Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
No doubt Friday's Anti-War March in Wellington will be heralded by its organisers as a significant or momentous step in the New Zealand anti-war movement. Maybe. Of course it is true that it managed to draw more people than any other anti-Vietnam march to date - eight thousand marchers compared with 900 just twelve months ago. True too that it made one of the first real attempts to initiate a more original form of protest in the form of a dramatic guerilla theatre group, which drew relatively few jeers from the large number of Friday-night shoppers. True too that it was one of the best-received and widely-appreciated protest marches for ages.
But it is also true that it was totally lacking in spirit. And there was nearly as much of a sense of unity among the bystanders. Eight thousand people just walking up the centre of the road. Face it, the march just lacked real impact. I suppose that it could well have been worse - last July's mobilisation was quite unbelievably bad but this but this does nothing to deny that as an attempt to "express ... our feeling of tragedy and concern" and to "prompt each person who sees our protest to consider what we endeavour to say," the march was not a success.
Compare Friday's effort with the spontaneous march held after the Radical Activists Congress last year! About one hundred people, singing "Give Peace a Chance" climbed seven flights of D.I.C. stairs to picket the Saigon Embassy, but, finding the embassy locked, returned to the street where an Auckland guerilla-theatre group drew a crowd of about six or seven hundred lunchtime passers-by. O.K., that march might not have ended the war either But at least it made people take notice; I certainly didn't hear any watchers discussing the new line of dresses just in at Kirkaldies. Similarly, the picketing of the Majestic Cabaret on the occasion of the American Independance Day ball just over a month ago was an example of spirit in protest. Here, there was no more than fifty people and yet the sense of purpose, unity and vitality cannot have failed to impress some of the watchers.
Really, half the problem must lie in the fact that the date for an anti-war march is usually just pulled out of a hat and that the war is geographically distant, with the result that there seems to be little real objective or point to the march.. It is about time that the organisers realised that the participants in anti-war activities are hurman and, as such, need something concrete to direct their protest at. Abstractions like freedom, peace or even The Revolution are just not enough. This is why the marches mentioned above were relatively successful while the April and July nationwide mobilisations, despite their size, were not. This is why the anti-tour marches last year had such power and impact; and why it was so pleasing to hear of the demonstration in Auckland at the homecoming of the troops from Vietnam. And in case any liberals should think that I am advocating an anti-police flavour on marches, I would point out that to make the police the object of an anti-war march is just as bad as (and probably even worse than) the current type of demonstration.
Unfortunately, the faults of the mobilisation certainly do not end here. Its politics were not particularly inspiring either. Not that the march really had any specific approach to the war and nor should it have one. Politically it is best for a mobilisation to so flexible as to accommodate as broad as possible a range of political positions. But, there is no getting past it, "Out Now" is just a little incongruous in an anti-Vietnam march these days. For one thing, it is clear that New Zealand troops will all be home within six months and that only a handful of American troops will be left in Vietnam by the time of the Presidential elections in the U.S. in 1972. (Not that the N.Z. anti-war movement can claim any credit for these developments this country's foreign policy is dictated from overseas and any troop withdrawals will merely be a consequence of this fact!) And so in carrying "Out Now" placards we are really only anticipating official government policy by a few weeks or months. Furthermore, such an attitude is restrictive. The withdrawal of N.Z. troops must not spell the end of the anti-war movement. We must not cease until there is peace in Vietnam and peace is not a necessary consequence of the removal of foreign troops from Vietnam. Like it or not, Vietnam will know no peace until it is unified, until it is governed by a progressive government that is prepared to meet the needs of the people in the fields of land-ownership, education, health and welfare services, and until all foreign military presence is withdrawn.
In other words, to bring peace to Vietnam and hence the end of the activities of the anti-war movement here, what is needed is not only the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops but also the collapse of the Saigon Government and the success of the National Liberation Front.
Perhaps you thought that the march was a resounding success but I think that until our mobilisations are planned to coincide with such events as the homecoming of troops or the visit of a U.S. warship, and until the Commitees on Vietnam and other mobilisation groups make it known that they see little point in such placards as "Withdraw foreign troops" we are doomed not only to the dis-spirited atmosphere that characterised Friday's march but also to ineffectiveness. Have silent demonstrations perhaps, but vitality and "soul' are needed; singing will provide these while avoiding much feared aggressive reaction, and there are more than enough simple anti-war songs these days.