problems [Laughs] but really, we gotta do what we can for ourselves too.

Byron: Despite how that sort of ended up, were you pleased that you'd been involved?

Poly: Oh absolutely, it was over all it was a positive experience. I had a really good time, just kinda creating with people and, just feeling part of that togetherness and you know, those marches did feel quite valid and it was getting information out there and I did have a lot of conversations with people who had, I guess all sorts of things, just environmental concerns or whatever, and people who'd passed by and you know, who didn't know about these things before and I think it did broaden that net of consciousness, just awareness of where our worlds at the time, and there was also a huge current of positivity for the most part of people going "well how can we make this better" you know here are ideas, you know, people networking, you know, it really forged something together in Christchurch and that it brought together the socialists and the anarchists and the creative circus people and the hippies and the angry vegans and just all these people I guess who all knew each other to some extent but it really formed a, I wouldn't say a core network because that network doesn't really exist in the same form that it did, but it did introduce a lot people to each other and created a physical forum where people did meet and did share ideas, and a lot of people have maintained a lot of those connections as far as I'm aware, I certainly have, I made a lot of friends, so that's definitely something very tangible I feel I've gotten out of it.

And Auckland was great too, I realise this project's about Occupy Christchurch but it was very interesting seeing how they ran it compared to us, and they had a, they had quite a strong system going up there and-but yeah there was a lot of, I guess it attracted a lot energies that, needed healing I suppose, you know, people would come who had a lot of, mental health or drug issues, addiction issues should I say, and, you know God bless them, that's... we've all been in that space in one way or another I'm sure, but it, you know there was a- it needed to be managed in the sense that people needed boundaries and clarity and I think did an admirable job of that up in Auckland

Byron: So, obviously going and staying at Auckland you felt there was a real connection between the Occupies in different cities around the country?

Poly: Yeah, yeah there was a man there- man or boy, he was a bit younger than me I think, he called himself Merlin, who was making real effort to network between the Occupies and doing a lot of Skyping and stuff with the kind of, key active people in different parts of the country and synchronising the marches and things like that, so- and there was definitely like a sense of kinship you know, when I came, rocked up there saying "hey I've just been hanging out a month with Occupy Christchurch" they're kinda like "oh welcome!" you know, so that was, that really nice actually, and yeah, just feeling friendship and stuff up there, I don't think I've stayed in touch with anyone from Auckland so much but, yeah, it was special, and there was a connection.

Byron: And did you feel as well a connection to the more global Occupy movement?

Poly: A little bit yeah, especially watching, video podcast type things of some of the marches and some of the riots as well that went down in some parts, I was really, impressed or overwhelmed perhaps by the scale of how big it was internationally, I mean, people, there are a lot of people in the public and in the media who kinda treated Occupy Christchurch or you know the New Zealand Occupies as a bit of a joke, or nuisance or whatever. It certainly got people’s attention though. But just seeing how many people were in New York, or New Orleans or all these different cities, big cities where there was just masses, you know hundreds of people it was really like “wow ok, people are coming together globally for something” that's not happened before as far as I'm aware, not that level of unitedness and connectedness and I'm sure that the way you know, networks are forged between people within Occupy Christchurch and people within different New Zealand Occupy groups, I'm sure there were some international connections forged between people who were like "hey let’s make something happen" so I guess with modern technology it’s a lot easier to do that than it used to be and, that if people did want to organise a protest about something [its] possible.

Protest is a strong work, but you know there's positive things that we can be like "yeah lets support this" a support march I suppose, it would be pretty easy with the contacts that organised people have these days to pull together something that can happen in multiple regions if it’s an idea that people really got behind so- and that probably has happened, and you know, it can keep happening.

Byron: You mentioned a bit about the media, what did you think about the media coverage of Occupy Christchurch?

Poly: To be honest I didn't read a heck of a lot about it, I mean it was only if somebody clipped out a newspaper cutting or posted it online. I think there was mixed feedback, I think we did a few press releases and they did get published as we'd written them. It kinda depended who was writing the article and what kinda slant they put in it I think.

Byron: Do you think that Occupy Christchurch changed the people that were involved?

Poly: Oh absolutely, it was an experience, you don't walk away from things unaffected, it was quite an emotional experience for me in some ways, for me, that's my personal, what I got out of it. It was just this, I guess friendship and connectivity to a level that I hadn't found before in Christchurch, I always found Christchurch very reserved and very, separate little pockets of people all cliquey all over the place and you know, this was kinda the opposite it was, people coming together, so for me personally it changed me, I can't speak for other people but I've heard people speak fondly of it.

Byron: Do you think it changed anything wider than in Christchurch or in New Zealand?

Poly: It's a little hard to say. I think did broaden people’s awareness of some of the social, environmental, and political issues facing our generation. Yeah it opened my mind up a bit to what was going on a bit more I already had. Yeah I guess that goes back to changing people but did change something tangible?... Probably.

