Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 21. September 10, 1968
Doug White Ineffective?
Doug White Ineffective?
The student body has been brought in from the cold.
History and the Sunday Times recorded it, when in a bond of fellowship and bonhomie, they linked police and students in the same denial.
Those twin consciences of the community, the Dominion and the Evening Post recorded it when, for once, they found a ready and receptive ear on campus as, with all inhibitions gone they threshed in a glorious frothing campaign of anti-Russian sentiment.
The Prime Minister recorded it when, in a largely disinterested fashion, he received a deputation organised by, and containing members of that body he had labelled "anarchistic" (if my memory serves me correctly) a couple of months ago.
The good people of Karori recorded it, when epitomizing the bourgeois capitalists whose reported spectre in Czechoslovakia started the whole rumpus in the first place, they trooped to the mini-Kremlin with coffee and biscuits.
The demonstrators themselves reflected it. While the conventional bunch of activists were around they were rubbing placards with pillars of the Right The self-conscious fur coat which briefly emerged from a Jaguar to pay homage to all was indicative of the kind of support it was attracting. The couple who provided coffee in two shifts for over 40 demonstrators were simply not the type to actively support political demonstrators.
The diversity of political views enveloped in the bond of camaraderie at the vigil did not escape Geoff Bertram. Manifesting amusement at the fact that he was sharing a placard with Jim Mitchell, who could hardly be regarded as being on similar ideological fooling, the latter was forced to retain his identity by distinguishing between demonstrating opposition to Russia as opposed to support for Czechoslovakia.
They were not too Right of course, R.S.A. president, Hamilton Mitchell, when invited to speak at Parliament, replied "Demonstrate? What do you want to demonstrate for? The Government has protested."
But a banner which is sufficiently broad and indiscriminate to encompass Mitchells (Jim variety), Bertrams and Gagers is surely broad enough for Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
In fact this protest was significant because, apart from the Russians themselves, there was not one group in the entire country officially and publicly supporting the Soviet actions. Unless of course they were muffled by the news media which is unlikely in view of the space devoted to the Russian defence.
Short of a Soviet invasion of U.S.A., or something happening to the price of booze, there could be fewer catalysts more likely to stir the public from their (pardon) apathy than a Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.
And yet only 500 people cared, or were made to care sufficiently to attend Parliament. The "passivity" that Barry Mitcalfe eloquently referred to as being the "greatest threat to world peace" (ludicrously and dangerously mis-quoted by the Post as "pacifistly") has not been conquered in Wellington. As one remarked, "If the public won't even show opposition to commos, God help us." But they could have been made to. There-in lies the failure of the Students' Association.
The general policy of the Association was stated in the motions passed at the SGM on 30 July:
• That this Association condemns the government of the USSR for its intervention in the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia and supports the people of that country in their struggle to freely determine their way of life."
• "That the President of the Association be directed to communicate the preceding motion by telegram to the President of the USSR and Czechoslovakia."
Yet the President of the Association, Mr Douglas White appears to have chosen not to take any positive action on behalf of the Association. I believe that this amounted to a failure in political leadership at a crucial time.
There is a certain amount of cynicism attendant in demonstrations, and this was no exception. The blunt conclusion Barrie Saunders came to in his Post column that students' embracing popular causes means "good public relations" is not original. (Whether it was good public relations to point out quite so bluntly that it was good public relations. I'm not sure.) But some, and Simon Arnold was one, took an active part in the protestssolely because they felt the student image could be improved. Is this immoral? Can they be blamed for their prostitution? Not entirely, although in a logical extension of the argument it would be nice to see a shaven Simon Arnold running around pushing prams for pregnant mothers. I mean I think the public is rather like an old woman, so let her moan. But when one has spent a cold and wet night on a cold and wet road outside a cold and wet Legation with no tangible rewards for one's pains, one's ideals do seem a little more distant and a little tarnished.
The demonstrators began with their enthusiasm to keep (hem warm. They began, enfolded in the luminosity of a common cause, a common dedication to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all man kind, but by morning when it's cold and you're wet, the suggestion that the "student image is being improved" is less likely to be condemned by some affronted idealist.
In the light of the SGM motion I think Mr While had an obligation to capitalise on this situation and provide the Association's support for those protesting against Russian policy.
On the Wednesday afternoon Mr White specifically refused to give a press statement for the organising committee. He suggested that the motion passed at the SGM be quoted.
After NZBC reports, BBC reports, a front page story in the Evening Post, all verifying that Czechoslovakia had been invaded, all Mr White could say was that the situation "needed clarification".
The mass of the population were hearing that "some students" were protesting at the Legation at the same time as they heard the invasion had taken place. A statement from the President of the Association would have had additional effectiveness particularly as the protest was in its early stages.
To make the error of not acting in what I would argue was the Students' Association's interest, whether through incapacity or disinclination, amounts to political incompetence.
On the Friday, when the situation had clarified beyond question, Mr White was asked bow much financial assistance the Association would provide.
He was asked if the Association would cover the printing costs of 15,000 pamphlets, estimated at $30.
An advertisement was planned for the Evening Post, Mr White was asked for his opinion on the chances of the Association paying for it.
Mr White, the President of the Association, said he did not have the authority to guarantee that amount. Not only did he decline his authority, he did not offer his support should the matter come before Finance Committee.
He said that the Association had spent too much money on "this sort of thing" lately.
Mr White, with his inability to take any but theleast significant steps without using Executive asa crutch shows a conspicuous lack of political guts.
There is a certain mixture of courage, integrity, character and principle that has never been suitably defined. Our Anglo-Saxon name for it is guts. Mr White, with his inability to take any but the least significant steps without using Executive as a crutch shows a conspicuous lack of it.
Mr Logan "forgot" the advertisement. It was found after the Post's advertising deadline had been reached. Fortunately it made the Sunday Times, but had a much more limited audience.
Before the weekend was out, before Mr White had be-stirred himself from doing nothing to go to the vigil and see for himself what was happening, he was suggesting that the demonstration planned for Monday be abandoned because the vigil "was enough".
Enough for what? Had it occurred to Mr White that perhaps it was a Good Thing for the student body to be associated with it? It was not until Sunday afternoon that Mr White who was enjoying what was probably a fine game of tennis for it was a good afternoon for it, put away his tennis racquet, changed from his whites and went out to the Legation for nearly half an hour. Then he returned to the University and said to Mr Logan "Can Executive be of any help? Other members of course who have less to do than I have." (Sic)
Mr White's political impotence has been embarrassingly highlighted by the emergence of Mr Gerard Currie as a student leader. In fact in view of the coverage given, and the quality of Mr Currie's speech at Rotary last week, the President-elect could be considered to be making a better President than the President.