“Freedumb” protestors caused chaos in Wellington this week in a bid to… what, exactly? PAT PILCHER reports from the scene of the grime.
As I write this, Wellingtonians are on the third day of seeing people misbehaving to protest about what they say is a lack of freedom (or, as it is now being called on social media, ‘freedumb’). Convoys up and down the country converged on Parliament grounds and appear to be staying put in a bid to protest Covid related grievances.
While I’ll happily defend people’s right to protest, it kind of sucks that Wellingtonians just wanting to go about their normal lives are having to deal with blocked streets and jeering insults from a badly-behaved minority amongst the (mostly well behaved) protesters. Reports surfaced yesterday that a 17-year-old girl had eggs hurled at her as she walked past Parliament because she ignored protestor demands that she take her mask off. Even though the protest is about freedom, it appears to be freedom on the protesters terms? After publishing this, more reports have came to light involving protestors harrassing retailers in Wellingtons golden mile. In one report, an unmasked person entered a retail store on Lambton Quay, deciding that the sales person and customer were “stink eyeing” her. Swearing at them, the unmasked person started to fake sneeze over the customer, who staff had to hide in the storeroom to keep safe. This ill-mannered minority clearly seem to be too stupid to realise that alienating what little support they can get could be counterproductive.
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Sticking my head above the social media parapet and asking just what is going on was a very enlightening exercise indeed. From what I could glean, the protests appear to be mostly about vaccination mandates and lockdowns. Add in a dash of anti-1080, 5G, some tinfoil hats and undies (not to mention, er… support for Bob Marley), and well… you get the gist.It isn’t hard to see that losing jobs because they didn’t want to be vaccinated would drive many to protest. I also get that lockdowns aren’t convenient. I also understand that not everyone can be vaccinated, and those who cant can get exemptions. But did any protestors who had no excuse not to be vaccinated stop and consider that it was their choice not to be vaccinated despite being told in advance about looming mandates? I guess the not so-small-matter of lockdowns slowing the spread of Covid and keeping people safe also didn’t figure too prominently in their thinking, either.
Speaking with protestors and their supporters across several social media platforms highlighted multiple issues that appear to be both complex and simple. A lot of it comes down to protestors confusing rights and privileges. While it’s anyone’s right to choose not to get vaccinated, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that their decision would impact the privilege of participating in a society where others are vulnerable to Covid-19.
Eating out, going to an event, shopping (with the obvious caveats applying about essentials) and working are all privileges. They are not a right. Think of it as driving a car. To earn the privilege of legally driving, you must first get a driver’s license. Doing so proves you made an effort to learn how to keep other road-users/pedestrians safe. Driving is not a right. It is a privilege, as is participating in society. Suppose people choose not to get their two shots, despite being made aware of the consequences of not being vaccinated. In that case, they’re a danger to others and themselves and I have little sympathy for their frankly idiotic protest.
Vaccination has long been a thorny issue that’s been front and centre in increasingly heated social media debates. Unsurprisingly, it also figured prominently in the conversations I had with protestors/supporters. Many pushed the old chestnut that “you can still get infected and infect others even if you’ve had the vaccine”.
What they’re ignoring is the not so inconsiderable fact that credible sources (such as the Ministry of Health) say that the Pfizer vaccine “is highly effective if people have both doses. That means, if you do catch COVID-19, you’re far less likely to fall seriously ill and less likely to transmit the virus to others… Clinical trials found that the Pfizer vaccine gave 95% protection against the symptoms of COVID-19.”
Looking at the chaos that unfolded as Covid hit a largely unvaccinated population in India, overloading hospitals and turning mall car-parks into mass crematoriums, 95% protection against Covid can only ever be a good thing. Keeping ICU beds for those who really need them should also be a complete no-brainer. But hey, gotta protest, go figure…
Countering the alt-facts around vaccines on social media proved interesting. I tended to find that I typically got two responses. Many simply chose not to reply when called on their vaccine-related bullshit. I attributed this to them being unable to dispute the links I presented them with or that they decided it was pointless arguing as I wouldn’t accept their vaccine alt-facts.
The other response I got was even more interesting. It usually took the form of “you are a sheep and are doing what the Government wants you to do”. In a bid to sound more authoritative, they’d often go on to say, “you realise that the vaccine contains chips/changes your DNA/makes you controllable via 5G”, and so on.
By then, I’d typically have reached the end of my rope. Not only was I talking to people incapable of grasping peer-reviewed science facts, but they were embracing crackpot theories from some random on the internet. I’d usually tell them to just fuck off simply because you can’t have a rational debate with anyone who has gone that far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole.
Could it be that our education system has failed to instil critical thinking into these idiots? When did people become that stupid? How did the YouTube/ticktock/Facebook reckons of utterly unqualified randoms become more credible than peer-reviewed science from scientists (you know, the folks who’re qualified to research this stuff)? It’s just boggling.
Perhaps the most common theme that emerged was that “mandates are bad” and that people should be free to make their own choices. In any other situation, this response might sound halfway reasonable, except that right now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s killed close to 6 million people.
It seems to have eluded many of these protestors that mandates were put in place to keep both them and us safe and, of course, to slow infections. Put simply, if the vaccine can reduce Covid symptoms and transmission then mandates must surely be a good argument for keeping those who genuinely cannot be unvaccinated out of harm’s way.
Most New Zealanders have no problems grasping this. Ministry of Health stats show a whopping 3,975,823 or 94% of all New Zealanders 12 or older are fully vaccinated. A further 43% or 202,841 under 12 have also had their first shot.
These people were given the choice of vaccination and chose to get it to keep themselves and others safe. They are not blocking streets. Nor are they stamping their feet and behaving like assholes. The protestors in Wellington are a vocal but shrinking minority. They are also a danger to themselves and others. They may be free to protest, but they also deserve all the contempt aimed at them from rational, decent and selfless New Zealanders.