Recorded Nineteenth January 2013
Byron: How did you get involved with Occupy Christchurch?
Rik: I followed it via the news media there, the Occupy movement globally, and then when it was being organised locally, via a Facebook group, I was able to join up with that and the organising pre-meetings that happened the week before Occupy protest kind of manifested in Christchurch.
Byron: So you had attended the pre-meetings before the actual protesting camp begun, you were involved in that as well?
Rik: Yeah on the 8th of October, which was a Saturday, an alert had gone out, just the day before I think, via Facebook, that people would be in a certain place, at a certain time, if anyone was interested, and so fifteen or twenty people showed up. And we happened to meet in the CERA Marquees, ironically, outside the shut down Christchurch Art Gallery, on Worcester Street. And there was a good meeting; there was a whiteboard and some people who were keen to get going with organising it. It was also clear that they had particular things that they wanted to be doing with Occupy, and that from then on there'd be, y'know, your classic battle for idea's and that leadership within the movement. Of course, it was a movement with no leadership, but the whole history of it, I think, really bares out that it was a contest of leadership, as you'd expect, given that there were decades of a struggle with different organisations and movements that fed into Occupy. Everyone was really keen for something to happen, it's like the real big turnout we'd been waiting for all our lives, in a sense, 'cause it was highly politicised and conscious, with a purpose, an open ended purpose, so everyone was on board who was interested in protest. But, yeah, like the movement worldwide, we had a lot of things to work out, it was worthwhile. But I'm glad, Byron, that you're doing this oral history now, because, y'know, there's clearly more lessons to be learned and next phases.
Byron: So this wasn't your first involvement in some sort of activist activity? You've been an activist for quite a while now, is that right?
Rik: I'd say all my adult life. So, I was politicised in my late teens, I suppose, around the punk rock movement. Band like the Sex Pistols, in the UK, were their iconography, that they, they very much exhibited the tension between Marx and Bakunin or Communism and Anarchism. And I guess that was kind of, very much an expression of the British left, which I encountered in the 80's, early 80's, when I went on my OE. I was in London for a while, and got to see what a substantial, left wing movement in a country was like, compared to what you see in New Zealand. So, my experience in the left, in New Zealand, is against that background of what politics is globally.
Byron: So I guess, it was having that activist history that made you interested in Occupy in the first place?
Rik: Yeah, well, I think protest is what polticised people do, y'know, and all the time, unless you're pretty organised, someone else will be organising it, so you'll be following a "Wage Strike" protest or a, y'know, "Defend Workers Conditions" somewhere. Typically, that's most of the protests that happens, union type protests. But there'll be other ones around, say, health sector cuts or education cuts, at university, that was something that I was involved in, in the 90's.
Byron: You were part of the Student’s Association?
Rik: Yeah, yeah! Canterbury University, I was on the executive, or was going to be before I went on my OE, so I never actually served on the executive, but I was, in the 1990's, when I came back. I wrote a short history of the Student Association for its centenary, Generations in Dissent, you can find an ISBN number for it. It's in a few libraries here and there, but that was just looking at the history of Canterbury University students and where their politics where at, decade by decade. Which, yeah, I mean, a broad sweep of history is what you need to have in your head when you go into something like Occupy, because it's so big, it's so vast, there's so much potential there, that no one would miss the opportunity that it presented.
Byron: So you mentioned that the sort of contesting ideas within Occupy, and that seems to be one of the threads running through these interviews, that everybody saw Occupy as a movement where there were contesting ideas and world views and so on. What were the sort of world views and ideas that you saw as being present in the Occupy movement here in Christchurch, that were maybe competing with each other?
