Protest shows the strength of the democratic system — we need to cherish the right to protest, writes retired Dunedin lawyer Joss Miller. It’s interesting, too, that many of the mandates and restrictions complained of have been, or are soon to be lifted. Notable, too, is that the Jacinda government, having previously ignored the extensive nationwide protests of farmers, is now sounding more conciliatory and has even suggested some sort of meeting. One might well ask, Why now?
More than ever we need to cherish the right of our citizens to be able to protest. This has always been a hallmark of democracy irrespective of whether the numbers involved are large or small. It is also irrelevant whether one agrees or disagrees with the protesters’ cause.
Protests can often be a catalyst for change. This is in contrast to authoritarian regimes, where protests are often violently suppressed, the events in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989 being a chilling example of this. Dissent is no longer tolerated in Hong Kong, with large numbers now being detained or imprisoned. Protesters in Russia opposed to the war in Ukraine are currently facing the prospect of long prison terms. The Wellington protest, despite its controversies, can be seen as an affirmation of our democratic values and freedoms.