Fabulous launch, darlings!

My thanks to all the wonderful people who came along to the launch of ‘Protest: Shaping Aotearoa.’ It was a great night and the whole stock of books was sold!

Sadly Green MP Chloe Swarbrick couldn’t be with us on the night, but she sent this amazing video:

And someone filmed the launch on their phone – a bit wobbly, but here if you’re interested in hearing from my amazing big brother, Nicky Hager, who launched the book.

And here’s my speech, for your reading pleasure:

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Ko Mandy Hager ahau

E noho ana ahau ki Raumati, ki te Tonga, ki Kapiti

Thank you so much for being here – I really appreciate you making the effort to come.

A big thanks to Vic Books for hosting us here and to Nicky and Chloe for their kind words. I’m so grateful to have your support.

When this book was first mooted, it was going to be a 48 page book for middle primary school, but as soon as I started writing, my passion for the subject and the desire to acknowledge as many important actions as possible, as comprehensively as possible, took over, and Jenny and Christine from OneTree House kindly indulged my desire to write something more substantial. This is no small decision — the financial implications were huge, especially when you factor in paying for design and images. I’m humbled by their trust in me.

My hope is that this book will not only become a staple for upper secondary school students but will also be read by all those who have an interest in social justice, human rights, peace and environmental issues, and in the way our nation has been shaped by the people who live here. It’s also a clarion call against complacency — a call to action at a time when the stakes could never be higher.

I started this project in April last year, shortly after the first Covid lockdown. Like many others, this unsettling time (and the impossibility of knowing what would happen moving forwards) exacerbated all my anxieties for the future. It seemed to me this time marked a turning point, a line in the sand between the old world we all knew, and the uncertainty of the future moving forwards. It was the year climate change shifted from being something ‘out there in the future’ to a reality being felt by tens of thousands all over the world. It was the year we saw the fragility of democracy as the US imploded, and how the calculated stirring up of hatred, racism, misinformation and tension sadly overflowed from there to infect some in our own home. Hatred, white supremacism, xenophobia, greed, an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, extinctions, loss of biodiversity, degraded waterways . . . everywhere I looked the news was not just bad, it was horrific. I sank very low, fearing for the future of my children and grandchildren, seeing no light ahead, only unimaginable struggle and a rising tide of death. 

This book has lifted me out of that hole, every one of the 54 campaigns in here providing proof that change can be made —  that, right across our history, brave dedicated citizens (from the young to the elderly) have fought to protect our rights and to preserve our beautiful environment/, supported and empowered those in need of it,/ called-out gender discrimination and racism,/ risked violence, incarceration and death to champion peace,/ and raised their voices to ensure that government works for all the people they’re elected to serve, not merely to preserve the 1%’s power and wealth.

The people featured in this book may not think of themselves as heroes, but they are. They’re ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, from chopping down flagpoles,/ or refusing to kill in war,/ to standing up for the rights of their people,/ saving places of outstanding natural beauty,/ striking for fairer conditions,/ or skipping school in order to raise the alarm and wake up sleepwalking adults to the catastrophe knocking at our collective door. In my mind, this book is a tribute to all of them, and to every other Kiwi who has put up their hands and raised their voice to create ‘just’ change. If you’re one of these people here tonight, thank you. We are forever in your debt.

What I hope you’ll take away from this book, besides an insight into our history and how protest has shaped it, is a sense of inspiration; it is possible to make significant change if needed. As we enter increasingly uncertain times, it’s easy to feel helpless. But all it takes is one person with a voice to ignite the first spark, and others will be drawn to it if the cause is good. Together we can be, as Gandhi said, ‘the change we wish to see in the world.’ Together we can ignite hope.

My thanks to OneTree House publishers, Christine Dale and Jenny Nagle, for making this book possible, and to Vasanti Unka for her wonderful book design. Thanks, too, to Creative New Zealand for funding support.

Thank you too, to the many kind people who have contributed their time and resources: Paul Bensemann, for allowing me to quote from his beautiful book Fight for the Forests and for fact-checking; Dean Baigent Mercer, for an excerpt from his description of the Timberlands protests; John Hanlon, for his kind permission to quote the lyrics of his song Damn the Dam in full; Denis Tegg, of Coromandel Watchdog; Tim Jones, of the Save Aramoana campaign; Cindy Baxter, Tara Forde and Frances Mountier for factchecking and images from the Save Happy Valley campaign; Tania Roxborogh, for checking the section on Bastion Point; Paulina Sadowska and Mailbu Hamilton, from Kiwis Against Seabed Mining; photographer John McCombe, for kindly searching through his files to find the photos of the treetop protests and granting me permission to use them; Te Miringa Ho/ha/ia, who, in 2005, walked me through the story of Parihaka; Amnesty UK, Kit Wilson, Generation Zero, Greenpeace, Ira Bailey, Phil Braithwaite, Coal Action Network, Scoop, Indymedia, Tom Scott, Eric Heath, Wellington Rape Crisis, Bill Logan, Dylan Owen, Sharon Murdoch, NZ Labour Party, Amnesty Aroha and Mark Hurwitt (a US-based cartoonist) for their kind permissions to use images.

To my brother Nicky Hager, thank you for all your fact-checking and support, and for all the incredible work you have done to uphold human rights, champion peace, and protect the environment. I’m so incredibly proud of you!

I’d also like to acknowledge the great wealth of information available on the NZ History website, produced by the History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and Te Ara: The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. These resources have formed the backbone of much of this book.

My heartfelt thanks to my family and friends, who buoyed me up during those dark months and reminded me that their love and support is the cornerstone of my life and the thing that gives it meaning.

Finally, once again, I’d like to thank every Kiwi who has engaged in our democratic process by speaking out and taking action when they saw something they believed was wrong. Your contribution to improving the lives of fellow Kiwis and the land we live in will not be forgotten — and, now, more than any other time in human history, we need to learn from your examples and put aside personal comfort to demand a just and immediate transition away from fossil fuels and other polluting practices, to protect our planet and all the life forms that rely on it. So grab your banners, put on your marching shoes, and raise your voices: there is no other sane or ethical choice.

Ngā mihi nui.

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