Friday, December 29, 2006


The Wellington inner-city bypass open yesterday. To non-Wellingtonians that won't mean a lot. Those of us who live here it means a bit more than that. I learnt about the by-pass at age 8 when I went to a school outing to see the buildings that were going to be pulled down (it was a hippy school). My main objection has always been on historical grounds, and I'll explore that in a litle more detail in another post, but I just want to talk briefly about the anti-bypass campaign and some of the issues around it.

The by-pass is part of a late 1970s motorway project where state highway 1 was brought into Wellington city (they dug up a cemetary to do it). There was some opposition to this road, and more opposition to the supposed by-pass that was going to be built next.

That road was delayed for thirty years. In this time there was on-going anti-bypass action, but it focused on two avenues - legal challenges and city council elections. Both strategies were ultimately useless.

Every three years we were told to vote for an anti bypass city council, and every three years this failed (the way the city council wards broke down it was always going to be difficult). T

The problem with these strategies is that there was no organising. There was an occasional public meeting and large march in September 2000, but the basic work of getting people who opposed the bypass together to take action, was not being done.

So come the end of 2004 the bypass started to be built and there was very little organised anti-bypass opposition, but quite a lot of anti-bypass feeling. A small group of people got together to try and do a direct action campaign to stop the bypass.

I want to make it clear that I was not someone who was prepared to step-up to oppose the by-pass (I just had a supporting role). So my reaction to those protests are not criticisms of the people involved (who were at least prepared to do work that I wasn't), but just ideas that I have learned from watching this protest movement, and others (I plan to write a similar post on the problems of letting the media do our organising for us, about a couple of protest actions I was part of). I think by late 2004 it was probably too late to do the organising work necessary, and doubt things could have gone much differently at the time most of the anti-bypass protesters I know, got involved.

The strategy the 2004 anti-bypass group took, the strategy that I agree was most likely to succeed was to delay and disrupt the bypass and make it financially untenable for the sub-contractor. Most of the energy was put into people involved taking action, rather than getting new people involved (although there was some good organising going on throughout this time).

But I think it's always problematic to only look about how you can win, without also looking at how you can make yourself stronger in the process. As it happened the group involved weren't big enough to pull this strategy off. Most of the time we're not strong enough to win right away. People who focus on the importance of winning each campaign ((A word I hate when referring to activism, it usually implies that a small group of people have got together in a room and decided how they can win a particular issue. Rather than focusing on organising, and allowing that no matter how smart a small group of people are they can't predict what'll happen when people get organised.)) also appear to be most likely to burn-out, as they don't win, and feel they've got nothing. We must see the fight for a better world as a marathon and not a sprint. Each protest movement must try and make active organised opposition to the society we live in just that little bit stronger.

The protests against the M11 in Britain show that organising against roading can be done, and even though those protests weren't immediately successful they have had an impact on road-building in Britain (I have dial-up so I can't guarantee the quality of this video - but if it's the one I'm thinking of it's well worth watching to see the level organising that is both possible, and necessary to make a difference).

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