Reports from actions I have attended or participated in.
A ‘final’ crackdown on the ongoing Bendigo Street protest-occupation seems likely as Victoria Police execute heavy-handed evictions and government rhetoric against occupiers gets increasingly extreme.
Melbourne is in the midst of a housing crisis, yet an estimated 82,700 properties sit vacant across the city. A significant number of these are owned by the government.
There are 34,700 waiting for public housing in Victoria. The public housing waiting list is over ten years long. This is why an estimated 22,000 people are homeless in Melbourne, and this is why increasing numbers of people sleep rough in the CBD, unable to find even the most basic shelter.
At the same time, the Victorian government owns a large portfolio of vacant properties in Collingwood and Parkville which were compulsorily acquired for the failed East-West Link project.
The East-West Link project was cancelled after the 2014 Victorian state election, and the state government had announced plans to sell-off houses acquired for the project. Two years after the East West Link project was scrapped the bulk of these houses remain in government hands, and many sit vacant.
The solution seems obvious. People need houses. The government owns hundred of vacant houses. Developers and property speculators sit on tens of thousands more. There is enough space to house everyone, right?
It was in this context that homeless people, activists and supporters initiated a protest-occupation of the swath of vacant housing on Bendigo Street in Collingwood in March this year. The actions of the Bendigo Street occupiers have put housing, housing vacancies, and the wash-up from the East West Link project in the public spotlight.
The occupiers of the properties have made the following demands and refuse to leave until they are met … All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register … [and] the Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people
After six months of occupation, the Andrews government appears to be readying for a crackdown.
Police action at the occupation is becoming increasingly regular and heavy handed. On Friday, Victoria Police evicted a homeless indigenous family from 13 Bendigo Street. Three people were arrested.
Activists responded by re-occupying.
The Victorian government responded in turn with riot-police.
The absurd situation now, is that the Victorian government are now employing private security guards to sit in vacant houses in order to lock out homeless families.
— Boycott Wilson (@Boycott_Wilson) October 28, 2016
The Minister for Housing, Martin Foley, has stepped up attacks on occupiers, with the significant support of the Herald Sun.
The end-game for the Victorian government is the sale of as many of the acquired East-West link homes on the private market as possible.
The state government is attempting to recoup any money it can after spending $1.1 billion dollars to cancel the East-West Link project contracts. The state government was open about this objective prior to the Bendigo Street occupation.
However, in the face of criticism raised by the occupation and others, the state government has periodically announced that this or that house held by the state government will be converted into “social housing”. What this means in practice is that one or two houses are leased by the government to the Salvation Army.
Occupiers and others are rightly critical of the role played by the Salvation Army. Aside from being a religious organization with a history of homophobia, the Salvation Army does not provide the kind of secure housing that the public housing system does. “Social housing” leases are often conditional and rents are often significantly higher than the means assessed rents of the public system.
Nonetheless, the idea that the Salvation Army “do good” remains commonplace, and the state government have used this to create the political basis for attacking the occupation. The government simply announces that this or that house under occupation is now leased to the Salvation Army, and occupiers are all that stands in the way of the religious creepers doing their “good work”!
In recent weeks the campaign against the occupation has gone further. Martin Foley has claimed that occupiers are “armed” “muggers” “sex offenders” and more. The Herald Sun and others are actively canvassing for “terrified residents” desperate for the state to save them from “selfish squatters”.
The rhetoric is utterly disconnected from the reality that actually exists on Bendigo Street in Collingwood; the reality is that hundreds of people have come together over six months to raise a demand for a right to housing.
The importance of this action
The government hates the Bendigo Street occupation. The Herald Sun bemoans the $1.1 billion squat. For this reason alone it deserves your support!
Bendigo Street has shown that the direct action of homeless people occupying vacant property can be a politically powerful act. The act of occupying creates a situation that the government cannot readily ignore, it forces the government to act, either with concession or repression, in order to end this affront to property.
The Bendigo Street occupation demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of the state government, bemoaning homelessness whilst sitting on a portfolio of vacant homes.
The state government is desperate to undermine the inherent political legitimacy of this action, so that they can more freely utilize police violence to shut it down. They have not been successful so far because of the strong support for the action by activists, neighbors and the wider community.
But the state is preparing to act, and repression of the protest-occupation is imminent. Two things are required to deter the government, and hopefully force them towards concession.
The first is strong support to resist any eviction. The success of the police is not a foregone conclusion, a couple of hundred people willing to get in the way can transform an eviction situation.
