Medics’ Statement on July 18 anti-racist/fascist Demonstration
July 18, 2015
Today, antifascist protesters converged upon Spring Street in Melbourne near the Parliament of Victoria. They went there to counter racist rallies being held by Reclaim Australia and the fascist United Patriots Front.
As usual Victoria Police was also in attendance, and in the days leading to the protest it had promised a large presence and random weapons checks in response to rumours of fascists bringing weapons and intending violence.
Victoria Police’s goal for the day was to facilitate Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front holding their rallies out the front of Parliament House. In order to achieve this mounted officers and members of the Public Order Response Team (PORT) complemented uniformed officers on the streets, and OC (Pepper) spray was deployed against counter-protesters.
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.
Footage of the incident will be reviewed as it becomes available but at this point there seem to be only two explanations for the deployment of chemical weapons against the Street Medics: some witness reports have indicated that Victoria Police officers were spraying the crowd indiscriminately and did not check who they were attacking until after the fact. Others have said that police ignored the shouts of the crowd advising them that someone was receiving medical attention and with the decision to spray all medics this action should be seen as a deliberate attack upon medical personnel and their treatment space.
As one of our medics has since remarked:
“Possibly more than 100 people needed to be treated today as police indiscriminately fired pepper spray into the crowd, including onto an injured man who was struggling to breathe, was losing consciousness, and was awaiting an ambulance. They also sprayed the medics treating him. Someone had a seizure, two were taken to hospital and a few were sent home (by us as medics) due to the after-effects of the pepper spray (namely hypothermia-like symptoms of shaking and an inability to normalise body temperature). It was absolute fucking carnage and it was completely unnecessary and provocative. The racists didn’t cop any of the pepper spray at all as far as I know, and they got a three-line police escort away from the area.”
Victoria Police should rightfully be condemned for the deployment of chemical weapons, the targeting of medical personnel, casualties and medical treatment spaces with such weapons and, most of all, doing this in order to facilitate a public rally of racists and overt fascists and neo-nazis. Any assessment of the actions of antifascist protesters will conclude that they were inherently defensive: against threats of violence and the use of weapons by fascists and nazis as part of the United Patriots Front, and against the violence of racism and systematic oppression on the parts of Reclaim Australia, the United Patriots Front and Victoria Police…
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.