Rik: Well, Occupy itself, it just expressed so many things, it's like a short list I'm gonna run through and I wouldn't necessarily emphasise one thing over another. I mean, there was the youth aspect to it and the fact youth are alienated today, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and with no opportunity in the economy, which is really the main dynamic for it, probably globally. But, alongside that there were the liberation movements coming out of the Middle East, who took the new media, the social media, the new technology and the youth skills to run it and just kicked the movement off. So, Occupy was really like a Westernised version of the Arab spring for the consumer market, which worked to an extent, except the company that kicked it off, Adbuster's, by doing that, I mean, there were pluses and minuses, if you like. There was an extent to which it worked, and then an extent after which it failed, and it's important to know what those factors around that were. But I do think it was like the, you've gotta look at left wing politics, or so called left wing politics, and why it's failed to achieve a revolution. And you need to, when you're looking around those idea's you come across anarchism and communism, and what the difference is between the two and then, looking around a bit further, what you find is really anarchism is the dominant so called left wing culture. Which is, to an extent, an ideology of disorganisation and I think that was the factor in Occupy which meant that it would fray and fall apart, because as soon as somebody did try to organise something, something, someone else would stop them. [Laughs] Didn't matter what it was, it was toilets for the site at one point I'm told that someone was trying to organise, but they were stopped from doing it, but it was an absolutely essential service to sustain, keep the occupation going. So, it was just futile.
Byron: So, you think the sort of idea of horizontalism and consensus decision making, which were quite big ideas in Occupy, that those sort of idea's are quite flawed and quite limited in terms of a political movement? Or organising a political movement?
Rik: Ye-ap. I wouldn't really criticise or a thing like that.
Rik: I think that they are valid things to try. You've gotta try and think about what kind of society we're trying to build and it would be a decentralised society. It would be a horizontal society, an egalitarian society, and we haven't got one to compare ourselves too for a road map, so we've gotta test these methods, in the street or in the Occupation sites, and see what works. So, I can see why it was applied, but in fact, in practice, what you have is different people’s views of how horizontalism is achieved and they'll assert it vigorously, at the exclusion of other people, and they might even have a lot of experience in doing that through previous movements. So, the battle between agenda's was pretty intense, and I think, in the end it just wore itself out. So, what you were left with were people who had no other homes, but to live outdoors. They were the best Occupiers of all, the people of the streets, the homeless people, or those who chose to live without homes, as they said. And it became their Occupation, which legitimately, politically, it was. No one could argue with that, except that those kinds of mainstream ideological Occupiers came back and argued with them about how they should run an Occupation! Which I thought was pretty silly and in the end when it was wound up, I think everybody could see the benefit of doing that then.
Byron: So another thread that has been running through these interviews, people talk of there being sort of different phases of Occupy, and like you just said, the last one would have been when it became predominately people who were living on the streets, whether by choice or by circumstance. Do you think that's a good way of conceptualising Occupy as having two or three phases, perhaps starting with the youth and the students and ending with the homeless?
Rik: I guess this is like the previous question that it's about kind of categorisation which I'm loathe to do. It doesn't fit the way that I see it. And the way I see it is that, we didn't have an Occupy movement, we had the potential for an Occupy movement, what we had was an Occupy moment. There's a difference, that a whole lot of contributing factors led to Occupy happening globally and in Christchurch, and for a while it worked in its own way, but didn't work in its own way as well. And, so, you went through some historical phases as a result of that, but you could just as easily say that everyone involved could finally see the light of how to work together. That it was important that the unity was more important than anything else. And also that it would be a peaceful movement, that that was something that couldn't be sacrificed to keep the unity. 'Cause that I think was what actually divided, underneath the ideological agenda arguments was a difference in opinion in between activists about whether violent methods of struggle could be entertained or were necessary.
'Cause I think that that's it, when it comes down to it, what Occupy expressed was the revolutionary emphasis of the working class, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed. It's an age old struggle and out of which, both classic communist and anarchist ideology seems to posit that the class struggle must be violent to other throw the state. And I think, what Occupy brought up, by modern means, was that A) that was never gonna work and B) it could be successful through peaceful means. I think it posed that question in front of everybody, you've actually gotta decide, y'know. When you say you're a peaceful, non-violent movement, does that mean that provoked by state forces you should fight back and try to defeat them? Because a lot of the revolutionary groups involved in something like Occupy would say that was the case, would assert that was the case, and by actually preventing anybody else from bringing forward peaceful tactics, I think that was what destroyed Occupy. Y'know, that basic argument about what the tactics should be, what the response to state force should be wasn't something that was agreed. Although, it was very clear in the Occupy movement from its outset, that it was a nonviolent movement and for peaceful change. So when it came down to those traditional activists' getting involved and asserting a confrontational approach with the state, that was a mistake and that was the source of the failure in the movement, I believe.