Byron: If something like that were to begin again do you think you'd get involved again?

Poly: Yes [Laughs] I think I would try to use stronger discernment about how much energy and resources I gave, you know, I think I'd give stuff not expecting it to come back necessarily and try and you know, only give stuff that I was prepared to give on that level rather than loaning stuff that belonged to my family members. You know having said I did loan all that stuff a lot of it I did get back and it was perfectly fine, like my drum was still there, my djembe drum, and you know quite a bit of stuff was perfectly undamaged, and people had looked after the musical instruments thank goodness. But yeah, I think I would, I have limited energy for it these days because I've got a child who's almost two, so it's unlikely that I'd be able to stay there several nights a week and pour my time and energy into it, I'm also quite involved in a lot of other things these days, but I'd definitely be connected with it on some level.

Byron: So what are something of the things you're involved with these days, post Occupy?

Poly: Post Occupy? well I've just moved into Beachcomber so I'm spending a lot of energy just kinda, domestically setting up, and you know, chipping away at my wild garden, and trying to make it more of a space that I want to be in, also in the wider Beachcomber space I've got a lot of ideas I guess for de-cluttering and sorting and beautifying and working in with the other women who are interested in gardening, so I guess that's become my community, and it’s just, easier having it on my doorstep than going somewhere else for it. I've been quite involved in the food forest collective, and they've been, there's various permaculture projects that have been springing up or have been established for a while, and it’s doing a lot of volunteer work out at Living Gardens near Governors Bay. Not sure what's happening with that piece of land at the moment but there's, met a lot of really lovely people though that as well who are quite keen on doing stuff. I'm going to a food forest hui tonight.

I've been a bit more involved with my church as well, there's a group called healing on the streets which are basically just offering prayer for healing for people it's a, a suppose it’s a form of evangelism but in a rather non-invasive gentle way, which appeals to me. I've been doing quite a bit of mural work, Popx has finally persuaded me to join in on that community mural in New Brighton and I was doing a lot of that at the end of last year, one of the bubble ones and one on the side of Funky Pumpkin, so been putting a bit of energy into that, and a few other painting projects, yeah being a mum probably takes up the vast majority of my time and energy these days but that's wonderful as well.

Byron: I ask because I think part of the history as well is what people done since Occupy, and while Occupy doesn't exist almost everyone is involved in some sort of activism or involved in community projects in some way.

Poly: Yeah I think, because I wasn't really, I wasn't really involved in all that much before Occupy, I guess I've gone through a period of lower mental health prior to the Occupy thing starting, or prior to my pregnancy should I say, and once I was pregnant that was a really big motivation to pull myself out of the bit of rut that I'd been in for a couple of years, and I guess I'd kind of assumed that Christchurch was all closed and boring and there weren't any interesting people or friendly enough people or that I wasn't good enough to hang out with those people if they did exist, so that was kind of a, you know, challenge those untrue beliefs in myself and it did get me out there and connected in a way, so yeah I hadn't thought about it like that, but I suppose it was a non-scary way of becoming involved, and I have stayed involved, so yeah.

Byron: So what would be some of your best memories from that time?

Poly: Sitting in the sun after one of the protest marches, and there was kind of an informal concert going on and there open mic, and Popx and other people getting up and having a sing or a jam, I really enjoyed that side of it that day, connecting with Ryle, he, I really wanted him to make an 'Occu-Pie' so you know we got a lot of these apples and he actually made this apple pie and sort of latticed it and then wrote 'Occu-Pie' in pastry

Byron: Because he was actually a chef wasn't he?

Poly: Yeah he was doing a lot of cooking, he later actually came out and woofed, was a willing worker on an organic farm, when I was living at Gricklegrass Community and worked for us for a week or two, so yeah we've maintained those connections. Something very, that I very much appreciated was, I was quite pregnant, and was trying to get my father’s garden in order, I'd sort of taken over that while I was staying with him, but I just couldn't do the physical heavy grunt stuff being pregnant and all that, so Gary, a big Maori man named Gary who'd been involved with, it wasn't Salvation Army it was some other sort of men’s...

Byron: The City Mission?

Poly: City Mission that's what it was, he was a lovely man, and Ryle and they may have been someone else, I can't place who it was, but they all came over and spent and afternoon helping me out with the garden and dung down my chicken coop and did a whole bunch of weeding, and I baked them cakes, so that was a pretty cool afternoon as well, and that was a spin off of it, yeah really nice people just helping eh.

Byron: So is there anything else about Occupy that you'd like to mention?

Poly: I guess just that over all it was a positive experience, and I learned a lot from it and got a lot out of it. That's for me, and I feel like I did put into it as well, and I hope that the things I did do and was involved with, the banners and so did become, you know, were helpful to people. I've actually seen them up in a couple of peoples kitchens, Sarah and Jo have ended up with some of them now which is quite cool, that they're still making somebody smile. I think it was a real good thing, definitely.