Thursday, January 13, 2005

No politics please, we're sponsored

Wellingtonians may remember last year's Cuba Street Carnival, when all political groups were banned after the Anti-Bypass group threatened to disrupt proceedings (as it was, the protesters managed to insert themselves into the night parade anyway). I had just moved down from Orkland and ran a NORML stall in Lower Cuba Street, unaware of the draconian ban. No-one seemed to mind, no-one (official) told us to stop the stall.

Fast forward to 2005. Summer is allegedly upon us, and there's not only the NORML business to attend to, but also the petition to get signed. Citzens Initiated Referenda rely on physical signatures. You cannot sign a referendum online. They must be filled in precisely, or the signature is invalidated. It is very labour-intensive work, especially when it relies on volunteers donating spare time.

Over the last month, I have been ringing around seeking permission to collect nzflag signatures at various places where people might be found. Thanks to the Public Places Bylaw, anything in a public place (except commuting) requires council permission. After repeated phonecalls and emails, permission was granted to collect signatures in most of the Wellington CBD (Civic Square is still being hummed over, in spite of Mayor Kerry Prendergast's support for the cause).

Increasingly, Kiwis are turning into Americans. They drive to Malls, Plazas and Supermarkets instead of hanging out in the streets. If you're wanting to collect signatures, you are not welcome there.

Charities are OK. Pity increases consumer demand. "I'm so glad that we didn't get hit by a tsunami, I'll go and buy a DVD player." However, political material may antagonise consumers, associating the venue with the cause. Everyone remembers how the Enough is Enough March led to a boycott of Lambton Quay (not).

Retailers don't want politics anywhere near their merchandise. Consumers might start thinking. Is that hoodie made in a sweatshop? Am I contributing to New Zealand's fucked-up Balance of Payments record? Such matters are on a want to know basis, and retailers have rightly surmised that consumers do not want to know. Ignorance is strength.

Johnsonville Mall and Queensgate Plaza refused permission for nzflag to collect signatures on their property. North City Plaza went so far as to warn us not to accidentally wander through their territory or park in their carpark. Pak n Save Kilbirnie learnt the hard way not to let politics near their store. When Helen Clark opened the store a couple of years back, rowdy protesters spoiled the opening. It's just not good for business.

The pro-business part of me understands all this. It's their property and they have the right to say who's allowed and who's not allowed. The pro-citizen in me, the one who read Naomi Klein's No Logo and nodded at the parts where she decried the extinction of public space, weeps.

It really hit home yesterday. I was wearing my NORML hat and seeking permission for a presence at the One Love Concert next month at the Velodrome. One Love is a celebration of Bob Marley's birthday, and was started by NORML at the Auckland Domain in the late '90s. One Love organiser, student station Radio Active, has advised that NORML is not allowed at One Love. "It's a fun event and we don't want to spoil that with politics."

This is largely thanks to generous sponsorship from Smokefree, the people who take cigarette tax and turn it against smokers. With a cash cow like that to milk, NORML is out of its league. There is no ill will with Radio Active. Events require money and if a government quango (who would tell Bob Marley to stop smoking and get a job, if he were alive and living in New Zealand) wish to sponsor a commemoration of his birthday, so be it.

For a moment, I saw the abyss. Abandon all hope. We are re-writing our past to suit the present. We can't see the wood for the fake plastic trees.

Welcome to the '00s (the zeros). We stand for nothing.