Byron: So what sort of activities at Occupy were you involved with? There were a number of protests and other activities, what were you involved with in the end?
Rik: What, at Occupy?
Byron: Yes, at Occupy.
Rik: So, yeah, went along at the pre-meetings to try to be enthusiastic and get it off on a track that was sustainable, because you'd want it to still be here now, still active now, growing in strength. I mean, if it had lasted through 'til now, the whole world could have been changed! I'm sure I'm not the only person that thinks that and wants that but, it didn't happen. So, I was there in the early part, like for a week or two at the most. There was a certain point at which, there were two points in which I kind of withdrew. First, was when I felt personally unsafe, well, felt politically unsafe, that the democratic space was not being respected. That people were attempting to dominate it, run agendas and shut other people down so that could happen and not respect each individual’s contributions. So, I felt -
Byron: This was at the General Assemblies or just in general?
Rik: General Assembly's I felt were regular meetings at which decisions would be taken but at them would be all the people involved between General Assemblies, so it was a constant, ongoing evolution. And there's no question that from the start, there were people who were trying to run it a certain (way), how they saw fit or how they thought it would be best for the movement to be successful, y'know, with the best of intentions. I, myself, included were contributing all our different ideas for how to get on with it, how to do it but it was very clear, that very early on that was a contest. And, y'know, the buzzwords of Occupy that would be Peace, Love, Sharing and Agreement, just weren't true. So, there was this contest and I withdrew from it early on. A) Because I didn't feel like if democratically it was a safe place, then I personally wasn't going to feel safe either. And so, I didn't actually stay there. I was a protest attender and a regular daily visitor for a brief period at the start, and then I came back right at the end. I got involved in the General Assembly again, when it was clear that it had a termination point. Things had gone bad in the camp and with the council, so it was clear that the wheels were turning to end the occupation, one way or the other. I'd kind of maintained an interest, and read, followed it all the way through, but got actively involved again at the end to try to contribute to the most beneficial outcome from it, for everyone.
Byron: Because you were involved, as well, with actually meeting with the council, weren't you, along with some of the others?
Rik: Yeah, a group of us went to the council meeting to put the case of the Occupiers in the best possible light at the end, because the council had at the meeting a staff recommendation that the camp be desisted immediately. They can't have the grounds for doing that, mainly the complaints from the Hospital across the road, that we were bad neighbours essentially. So, it was clear the council was going to act, and at that point, we went along, a group of us went along and three of us went to the table, including myself, to actually present a case for people needing help with housing. We had a good number in the camp, apparently, because people needed housing. We were talking about post-earthquake Christchurch where houses are in short supply. But also, people that live outside permanently, by choice, found that a community organised like that was beneficial compared to what their normal experience was.
So, there were a lot of positives of what Occupy was achieving, and so, we wanted to put that to the council, that there should be some constructive follow on from what had come together, socially. We did achieve some stalling, if you like, or at least, we got to organise our own departure, we weren't forced out. They gave us the choice about when we were going to leave, they didn't impose a date. We got to tell them when we'd decided to leave, and it was the following weekend, like, the Council meeting was on a Thursday, and we said "Well, we're gonna finish up on Saturday, that'll be it". The council provided transport for removal of rubbish, which we helped load, so it was a co-operative venture, if you like, to see the public done right at the end. To have their park back in a clean slate, which was really the basis of the major complaint against the camp. So, we resolved it, if you like, with the Council and, in their words, left with dignity. Because it could have been a head on battle, which of course we would have lost irrespective of how many we had there, and we didn't have that many and who we had there weren't so much class struggle activists, they were street dwellers. Who probably weren't gonna, no, actually, they were on side with the council. Supportive, pretty much, of anything that authorities would do for them.
Byron: I remember one thing that you said, that was quoted by the media around that time, was that society's problems had become Occupy's problems. Do you think that with the negative perception of Occupy, Occupy toward the end when it became largely homeless, do you think Occupy was highlighting things that were already there, like the housing crisis for example?
