An attractive Maori woman in her thirties leaps out of a taxi and heads up the street with her son, who is about eight. They're both wearing 'Enough is Enough' t-shirts. She runs as fast as her shoes will permit and he's running as fast as he can to keep up.
Some coins fall and ring on footpath. She doesn't stop, but he does. "Mum! The money!" he calls. She's 20 metres on and hasn't looked back by the time he starts trying to catch her up. The unnerving impression is that her destination - the assembly point for the Destiny Church march on Parliament at Wellington's Civic Square - is presently more important than her son.
The city-side entrance to the square is already plugged with the kapa haka group that will lead the march: 200 men and boys in the same black t-shirts, headed by a handful of muscular warriors with taiaha. A scattering of Wellingtonians waits across the road, expectant and curious.
Suddenly, a jeer erupts from the front of the crowd. The kapa haka group has spied the counter-march 200 metres away on Willis Street. It's deep and raucous. They sound like an army of orcs.
A couple of men in sharp haircuts and expensive coats turn and wave to the opposition marchers, flashing ironic smiles. Destiny, it appears, has an officer class, whose members are posted along the route, well dressed and deported, some wearing wireless headsets.
I join the pro-civil union march, one of two opening acts for Destiny, and walk along with them for a while. It's a colourful gathering in more than one sense: multi-ethnic (pakeha, Polynesian, Asian), bohemian, bright. Someone has dressed as the purple Tellytubby. There is the occasional scattering of applause from spectators, and one woman drives by, honking and waving enthusiastically.
"God loves you people," offers one of the Destiny officers, stationed at the top of Lambton Quay.
Ten minutes later, the big march appears. It seems to find little purchase on Lambton Quay. The usual lunchtime crowds have gone somewhere else, and the default responses are indifference and disapproval. But Destiny probably wasn't expecting to find much sympathy on the streets of the Wellington CBD.
"Stormtroopers …" says the guy next to me.
I nod. I don't like to bandy about the N-word, but it's actually really hard to avoid the comparison as the black-clad men (and several dozen school-age boys) of the kapa haka group march past, chanting "enough is enough!" and pumping their right arms in the air in unison. I don't know if they know how ugly it looks, or whether they simply don't care.
The rhythm loosens as the march proceeds, and there are more women and children and a few elderly people. The marchers seem to be as much as 80% Maori, but there are also blond teenage girls. Most of the banners represent various branches of Brian Tamaki's personal church, with the same, generic 'Enough is Enough' message.
The next most popular slogan on banners and placards appears to be the familiar 'Adam and Eve - not Adam and Steve'. There are also at least three reading 'No prostitutes' (as opposed to 'No prostitution'), sundry Bible quotations and warnings to the wicked, and a couple referring to the foreshore and seabed.
Judging by their placards, one small group in the midst of the march represents the National Front. Nobody is dressed as the purple Tellytubby.
"One of them came in earlier to use the toilet," sniffs the woman in the bag shop. "I asked her what they were all about. She couldn't tell me."
By this time I've met up with my Mum. She has a personal faith that has sustained her through some difficult times in her life, but she's not at all impressed by the marchers. We watch the end of the march pass, and it's time to head for the airport. (For what happened later, Beautiful Monsters has a nice personal commentary and plenty of pictures from Parliament's grounds.)
It's been interesting, to put it mildly. This is an impressive mobilisation; thousands of people hitting the street with a purpose. But what does it signify? Well, this is it, fully erect. There are perhaps 2000 here on top of the national Destiny Church roll of 4600, a solid starting point for the new Destiny New Zealand political party. It's too widely dispersed to dream of winning an electorate seat, but is perhaps in a position to cause some disruption in the Maori electorates - and to do so at the expense of the Maori Party, even as it campaigns against Labour. It was not surprising that Tariana Turia was one of only three MPs to observe the march as it assembled in the grounds of Parliament. Maori politics is diversifying in quite unpredictable ways.
Destiny is not all bad. Doubtless, it has given some men a sense of responsibility, changed lifestyles for the better. It's hardly the first Christian church movement to harness the vitality of Maori culture. But its focus on its strutting, narcissistic leader and its sense of lockstep conformity do answer to the description of a cult. In the end, the Nazi comparison is way over the top - but Destiny's smooth discipline, encompassing community and well-dressed officer class do remind me of the Nation of Islam.
Stephen Franks can witter on all he likes about the "malignant left" and the "homosexual lobby" trying to suppress opinions it doesn't endorse (although he's been quite happy to shout down "bombast and mock piety" when it suits him). He can construct all the handy straw men he likes (but if he refers again to the Press Council complaint about the Star Times' now-infamous "homosexual rescue" story I would hope he's a lot more honest about the actual substance of it, rather than simply dishing out another easy smear).
Because there is an issue of values here. There's something nasty about the way Destiny identifies homosexuals and feminists not only as sinners, but as an active personification of social evil. They're teaching their kids this stuff. It seems odds-on to me that many of them will eventually tire of the peacock who presently leads them and takes 10% of their income - but that they'll take the beliefs away with them. In this light, it's a kind of boot camp for gay-bashing.
Yet the final irony is that the imagery of this march will probably do more than anything Chris Carter could to mobilise mainstream opinion behind the Civil Union Bill. These are interesting times.
Meanwhile the debate on Don Brash's "Pacific basket case" article for the Australian Financial Review rolls on. The Herald finally cranked out an editorial (Brash entitled to speak his mind) yesterday, but it was stiff and redundant. Oddly enough, in the paper's business section yesterday, Fran O'Sullivan really nailed it, by actually addressing the content of what Brash said, rather than flapping about redundantly defending his right to say it:
New Zealand's per capita incomes have risen over the term of the Helen Clark-led Government and are well ahead of those of true Pacific Island nations.
It is still in the rich man's club, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, despite opposition predictions that it was on track to be the first OECD country to drop out.
Despite predictions of civil war - even by public servants - over the Government's foreshore and seabed legislation, New Zealand is a long way from such a future.
Our politicians are not corrupt, and our officials are not on the take, although there has been the odd bent Customs official.
It is irresponsible to suggest this is the case or maybe the case when the evidence is to the contrary.
National's leader would have made a much more useful contribution if he had spelled out where his party stood on the single market and other measures which will avert his prediction of a failed state.
Instead his article reads as little more that a summation of why he came into politics.
The net impression from the Brash article is that anyone who lives in New Zealand is a loser - investor or individual.
What it doesn't say is why he bothers to stay and what he will do.
Wham bam, thank you Fran.
PS: Thanks to Steve Adams for this very interesting link to a discussion of Brian Tamaki on a forum operated by the Christian magazine Reality. Well worth reading, especially for the comments.