Urewera 17 Profile: Valerie Morse
Scoop.co.nz is continuing to profilie each of the so-called terrorists arrested on Monday 15th October and now known as the Urewera 17. Our fourth profile is of well-known Wellington activist Valerie Morse whose name suppression was lifted in Auckland this afternoon. By order of the court we remain prohibited from publishing photos of Valerie or of describing her physical appearance. The crown have announced that they are seeking leave from the Attorney General to lay Terrorism Suppression Act charges against Valerie. She is due to appear again in Auckland District Court tomorrow and may make a fresh bail application. Valerie Morse also has an appeal scheduled in Auckland High Court for November 9th of the decision to deny her bail taken in Wellington District Court on October 19th.
36 - Activist /
Archivist / Librarian
By Julie Webb-Pullman
Dubbed “Rebel without a Pause,” former New Zealand National Library archivist and librarian Valerie Morse’s committed activism has been a thorn in the flesh of the New Zealand political establishment, especially in Wellington, for several years. Her several offences include the unforgivable – speaking with an American accent.
Kiwi Val was actually born in Takapuna, but raised in the United States. She returned with her mother ten years ago because of New Zealand’s reputation for peace, reflected in our ranking as second only to Norway in the recently-released First Global Peace Index. Her mother at least is now rethinking that choice.
“I am heartsick, filled with pain to think that a country that is perceived as one of the most "peaceful" on earth could do this to my daughter and others who "question authority." Dr Jeanne Guthrie told SCOOP. “Her arrest on the charges as I understand them is grotesque. For one who abhors guns and violence and who works tirelessly for peace with justice for all as Valerie does, such a charge is not only ludicrous but is highly offensive.”
Valerie’s particular brand of enthusiastic activism is designed to shake, wake and break people out of protest-apathy, landing her before the courts more than once. The ANZAC Day demonstration earlier this year is a case in point - after three years of wreath-laying being ignored, Peace Action Wellington, of which Valerie is a member, tried a more dramatic flag-burning to generate societal discussion of NZ's role in wars and peace-making.
Her protest style is often loud, and usually imaginative, such as the 2003 protest in which 11 naked bodies and one fully clothed woman spelt out No GE on a green grass background. Like the ANZAC Day and GE protests, her activities are invariably undertaken in groups, with the support and presence of others equally committed to the issue at hand, although she is frequently singled out for special condemnation – and sometimes praise.
Bryan Pepperell, Wellington City Councillor, when gleefully recounting how Valerie not only upstaged but also dumbfounded Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast during a speech last year, describes Valerie as intelligent, articulate, commanding and determined.
Such qualities in a woman, especially an activist woman, are almost inevitably perceived as threatening, particularly by men with an adequacy problem, and have generated the usual dose of media-driven derision and monster-making. A Dominion Post profile of Valerie on October 25 2006 pilloried her while allowing precisely 13 words in her defence, but ACT Party member Trevor Louden’s asinine alliteration on his blog surpasses even that - “Val Morse - Arrogant, Aggressive, Anti-American Auckland/American, Anarchist Author and Anti-Automobile Activist.” When Mr Louden learns the next letter of the alphabet we can probably expect “Val Morse - Brash Bossy Boy-Bashing Blond Butch/Bitch, Ball Breaker and Bullet-Brandishing Bomber.”
Valerie is way more than the rent-a-protester the Dominion Post painted her as. Articles such as “Talking Tactics”, published in Aotearoa Anarchist Vol 1(1) 2007 reveal a capacity for reflective analysis that is the hallmark of successful campaign management. Her latest book, Against Freedom: The War on Terrorism in Everyday New Zealand Life, released in June this year, traces legislative changes since 9/11, the suppression of dissent, and media manipulation of public understanding in New Zealand. Her arrest suggests she has rattled more than a few well-linked chains, which are now being used to try to choke both her and the causes she champions.
In an interview with Salient in May this year, Valerie said, “My heart and my passion is really about stopping wars and stopping the horrors that are associated with wars. I suppose the exploitation and domination of people. I want to see a world free of violence and war.”
Although that sounds more like a threat to terrorism than a terrorist threat, it did not prevent Valerie being rounded up last week by gun-toting cowerboys yeeha-ing how the Terrorist Act was going to make her suffer, before corralling her in solitary for four days to consider the (t)error of (t)her ways.
As Val discovered, there’s nothing quite like being up against a ten-foot concrete wall and isolated from anything living but the sound of distant voices, to clear the mind and confirm your convictions about what really counts – the earth beneath your feet, respect, and human dignity – all in short supply for her and at least 16 others in the past few weeks.