Rik: Yeah. Underneath the official reasons, if you like, for why we had to go, there were the unofficial success of Occupy for highlighting all inequities in society. So, things like alcohol and drug abuse, for example, that are daily parts of life in some parts of Christchurch, that would tend to aggregate in the camp. Because there was no regulation or organization to stop it happening or y'know. It was an opportunity for people to interact with users, I think we were steadily organising a community where other values could come to the surface, co-operation and good food [Laughs] and better housing. So, if we kept going, we would've - we were making progress by co-coordinating a community of people who really have no hope and were written off. We're talking people who aren't even on benefits, that just live from charity, entirely from charity. They're not recognised and they're growing in number. It's not just Christchurch, it's a much bigger problem up north, like City Mission and places like that, they make the headlines with how long their queues are at Christmas and they've gotta cut of the service. They can't actually look after the amount of need that's out there. So, Occupy really drew together that local community and contributed to its wellbeing but also to its profile. So, I think that politically there was a reason, especially why they didn't want Occupy to continue, the authorities.
Byron: Is there anything else that you'd say was a success of Occupy, things that were successful that Occupy did?
Rik: Given that it was a moment in time which a lot of people met each other, y'know, it's the networking that's really the continuity point, if you like. Before and after Occupy happened, how well did people know other people that had the same interests and objectives in life and values and that? So, Occupy really drew everyone together in a way like nothing else. It was a really phenomenal success, in terms of suddenly highlighting the need for change in the world and bringing together those that were aware of that and it was a great, great number. At the start, you're talking 6 or 7 hundred, I think, that showed up on October 15th, 2011 for the first protest, which put down the camp but also went off on a street march. It divided right from the start, rather than focused on the collective, and the collective steadily wore out. But it was a very useful experience, I mean you can talk about these things, it's a common experience now, and that didn't exist before. So, I think that's the main achievement of Occupy, of the Occupy moment, is that we can all refer to it and keep drawing on it as a pool of experience, shared experience and social knowledge. Everyone said there would be an Occupy Phase 2, it may not be called Occupy though with the way things have gone. But the awareness is there, and people know each other. If we can just work out what the differences were that tore us apart, then we'd have a means for getting going again.
Byron: So, you think that the Occupy moment, do you think it changed people who were involved?
Rik: It let them evolve, shall we say. Yeah, it was a good collective protest experience that gave time and space for people to shift from where they were beforehand to having come out with a very rich protest experience. Yeah, individually it was really beneficial for all the protesters to be able to do it. And also for people who weren't protesters, there were many more of them, who were just ordinary people. A lot of travellers from overseas knew about Occupy in Christchurch and as tourists, that's where they arrived. Alike hearts, alike souls, if you like, and nothing else. They didn't know anyone but they had accommodation in the Occupy camp, had a common world view. But, I don't think necessarily they were political at all. They were travellers primarily, but Occupy showed that there were people trying to achieve good in the world that they could connect with. That goes locally as well... It's a good thing, we should have it every year.
Byron: We've touched on it a little bit but, do you think that being in the situation that Christchurch was in at the time Occupy started, in the aftermath of this enormous natural disaster, sort of put Occupy Christchurch in a bit of a different position than the Occupy camps in other parts of the Country or overseas?