The second is a willingness by activists to continue breaking the law, and to continue re-opening and re-occupying vacant government owned houses. For as long as this continues to happen, the state government will not be able to achieve its objectives: an end to the situation and the sale of these properties on the private market.
Until then, Stop the rot, squat the lot!
Last week The Age reported that vacant housing owned by the state government in Bendigo Street, Collingwood, “could be used to help family violence victims”. Emphasis added.
The State government and others are touting the story in The Age in an attempt to convince homelessness activists to end their occupation of the vacant houses that were compulsorily acquired by the state government for the failed East West Link project.
The article in The Age contains no definite information about the government’s plans, it merely states that when asked “if the government would use the available properties to help domestic violence victims, Housing Minister Martin Foley did not rule it out”.
All of the information that activists have seen indicates that if the government has definite plans to use the vacant properties (which is not clear), they do not have comprehensive plans to utilize all of the houses, and they do not intend to convert them into public housing. At best, government officials have indicated they have plans to lease certain East West Link houses to a “community housing” project.
“The 6 unused houses on Bendigo St to be made into genuine public housing … [and that] All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register … [and that] The Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people”
The focus on Public housing is a deliberate part of their demands. “Community” housing is not public housing, although the distinction is lost on many.
“Social” or “Community” housing projects are administered by social service or religious NGOs and charities. These projects do not offer the long term security of tenure or guaranteed affordability of the public housing system. For LGBTQI+ homeless people community houses offers the vidmate additional awkwardness and likely discrimination associated with potentially homophobic religious groups such as the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has been forced to make a public apology after one of its majors stated that the Salvation Army believes gay people should die.
There is a housing crisis in Melbourne, and the policies of the state government seem poised to make life harder for people depending on public housing. Last year the state government foreshadowed plans to turn much of the state’s existing public housing over to “community housing” projects.
The wider community should not be fooled by the FUD being spread by the state government. The state government continues to hold houses empty, and they failed to announce any credible plan for the houses in Bendigo Street, Collingwood. The occupation initiated by the HPUV continues; if you have half an hour free, come down to 2 Bendigo Street and get involved.
A few rough thoughts on Saturday’s counter demonstration against Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front.
1. A defeat for the far-right
Shermon Burgess and the United Patriots Front wagered their grouping’s credibility on a successful #July18 rally in Melbourne.
The UPF called for a total mobilization of right wing forces to converge on Melbourne. Their propaganda claimed that the rally in Melbourne was basically a matter of life and death for the far-right (and by extension in their world view, Australia). ‘The left’ had to be defeated on this day or ‘Australia’ would be destroyed.
There was talk of buses and planes bringing in ‘patriot’ support from all over Australia and even the world; every angle that could get racists out from behind their keyboards and onto the streets was pursued. Burgess went to so far as to announce he would quit ‘the movement’ if this one rally did not succeed in defeating Islam and ‘the left’.
Burgess repeatedly claimed that an awe inspiring coalition of far-right forces had been forged to support this rally. Dissent was not tolerated, when one far-right grouping dared disagree with Burgess the UPF denounced the evil splitters. Monika Evers and Julie Kendell of ‘Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne’ were described as “traitors” who Burgess would “kick in the c-nt”. Anyone who attended anything other than the official UPF rally was warned they would likely be bashed by ‘feral lefties’, as only the UPF had the muscle and the preparedness to use violence required for the right to rally in Melbourne.
When measured against their rhetoric and stated aims, the UPF failed on Saturday, and they failed miserably.
Despite an extra month of propaganda and organization, the UPF contingent on Saturday was smaller than their showing on May 31 in Richmond. In May they mustered approximately seventy supporters for an aborted March on Richmond Town Hall, on Saturday they mustered maybe sixty.
Burgess and friends claimed they would bring the muscle required for a fascist rally; “1pm Parliament steps, be there”. In practice, they were forced to skulk in under police escort at midday.
It is doubtful the UPF agitators believed they could smash the left on Saturday. Their real hope would have been to speak to, perform for, and hopefully recruit from the wider layer of racists that attended the April 4 rally in Melbourne. On this count also, the UPF failed miserably.
Due to the opposition of anti-racists, the UPF had to join the Reclaim Australia Rally under police escort and after a significant degree of secrecy. They result was that the few individuals who did turn out from the wider Islamophobic milieu were excluded from the UPF/Reclaim Australia rally.
Saturday’s rally also marked the effective end of the Reclaim Australia grouping’s Melbourne arm. On April 4, Reclaim Australia attracted perhaps a thousand people to its rally (even if only a few hundred made it through anti-racist lines to the rally kettle established by police).
