The “Len Brown Stand Down” Protest

I’m not much an activist (mostly because my primary goal is the elimination of the human species and, thus far, you don’t seem to need my help in achieving that). Occasionally I go on protest marches but, by-and-large, I tend to stay at home, sigh about human nature and then talk about my feelings with a bottle of Scotland’s finest spirits.

Which is all to say that if you say me at the “Len Brown Stand Down” march on Saturday the 22nd of February, 2014, you might have been a bit worried1 Worry not; I was there strictly as an observer, a dangerous task given that at least one of the organisers, Will Ryan, not only knows my face but has outed me to a hostile crowd before.

My interest in the “Len Brown Stand Down” march was its interesting array of speakers. At least three of the speakers–Vinny Eastwood, Will Ryan and Penny Bright–are variously associated with the 9/11 Truth Movement, the anti-fluoride brigade and are skeptical about the safety of the MMR vaccination schedule. I wanted to see if they could keep to script (and just talk about Len Brown) or whether they’d end up lurching off into the messy reaches of their own particular conspiracy theories. They (mostly) didn’t, which was a surprise, but more about that in a minute.

Some of my foreign readers will be asking “Ah, so who is this Len Brown person anyway?” Len Brown is the current mayor of Auckland, who was re-lected last year on a substantial proportion of the vote. A week after he was re-lected it turned out that a political advisor to his chief rival had been mud-racking and discovered that Brown had been having an affair, which was news to everyone, including his wife. The story then got very, very messy; the political opponent, John Palino claimed he didn’t know what his advisor (Luigi Wewege) had been up to, despite the fact Palino had met with the person Brown had had an affair with shortly before the election. Questions where raised as to whether Brown had declared on the register of pecuniary interests the hotel rooms he had used to conduct the affair in, and so forth. Certain members of the public thought the whole scandal was manufactured by the Right to tarnish Auckland’s Left-wing mayor, whilst others said this spoke to character and that the mayor should resign. A report was commissioned which kind of said the mayor wasn’t corrupt but that some of his free hotel rooms or upgraded rooms where a conflict of interest, given he was deciding on laws and regulations which would have affected said hotel, and so forth.

All in all, it was very, very messy.

Whatever you might think about Len Brown and his fickle pickle (thanks to “The Critic” for that particular term), it certainly has brought together a lot of people who are angry either at Len Brown the person or Len Brown the politician. A surprising number of the people on the march were holding up placards with messages about Len Brown’s affair, whilst the speakers themselves kept repeating the refrain that “I don’t care about the mayor’s affair; what I care about is…”

Opposition to the Len Brown and opposition to the Super City are fairly hard to disentangle, especially since the mayor often looks (and admittedly acts) like he is Super City personified. Many of the things people are worried about and protested about are not issues to do with Len Brown’s style of politics but issues to do with the botched implementation the Super City (i.e. if we’re going to blame anyone, surely we should be blaming Rodney Hide, who rushed the legalisation through). For example, everyone (and I mean everyone) is vexed by Brown’s promise to curb rates increases and the fact that rates have gone up nonetheless. However, a lot of this is a function of the Super City and less the intention of the mayor; National and ACT wanted rates in Auckland to be unified (and not set area by area) and that means some areas of Auckland have seen rates increases by fiat rather than dastardly, Brown-esque, design.

The March

I arrived at the bottom of Queen Street at ten to twelve and found about fifty, maybe more people milling around Will Ryan. Given that Will Ryan knows my face I ducked into the mall and looked at stationary. It was at that point that Public Address’s Russell Brown asked for pics of the crowd. Given that I am a diligent servant of the people (even if I do seek the destruction of the people as a whole) I braved the crowd once more, only to find that in the five minutes I’d been gone the number of people in attendance had tripled, maybe quadrupled.

"Len Brown Stand Down" protesters
“Len Brown Stand Down” protesters

The mix of protesters was mostly skewed towards white people in their forties or fifties (with a scattering of people slightly younger or older). A collection bucket was going round (as Vinny Eastwood ominously, and deceptively suggested through his megaphone, free speech isn’t free) and I neither wanted to given the organisers money nor wanted to explain why I didn’t want to given them money. Anyway, what I really desired was some video footage, so I crossed the road, pulled my camera out and began to record.

(You can see more of the protest footage here)

It took a while for the protesters to get into the festive mood; chanting, for the elderly middle classes, is obvious not a natural skill. They managed it in the end, though, even if the chants weren’t all that imaginative. The mood on the street was quite different to that of the protesters, though. I was constantly getting ahead of the march in order to get more video and passer-bys who stood and watched the protest , by-and-large, were more amused than outraged by it all. However, not everyone was so hard to impress; as the march trundled along the bottom of Queen Street it swelled in size so that at it’s peak, there might have been close to four, maybe five hundred people in attendance.2

The original plan was for the protest to get as far as Airedale Street and have speeches there, given that Aotea Square, which is the place where these things normally occur, was booked out for the “National Day of Prayer”3. However, as the Christians hadn’t yet arrived, the police decided that use of the steps outside Aotea Square was permissible (thus somewhat robbing the protesters of one of their “The mayor is out to get us!” lines).

The Speakers

My grandmother never told me that you can judge the quality of a movement by its speakers, so I’m not really sure where I got that idea from. Anyway, when it came to delivering an exciting and varied line-up of speakers, the organisers behind “Len Brown Stand Down” did not disappoint.

