Steffi Brightwell

Recorded Twenty-third April 2013

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

Steffi: So a friend of mine came along to one of our community meetings that we have round here, and he said there's something happening called Occupy, we should check it out, and so a few of us went along, and checked it out, and yeah, that's how we first got involved.

Byron: So there was a community meeting that you had here in this area of town in Bryndwr?

Steffi: Yep, yeah. We had them every week at that time and just kinda, yeah.

Byron: So a few people who were involved in that were also involved in Occupy?

Steffi: Yes, yeah, to varying degrees, yep.

Byron: So was this sort of at the start that you got involved?

Steffi: I'm not entirely sure, I don't think it was quite at the start, but reasonably close to the start, yeah.

Byron: Ah ok. And did you camp there in Hagley Park?

Steffi: Ah, not me personally. I spent kind of only about two or three days actually there but a bit more time talking to people I knew, encouraging them to spend some time and check it out and yeah, maybe join in when they could.

Byron: Ah ok, and what was it that made you want to encourage people to check it out and spend time there?

Steffi: Well, I noticed that a lot of people had formed opinions without actually knowing much at all, and I thought that Occupy offered a few things that other places weren't necessarily doing, for example I thought it was a really visible alternative way of living and being a community that, like growing up in Christchurch my whole life didn't, you didn't often come across that. So I thought, yeah visible and accessible. So I wanted people to be able to see that for themselves.

Byron: What sort of alternative did you see Occupy as offering?

Steffi: So a couple of things I noticed from the time I was there was a different way of making decisions, so everyone getting a chance to speak and everyone being heard, and that also the similar way of people being able to be heard was not just in decisions but, you know, while they were just around the area as well, and I also felt like it was inclusive for the homeless people that I know in Christchurch, because a few of them came up to me and were trying to encourage me to come along, and I just thought man, they really feel like it's a place that they can be at home as well. So, maybe ‘Place of Belonging’ would be a good word.

Byron: Ok. So you, you'd had some involvement with the homeless in Christchurch before Occupy?

Steffi: A little bit. At the time, like during the time of Occupy I was involved in a course that was hanging out with some people that are homeless, so it was quite on our minds then and there, and we just realized that it was a place they could, well not necessarily all of the homeless people, but the people we came into contact felt at home there.

Byron: And did you feel at home there in the short time you were there as well?

Steffi: Yeah I did, I felt like it was pretty easy to come in, have a chat to someone or join in with whatever the project was for the day. Yeah, people were friendly and looked after each other, which I thought was good.

Byron: So what sort of projects and things did you get involved with?

Steffi: Well I, as I said I wasn't really there myself very much, but I went on one or two of the protest marches, and kind of helped paint things for that and things like that. Yeah. That was about it.

Byron: So had you been involved in, sort of, activism before? Like going on protest marches or that sort of thing?

Steffi: Yes, but not really since I've- so I used to live up in Wellington, and it's kind of pretty easy to get connected into that stuff there, but not so much in Christchurch, a little bit, but not so much, yeah.

Byron: Do you think that that experience of being involved in Occupy has changed you at all?

Steffi: Umm.

Byron: Was it more a continuation of...

Steffi: [Chuckles] Yeah I think, yeah, it's both. I think it was, well, yeah, dunno, it's hard to see which things have changed you in which way, 'cause it's, I dunno, always been trying to change things... but I think that I changed my views when I realized that a lot more people around me care about some of the same things I care about, like yeah, just what's going on in the world, and yeah. Which I think, it's easy to feel like your isolated, and I thought, I don't know if that's necessarily change for me, but it's easy to feel like there isn't anyone else on the same page and so, kind of shift in thinking that there are people that I can connect with on this stuff. Yeah.

Byron: It's been a bit of a common theme with people, the way that Occupy created a space where sort of like-minded people all came together. Do you think it was quite important that there was a physical space for that rather than just something on the internet, that it was in a public park in the middle of the city, do you think that that was an important part of Occupy?

Steffi: Yeah definitely. I spent a bit of time thinking about this, I think that like, I dunno it's so much easier to be real with people when you're face to face, and I notice from being around in my own community, when you don't just see the well-constructed glamorous side of people but you see their kind of everyday trying to work things out. And in terms of being in Hagley park I really liked the, I don't know whether it was intentional or not, because I wasn't there for that, but the fact it was in a park just to the edge of where all the business things happen, because it was kind of like a location that shows, you know it's on the edge of how things are but shows how things could be, yeah.

Byron: Do you think that Occupy Christchurch was different in other cities because at the time it was happening Christchurch had just been through this big natural disaster?

