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A guide to accessible protesting
If attending a loud and crowded protest isn’t for you, here’s some other ways to be an advocate for change that won’t use up all your spoons.
A guide to accessible protestingBeth Awatere0:00|0:00
Since October 7th there have been weekly vigils, rallies and protests for Palestine. Up until last weekend I hadn’t been to a single one, let alone any protest event ever. Not because I didn’t care, but because protests tend to be loud, crowded and overstimulating, which is the perfect environment for an autistic meltdown to be triggered. Protests are often organised by well-intentioned non-disabled people, and the lack of accessibility - such as NZSL interpreters or wheelchair access - is an added barrier. The guilt I felt from choosing not to attend an event was overwhelming, and it felt like I was letting my community down. I’ve since realised that even though my disability may require more energy for me to show up at a protest in person, there are plenty of other ways I can be an advocate.
A petition with a significant number of signatures is one way elected representatives gauge public opinion. Petitions show the media the volume of people supporting an issue and that can be enough traction for news coverage. Dame Whina Cooper’s momentous march to Parliament to present the Māori land petition had 60,000 signatures. The 2022 online petition to strengthen the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill had 15,000 signatures. If it wasn’t for that petition, the now outgoing Minister for Disability Issues Priyanca Radhakrishnan might have not said she was “aware that concerns have been raised” regarding the bill in March this year. Communities have been using petitions to push for change for centuries, and the internet and social media has made them more accessible and impactful.
Contact your elected representatives
Contacting your local Minister of Parliament is one way you can directly engage with decision-makers in Aotearoa. Email addresses for your local MP are available here. Alternatively, it is free to send a physical letter to any Minister or the Prime Minister. You don’t even need to purchase a stamp! All you need to do is write their full name and the following address:
- First name Last name
- Freepost Parliament
- Private Bag 18888
- Parliament Buildings
- Wellington 6160
When you write a letter, it gets screened by Parliament security, and then put directly on the minister's desk. So get creative! Letter writing can be one of the most effective forms of advocacy, and can help you share your opinion (respectfully) with your government representatives.
If you're stuck on what to write, you can follow the bullet points below. Writing something personal can show how larger issues impact every individual in our community, and give you the opportunity to contribute something unique to the korero.
- Dear Minister of Parliament
- Introduce yourself and why the issue is important to you
- Questions you have for the government representative about the issue
- What actions you would like to see taken
- Thank them for their time
- Sign off in a way that feels meaningful to you
MP’s get hundreds of emails every day, so don’t feel disheartened if their response isn’t as personal as you would like. Keep engaging and asking questions, your voice matters!
Amplify protests and key information via social media
Sometimes the amount of content that we are seeing on social media can feel overwhelming. And hitting the reshare button can feel a bit like shouting into the void. But here's why it matters: the way the algorithm works is that every time a post or piece of content is reshared, it gets boosted to more profiles. So even though the reactions to your individual reshare of a post may be minimal, you are actually helping the original content reach more people. This helps when journalists are shadow banned, which is when a user is blocked from a social media platform without their knowledge, typically by making their posts and comments no longer visible to other users. Like Crip the Gig highlights on their Instagram, “social media can be an important tool for amplifying marginalised voices who otherwise would be ignored by mainstream media”. Make sure you understand any content before you hit reshare, check who the source is and whether what you are amplifying is opinion or fact.
BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
The Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement is a peaceful way of putting financial and political pressure on states, governments and organisations. Why? Because your money matters. First up, you boycott financial, cultural and academic organisations which are against the issue you are advocating for. This could look like boycotting a restaurant chain that supports a group you think is oppressive. Or choosing to buy a coffee from a local cafe, rather than a bigger corporation that is aligned with what you’re protesting against.
Divestments means selling off certain business interests or investments. For example, most of us have a KiwiSaver account where money is taken from our paycheck and deposited into a savings account. What some of us don’t know is that each KiwiSaver account is overseen by a fund manager, who invests your KiwiSaver on your behalf, so that you can get returns on your money. Engaging in the BDS movement can look like emailing your KiwiSaver manager, and finding out where your money is being invested. From there, you can begin to make decisions about what institutions you are contributing to and making sure they align with your values.
Sanctions are implemented by the Government, often upon pressure from the community. For example, in the 1970s Aotearoa imposed a blanket ban on all sports teams from South Africa (yes, that means rugby too!), which played a significant role in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. If you are contacting your local MP, you can ask them to impose sanctions specific to the issue you are advocating for!
It should be noted that while BDS is a great way to advocate, some of us rely on the services that these companies provide. Always take care of yourself and your needs first, before considering a boycott.
What I learned from my first protest is that noise cancelling headphones are a necessity for me, but standing front and centre of the crowd is definitely not. Being kind to myself and standing near the back where I feel safe with a few good friends doesn’t prevent me from being a good advocate. By exploring different methods of advocacy I've learned that some days I have the energy to be physically present at a protest, but other days I’m writing letters from my bed and signing petitions. Some days I can’t do anything, and that's okay. If I only have 30 percent of my energy to give, and I give 30 percent, then I have given 100 percent. Activism and advocacy look very different for every single person I’ve met, and there are plenty of ways to show up for your community in a meaningful way.