Happy Valley Port BannerYesterday, members of the Save Happy Valley Coalition organised a 69m banner drop across two cranes in Wellington port. Ten days of preparation went off fairly well (only a few issues with the unfurling), and incredibly they managed to convince both the Police and the Port Authorities that they were allowed to be there. Apparently, the Port Authorities have so many departments that each believed the other had OK’ed the banner.

This was, however, the first action of SHVC that I refused to get involved in. Half way through 2006, a friend and I co-wrote An Anarchist Position Paper on the campaign to save Happy Valley. We charged the campaign — ourselves included — of remaining trapped within the limits of liberal environmentalism and that a re-evaluation of tactics and strategy in all areas of the campaign was required. It was met with largely hostile reception.

Our main argument was that political lobbying had to be stopped, and that a strategy of direct action was the only tactic left. We argued this from both very pragmatic and long-term angles. Pragmatic in the sense that every possible legal and political barrier had been cleared by state-owned mining company Solid Energy:

We have reached a point where both the political (ie. lobbying) and legal avenues have been exhausted. The Resource Consents process, the Environmental Court and the High Court have all legitimised the destruction of Happy Valley and the Department of Conservation has actively facilitated this process.

Many within the campaign held onto the success of the Native Forest Action campaign in 1999 that brought about the cessation of native forest logging. However, as we also saw with the anti-GE campaign, these conditions were simply not reproducible under a Labour Government:

[The failure of the anti-GE campaign] was primarily because a purportedly left-wing government was seeking re-election. As left-wing governments defend attacks from the right, discourse generally becomes more and more right wing, such that at the time of the 2003 elections no major party, besides the Green party, believed G.E. to be an issue. As such, public opinion was not a serious threat to Labour’s power.

And of course there is the long-term anarchist position with regards to lobbying, best summed up by a friend of mine:

I can’t speak for others of course, but I don’t want to lobby because I’ve done it before for NFA, forests campaigns, the Bypass, GE, marine reserves, Treaty issues etc. etc., and it always ends up as us begging them (council/govt) to do what we want, which immediately puts the decisions back in their hands and reinforces their power over us… which as an anarchist and a maori (whose ancestors refused to sign the treaty and were therefore imprisoned, beaten, raped and murdered) I refuse to acknowledge their power over me, my community and ‘our resources’.

And while sometimes the govt/council are forced to do what we ask of them, normally this is because of their own needs for power which they use us to acquire for them. This is why NFA won and it should be known (and where is NFA now?). Take the seabed & foreshore, the Bypass or GE as other examples where mass public support and lobbying have been used but the govt/council did not need us to gain/retain power. We were just ignored.


Despite the reception of our position piece, the last national SHVC hui (meeting) saw us overwhelmingly agree that, indeed, direct action and economic costing was the best pathway. What remained was to work out the best forms of direct action we could use, and the best ways to enable mass participation in effective direct action.

This is why I was rather stunned to see, once again, a mere media stunt that risked arrests and required significant energy proposed at the end of December. And it turns out that even in this respect it predictably failed: banner drops are old news and it received little to no mainstream coverage in the press.

I guess I’ve also come to realise the role this campaign plays within the wider scheme of things. While in the position paper we argued that the form of this campaign was what could make it have long-term revolutionary potential, I’ve now realised that it is in fact a thumb-in-the-dam campaign, a defensive campaign with little constructive opportunities besides building a culture of direct action. And that, while we can still win, the prospects for undermining the structural causes of environmental destruction lie elsewhere, for example in popular organisations that threaten capitalist relations and which are organised around people’s immediate needs and not, as it turns out, in purely environmental campaigns.