Rik: Yes, and no. There was a housing shortage, and kind of desperation in the air, which is still here to some extent or even to a great extent. And I think that meant that there was a toleration. Occupy Christchurch was different to every other Occupy in New Zealand. It was the longest one on the ground, if I recall, other than Occupy Rakikura Stewart Island, which popped up briefly a few months ago, then faded again. But Occupy Christchurch, how did it survive so long, I think it does come down to though that awareness, that relationship that you have with your local authorities because I think that's actually why the Occupy movement ran aground globally. Well, in the West, shall we say. Is that when we were occupying in public space, and we thought we were protesting the Government, we weren't in contest with the Government in public space, we were in contest with the public and their managers of that space, which is the Councils. If we couldn't see that difference and we got into an antagonistic battle with the Councils, we'd automatically lost, we'd lost the point of the protest. Because it was never Councils that we were against, I mean, local government, local democracy, should be one of our most prized assets that at most, we should be able to work with. So, if we can't do that in a protest like that, what can we do? I mean, we don't have Wall Street in Christchurch, we don't have Lampton Quay even in Christchurch. But in Wellington, they were near Lampton Quay, but they weren't on it. They were on public space, they were on the foreshore somewhere. I think the public, no one’s silly. They know the difference. So, if you say you're protesting financial predation, but you're sitting in a park and having a battle with the council, they're two different things. We have to at least be aware of that, and be able to mitigate that dichotomy or contradiction, if you like. Because everyone else can see it, and if we don't know what we're there for, what we're on about, why should anyone agree with us and follow the movement or make it into a movement. It just didn't happen. We were too busy fighting over, about, amongst ourselves about how to organise the protest, rather than the bigger picture. It got lost. There were efforts to change that, or to keep the movement on track, such as protests through the streets to get out in the Community, or outreach in the Community in various ways, which were successful for us as a protest movement because there were still good numbers involved. But I think, in the public eye, nothing had really changed. It wasn't enough of an effort in the right direction to keep the movement growing.
Byron: What do you think about the way that Occupy Christchurch was portrayed in the media?
Rik: Well, there was a great photo at the end, wasn't there? With Julian and Natalie, together as the heart of the camp, and everyone smiling. So, to me, that sums it up. That at the end of the day, everybody saw the light side. That was when we were packing up, the day had come, there was nothing anybody could do about it. There could have been a big scrap and an argument and a conflict with the police on behalf of the council, like there had been in many other cities, which looks bad and maybe got a bigger headline but I think that expression of aroha was very much the best expression of what Occupy was. Natalie sung the Occupy song, you can find that on YouTube and that sums up just as well, the heart of people coming together to assist each other. That's really all it's about. And if the media want to portray it any other way, which they often do, because they serve corporate interests and not public interests, that's their mistake. It's an intentional mistake, a misrepresentation. And so, any little thing that went wrong with the camp, they made a big story out of. They had journalists down there, looking for bad news stories. It was very hard to get that, the big picture, the positive side of it, or the point of it across. Especially if we weren't so clear on how to do it.
You can't blame the news media entirely, because negative things did happen. Given that law-breaking of various types gravitated towards the camp and the police were happy with that. That was the impression I got from talking to residents of the camp, that they knew where everyone was. Everyone who could be camping under a bridge or in a park somewhere who they wanna keep an eye on, it's a lot easier if they're all together in a group in a park. And so, they tended to leave the camp alone, until they were looking for someone, on the run for some offence and they knew immediately where to go. They'd come to the park and often found them. So, that's a part of, that and the council relations, it's like strategically, tactically, we gotta be smart if we want to achieve change in the world, we've gotta work with the world the way it is. Which means we're never gonna be successful getting offside with the public or their representatives in council. We've gotta find ways to work through the struggle, to build a greater mass. Which means not alienating the public or the council, finding ways to do that. I think that in Christchurch we made progress, and we were different, if you like, in that people are gonna see it less of a threat locally if it comes up again than they would in Auckland, for example, in Aotea Square. So maybe it's got more potential as a result of the way we... yeah. The earthquake conditions, I think, to answer your question, were probably a main contributing factor to that. That the Council had bigger problems to deal with, and left Occupy to run unmanaged for a greater period. Possibly, the fact that we chose a less high profile site, there was no city centre to Occupy, so we were on the margins or periphery automatically and that made it easier for the Council to deal with.
Byron: So, if something similar were to happen again, or if there was gonna be an Occupy Phase 2, do you think you'll get involved again?
Rik: I'd love to. I think the fact you're doing your oral history is a really good thing. Any way in which we can keep the dialogue going and analyse our shared history, it’s the only way we're gonna make sense of it and draw out the benefits that were achieved there and build upon them. Most of the participants, I'd say, are still in Christchurch, but many not. There are quite a few international travellers, that was a major section of the group, they will have moved to other places of the world. Students, there's turnover in the student population every year, and Canterbury University suffered badly through the earthquakes so you don't have the same student pool to draw on, that would be different. But people who are self-sustaining through work and are activists would tend to still be here and be able to participate, I would think. There's less unemployed, I gather. Well, officially. But unofficially, there could be more, that want to build a protest movement.