On Saturday less than a hundred people gathered for the 11am rally announced by RAR-M’s Monika Evers. The planned bus of racist supporters from Bendigo simply did not materialize. A significant portion of the rump that did attend the RAR-M gathering were people mobilized by Danny Nalliah’s cult, rather than the Reclaim Australia grouping.
As a mobilizing force, the “Reclaim Australia” brand is utterly spent in Melbourne. Evers could barely muster some Facebook re-posts in the aftermath. The United Patriots Front fair little better in terms of mobilizing ability, but it seems likely their core group of agitators will continue churning out militaristic hate videos for some time yet.
2. Police violence and pepper spray
The Melbourne Street Medics Collection have released a statement about the police pepper spraying generally and the assault on their first aid triage point in particular:
Amongst those affected by the OC Spray was a casualty who began to experience respiratory distress, a not uncommon side-effect of OC spray and other such “less-than-lethal” chemical weapons. In the course of attending to this casualty and decontaminating others who had been affected, members of the Melbourne Street Medic Collective (including one pregnant woman) were attacked by police with OC Spray and kettled in a small space at the top of Little Bourke Street.
Melbourne Activist Legal Support has also released a statement on the police tactics on Saturday:
According to Legal Observers present the OC foam was not directed towards individuals who were threatening police or engaged in violence but instead was directed over and onto the entire crowd of people present. For this reason the MALS Legal Observer Team identifies the use of OC foam in this circumstance as indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.
Many people see the police through the traditional liberal lens- that they exist to protect society from crime. For the many people who copped pepper spray, saw the police pepper spray medics, took random punches to the face and received cursory “fuck offs” from the police yesterday, that notion is not going to gel particularly well with their feelings at the moment. Marxist or Anarchist theory will point out to you that the police exist to protect private property and the state, and little else.
There are a couple of remarks I want to add to the above.
It is clear that the police planned for the liberal use of pepper spray against the counter-demonstration; the Public Order Response Team personnel all used far more pressurized OC foam than they would ordinarily carry.
The police tactics were not a response to an unpredictable situation, they were a planned and prepared course of action. Somebody made the decision to have the Public Order Response Team repeatedly attack the counter demonstration, liberally distributing pepper spray in all directions. As the MALS statement points out, this is of course unlawful.
Whilst I was shocked by the brazen use of pepper spray on Saturday, the presence of police violence is never unexpected.
In the lead up to Saturday’s rally, the police made clear that it was their intention to facilitate the fascist demonstration. The UPF and Reclaim Australia were going to engage religious and racial vilification on the steps of Parliament House (the supposed home of democracy in Victoria), and the ‘job’ that he police were ‘just doing’ was ensuring that this could occur.
By counter-demonstrating we were announcing that our aims conflict with those of the police. If we’re serious about denying racists space on our streets we will have to contend with the force and violence of the police.
Yet I did not expect the level of police violence that occurred.
The state and the police have an interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their monopoly on the lawful use of violence. For this reason, I normally expect the police to use the minimum necessary violence to achieve their ends. I doubt the mass use of pepper spray was required to protect a small coterie of fascists, but the police clearly saw it differently. We could consider that a compliment.
Over the past three months counter-demonstrators at far-right rallies have developed confidence and capacity. At Federation Square on April 4 counter-demonstrators maintained a strong picket. In Richmond on May 31, counter-demonstrators pushed aside a police line in order to block a fascist march.
The police may want their violence to appear legitimate, but if it is a choice between appearing legitimate and maintaining control, the police must maintain the appearance of control. On May 31 the actions of counter-demonstrators briefly defied the police with little in the way of repercussions. I suspect that decisions around police tactics were in part informed by a desire to make a point about who runs the show.
The appearance of pepper spray at one demonstration should not dissuade people from attending these kinds of anti-racist actions.
Whilst police violence is distressing to experience, in these contexts it can be mitigated against by those prepared to contend with it, and largely avoided by those who wish to contribute to rejecting racism and fascism without copping a face full of weaponized pepper.
There are all manner of roles that people can and should play in contested street demonstrations that do not carry a risk of pepper spraying. The biggest restraint on the use of violence by police is the size of the demonstration they are contending with, the more outnumbered they are, the more restrained they will be.
3. Masked demonstrators
Blah blah blah, protestors wearing masks were violent hoodlums, blah blah blah.
I expect this kind of garbage in the mainstream press and from the police, but it is disappointing to see these remarks attributed to :
He said this allowed a small group of people, who were wearing masks and balaclavas, to take attention away from the hundreds who were there to peacefully take a stand against racism.
