Events stress we must listen

Striking high school pupils and supporters march up George St to the Octagon last Friday to...
Striking high school pupils and supporters march up George St to the Octagon last Friday to protest inaction on climate change. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
Max Reid reflects on last Friday's events in the Octagon and urges people to make time and listen. 

On Friday 15th March I made my way to the Octagon. Twice.

The first time was at lunchtime, to observe over a thousand Dunedin school pupils rally against climate change. They had joined many thousands of other students across New Zealand and the world in similar protest action. They waved placards. "Seas are rising, and so are we." "There is no planet B." They shouted slogans. "What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!"

Others had expressed their own words of protest against the so-called students' strike - including the Principals' Association, who had labelled it a health and safety risk. One has to wonder, what is climate change, if not a health and safety risk?

Then, returning to work, I heard on the radio the breaking news of a far more immediate threat - the unfolding realisation of what we were soon to learn had become the massacre of innocents in Christchurch.

Christchurch. A city already rebuilding after the earthquakes of eight years earlier.

In the old parlance, that earthquake might have been called an act of God. What was happening this day was an act of (one) man.

Facebook - the social media platform that had live-streamed the horror of Friday afternoon across the world - had also advised of a vigil; a second gathering to be held that day in the Octagon, only hours after the students had made their own voices heard.

So, at 8pm, I joined as many people as had gathered in the Octagon only hours earlier - indeed, many of the same people - in a candlelight vigil.

To stand in solidarity with those in Christchurch - and across New Zealand - struggling to come to terms with the events of the preceding hours.

This time there were no placards. There were no loud-hailers. There were softly spoken speeches, and unifying songs. Te aroha; te whakapono. We shall overcome. John Lennon's Imagine.

At one level, two totally different gatherings. Two totally different contexts. Or were they?

Both, each in their own way, were expressions of protest. Each in their own way were expressions of solidarity. Their common thread, a heartfelt, courageous expression of hope - in the face of realities we face that might otherwise rob us of hope.

And, most important of all, at each gathering there was listening. For all the words that were said, for all the placards waved, for all the songs sung, and in the silence, there was a listening.

The politicians who spoke at the climate rally of what their Government had done, were clearly told that they hadn't done enough. They listened.

For those who gathered later by candlelight - hearing words of pain, of grief, of shame - they listened.

Many have tried to express in words how they have felt since that Friday. Others have simply acknowledged that no words can adequately capture the reality - the impact upon us individually and as a nation - of the tragedy that unfolded. Every New Zealander, each in their own way, will now be endeavouring to make some sense of an event that has inevitably changed us.

In the multitude of words that are said, in the words that are impossible to express, in our singing and in our silence ... let us listen, let us learn, and let us love.

 - Max Reid is the manager of Dunedin Community Mediation, a voluntary service providing an opportunity for individuals or organisations in conflict to resolve their issues by finding mutually agreeable solutions.

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