Will Ryan

I know Will Ryan primarily from his promotion of 9/11 Truth and his advocacy for the thesis chemtrails are being sprayed across Aotearoa’s skies. He’s also a spokesperson for “Affordable Auckland”, the political package Stephen Berry belongs to (the 3rd ranked mayoral candidate in the last election). Ryan is a libertarian with a dislike of taxes and a love of property rights. He’s also a great believer in believing claims only if the evidence supports them, or so he claims. In reality it’s a rhetorical move; he’ll claim people who don’t believe the kinds of things he believes are failing to engage with the material critically; this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s appraising the evidence for his theories on a case-by-case basis.

Ryan wants Len Brown to pay all of the costs associated with the inquiry into his affair. Will also admitted that the mayor has done some, possibly even many good things, but the mayor’s polices are stifling business (“the lifeblood of the city”) and prohibiting rate-payers from living the kinds of lives they would like to lead.

Amusingly enough, Ryan ended up being confronted by an anti-police protester, who he got the police to eject from the public meeting. As he pointed out, the police had actually treated the protesters quite nicely (which isn’t surprising; they were white, middle-class protesters after all) but it’s a little bit problematic to get the police to eject one of the few brown faces at your protest. A few minutes later Ryan was having to fend off some Bible-thumping anti-protesters who described him as a “bad man”.

Stephen Berry

Stephen Berry was the next speaker and, like Will Ryan, is another property-rights focussed libertarian. His talk was on how the unitary plan is wrong and that housing affordability would sort itself out if we stop infill housing and (and this is weird inconsistency) allowed people to build whatever they like on their own property. So, no more subdivisions or apartment blocks; otherwise, build those patios!

Berry wants Auckland to expand outwards, a thesis popular with New Zealand libertarians because they aren’t particularly concerned with the provision of public amenities. Berry’s protest against the mayor is all based around the mayor supporting the current draft of the unitary plan; like everyone else he wasn’t really interested in Len Brown’s private affair(s).

Penny Bright

I find Penny Bright confusing, mostly because people call her “left wing”; she’s not really any-wing but, rather, a political centrist who supports a lot of disparate causes. Her protest against the mayor was couched entirely in terms of potential corruption by the mayor with respect to the Sky City Convention Centre deal (the “money for pokies” affair). This happens to be an issue I’m (somewhat worried about as well); Len Brown was accepting room upgrades at Sky City whilst also supporting said business’s convention centre deal. This might be corruption (although the benefit to the mayor was fairly insignificant) or it might be sheer stupidity by the mayor; either way, it was an incredibly stupid thing for him to do and his public apologies, thus far, really haven’t been good enough.

That being said, Bright managed to amp the claim about corruption up to at least eleven; she asserted that under Len Brown Sky City has become a money-laundering operation. That’s a fairly bold claim, and a bit of evidence would have been nice.

Russell Malcolm

Russell Malcolm is one of Vinny Eastwood’s pet projects; Malcolm claims to have evidence of a criminal conspiracy by the Auckland Council, which Len Brown has a hand in. Said conspiracy is called the “Pinchgate Affair” and it involves everyone, inckuding the Prime Minister (who apparently signed the warrants for Malcolm’s arrest). The Pinchgate Affair wasn’t really covered in any detail at the protest, but it involves Len Brown (allegedly), so I suppose that’s why Malcolm was there.

David Thornton

David Thornton has long protested about rates increases in the Auckland region. He dislikes the notion that we’re all going to have a third wheelie bin (“waste of money!”) and that we should consult iwi when it comes to land use (“ridiculous!”). He brought along the requisite “grumpy old white man” edge every decent conservative protest needs. He also wants to somehow bring in a way to recall the mayor should the public become dissatisfied; he thinks an internet petition might be the way forward.

Mekelesi Ngata

I wasn’t sure what Makelesi Ngata’s issue with Len Brown was but she sure doesn’t like him or his politics.

Robin from “Plane Truth”

Halfway through the march the protesters were joined by another protest group, “Plane Truth” who are worried about increasing noise pollution from changes to air traffic over Auckland. Robin (whose second name neither I nor Vinny Eastwood got) blames this all on the office of Len Brown.

Conclusion

I realise this is a bit of a “What I did on my Saturday afternoon” style post, but I thought it might be good to have something for the record. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by a) how short the speeches were (none were more than a couple of minutes in length) and b) how everyone kept on topic. Vinny Eastwood was the master of ceremonies and his self-deprecating humour worked well and he didn’t try to connect the protest to various other conspiracy theories. If anything, I feel a bit sorry for Will Ryan, who got the brunt of the anti-protesters at the beginning of the speeches.

When the march started I estimate there were about two hundred people in attendance, swelling to over three hundred on the actual walk. By the time Robin was speaking there were probably about fifty people left, and I have to wonder just how many of them were like me, there not because they supported the protest but eager to find out why they were protesting?

Whatever the case, this protest about Len Brown pales in comparison to the protest against John Banks, which had about 2000 people join it back in 2002. Although the organisers behind the “Len Brown Stand Down” march continue to maintain that public disapproval of the mayor sits around 60% to 70%, it’s not clear that this means there is a very real political movement which could force Brown to resign.

I guess we will see where this goes. Until then, keep washing the pies!

Notes

  1. Although I’d be more worried about being at the protest such that you could see me; what were you doing there?
  2. I am terrible at crowd-size estimation; if someone can work out from the video what the numbers really were, I’d love to know.
  3. Will Ryan suggested this was “convenient” for the mayor, as if Len Brown, God and the various Churches had decided to pre-emptively schedule an event in order to get in the way of the protest.

About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

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