None of the groupings planning Saturday’s rally intended to be passive, and it’s disingenuous of Steve Jolly (assuming the quotation is accurate) to claim that his organization did not intend to defy police and attempt to block access to the far-right demonstration. I applaud them for their organizing work to that end.
There are a whole bunch of reasons people might wear masks in the context of Saturday’s counter-demonstration. The far-right seek to identify their political opponents, there are various websites and Facebook groups dedicated to “exposing” the opponents of racism in Australia.
For other people attending the rally appearing in media coverage was both likely and an unacceptable risk; medical professionals volunteering in the Street Medics Collective, for example, may mask up to avoid flak at their day jobs.
But the most obvious reason to mask up is that sometimes you need to push back. On Saturday we were seeking to picket and prevent a racist demonstration. A good segment of the people seeking to attend that rally were violent fascists, and some of those people had to be frog-marked, pushed and at times more forcibly ejected from space held by the counter demonstration. Individuals who entered the counter-demonstration space looking for a brawl had to be ejected, and many of the people who took it upon themselves to do the ejecting prefer not to be identified.
I think I should make it absolutely clear, the groupings organizing the counter-demonstration on Saturday had no intention of getting involved in individual brawls with individual fascists. The groups who gathered aimed to picket, disrupt and prevent a far-right rally.
Which is what we did.
Other / Updates
Comic is by Shermi and the Puf gang, with permission.
I’ve changed which Puf Gang comic appears on the post after receiving some critical feedback from comrades, feedback I accept.
To end, here is an elderly Italian priest waiving a red flag and singing Bella Ciao!
Header image credit Wardenclyffe Photography.
The far-right milieu broadly grouped around “Reclaim Australia” intends to rally on July 18 and 19. The 18th will see one rally in Melbourne, with rallies in other cities to follow on the 19th.
The date chosen was doubtless intended to maximize offense, it coincides with this year’s Eid-al-Fitr (the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan).
The two day rally structure was announced by the self-described Great Aussie Patriot and
Cooma based garbage collector , Shermon Burgess (before his public split with other Reclaim Australia organizers back in May). Burgess intends to buttress the Melbourne rally with support of fascists based in Sydney.
It remains difficult to assess the mobilizing power of a far-right milieu whose organization is largely informal and online, however it is clear that last months far-right split has weakened their appeal to the broader “Reclaim Australia” layer of Islamophobic racists.
When Shermon Burgess and a handful of other far-right activists announced they were departing the Reclaim Australia camp to form the United Patriots Front, they clearly believed that the wider layer of racists would follow them. The events in Richmond on May 31 demonstrated that this was not the case.
— Kieran Bennett (@KieranBennett) May 31, 2015
Shermon Burgess has now recognized his mistake. In video after video he now proclaims that “all the patriot groups are united” for the rally on July 18.
From a video earlier this evening:
“On July 18th, at Melbourne Parliament House at 1pm, we are having a rally against radical Islam. Australian’s are fed up, terrorism will only spread if we do not get on top of it. All patriot groups have put their differences aside because we all have to fight this.
Now it took me a long time to get groups to put their differences aside but now we are all allied. And I would like to thank the groups I have written down here who have decided to put their differences aside and all ally as one.
The following groups are: Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front, Full Blooded Skips, Southern Cross Soldiers, Australian Defense League, Australian Republican Army, Aussie Brotherhood, Rise Up Australia and Australian Patriots Defense Movement.”
Burgess’ remarks about ‘unity’ are interesting in several respects.
Most obviously, there is irony is a call for unity coming from a man who has done more than most to prosecute splits on the far right. Burgess has been quick to denounce as “traitors” all manner of right-wing actors who were insufficiently far-right for his tastes, or who had the temerity to criticize his actions in any way whatsoever.
One early target of Burgess’ wrath was Catholic crazy and admin of the Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne Facebook page, Monica Evers. It was a decision I suspect Burgess came to regret; when Burgess first announced that the July 18 rally in Melbourne would be at Parliament house Evers responded with appropriately snarky remarks on the Reclaim Australia pages to the effect “We’ll announce our own rally locations THANK YOU VERY MUCH!”.
The posts have since been removed. Some kind of marriage of necessity has now been stitched up between Evers and Burgess, evidenced by the fact that the Facebook pages run by Evers now appear conciliatory towards Burgess and the fascist UPF. The “Reclaim” pages now promote Burgess’ bus trip from Sydney, and Burgess is now promoting a Facebook event registered to the “Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne” page.
