Big Daddy Protests: Learning to March

March 18, 2019

Writer Gem Wilder took her daughter to the School Strike 4 Climate on Friday, which reminded her of the first book she read in which non-violent protest was encouraged: Big Daddy Protests!. This book was one of a series of books published here in New Zealand in which 'Big Daddy' features. 

 

Photo taken on Willis Street during the march on Friday morning
 

Parental Advice

 

If you don’t have anything nice to say,

don’t say anything at all.

Work hard.

Go to church on Sunday.

 

Don’t say anything at all.

Say please and thank you.

Always wear clean underwear

in case you get hit by a bus.

 

Say please and thank you.

Always join the union.

In case you get hit by a bus

look both ways before you cross the road.

 

Always join the union.

Never work in place of someone on strike.

Look both ways before you cross the road.

Never trust the police.

 

These are all words of wisdom passed on to me from my parents over the years.

 

That last line, about never trusting the police, was uttered vehemently by my father after we’d been to a screening of Merata Mita’s Patu!, a documentary that captured the often violent clashes between police and protesters during the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand. My father had been out there on the front lines in 1981, and I grew up hearing all about what went down between police and the ‘blue squad’ protesters at the intersection of Rintoul and Riddiford Streets in Newtown, Wellington. My own first memory of taking part in a protest was in 1991, when 20,000 people flooded Lower Hutt’s High Street to ‘Save Our Hutt Hospital.’ I was ten years old, and distinctly remember the feeling of being one amongst so many, of the power in numbers, and the message clearly being sent. We needed our hospital.

 

I was ten years old, and distinctly remember the feeling of being one amongst so many, of the power in numbers, and the message clearly being sent. We needed our hospital.


 

My grandfather was a great fan of pacifist and conscientious objector Archie Baxter. My great-grandmother was a peace activist. It is perhaps no surprise then, that amongst the books on our childhood bookshelf was the 1977 Children’s Press picture book, Big Daddy Protests!, attributed to creators going by the names of 'Don & The Dr.'

 

In Big Daddy Protests!, the titular Big Daddy heads to the park for a snooze under his favourite tree. Big Daddy is rudely awoken from his nap by a surveyor who is measuring the tree. It is to be felled, the surveyor tells Big Daddy, to make room for a road (cue Big Yellow Taxi). Big Daddy ain’t having none of this nonsense. He ROARS. He tantrums. He stays put, right there at the base of his beloved rakau.

 

Big Daddy ain’t having none of this nonsense. He ROARS. He tantrums. He stays put, right there at the base of his beloved rakau.

 

And so begins a perfect example of non-violent direct action. The police turn up, but Big Daddy is, as his moniker would suggest, big. He’s an André the Giant kinda dude. The police cannot budge him. Crowds begin to gather to see what the commotion is. They join our hero Big Daddy and make placards. The Mayor turns up in his chains, accompanied by Councillors, to say more roads are needed. “No!” chant the people, “We need more parks!” This goes on and on, with Big Daddy settled in his favourite spot beneath his favourite tree for the long haul. He even spends the night there. And eventually, the Mayor and the Councillors have to listen to the people (which is precisely what they’re elected to do, right?). They come up with an alternate route for the proposed road, and everyone goes back to enjoying their park.

 

I enjoyed this book as a child. I loved the powerful image of Big Daddy ROARING. I liked the quaintness of the limited colour scheme (probably a money-saving effort from what I’m guessing was a small press). The end pages opened out into a board game with an environmental theme, which I often bugged my siblings to play with me. It’s as an adult, however, that I appreciate the importance in having grown up reading a book like this. A book where those in power are not assumed to be right. Where people power is featured, and the importance of standing up for what is right is key.

 

This is the kind of book I want my kid growing up reading. I want her to see this example of non-violent direct action and know she too can speak up to authority.

 

This is the kind of book I want my kid growing up reading. I want her to see this example of non-violent direct action and know she too can speak up to authority.

 

This is also why I took her to the School Strike 4 Climate march on Friday 15 March. Students all over the world are frustrated by the lack of action taken by governments, which is needed urgently to address the climate crisis. They know their futures are at risk, and rather than stay quiet, they skipped school for the morning to gather en masse and demand to be heard.

 

It was a powerful thing to witness, and I saw many adults along the course of the march openly weeping as the march passed by. They were weeping with pride at these young people using their agency, and with shame that we as adults have let them down by allowing the planet to get to this state in the first place.

 

 

Gem's daughter Kōwhai, outside parliament before the march began

 

That afternoon I told my daughter and her cousin how proud I was of them for marching. How important it is to stand up for what you believe in, and that their voices are important. I told them that they have power now, that they don’t have to wait until they’re adults before they get to speak out against injustice.

 

And then, after a day that began with so much energy and excitement, I told them that the event they had just taken part in would be overshadowed by the tragic and loathsome terrorist event that had just taken place in Christchurch. I am proud to say that these two incredible kids were immediately empathetic. Their thoughts were with their Muslim friends, and they worried for them, and how scared they must have been feeling.

 

And then, after a day that began with so much energy and excitement, I told them that the event they had just taken part in would be overshadowed by the tragic and loathsome terrorist event that had just taken place in Christchurch.

 

I want them, and all the youth of New Zealand who took part in the School Strike 4 Climate, to know that we are all so proud of you. Your actions matter. They may not be taking centre stage on our news cycles, but we haven’t forgotten. And I hope that, like Big Daddy and his supporters, you will be heard. That you will change the course we are on.

 

And to Don & the Dr, whoever you are, thank you for writing such a beautiful, timeless, important book.

​​gem wilder

Gem Wilder is a Wellington writer whose work has been published in and performed at many places, including The Spinoff, The Sapling, Sport, Is It Bedtime Yet?, Enjoy Gallery, The Dowse, Wellington Museum, and LitCrawl.

 

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