Byron: Again on the public perception, do you feel Occupy was perceived by the public largely as being a movement for the unemployed?
Rik: Well, A), I don't think it was a movement or could be perceived as that, and B) I don't think it was about the unemployed. I think the news media, of course, would pick that side of it or it was one of the questions they were asking going down there was what do each of these individuals do that can allow them to sit in the park 24/7. And I guess from my part, a fact that I'm self-employed, have been for 10 to 12 years, means that I've got a business to attend to, a small one, but I'm not unemployed. Well, I'm unemployed to anyone else, except to computer support, which is what I respond to, on call. If I'm not called out to a job, I can do what I want, so I'd recommend to anyone self-employment over unemployment any day. But of course, you need some skills, and the way the economy and education has gone is to remove skills from availability to people except for a high price. It's sad, it's one of the things we need to change to get community training initiatives underway and press the state for more and not just hammer hands and plasterers. Certainly, people who didn't have jobs to go to could be there more than anyone else. I know there have been people who do have work, like yourself, that were participating as well. So, there's no generalisation to be made, I think, at Occupy. It was a true, broad movement with sections like the travellers and the students, employed and the unemployed. The authentic way to look at it.
Byron: So, you feel the people there were a reflection of society and of the city?
Rik: And international.
Byron: And international.
Rik: Very much. Cosmopolitan and broad spectrum representation. In New Zealand, of course, you've got the Maori sovereignty movement and struggles around all kinds of things like the Foreshore water, now water resources, self-determination, Tuhoe. There's many, many aspects to it. Treaty, and that is a constant in New Zealand left wing politics, so, of course it was a main factor of Occupy. The fact that 2011 was the year when the Mana party was formed. Very much shared the importance, if you like, of what Occupy was trying to achieve and who it was directed to or for. That's a major factor to bear in mind, and it also shows how broad the movement was, that it could incorporate sovereignty struggle along with many other struggles like the feminist struggle, workers struggle. There were many aspects to it that were all there, all common and political parties, it was officially a place where political parties couldn't be, but you did see Green signage, I know there was an ACT speaker that took the podium at one point as well as the Mana Party, and on the periphery, I think, there were people who were sympathetic to Labour but that's a mainstream party like National, against which Occupy was pretty much counter posed. So, they never really helped, shall we say.
Byron: How did you feel about the way that Occupy sort of engaged with parliamentary politics? Because, of course, there was an election right in the middle of the Occupy camp as well so that became maybe more talked about than parliamentary politics usually would be talked about in New Zealand broadly. How do you feel about that was handled in Occupy, especially with ideologies like anarchism and things which were playing a big part in there?
Rik: Opportunity lost, I think, would be the phrase that sums it up. That there were many ways in which we were divided and confused, and that's a classic. And a general election came and went, and the image I would draw to characterise the Occupy or Christchurch's attitude to it was an illustration I saw somewhere, I think on Facebook at the time, which was of a ballot box with an open bottom, above a rubbish tin. So, that was pretty much the symbology used for how the elections would be treated at Occupy. The people, if they were gonna vote, they'd be encouraged to come down and nullify their vote. Which is to say that democracy is useless and is wrong. I think that democracy is a very important element, a fundamental element to anything that's good in the world. This is democracy with a small D though, not capital D democracy, y'know. Barrack Obama, and George Bush, and John Key, and Helen Clark - not the system they lead, and use to control people, which essentially through my studies and experience, I've come to the conclusion, is a government by criminals, of criminals.
We have an underclass that can't survive legally and that parasites people that can, that work, because we have a parasitic class on top, showing them how to do it. I think the two are integrally connected, I've come to understand that as to why growing prisons under a National government shouldn't be seen as an accident. It's intentional to impoverish people and to reduce their options, but actually to terrorise the middle. To leave them in fear, an every growing fear of their security. And that's the case in Wellington, with state centered jobs, and every middle class job in the country under threat, eroded, so that the rich can get richer, it's just disgusting and unsustainable. It won't last, there's no way it can stand for much longer, it's just not a sustainable system. So, if you see capitalism as a criminal system, then you know what our battle is. It is the battle of justice, and that's why, in the park with the unemployed and the disenfranchised, we're on the side that Jesus was on. That's how big and important the task is, the world can be changed and not only that, it must be.