Two other things stand out about Burgess’ remarks. One, he is no longer making any attempt to hide his association with obviously violent and fascist projects. In the lead up to April 4 Burgess attempted to conceal his past association with the Australian Defense League project, and attempted to remove the more obscene videos he had released as “Eureka Brigade”.
Now that this deception has been thoroughly blown open by left critics, Burgess is openly boasting ADL and is spruiking his Eureka Brigade work.
It is unclear to what extent this open return to the far-right edge has harmed his ability to communicate to the wider layer of casual Islamophobes. His primary Facebook page has stopped growing, it’s likes have plateaued at around 22,000 and his posts no longer receive the same frenetic interaction they did in the lead up to April 4. At least one individual Burgess had previously touted as part of his “United Patriots Front”, the F’N Aussie, has publicly fallen out with Burgess as a result of his increasingly neo-Nazi stance.
The other fact that is particularly interesting about Burgess’ patriot alliance are the number of participating groups that simply no longer exist.
The Southern Cross Soldiers were a MySpace group which has been defunct since at least 2010. The Australian Defense League has never really existed, despite the antics of self-proclaimed ADL President and military imposter Ralph Ceminara. The Australian Republican Army is a youtube channel with 72 subscribers, and the existence of the Full Blooded Skips is even more ephemeral.
Conversely, there are some notable absences from Burgess’ most recent video. Burgess is organizing a supporters bus that is intended to bring additional hard support from the far-right scene in Sydney to the Melbourne rally on July 18.
The people on such a bus will not be coming from some MySpace group, instead they are almost certainly going to be drawn from the milieu around Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party, and their more obviously swastika licking friends in the Hammerskins and Squadron 88. Burgess might be ready to own the ADL clown Ralph Ceminara, he still has the brains to avoid public association with this lot.
Australia First Party will support the next round of Reclaim Australia rallies in July.
— Australia FirstParty (@AustFirstParty) May 6, 2015
The far-right split in early May was certainly good for a laugh, and it gutted the ability of the UPF to mobilize forces for Richmond on May 31. Fascist agitators like Burgess do not yet have strength to issue a call-out on their own authority. The papered unity that Burgess has repeatedly announced is an attempt to undo the damage of the past two months, he is seeking to convince the wider layer of racists that came out on April 4 to return.
It is not yet clear how successful Burgess has been with his regroupment propaganda. I sincerely doubt he can totally reverse the ill-will generated by a public and acrimonious split with a few youtube videos. The far-right gathering that assembles in Melbourne on July 18 will likely be smaller than the April 4 assemblage, but on the flip side the apparent cooperation with other far-right actors could result in a more coherent gathering that is more capable of organized violence.
The wider Reclaim milieu is fixated on the Muslim community, if they come out on July 18 they will have Australian Muslims squarely in their sites.
The fascist activists gathered around Shermon Burgess in the UPF have a wider plan in which Muslim’s are merely the first target. The UPF and friends are just as fixated on ‘the left’:
Why are we focusing on Melbourne in particular for July 18? Because we need to win Melbourne. And why do we need to win Melbourne. For starters it is a strong hold, it is a left wing strong hold. Because the movement has been built up and no one has tried to stop it. No one. … Together we can break them.
Look at the Reclaim Australia rally back on April the 4th. We outnumbered the left wing in Sydney. We outnumbered the left wing in Brisbane. We outnumbered the left wing in Perth. Completely. Totally. They didn’t have a chance in hell.
We owned them. But they still have one small pocket of the country in Melbourne. And we are going to take that pocket of the country. Because we got more numbers than them.
So I’ve talked to my boys in the UPF. And we’ve decided what we’re going to do. Not only are we going to get all the patriot groups in Melbourne to the July 18th rally where all patriot groups will be united. But we’re also organising charter buses to get patriots from Canberra, and Sydney, and other places like that.
If we win Melbourne, we win the country. Because that’s where all the left wing propaganda comes out of.
The streets down there are communist red. Soon they will be patriotic red white and blue.
To the fascists of the UPF the traitorous enemy extends (in no particular order) to include those unions defending the rights of migrant workers, sex and gender diverse communities, the student movement, the environment movement, refugees, and anyone who differs from or disagrees with their vision of a violently “patriotic” misogynist flag waving ANZAC worshiping Australia. A quote from Martin Niemöller springs to mind.
A response to Reclaim, the UPF, and any other fascists dumb enough to show their faces in public is being prepared. I am the first to acknowledge that this response is far from complete, the fact that this response has been limited to a few “usual suspect” (and overwhelmingly white) left groupings is a significant weakness, and “a good shirt-fronting” is only ever a reactive strategy to a particular expression of far-right political organization.
