I had no interest in drinking with the kids at the hostel on a Saturday night, so I set off into town with my backpack and camera, not knowing what to expect.
The city of Nelson was quiet at 9 pm. I heard live music and headed in that direction. All of the sudden I see hand painted signs, tents, a circle of camp chairs, raggedy people standing around wrapped in blankets and a guy playing Neil Young on his acoustic guitar.
“Hello!” one of the white-haired ladies called out. “We’re protesting the TPPA.”
After a momentary hesitation, I realize this is the place I need to be tonight.
I take a seat and ask the woman who greeted me, “So why are you against the TPPA? Gimme your spiel.”
She began to answer and I interrupted, “You don’t want to give up your sovereignty.”
“Yes, exactly,” she said.
I think some of the protesters thought I was homeless because everyone asked me where I am staying. Don’t worry, guys, I’m staying at a hostel and I’m not crazy. I’m from D.C. and I understand politics and I just want to talk to you all.
I was introduced to Graeme, the organizer for the event. On August 16, New Zealanders all over the country protested the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Nelson had a strong turnout of about 750, according to the NelsonMail. This Occupy Nelson protest was a continuation of those protests, to show that support is still strong.
Earlier in the day, several protesters dressed up in Kiwi — not Kiwifruit — masks with Uncle Sam whipping them into line while he led Prime Minister John key on a leash.
I must say, these Kiwis certainly earn extra points for enthusiasm and creativity.
They proceeded to mob their Member of Parliament, Nick Smith.
By the time I arrived, there were 12 protesters at the Occupy site drinking tea, having pumpkin soup, and dancing to the music. Roughly half of them camped out overnight.
The problem with the TPPA, Graeme explained, is that we don’t know what’s in the agreement. It is a secret document, and more importantly it is above the high courts of the undersigned nations. It would be above the Supreme Court of the United States of America and the Supreme Court of New Zealand. What?
If passed, it would cede power to the rich assholes who run the big asshole corporations that are raping the Earth. That’s not democracy.
With an ominous red and white striped flag hanging over the stage and the Uncle Sam imagery from earlier, it is obvious that these New Zealanders are largely protesting America. But Graeme said they like regular Americans like me.
I laid it out like this: There’s the American citizen, then there’s the American government, and then there are the large corporations who have the real power.
Just take a look at TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, signed by President Bush in 2008. Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone, wrote in 2013, “the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive.”
Congress didn’t really have a choice. The reckless investment bankers who got us into this mess were now telling the elected representatives of the United States that they have to pass these bailouts, or else something very bad will happen.
This is the same issue with the TPPA. It’s not only encouraging this type of behavior, it is making it legal and unable to be stopped by the established courts and political structures in the twelve countries involved. It’s the age old problem of money overpowering politics.
One of the occupiers asked me if I was involved in any protests back home. I said all of the support today is behind Bernie Sanders. He is the chosen one. He will save the world. My generation is looking around and saying, Nah, I don’t like this. Let’s change it. Bernie has the answers and we have the votes.
Just watch a video of Bernie.
Bernie speaks with passion. The middle class is dying, people working full-time shouldn’t be poor, healthcare is a fundamental right, income inequality is destroying the country, cut military spending and put it into education, let’s make college tuition free. He drives his point forward and he makes you think, Well, yeah, this is obvious why haven’t we always done this? I trust him to take us in the right direction.
Now watch a video from the Hillary campaign.
I was waiting for the ad to end and then I realized there is no ad. That’s how the Hillary campaign feels. It’s fake and forced. I cringe listening to Hillary. She has no passion and frankly, I don’t trust her. Bernie is genuine and Hillary is so very scripted and focus-grouped.
I told a protester, you want to know the difference between Bernie and Hillary? Look at their donors. Follow the money.
And don’t trust some bullshit blog for these numbers, go to OpenSecrets.
Hillary’s Career Donors
Bernie’s Career Donors
Hillary is the establishment candidate of banks and law firms. Money. Bernie is the candidate of the worker. Humans.
Bernie has refused to accept money from Super PACs and the average donor gives $31.30, according to campaign officials. People like me support Bernie. I’ve always donated my time to the Democrats — but I can’t do that if I’m in New Zealand — so I donated $10 to his campaign. It’s not much money, but if one million young people can give $5 or $10, that really adds up.
An all too common problem with American elections is that people think who ever raises the most money will win. While money is a huge advantage needed to buy advertisements and have a strong ground game to Get Out The Vote, it doesn’t decide the outcome. The only thing that matters is which candidate gets the most votes.
And fortunately, Bernie doesn’t need to spend money buying TV advertisements because young people — the group who we actually need to get to the polls — don’t watch TV, and if they do, they DVR and skip the commercials. C’mon, it’s 2015.
Young people use social media and the Internet. They watch Netflix. As The Guardian puts it, Bernie is the king of social media. Young people are advertising Bernie on their own. Every election now is a new normal. It’s constantly evolving with technology and enthusiasm.
Yeah, I preached the Gospel of Bernie to these TPPA protesters. I preached hard.
Events like this always attract unique people. The litmus test is their response to the question, “What do you do?”
I asked Jonny the routine question and he said, “I am a child of God.”
I raised an eyebrow. “No, seriously,” he assured me.
As a boy he was sent out to live in the wilderness with a shovel. He dug out rabbit holes with the shovel, killed the rabbits with the shovel, and cooked the rabbits on the shovel.
As a teenager, he relied on trapping possums, hunting, fishing and bartering with the bounty the land provided. He later realized that instead of bartering, it is more efficient to develop skills. Now in his thirties, he writes Children’s books that teach children to never underestimate their own power. He is one quarter Maori and a spiritual guide.
As he explained how he lives in balance with the world, I said, “It’s permaculture.”
“Yes,” he cocked his head and looked at me with a bit of surprise. “That’s a very powerful word.”
I told him I read about permaculture in A Greener Life, the book the English hippies left in the van they sold me. Jonny, of course, was familiar with it.
During my visit to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, I thought of permaculture when I was learning about the Maori lunar calendar. There is a natural cycle that they have used for generations. The moon tells us when to plant crops, when to hunt, when to fish and when to let the sea urchins and fish grow fat. It means adjusting human life to the natural order instead of making nature change for us.
He told me of a meeting of the Nelson Science Society when one of the presenters wrote two equations on the white board:
He said he came into the lecture hall and saw these two equations and thought, there’s one equation and one unification. Everything works together. He said if you show people a picture of a landscape with trees, lakes and mountains and ask what they see, most people might pick out a few of of the individual objects.
“I see life,” Jonny said.
Jonny is like Ono, they are enlightened. You can feel it as you talk to them. They are on a higher plane of spiritual existence. They aren’t bothered by the day to day troubles, they see the bigger picture in every aspect of life.
I left the Occupy Protest and walked back to the hostel through town. The bars were overflowing with chaos and cigarette smoke. No thanks.