On the weekend of July 18-19 rallies were held across Australia to counter the racism of Reclaim Australia. In the lead-up to these actions Sue Bolton — a long-time activist for refugee and Aboriginal rights and a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland Council in Melbourne — was interviewed for Green Left by Zane Alcorn.
Why is it important to rally against far right groups?
These are important rallies. At the moment racists are trying to build a mass movement, and we don’t want them to be able to do that. We want to demonstrate as far as possible that we well and truly outnumber the racists. In countering Islamophobes it’s important large numbers of non-Muslims to show solidarity with the Muslim community, which makes it easier for Muslims to attend such actions. We want to prevent the racists including the main racists in the government to portray the issue as just racists against Muslims. On July 19 it was important to organize a large, united rally that occupied the steps of Parliament House where the racists were attempting to rally, to deter them from organizing.
What are some of the factors that have led to the emergence of Reclaim Australia?
The government is deliberately using racism — and the Labor Party did this in government as well —and the scapegoating of particular groups in the community, especially Muslims, to divide and rule the community. This is at a time when both major parties are totally committed to implementing neo-liberal policies that make life extremely hard for people. I think because it’s not fashionable anymore to discriminate on the basis of skin colour, the racists including government racists have shifted their focus to prejudices based on cultural practices and ethnicity. That’s why Muslims are the target and that’s why we have to understand Islamophobia as racism.
It’s a dangerous period because with rising unemployment, and with governments cutting pensions, making people wait longer for unemployment benefits and keeping them below a livable level, they also try to create a dog-eat-dog situation among working class people, where we’re blaming each other, rather than uniting to fight against the government and the bosses that bring this situation on us.
We’ve seen the rise of the UK Independence Party, the National Front in France, the PEGIDA movement in Germany, and Golden Dawn in Greece, so the rise of the far right in Australia is not happening in isolation, members of Reclaim Australia coming out in solidarity with Golden Dawn for example. What are some instances here and internationally of far right forces being successfully pushed back?
There are a number of successful campaigns against the far right, but a key question is that governments will keep on trying to use racism. The only reason Reclaim Australia — including the extreme right within Reclaim Australia has been able to do what it’s done — has been because of government and media created racism against Muslims.
In Germany around 2008 there was a shock among the left and anti-racists when neo-Nazis began to grow in strength in rallies in Dresden. There were different responses: direct confrontation, and rallying far away from the fascists. It was only when the left got its act together and united, involving compromise by everyone on their preferred tactics, that there were big mobilisations that the neo-Nazis were prevented from mobilizing and growing.
There were also campaigns in Britain in the 1970s when the left was involved in street fights with neo-Nazis who were building a toe-hold. The police in those physical confrontations always protected the Nazis, and the left ended up fighting not only the Nazis but the police. When it started to become more of a mass movement, was against when the Nazis were forced to retreat. A lot of the black youth who got involve in the process were probably more concerned with police racism.
The far right can be pushed back, and anti-racist campaigns can succeed, but we need to fight government racism as well.
I think the left needs a two-pronged strategy. We need to counter-mobilise against the racists, and we need to mobilise against racist policies towards refugees and Aborigines, and the anti-terror laws.
We also have to be much more active in mobilising against the economic policies that are hurting people, because that where racism comes from as well.
Can you tell what anti-racist work you’ve been able to do as a Moreland councillor, and more generally in the Moreland area?
There’s three relevant things I’ve been able to do directly on council. One, in late 2012 just after I got in, was to get a motion passed in support of refugees and asylum seekers, and to get council to endorse the World Refugee Day rallies — which include the demands to close the Nauru and Manus Island camps — and also to develop some practical help for asylum seekers, especially those on bridging visas living in the community.
Secondly I’ve helped with the Ballerrt Mooroop campaign, to win back for community use an area of land that was part of an Aboriginal School that had been closed down in 2012. Moreland Council prides itself on supporting multiculturalism, but in reality it hadn’t down much for Aboriginal people, besides signs on buildings stating that they were on Wurundjeri land, and supporting reconciliation Week and NAIDOC week events. These are important but winning the school site back for an Aboriginal Community Hub will be very meaningful for Aboriginal people in the area.
Thirdly, I was able to successfully move a motion against racism after a number of attacks on Muslim people — or those assumed to be Muslim by racists — on the Upfield train line in 2014. This motion led to meetings and discussions with Muslim groups about practical things the council could do to help, and also to anti-racist banners being hung on council buildings.
I’ve also organised anti-racism activity locally outside of formal council decisions, but using my profile as a local activist and a councillor. This activity has included helping organise a rally at Batman station after a Muslim women was bashed, one of the afore-mentioned attacks. I’ve also working with a woman in Fawkner to organise a community forum on Islamophobia, which will take place on Sunday August 9, from 1.30pm at the Coburg Town Hall.
The Socialist Alliance group in the Moreland area is also planning to initiate a rally against racism and Islamophobia, probably in Coburg.
[This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted for Green Left Radio on July 17. Listen to Green Left Radio live each Friday 8-8:30am, in Melbourne on 855 AM or 3CR Digital and from anywhere via < www.3cr.org.au/streaming>, or catch the latest show at < http://www.3cr.org.au/greenleftweeklyradio>].