An oral history of Occupy Christchurch

Byron Clark is based in Christchurch and is the current coordinating editor of The Spark. He has a BA in history from the University of Canterbury. This will be his first oral history project.

Recently I began fundraising for the equipment needed to record an oral history project on Occupy Christchurch, and subsequently publish that project in book which will be donated to Christchurch City Libraries, The Alexander Turnball Library, Archives New Zealand and the Canterbury Museum archive. Of course, copies of the book will be available to the public as well, and the whole project will be published online. The goal is to make the stories of Christchurch’s Occupy protesters as widely accessible as possible.

To raise the funds I am using the crowd-funding platform PledgeMe. Crowd funding provides a platform for projects to raise funds though a large group of people giving smalls amounts. With the money already raised, this project requires just a $5 donation – so long as that $5 donation is made 195 times by 195 people. Crowd funding has been made use of largely by creative people such as filmmakers and musicians, but has also been used for social movements. ‘Occupy the Movie’ is being financed through crowd-funding, as is the documentary adaptation of ‘The Spirit Level’ a book examining inequality.

What is oral history?

A basic definition of oral history is ‘the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events’. Beyond that, it is a form of ‘peoples history’ well suited to the Occupy movement. I have been asked on multiple occasions what qualifies me to write the history of Occupy Christchurch. My answer is that I am not writing the history but recording it. As someone involved in the movement I could write down my recollections but that would just be one person’s history, I plan to tell the stories of approximately one hundred people.

I have also been asked if I will be interviewing people who opposed the Occupy movement. I am interviewing people who were involved in the movement, this includes people who left on less-than-good terms and will no doubt result in a wide range of opinions being expressed thoughout the book. But I am not going to be interviewing people opposed to the movement from the outset. This could result in cries of bias or an unbalanced history, but I am not setting out to write a definitive history of Christchurch in 2011-2012, merely to add to the historical record.

Whatever voices are loudest in the present will also be the loudest in the history of this time. Opposition to Occupy came from politicians and media pundits- The Press the largest circulation newspaper in Christchurch printed an editorial stating the protesters should leave the camp site (and reprinted it several weeks later when they were still there) The opinions of the mayor and city councillors were also widely reported. Through no fault of historians, our recent history is already biased in favour of the powerful, whose voices are not just louder, they are amplified.

Local stories

I have also been asked why I am just doing this project about Occupy Christchurch, and not Occupy New Zealand. The main reason is the costs involved; the current fund raising target is to cover a broadcast-quality digital recorder and an initial print run of one hundred books. The travel costs, not to mention the necessary time off work, would make covering the whole country overly ambitious.

A possibility is that money made from book sales could be used for a grant to an oral historian in another city to conduct a similar project; of course this depends on demand for copies of the book.

The earthquakes that hit Christchurch over the last two years also make the story of its Occupy protest unique. With the central city uninhabitable, protesters were able to remain in their chosen location longer than other New Zealand occupations, and the housing crisis meant that the Occupy camp swelled with homeless who became radicalised as they mingled with socialists, anarchists and
others.

If you want to contribute toward this project, you can pledge at https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/Crowd/Details/313 there are ‘rewards’ available such as copies of the book, and the opportunity to be listed in the dedication as one of people who made it possible. If you are not in a position to pledge money, you can help out by spreading the word and helping reach people who can.

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Comments

  1. WaterDragon says:

    All the best for the project Byron. As a sometimes oral history practitioner it’s good to have this movement being captured. And don’t listen to the balanced people. You aren’t doing positivist research, you are making voices from the margins heard

  2. Grant McDonagh says:

    “don’t listen to the balanced people.” I’d concur with that. In fact I’m currently reading Michael Parentis’ Power * Powerlessness & He makes the very good point that things are organised so that Centrism is always portrayed as moderate & sensible whereas Centrists have been behind most if not all of the most hideous atrocities of the modern era including the Vietnam War, The Bombing of Cambodia and on and on.

  3. is this modelled on the oral history of Occupy Oakland crowd-funded through kickstarter by Omar aka Hyphy?

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