None the less, I challenge anyone to make the case for “leaving this to the police”. If the far-right are able to openly organize, recruit and cohere, we will all reap the results.
Sam Oldham, ‘Reclaiming history from the angry white male’.
In Melbourne you can text ‘subscribe’ to 0422 726 843 for updates.
Photo credit for featured image: Wardenclyffe Photography.
I can’t be arsed putting together anything intelligent on “Reclaim Australia”, but there are a couple of brief comments I wanted to make.
1. Islam is not a race – and you are still a racist!
A message to the “reclaimers”: you are a pack of utter racists. You might think you’re being really clever with the whole “Islam is not a race” line, well it’s time for a sixty-five year old news flash: there is no such thing as biological ‘race’.
The category of ‘race’ is socially constructed; it is the product of a system of domination. ‘Race’ is constructed in order to define the out group. The creation and maintenance of a social system of domination and oppression that targets this outgroup is racism.
It doesn’t really matter if you are building a system of oppression that defines the outgroup by religion rather than skin colour, the essential element of racism is the construction of a system of oppression that targets an entire segment of the working class for villification and discrimination. Religion or skin colour, the dynamic is the same; “Reclaim Australia” is a racist project.
It is worth noting that without a relationship of power and domination, someone using a racial slur is not being racist, merely rude. The indigenous teenager who calls you a white c-nt is not creating or maintaining a hierachy of which you are the victim, she’s just being coarse (and in view of history, understandably so).
Related: Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race”, a presentation by Jeffrey Perry.
The sad fact is that the vast majority of Australians still think biological race exists. The majority now think it is bad to discriminate on the basis of race, but if race really does exist (in the world of “commonsense”) and “religion is not a race”, then the likes of Pauline Hanson and Shermon Burgess can continue claiming they’ve escaped being racists on a technicality.
Islamophobic racism is hardly the exclusive preserve of working class fascists like Shermon Burgess. The real work in constructing Islam as the “other” has been done by the state. The raft of “anti-terror” legislation, public propaganda, and fear mongering rhetoric that has emmanated from the top of the political hierachy has created the space in which fascists like Shermon Burgess are now operating.
See also: First Dog on the Moon, ‘A racist carrot reclaims Australia’, The Guardian.
2. If you equate abusing racists with racism you are a f-cking muppet
In the aftermath of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies it’s been pretty clear that the “I’m not racist but…” crowd aren’t the only ones who haven’t got the faintest idea of what actually constitutes racism. Take this choice quote is from Brad Chilcott, director of Welcome to Australia, in The Guardian yesterday:
Fighting hatred with hatred at Reclaim Australia rallies is a failure of progressive politics
What’s less obvious is what “progressives” were hoping to achieve this Easter by opposing naked hatred and foul abuse with public expressions of the same hatred and abuse.
If the counter demonstrations in Melbourne were nothing more than “public expressions of the same hatred and abuse”1 as “Reclaim Australia”, then racism is little more than foul language and a bad attitude.
To the likes of Chilcott racism is simply a vulgar attitude held in sections of the working class. His is the kind of analysis that assumes public policy in Australia is so racist because the Australian working class is so racist, our political leaders have not created racism, merely pandered to it and failed to “show leadership”. His role as a liberal anti-racist is to promote “diversity, compassion, generosity”2 amongst those unenlightened working class types. When that is your analysis, of course getting in the streets and shouting at racists is as bad as racism itself.
Chilcott is utterly wrong, he confuses the symptoms of racism with racism itself. “Hatred” and “foul abuse” are not racism itself, they are public expressions of racism. The public expression of racism creates, re-creates and reinforces the system of racism, but the system itself is more than this. Racism is a social structure of domination: one part of the working class is segmented off from the whole and subjected to greater oppression; the remainder of the class are co-opted into the process of racist oppression and are bought off with a position of relative privilege.
If you cannot criticise the structure of racism, and the system that creates and re-creates it, how can you attack racism? Obviously you can’t; if you cannot see the problem you cannot be effective in combatting it (except by pure chance). Chilcott is worse than ineffective, in failing to see what racism is he reacts against forces that actually have the potential to combat racism.
3. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist
Let’s call a spade a spade. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist, and I am not saying that simply because it has drawn the participation of an array of far right and overtly neo-Nazi supporters.
