Powerful and accessible history of protest in Aotearoa, Denika Mead
February 1, 2022
Protest! Shaping Aotearoa is a non-fiction book by Mandy Hager. It was published by OneTree House in July 2021. Protest! covers a wide range of protests, and the information is presented in an accessible way. Hager provides an overview of each protest and outlines how the protests and the issues have affected our society and way of life. The book is divided into sections and takes the reader through a history of the protests that have made an impact on Aotearoa. Grouping the protests by the cause immerses the reader in the issue and gives a sense of how the issues have developed over time. The book covers a range of different issues including land protests, employment, gender and disability rights, wars, racism, environmental protests, climate change, and a history of protests in the Pacific.
The author rarely inserts her opinions, but when she does, it is very impactful. Hager has scattered short, powerful lines throughout that directly address the reader, for example, “How did we let it come to this?” This gives the writing a powerful, urgent feeling that is passed on to the readers. Hager also includes a personal introduction where she talks about her connection to protests. She recalls trying to stop a native tree from being cut down when she was young and explains how she stood with her siblings in a ring around the trunk. I enjoyed this personal connection and the emotion it conjured.
The book is beautifully presented with a mix of photos, graphs, placards, and posters that add to the stories and give more information. A particularly powerful graph shows the decrease in the native forest around NZ between 1000 AD and 2001. The difference is shocking. The graph is accompanied by the statistic: “Over 80% of Aotearoa was forested when humans first arrived here. Now only 23% survives.” This is appalling to read and emphasises how big an issue deforestation is. Presenting the information in a graph is powerful, as it allows readers to see the difference themselves. There are many shocking statistics throughout the book. “Already between 70 and 80 ancient trees were being cut down every day.” By phrasing it with numbers and facts, Hager drives home the magnitude of the issues she is discussing and shows the motivation behind the protests.
The cover is very striking. The red and white paint and large black letters resemble a placard. This is fitting for the subject matter and conveys the sense of action that is strengthened throughout the book.
I learned a lot about New Zealand’s history through reading this book. Learning about the protests during the Waterfront Dispute in 1951 was particularly interesting to me as my great, great, great grandfather died due to a workplace accident on a wharf back in the 1930s. I found it shocking to learn about the hardships the workers’ families went through. “It was made a crime to help strikers – even giving food to their children was banned.” It was inspiring to learn about how the waterside workers banded together to fight for a safer work environment and to raise awareness about the conditions they were working in.
There is an extensive list of resources and links to more information about each of the causes and the people involved in the protests. This makes the book a valuable resource and provides an easy way for readers to explore the protests and causes in more detail.
Hager peppers in vivid descriptions and imagery throughout the book, particularly in her description of a beech forest. “The forest floor has a deep carpet of leaf litter, a mosaic of tiny leaves, soft cushions of pale-green milk moss between the roots.” The clear image of the incredible beech forests conveys the importance of preserving natural treasures like this.
This is a great book to read and discuss with family as it provides a rich history of the protests in Aotearoa. I enjoyed learning more about the issues and reading about the brave people involved. Learning about the causes and the protestors’ stories ignited my curiosity and sparked a deeper interest in the history surrounding the issues that we are facing today.
The passion with which Hager writes about the protests enriches the stories she is sharing and helps the reader connect with the struggles people overcame – and are still overcoming – to achieve what they believe in.
- Denika Mead is 17 years old and lives in Lower Hutt. She is also the published author of four fantasy novels. Read Prabhleen’s review of The Last Kingdom here!