TEU member Dr Miriama Postlethwaite (Tūhoe), is a senior lecturer at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. Here, Dr Postlethwaite shares her whakaaro on the importance of passive resistance and collective action in light of our renewed discussion on race and injustice in Aotearoa.
That old saying, the pen is mightier than the sword is a well-known metonymic adage and a worthy strategy for campaigns. The philosopher, Paulo Freire led a successful literacy campaign in teaching people of the land to not only learn to read the word, but to read the world and become literate and conscientised to the realities of that world. Becoming literate and politicised provides the marginalised, a voice with tools to transform their world. Consider what is happening around the world today, to protest is necessary, but by any means necessary (Malcolm X, 1965) needs serious reconsideration.
Activism that is passive is forever imprinted into the minds and hearts of people. Movements and protests that turn violent defeat their initial cause. Recall the protest march lead by Dr Martin Luther King in 1963 on Washington for jobs and freedom. It was a peaceful march and remembered for eternity. Remember also the Greensboro Four who staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch bar in 1960. They were spurred to action by the senseless murder of a young black boy named Emmett Till, who had allegedly whistled at a white woman. This silent but powerful protest quickly spread to sit-ins in other stores in other towns. The reasons for those protests are not unlike what has spurred to action the protests flaring around the world today because of another senseless murder of yet again another Black life that really did matter, haere atu rā George Floyd.
To have the greatest impact, protests must be peaceful campaigns. Nonviolent protest techniques hail from freedom activists like Mohandas Gandhi in 1906, Dr Martin Luther King and closer to home, our own pacifist fighters Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi both of Taranaki, and Te Āti Awa iwi who with their people at Parihaka in 1881 peacefully resisted the confiscation of Māori land. Peaceful resistance in the face of violent response is to be remembered in perpetuity. Why? Because to suffer for a cause in silence takes courage, conviction and a collective sense of purpose.
As a Māori woman and union activist, for me, protest is powerful when the collective has the conviction of purpose to fight for social justice. A collective siege that battles for the rights of the underprivileged, the oppressed, the marginalised and stigmatised is what a union is about. The voluntary nature of union membership today has undermined that collective effort, with the potential to disempower and undervalue what it is to be a union. In spite of this, unions continue to battle and hold their ground. Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union had two freedom fighters who recently passed, Dr Te Huirangi Waikerepuru of Taranaki and Ngāpuhi and Whaea Kāterina Daniels of Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa. They were peaceful resisters in the union movement who fought with wisdom and conviction.
And so, yes, Black Lives Matter, they more than matter, they deserve to live a life of dignity and to be treated with humanity as do all of humanity. The fight needs to continue for the right to be treated with mana, but let that fight be remembered, let that fight be respected, let that fight be one of passive resistance, Ka whawhai tonu mātou: Struggle without end (Walker, R. 1990). Let us fight on the land, let us fight in the courts and let us fight for a just system.