Fascism “is as a particular form of mass movement, possessing a core set of ideas, and in which the ideology and movement interact. … [It is] a specific form of reactionary mass movement” which is “racist, nationalist, and militarist”3. “Reclaim Australia” fits the fascist bill on all counts:
- racist, in it’s demonisation and attacks on muslims and Islam, and its attempts to construct muslims as an other counterposed to “Australia” and “Australians”;
- nationalist, with it’s overt flag-draped appeals to “Aussie pride”, continual talk of ‘patriotism’, and the casting of its campaign as ‘Islam vs Australia’;
- militarist, in its continual appeals to the ANZAC myth, valorisation of the ADF, etc. It was telling at Melbourne rally just how many of the assembled bigots claimed they had “fought them” (meaning Muslims) “over there” (meaning in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afganistan).
The organisers of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies certainly intended them to be the launching point for a far right movement. The anti-Islam conspiracy theories of “Reclaim Australia” are its core set of ideas, and I think we are seeing an interaction between the people gathering around the “Reclaim Australia” banner and these ideas.
Further Reading: Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice.
4. Racism and fascism have a public space agenda
Public space matters, and a heck of a lot of societal control and power is bound up in who is allowed in public space, how they are legally or societally required to act, dress, and so on. Fascism seeks to dominate public spaces and to drive opponents, targetted groups, and rival politics out of public space.
This is a half developed thought on my part, but a sizeable chunk of the historical experience of racism seems bound up in public space. Segregation for example, whether in Australia or the United States, had a heck of a lot to do with who was allowed where in public, and how they were required to act.
A good deal of a lot of the “Reclaim Australia” rhetoric is also basically about public space. Outlawing “the Burqa or any variant thereof”4 is essentially an attempt to control how people look in public. The conspiratorial rubbish around halal certification boils down to an attempt to determine what can or can’t appear on the packaging of goods sold in public.
Public rallies by racists and fascists are attempts to control or change who feels safe and comfortable in public space. At present (thankfully) it is socially unacceptable (mostly) to make overt statements of outright racism publically; the public expression of racism often results in some form of social sanction. The far right is attempting to reverse this situation. By rallying in public they are seeking to embolden racists, and bring racism directly into public space. The results of this will be reaped in a increased harvest of racist abuse and attacks directed at muslims.
More than anything else, the public space agenda of racism and fascism is the reason racism must be fought directly and in public, not behind closed doors on some farm in the hills.
A vocal and determined counter-rally is both a general rejection of racism, and a direct action to disrupt a specific attempt by racists to build an overtly racist movement in the public sphere.
Bringing all this crap together… The last time the so-called “Australian Defense League” tried to have a rally in Melbourne thirty people attended. Four years later and with four months of preparation (and a significant rebranding), the far right managed to assemble a few hundred in Melbourne and Sydney, and concerningly large numbers in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth. They are seeking to build a far right movement on a base of anti-Muslim racism, and their rallies are clear attempts to embolden racists, intimidate Muslims, and build a milleu in which the far right can recruit and propagandize. The qualms of liberal anti-racists and social democrats should be dismissed, because when fascists rally on the streets they need to be smashed back into the sewers they rose out of.
Earlier Post: #Reclaimwhat and being stalked online, 28 March 2015.
After months of rumours and false starts, there is now reliable information that Golden Dawn MEP Giorgos Epitideios will be in Australia and holding events in Melbourne and Sydney, 16-20 November.
SEE: The Guardian, Golden Dawn: far right Greek party members pay ‘stealth visit’ to Australia, “Two members plan to raise money and meet local supporters in Sydney and Melbourne this week”.
Golden Dawn is a violent fascist organisation in Greece, that has attempted to build support in the Greek diaspora community in Australia and around the world. This tour of Australia comes at a key time for Golden Dawn, and opposing them now is critical.
As a fascist organisation Golden Dawn has its roots in the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, but until recently they have been at most a marginal political force. In 2012 they capitalised on the the waves of anger and discontent at mainstream Greek politics in 2012 to win 18 seats in the Greek Parliament. Their violent apparatus has close links with the repressive apparatus of the Greek state, and is renowned for it’s violent attacks on immigrants, the workers movement, anarchists, left groups, and the queer community.
The Greek state has subsequently turned on Golden Dawn:
Golden Dawn (GD), as we knew it, is over. Their leader N. Michaloliakos is behind bars, along with other prominent members, while those who survived the first purge are facing added charges that emerged a few days after the first arrests. While this was happening, a number of their offices around Greece have closed down, the state funding they received has been stopped, and reports indicate that many of their members (ex or current) are forming lines outside the High Court to testify against the organization.
For an analysis of the how and why check out When the state turns antifa.
Golden Dawn is on the defensive in Greece, and as such is seeking support abroad. Golden Dawn MEP Giorgos Epitideios, a former general, is in Australia as part of a respectability campaign.
