What I just witnessed in Albert Park in Auckland was truly devastating for free speech in New Zealand.
The reason I joined the Free Speech Union was because I firmly believe that no matter the topic, we should disagree freely and without violence. Today, I realised that we have a much bigger task in front of us than I thought because Kiwis are already choosing violence and being celebrated for it.
When I arrived at the Let Women Speak event today, I was pleased to see that the growing protest crowd was loud but contained and separate from the event attendees.
We expected noise from the protestors, and they certainly delivered, but I did not expect the violence I witnessed.
No sooner had Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull arrived at the Rotunda, a protestor (who had managed to get past the barrier) ran at her and threw a red substance all over her and a security guard. As she attempted to clean up, the protestors pushed over, crushed, and dismantled the barriers and swarmed around her.
At this point, I was caught in the angry crowd. I had whistles blown in my face, abuse screamed at me, and I was fearful for my own safety. This was nothing compared to what Kellie-Jay endured. She was trapped and surrounded by a mob screaming abuse and trying to get past her security guards.
There were no police in sight. Despite widely publicised threats of violence, the police were nowhere near the protest frontlines to prevent the event from devolving into chaos as it did.
I had to call the police from the middle of the screaming crowd! And even then, they weren’t particularly concerned that a woman was trapped in the midst of a mob determined to get to her.
I have never been more concerned about our country. Free speech is completely dead when the angriest and loudest activists are allowed to decide who gets to speak and listen.
Where does this end? Will the activist groups provide us with a list of approved topics and speakers?
If we don’t get this sorted and can’t rely on the police, someone could very well end up dead. This is serious and we cannot sit back and watch violence become the norm.
Jonathan and the Free Speech Union team are already working on a plan to respond to these outrageous events. You will hear from him tomorrow with next steps. I just wanted to update you about what I saw. I’m horrified and quite gutted for us all as New Zealanders.
Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but this is not the end of the story- together we’re going to turn this around for the basic freedoms that enable our democracy.