Benjamin Easton – nutter or hero?

He frequently works 10 hour days. He receives no pay and sleeps on the street when no one offers him a bed. He was in State housing until a Dom Post interview in January 2010 quoted him saying he was capable of paid employment but his “work” in advancing political justice and justice in the courts took precedence.

The visceral public outcry drowned out his small group of supporters. He was evicted by WINZ and public assistance cut off.

Benjamin Easton

Benjamin Easton on Wellington’s Manners Mall.

Benjamin Easton  uses the self-imposed moniker “Political Busker”. His current calling was fueled by his own personal experience in the Family Court years ago. For more than 10 years, he has fought for the right of families, the financially destitute and aggrieved to access the courts.

He has assisted in countless court actions promoting the interests of fathers, and occasionally mothers, in sharing custody of their children. Most recently, he has been the lightening rod of abuse by those who claim he cost the taxpayers $300,000 in legal and procedural costs unsuccessfully fighting the conversion of Manners Mall from a pedestrian to a bus thoroughfare.

From a café on Manners Street, he sends out hundreds of email messages per day.

Last year Easton was denied the right of appeal solely on the basis of his inability to pay a discretionary order imposing $3,000 security for costs. The financial bar was upheld by the Supreme Court.

His consequent complaint that New Zealand Courts discriminate against the poor by selectively requiring “loser’s” costs be paid into court before their claim will be heard is currently before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Through it all Mr Easton has demonstrated a steely resolve and calm demeanor which surprises many. Whether in the “civilised” combat of court, chaulking dialogue on footpaths or laying in the street in protest, Easton shows none of the anger one would reasonably expect from a person willing to do what few others motivated by passion would even consider doing. He is meek and disarming, if not engaging, in conflict situations.

All of this has done little to soften the image of many Wellingtonians who consider Easton little more than a spanner in the wheels of progress and efficiency. Easton himself may protest the injustice of $100 million in taxpayer dollars spent on a Supreme Court which hears 50 cases a year, but far more people are concerned by the $300,000 taxpayer money spent by the likes of the Wellington City Council and Crown Law in defending his legal applications.

When Easton is asked whether it is healthy or even tolerable for him to suffer the personal abuse and continue what seems like an endless and futile struggle, he turns the conversation quickly to the law itself and the importance of the current legal cases he is fighting. He has to be reminded that 4 people were hit by buses on Manners Mall within weeks of its conversion from a pedestrian mall before he will acknowledge that this was the unacceptable price he was fighting against on a roadway where passing busses are outside the legal tolerance for safety.

Easton quickly reverts back to the often-arcane legal language which has caused many an eye to glaze over. Even for those versed in the topic, his arguments are frequently difficult to follow. Not that they are wrong. But therein may lay the problem. When education as to the legal issues is crucial to understanding the injustice, are you a nutter when the few who allow you the necessary time to explain put it out of their mind after their morning coffee?