Steffi: Yeah, I mean of course I didn't see what happened in other Occupies, but I think they each took on their own sort of flavour, but when I was, like one of the days I remember being at Occupy I realized that there was this lady that just wanted to talk about how much she'd been hurt by the way, like the way that the earthquake stuff had affected her and by the way that the organizations had not seen her necessarily as important, in her eyes, and yeah just realizing that this was the only space that she had to talk about that, aside from where she could try and fight for it, but where she could actually just say “you know, this sucks, and it's time we changed it”. Yeah, so I think that it definitely did impact people that had that, you know, on their minds a bit more.

Byron: Do you think that an important aspect of it was that it wasn't just, it wasn't just the protests and protesting, it was also having that space just for those discussion and things as well?

Steffi: Yeah, yeah. I think there's a, there's definitely like a place for protests but I think the most exciting bit for me was seeing people gathering together and trying to discuss things and trying to work out what was the best way for our city to operate I guess, yeah.

Byron: Another thing that's came up is the idea that there are a whole number of competing sort of ideas at Occupy and, maybe competing ideologies and, did you find that in your experience?

Steffi: Yeah, I think you probably get that in most places, and I did wonder whether that made it hard for anything kinda, like, to be actioned out of Occupy. Yeah, so I think that I did find that in my brief experience.

Byron: So you would've participated in some of the general assemblies?

Steffi: Yeah, yeah I went to one or maybe two.

Byron: And that's where you sort of saw the method of sort of consensus decision making which was being used...

Steffi: Yeah! Yeah.

Byron: And you thought that was a good way of making decisions?

Steffi: Yeah, I think, so the night I went I sort of, it went pretty well aye. I think there's always a risk with that is that the loudest voice gets heard the most, but when it's facilitated well, then it's a pretty good way. It's a way for the quieter voices to get heard as well.

Byron: Had you seen that method of decision making used before in anything else you'd been involved in?

Steffi: Yeah, we try to do that, it looks different here, but we try to do that in our community here as well.

Byron: Do you think that anything in Christchurch has changed because of Occupy Christchurch?

Steffi: Good question. Do you mean like on a structural level or on an individual level or anything?

Byron: Well either, either.

Steffi: Yeah, I think the people that I know like, some of the people, I kind of know people from quite a wide range of ideas, or something, and the ones that kind of, would normally have been quite closed off to, I guess anything that's not the status quo, I think Occupy did, like for some of them it changed how they saw a lot of that, I dunno how to explain it properly, but... I think it opened their minds a bit to possibilities, and so I think that that's such a good thing, yeah.

Byron: Occupy of course was a global movement, did you feel that in Christchurch we were a part of a global movement connected to the other cities in New Zealand and around the world?

Steffi: Yeah so, I think yes... but I also liked that it kind of had its own expression and its own, it was grounded in what was happening here, rather than just being grounded in what was happening overseas. Yeah, I think that was so important.

Byron: If there were to be something like Occupy happen again, do you think you'd get involved again?

Steffi: I don't know. I think, so the reason I kind of didn't join in more than I did was because I felt like it took me away from my community where we were kind of trying to do similar things but in a different way, so I don't know if I'd personally get involved, but I think I'd encourage people that weren't connected into other things, or maybe one or two people from here to get involved as well. Yeah, so, I wouldn't be opposed to it, but I probably would, again, be more of an observing role. Networking together, something like that.

Byron: Did it, did the experience change at all the way that you were involved in your community, has it influenced that in any way or?

Steffi: I think that... it's kind of... I haven't thought about that question. Possibly? But I don't know, off the top of my head. Yeah.

Byron: How did you feel about the way that some of the media covered Occupy?

Steffi: I didn't really see that much of the media coverage. I got kind of second hand things from like, if I got to work, it'd be like “oh I read this today”, so, I don't know too much of actually what was... what was kind of, yeah.

Byron: Do you think perhaps you, do you think your experience of Occupy was different because you're female than it would've been for the men involved?

Steffi: I guess that's kind of hard to answer, 'coz I'm not a man [laughs].

Byron: True, true.

Steffi: I dunno, I guess... could've been. I think there' are probably like, a lot of factors that would shape, you know, how I, my experience of Occupy.

Byron: 'Causethat is something some people have felt, sort of quite strongly about, is the... being a woman involved in Occupy they felt was different than being a man involved because possibly they felt more at risk and things like that, so...

Steffi: Right, sure, interesting, yeah. I guess, yeah, if I'd spent more time there I might've been more affected by that, but I think I felt fine when I was there, yeah.

Byron: So you found, in the time you were there you felt it was a safe space to be and things?