Byron: It's almost a good note to end on. What I would like to ask is, is there anything else you wanna say about Occupy?
Rik: Well. Hello, greetings and thank you to everybody we met, that I met there. It's good that some time's past, I suppose, we don't have to rub shoulders so vigorously. I guess that one of the people who went in there with ideas and draw from experience that I thought were contributing, as soon as I saw that other people had different ideas and were going to stop them, it stopped me from contributing. I left. The main idea that I worked with, that seemed to be the main idea and reason why I got criticised, I think, was born out by the history of Occupy, locally. And this is about the gender issues, which time and again, whichever movement you look at, you're gonna have to deal with gender issues. It hasn't been resolved, and it must be resolved, in building the world we need, the inequity and oppression between genders. So, when I joined Occupy that was in my mind from previous experience, that if we couldn't have a truly feminist movement, of men and women, it would not succeed.
So, I did my best at the start to see a group of colleague’s form that was gender balanced. If you've got a mass of people you don't know, you can at least know a small number that you're working with on a regular basis or that you've got a common purpose with. It struck me that from previous experience, you'd have gender issues, if you didn't have a gender balanced leadership. So, that was my contribution at the start, was to say, via the Facebook mechanisms, we have an administration group, it's what we've inherited from social media forms of struggle, we have an administration group. So, my contribution was to say "We should not grow this administration group, except in a gender balanced way". So, for every woman there should be a man, for every man there should be a woman. If we do that, we have some hope of not fragmenting over gender issues. And, I couldn't get that off the ground. The feminists attacked me for bringing it forward. [Laughs] That's the way it came across to me, anyway, that I was making a point out of something that had no point. But it was a fact, not only in New Zealand, that it was a youth movement and it was a young, white, males movement because we're the technologically advantaged, shall we say. And that was the main problem with Occupy in the States too, is that the bright, young guys looking for careers in a slump, tried to run a movement that was in their interests, and of course the women are gonna pull them up on it, especially the women of class or race as well. Or LGBT, there were so many divisions drawn in from day 1, that to me it seemed like if you could at least resolve one of them, you'll be able to resolve more in the future. But, it we didn't resolve that one.
What we found was you had a clique of students who, I guess, had a strong desire for experience but they also had a sense of ownership over Occupy. And, you've seen it before in other movements, other groups, that if you get a clique, that's why you have a democratic system so you don't have a clique that is inclusive because everything would degenerate into a minority of inside knowledge and manipulation otherwise. I mean, it's the way the system runs, it's what it encourages through directorships. It's the way it works. So, we've gotta try to do something different. My point about trying to have a group of agreement about balanced gender administration for the protest was undermined by individual students who wanting to appoint people, their friends, individually, who were typically male. That was the battle. And, because I was seen in having a battle, it means I was seen as an elder. They wanted to do everything new, and I think one of the planks of Occupy was to reject any old form of leadership whatsoever, such as what I was trying to recommend from experience. That was, I think, one of the down fallings, if you like, of Occupy. If you're gonna be inclusive, you do have to keep all age groups on board and actively involved. There's a lot of experience in age, all of us need to recognise that, no matter how old we are. And it simply didn't recognise that, it was, if you like, hypnotised by the influence of technology. That if you've seen young, attractive people on the screen every day, you expect a protest movement to look the same and it's never gonna work like that. The movement is gonna look the opposite of that, when it's successful. So, I think, there was the battle to make it a broader movement, and that was very much obvious in the states, with anti-colonialism issues and the gender issues in the states, they really shredded Occupy general assembly, I think. Probably because it needed to be. We really have to focus on those fragmentation causes and say "it doesn't have to go that way next time".
Byron: Well, that's great. Thank you for your time.
Rik: You're welcome. Thank you very much, for caring about Occupy.