Nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific from the 1950s drew new supporters to the peace movement. The 1960s and 1970s saw increased protest generally. This was linked to the influence of American and European counter-culture movements, which sought to change society by rebelling against prevailing conservative values. Protest marches became a means to this end.
A New Zealand Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was launched, and began a series of protest marches based on the anti-nuclear Aldermaston marches in Britain. The first was at Easter 1961, when 36 young people marched from Featherston to Parliament. Its success led to others.
CND’s 1963 march from Paraparaumu to Wellington was highly choreographed. Organisers knew the march would be televised and quickly recognised the publicity potential of the new medium. The CND sign was prominently displayed on banners, which included slogans like: ‘Don’t let NZ’s hills turn black’ and ‘Atoms for peace not war’. Children – ‘New Zealand’s future’ – were prominent at the march’s front. Song sheets were handed out and food and sleeping places prepared. Peace badges were worn by protesters and given to bystanders, who were also passed information leaflets and asked to sign petitions.
In May 1970 students protesting at Kent State University in the US were shot by National Guardsmen. Auckland University students organised a spontaneous protest. Mike Lee remembered ‘how the roaring crowd, red flags flying, burst out of Albert Park, marched down Victoria Street to the American consulate and burnt an effigy of US President Richard Nixon on the street. The crowd shouted, “Burn baby, burn.”’1
One focus of protest was the Vietnam War. New Zealand entered the war in 1965 to support the United States and its allies. Street marches against the war occurred as early as 1964, but its escalation and mounting costs increased opposition. Borrowing methods developed in the United States, anti-war groups organised ‘mobilisations’ and ‘happenings’. ‘Mobes’ combined marches with rallies and concerts. At one 1969 mobe, 300 students gathered in the quadrangle at Canterbury University to hear folk singers, rock bands and speakers, before noisily marching around Cathedral Square to the Army Headquarters to protest the war.
Stunts and street theatre
Stunts and street theatre also played a greater part. When US vice-president Spiro Agnew visited New Zealand in 1970, protesters marched to his Auckland hotel and kept up a rowdy protest until 11.45 at night, at which point police violently removed them.
Peter Calder was an Auckland student and regular protester in the early 1970s: ‘Our weekly forays down the Golden Mile would bring the drinkers lurching out of the public bars. They would lean uncertainly on lamp-posts, inviting the passing parade to “gedda a bloody haircut, ya useless bastards” and complaining to each other that “ya can’t tell the difference between the blokes and the sheilas these days.”’2
In 1971 Victoria University students marched to the US embassy in Wellington with a banner of 28 stick figures representing the number of New Zealanders killed in the war. In a 28-hour vigil, they ticked off one figure every hour. These strategies maximised publicity and were adopted by other protest movements – such as the feminist and Māori-sovereignty movements in the 1970s and 1980s.
1975 Māori land march
In 1975 a group of Māori led by female elder Whina Cooper organised a hīkoi (march) from Northland to Parliament protesting the continuing alienation of Māori land. Marchers stayed in marae along the route, and in Wellington they filled Parliament’s grounds. In the same year, the government set up the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and their detrimental effects on Māori tribes.