Within Greece, Golden Dawn want to be able to claim that they have support from the Greek diaspora, and that they’re seen as respectable internationally.
Within Australia they want to pitch to the Greek community, in particular to organise funding to offset the losses they have suffered following the attacks on their organisation in Greece.
A solid, public and overwhelming rejection of these fascists in Australia would send a strong message of support to anti-fascists in Greece, would harm fascist propaganda in Greece, and would prevent these violent thugs organising among the fringes of the diaspora community.
A Welcoming Committee
Information is being disseminated through the No to Golden Dawn in Melbourne facebook page and twitter account. The event page Disrupt and Dismantle Welcome Collective will be updated to the address and dates of Golden Dawn events in Australia as information comes to hand.
A statement condemning Golden Dawn has been signed by ten Australian trade unions including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, the Communications Workers Unions, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Construction and General Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Workers and the Textile, and the Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.
A call to action will be issued by the No to Golden Dawn in Melbourne group in the coming days.
What Needs to Happen
The Golden Dawn events in Melbourne are already appropriately infiltrated. The time and location of the planned events is expected to be released at very short notice, at some point between 16 and 20 November.
Anyone who cares about opposing fascists in Australia and in Greece should prepare to respond in this time frame. In order to oppose and disrupt Golden Dawn in Australia, we need to muster hundreds of opponents of fascism at a particular location in the Melbourne area at short notice.
Make ready in your organisations, unions, and community groups. Keep an active watch on the No to Golden Dawn events and facebook page. Tell everyone you know about this, spread the word that these dimwits are coming and we are going to drive them away. When Golden Dawn attempt to show their heads in our city, let’s drown them out, break them up, and drive them out.
A report I prepared on yesterday’s action in defence of the Engelhardt St Fertility Control Clinic:
Women’s rights are still under attack in Albury. Once again a group of anti-choice religious demonstrators have picketed the Engelhardt St Fertility Control Clinic in Albury, and attempted to intimidate and harass women seeking to access the clinic.
Today, for the second week in a row, the anti-choice group were met by a small and determined gathering, and their harassment was substantially disrupted.
I arrived at the clinic at ten am to find five of anti-choice set up out the front of the clinic. Three were across the road from the clinic loudly praying, whilst two others were on the foot path out the front of the clinic accosting women who were seeking to access the clinic. I was joined by chief executive officer of Women’s Health Goulburn North East, Susie Reid.
Women’s Health Goulburn North East is the overarching body that includes the Engleheart St clinic. Susie Reid is highly supportive of action to defend women’s rights, and to obstruct anti-choice campaigners seeking to harass women at the clinic. They are keen to see this become an ongoing action in defence of women’s rights to access a clinic free from harassment.
Others arrived over the following hour. Susie Reid demonstrated the art of intercepting and non-physically obstructing anti-choice harassers out the front of the clinic, impressive and highly effective!
The anti-choice group sought to engage us verbally on several occasions, but their inability to get any response frustrated them. We had one drive and stop abuser, who left when he realised he was being totally ignored.
The surveillance camera was back. This week the camera was in a car parked on the clinics side of the road, and it was pointed directly at the entrance of the clinic. The claims of the anti-choice group, that their camera is getting a broad picture of the street in case they are assaulted, are clearly bogus. It’s there to intimidate women seeking to access the clinic.
At 11.30am, having been obstructed from accessing the front of the clinic and harassing women, the anti-choice activists packed up and left. They took their camera with them.
We suspected this was a ruse, and it was. They returned in greater numbers. I still consider this a win. They were also forced to leave in order to get more supporters, and most importantly they did not bring the camera back.
There was one more occasion in which an anti-choice campaigner attempted to accost a woman leaving the clinic, but she was obstructed. The anti-choice group made no more attempts to interact with women coming or going from the clinic.
They then concentrated on praying loudly from across the street. At 3pm they packed up and left.
During the day there was some media interest. Prime News interviewed a number of people in the morning, and a journalist from the Border Mail arrived in the afternoon.
I consider the day a clear win for those of us defending women’s rights at the clinic. The anti-choice group clearly did not expect to be resisted for a second week. We received good support from passing drivers, and a number of people stopped to thank activists defending the clinic.
Three weeks ago we lived in a town where a group of religious fundamentalists could picket a fertility control clinic and harass women seeking help and advice with impunity. This is no longer the case.
This report is just one person’s account, and is no way an official position of any group, or the gathering as a whole! Also, ongoing updates are being posted to twitter using the hashtag #albchoice. Please share widely, no rights reserved.