Steffi: Yeah totally, yeah. In fact I think, I felt like it made the park safer [chuckles].

Byron: Yeah. So, how did you feel about the fact that Occupy had the sort of drug and alcohol free policy and things that, was that part of that as well?

Steffi: Yeah I think that definitely helps, you know, you feel a bit safer. And just feeling like people are genuinely trying to look out for each other and so you've got twenty people looking out for you instead of walking down the road when there is no one [laughs].

Byron: Yeah, yeah. Are you still in touch with any people from Occupy?

Steffi: Yeah one or two. Yeah, we've got someone in our community now that's moved in since, and yeah.

Byron: And they're sort of involved in the community now in the way that you were, in the way that you've been since before Occupy?

Steffi: Ah yeah, and I don't know if it was, I don't there's interconnected joining there, but...

Byron: Ah that's good.

Steffi: It's pretty cool.

Byron: So the, the people that you encouraged to go along to Occupy, how did they feel about it, did they come along and think it was something for them, did it change how they felt about it or anything?

Steffi: Yeah, so some of them went along and some of them didn't, but I think that they, most of them were willing to hear me out, because a lot of the time they came from the idea of, you know, it's all just talking they're not really gonna achieve anything, and I was like, actually if you go there you'll see they've already achieved something, which was the thing that excited me the most, which was the, you know just modelling a different way of living. Yeah, which I think is the first step towards changing things in the world. Yeah, and so I think that ones that did check it out, they found that and the others were just like “aww yeah, you probably, might be right, I'll stop complaining”.

Byron: Is there anything else you think that you learnt from your time at Occupy?

Steffi: I dunno... I'm not always so good at thinking on the spot [laughs].

Byron: That's alright. What are some of your best memories of things that were, that happened at Occupy while you were there?

Steffi: I guess, like, I just loved just kinda hanging out in the afternoon and just chatting to people and learning a bit about them and yeah, as I said before, hearing the lady just talk about what stuff is going on for her, and I think that particular day there was several people, one after the other got up and kinda talked, some people were saying, you know, things that frustrated them at the moment and others were talking quite personally, and yeah I just sat there thinking “man, like, it's so good that people are listening and people are just trying to yeah, make a change”. I don't remember what your question was.

Byron: That's alright, yeah. Do you feel there was anything, anything negative about Occupy or perhaps anything that could've been done better?

Steffi: Well, I think, like, a negative thing I would see would be that I don't, I don't really see how it could like become a longer-term sustainable thing. I guess I can see how it could feed into those, so maybe that's not the goal, I don't know, but I think it's quite hard to, I know it's quite hard to join in on something if you're kind of like, will this last or will it not? You kind of want to feel like it will, and... I think I had another thing, what was it... maybe it'll come back to me... oh yeah, that's right. I think, like, I don't know how accessible, it was pretty accessible, it was right there in front of people, but it was for people who maybe, like it was very, like it was a good tool for gathering people who were already kind of on the same page, but I don't know how, or could be kind of moved along to that page, umm, but I don't know how accessible it was to people that just come from quite a different world, world view. I think that they might just have watched it and seen “whaaaat... it's just a bunch of people...” and not, yeah, but I don't know how you do engage people from that point thought. That's a bit harder.

Byron: Do you think the way the sort of the wider, I guess the wider Christchurch community, do you think that they were mostly supportive of Occupy or mostly negative about it or mostly just sort of ambivalent, not really having an opinion, did you get any idea of what that was?

Steffi: Well, I mean I can't really speak on all of Christchurch, but from, I guess from the people I know, I felt like there was quite a mixture, but definitely everyone was talking about it. It's hard not to when you see kind of all these tents and you're driving through town or, yeah. So everyone kind of had an opinion, and I'd say mixed opinions between people, usually the people that had actually checked it out seemed pretty positive, or the ones that joined in, from the people I know at least, but, mixture from others, yeah.

Byron: Do you have any further thoughts about, about Occupy or about the experience there, or anything sort of related to it?

Steffi: Yeah, like, now that I'm thinking about it, I'd be real interested to see, like I know that, of the people I know that kind of spent a bit more time at Occupy, that a lot of them are or already involved in a lot of stuff around social change and it'd be real interesting to see if people who, that was kind of a new thing for them, if they were, if they kind of stuck with that, and just kind of see where people are at a little bit down the track. Yeah, I'd be real interested in that, yeah. I guess that this project might bring some of that out of the woodwork [chuckles].

Byron: Hopefully, yeah!

Steffi: I think it was a valuable piece of the puzzle, Occupy.

Byron: Excellent, well thank you for your time, and thank you for being involved in the project.

Steffi: Cool, sweet.