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Dildo Throwing Activism: Meet NZ's New Wave of Protesters

Throwing sex toys at MPs, breaking into government buildings, dousing themselves in oil. These women are stepping up the fight.

by Holly Dove
31 March 2016, 12:00am

Josie Butler and the famous toy penis. Photo supplied.

Nothing says fuck apathy like throwing a dildo at a government minister. In February Nurse Josie Butler made global headlines when her perfectly-timed sex toy lob hit New Zealand minister for economic development Steven Joyce right where it hurt, on prime time news. It was more than a rubbery penis, it was an act of protest against the signing of the hugely controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

VICE talked to Butler and four other young female NZ activists, throwing themselves into the fray for causes they care about. We talked prison time, breaking into government buildings, and how to avoid pepper spray.

Josie Butler, 30
Anti-TPP activist, escaped arrest for dildo throwing.

VICE: Chucking a dildo at Steven Joyce. Would you do it again?
Josie: To be honest I had no idea that the story was going to get so big! I'm quite a shy person naturally, so it was a bit overwhelming; however, the publicity for the cause both nationally and internationally has been amazing. It was quite an adrenaline rush throwing the toy and knowing that I would most likely be facing arrest in the next few seconds.

[Throwing a dildo at a politician's face] really shattered for me the illusion that we are powerless servants to the ominous political powers. It showed me these supposed leaders are just people that you can throw a toy at willy nilly if you'd like. I will continue to stand up for my country and its beautiful people.

What was your first taste of activism?
I was taking my dog to the park and saw a large group of National MPs standing on my street corner waving signs and campaigning. I felt so annoyed that they were in my neighbourhood, so I went home and made a sign saying "National Sux" and went and stood next to them. Everyone driving past started tooting and cheering for me, and the MPs left very shortly after with their tails between their legs. I've been hooked on activism for social justice ever since.

Have you ever felt afraid?
I was at an anti-racism rally in Australia and the police were incredibly heavy handed. There were huge amounts of armed police officers, and pepper spray was being used without discretion. I felt frightened by their lack of humanity, and the complete and utter exploitation of the power that they held. Following this protest, I felt very lucky to live in New Zealand.

Jo McVeagh, 33

Fake oil-smeared Jo McVeagh prepares to walk through Central Wellington protesting oil drilling. Photo by Marty Melville.

McVeagh is a mobiliser for Greenpeace, campaigning to stop deep sea oil drilling.

What's been your most exciting protest?
Jo: Probably when we stopped a shipment of coal from leaving the port of Lyttelton. I was a climber on the side of the coal ship. We started out from on board the Rainbow Warrior, but the police were on board and they knew what we were planning.

We managed to get into our climbing equipment and hide in the hold of the ship until the police were distracted and then we sprinted across the deck, jumped into the inflatables, and raced over to the coal ship. The pilot boat and tug boat both tried to intercept us but we managed to get there and climb up the side of the ship and stop it from leaving for a while.

Have you ever been arrested?
Yeah a few times, and always to take a stand on issue that I believe in. Those issues have changed a bit over time, but climate change has always been a big issue. Sometimes you just have to do what's right, even when the law might be wrong.

What do you think is the hottest activism issue at the moment?
Climate change, I'm always going to say that. I think it's the biggest single issue that we're facing. I think offshore oil exploration is really important to people too, and the issue has become increasingly front-of-mind.

What are you, personally, most fired up about right now, in New Zealand?
Deep sea oil exploration. The way that people are so shut out of the decision-making process, the way that the government is selling off permits to explore the seabed in the face of ever-increasing public opposition, the fact that only a few weeks after the climate talks in Paris the government was announcing more permits to more oil companies.

Lizzie Sullivan, 26

Lizzie Sullivan is taken away by police while demonstrating in Wellington in 2015. Photo by Artur Francisco.

Sullivan previously worked for 350.org and cofounded RockEnrol. She's now an anti-TPP activist based in South Auckland.

Hi Lizzie, can you remember your first taste of activism?
Lizzie: My grandparents were pretty staunch anti-1080 activists and my koro [grandfather] was always fighting for the preservation of our ancestral lands, so I kind of grew up around it.

Why is it important to have Maori voices in activism?
Maori have led the protest history in this country and I think that activists here and around the world need to look to tangata whenua for leadership. Aotearoa's non-violent protest movement was born in Parihaka in the 1870s as a direct result of land confiscation. That style of protest continues to be incredibly powerful to this day.

Have you ever been arrested?
I was arrested late last year during an action where we tried to retrieve the then-classified text of the TPP so that the people of NZ could see transparently what our government was getting us into. Twenty-six of us were arrested that day and it worked, just a few months later thousands of people showed up to blockade we organised at the official signing. We shut the city down.

Why are you willing to get arrested for a cause?
If I think that my getting arrested will contribute positively to a particular movement at that time, I will allow myself to get arrested. It's not something I take lightly but if I think it's strategic, I'll do it in a heartbeat.

Ruby Powell, 26

Activist Ruby Powell climbing a tree on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo by Ruby Haazen.

Powell is an anti-mining activist based in Coromandel.

Hey Ruby, describe the moment that you changed from being someone who just read about issues to someone who took action?
Ruby: In 2011, I was at university studying the Arab Spring and my wake up moment was largely thanks to listening to Egyptian academic Nawaal El Saadawi. Business as usual was no longer an option. From there I went from doing a bit of university activism to living in a park for a couple of months, as Occupy took over my world.

Would you be willing to get arrested for a cause?
Definitely. It depends on the situation but if I believe moral law justifies my actions, then whether something is arrestable or not doesn't matter.

What's your best story from the front line?
One of most ridiculous things we did was a hard three-hour hike to occupy a drilling rig with a tent, a double sheepskin, a ukulele, a half guitar and a boom box—not to mention all the tea making equipment. It was one of the first direct actions I had helped organise and I really wanted to make sure our crew enjoyed themselves.

Does anything scare you?
The part that scares me the most is the possible results of failure. Like if I don't put in the extra time, or come up with something creative in that specific moment, bad stuff might happen. A water source will be polluted; a mountain will become a toxic wasteland.

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