With Anti-Reclaim Australia demonstrators speaking the language of violence, Polly Chester wonders if they’ve lost their moral compass.
I put considerable amounts of thought and energy into deciding whether to attend my local Anti-Reclaim Australia rally yesterday. Every time a notification marked “Rally against racist Reclaim Australia. STOP ISLAMOPHOBIA!” popped up in my Facebook feed, my gut twisted in a sense that wasn’t congruent with the usual charge of excitement and enthusiasm I feel when I am planning to attend a rally for the promotion of social justice.
And I think I have figured out why: There are a few fundamental issues holding this movement back.
In the second half of 2015 I spent several interesting hours workshopping with university students, feeling out the best ways to be a social justice ally. From this experience, the only thing I can assuredly tell you is that there is no prescriptive advice from the literature about how to become an effective social justice ally. Mainly because different strategies will suit people according to communication style, mood and context.
However, there are several options and suggestions about how to do it, and more importantly, some pertinent advice on how not to.
When trying to raise consciousness and sensitivity around a social justice issue, tone and delivery of your message are everything. Both will affect how your message is perceived, and are just as important as the content of the message.
According to diversity and social justice expert Diane Goodman, people who are expressing prejudicial or discriminatory views will stop listening and become angry and defensive when they feel attacked, blamed or judged by a social justice ally.
With this in mind, I am fairly sure that antagonising the Reclaim Australia movement by bringing “Trumpets, French horns, whistles, vuvuzelas, fog horns, klaxons, you get the idea – we want to drown out the hate speech that will be spewing out of their PA system…” is not a particularly good way to start a constructive conversation about how to build an anti-oppressive community that is united by common humanity.
Other comments from guests on the event page such as “going tomorrow with siovet flag flying fuck the fasscast dog” were the deal breaker for me. I detest racism, and spend many waking hours thinking about how to tackle and alleviate it, but participating in a hate-fest is not how I like to spend my Sundays, and more importantly, not productive to this particular cause.
In this context, it is well worth reflecting on a famous line from Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick:
“Passion without precision: chaos.”
What is it exactly that the Anti-Reclaim movement is trying to achieve? Are its actions helping to achieve its goal?
The well-intended community action seems to have taken on a life of its own (as social action often does) and in its excitement, become disconnected from some very important principles of nonviolence. The No Room for Racism movement behind the rallies is steeled by an unwavering socialist ethos, which highlights the inequality caused by capitalism and calls for the 99% to resist the demonisation of our most vulnerable populations.
Whether you agree with their analysis will be dependent upon your ideology, culture and where you are found on the political compass. Opinions aside, the ethos of the movement is (paradoxically) muffled when it tries to achieve the desired social justice outcomes by drowning out the voices of the other side.
Since the Islamic State attacks in France last week, fear of terrorism intensified as Westerners identified massacres as something that could happen to people in the First World. In Australia, we have long been divided on the issue of accepting refugees and processing asylum seekers, and many Australians think of Islam as synonymous with Islamic State and terrorism. The increase in public fear provides a convenient excuse for the Government to be especially proud of its strict border protection policies and unyielding preference for mandatory detention of asylum seekers who have arrived in ways that are deemed to be unconventional.
During a time where the most important thing for us to do is unite in the spirit of common humanity, the last thing we should be doing is creating further division between the “for” and “against” sides by waging counter protests to deliberately antagonise. The dilemma is that it’s equally unpalatable to stand aside and legitimise racist and bigoted opinions as valid through passive tolerance.
However, there are better ways to tease out these issues, and they are borne from a compassionate place.
Instead of holding a reactionary counter-protest, surely it would be wise to ensure that our social action is underpinned with Martin Luther King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence:
#1 Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
#2 Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
#3 Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
#4 Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
#5 Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
#6 Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
For if we choose to respond to violence with violence, aren’t we just turning the blade of intolerance onto ourselves?