There’s been rather a lot of media attention paid to the events in Coburg on Saturday. Below are a few scattered thoughts and links to some reportage. I may add some more in the next few days …
• Most of the reportage has been poor, and frequently incorrect. Thus, in terms of chronology, several months ago Moreland City councillor Sue Bolton (Socialist Alliance) organised a rally for May 28 titled ‘Moreland says NO to Racism’. It was to take place outside Coburg Library and then to march to Bridges Reserve for a picnic. Weeks later, members of the Melton and Bendigo-based ‘True Blue Crew’ (TBC) decided to organise a counter-rally at Bridges Reserve: the endpoint of the proposed march. They were soon joined by their comrades in the neo-Nazi grouplet ‘United Patriots Front’ (UPF).
• Bolton’s event proposed to gather support to ‘Stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities – Treaty now’, to ‘Let the refugees in – Close Manus and Nauru’ and to say ‘No to Islamophobia’. The TBC (and UPF & Co.) intended to ‘Stop the Far Left!’, to ‘Support the Australian Government[‘]s Use of the Offshore Detention Centers That Protect Our Nation’ and to stop the Islamisation of Coburg (and presumably, by extension, Melbourne and Bendigo).
• The organisation by neo-Nazis, fascists and racists (ie, ‘ordinary mums and dads’) of a rally in a suburb like Coburg — one which also intended to shutdown a ‘left’ event — naturally drew the attention of local anti-fascists.
• On the day, the police strategy was to facilitate both rallies and to keep participants from clashing. In practice, this meant attempting to confine ‘anti-racists’ to the Coburg Mall and ‘patriots’ inside Bridges Reserve. Media report that something like 500 police were mobilised/available for the occasion.
• The ‘Moreland says NO to Racism’ rally proceeded but organisers did not join with others who marched from the Library up Sydney Road to Bell Street. On Bell Street, outside the Reserve, the ‘patriots’ assembled on the road but were prevented from marching up it, and then down Sydney Road, by two lines of police and a crowd of anti-fascists.
• Something in the order of 50-100 people rallied with the TBC and the UPF. A large number of these rally-goers were from Bendigo and Melton and travelled from Bendigo on a bus specially hired for the occasion.
• The last time the UPF organised a rally in Melbourne was about six months ago, in late November. See : #UnitedPatriotsFront fails to rise in #Melbourne. Again., November 28, 2015. Around 40 or so attended. This suggests that there’s been little if any growth in the UPF’s ability to attract a crowd, at least in Melbourne. The UPF has, however, established a small base in Bendigo and a smaller one in Perth. NB. As elsewhere in the country, the UPF has attracted the support of neo-Nazis in Perth. Several of them, belonging to neo-Nazi grouplet ‘Aryan Nations’, were recently arrested and charged with murder; the Aryans in Perth played host to the UPF when they travelled to that city to attend the Reclaim Australia rally last year. See : Murder shines spotlight on Australia’s white supremacist subculture, news.com.au, May 23, 2016.
• The UPF’s first rally in Richmond was rather similar to this, their latest public outing. Like the May 28, 2016 rally, the May 31, 2015 rally was directed at a socialist councillor (Stephen Jolly). See : #UnitedPatriotsFront sent packing in Richmond, May 31, 2015. It failed to unseat him, triggered a bizarre UPF letter-writing campaign to the Governor-General — His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) — demanding that he remove Jolly from office, and witnessed clashes as the UPF (with police assistance) tried and failed to occupy the Town Hall steps.
• A small number of neo-Nazis known to have attended previous ‘patriotic’ rallies were out and about on Saturday. These apparently (according to ex-UPF member Neil Erikson) included Mark Hootsen (Nationalist Alternative), Joey Edwards and Dan Newman (Combat 18). Toby Cook (Party for Freedom, Sydney) waved a silly sign and wore Golden Dawn merch, while former UPF lackey Linden Watson also made an appearance. Oddly, UPF supporter Warren Broadhead waved an Israeli flag, while a neo-Nazi (name unknown), who’s previously served as a minder to young bonehead James Lawrence, was also present. Visible neo-Nazi markings were relatively rare, though three or four men sported Nazi Werwolf insignia.
• Speaking of flags, the UPF left a number of theirs behind.
• Despite some media reportage to the contrary, the anti-fascist action on Saturday witnessed the participation of a relatively high proportion of locals.
• Melbourne Antifascist Info provides the following account of events:
The United Patriots Front (stealing the thunder of the True Blue Crew, who were happy to ride their big brothers’ coat tails) assembled a fascist gathering of about 150 in Bridges Reserve Coburg around 10am (some in Nazi regalia), making to march down and disrupt Moreland Says No to Racism. A small contingent of antifascists comprising a large nunber of locals managed to head them off on Bell Street and disrupt their progress. In the ensuing mayhem, notorious methgoblin Zane Chapman and True Blue Crew leader Kane Miller were arrested and OC sprayed respectively. Both ended the day in tears (see photos).
Police officers on the scene found the love in the air too much to handle, and had a bit of a weep themselves. Officers deployed OC foam repeatedly against antifascists and fascists, and many unlucky Nazis went home with untreated chemical burns. At least four non-hostile photojournalists were directly capsicum sprayed by officers, one in the lens of his camera.
For the next couple hours, the UPF and TBC failed spectacularly to mobilise on multiple occasions, and were moved in a kettle back and forth until they unceremoniously gave up. Their every move, and indeed their tail-between-the-legs extraction, was carefully facilitated and managed by hundreds of police, without whose indulgence they wouldn’t have been able to leave the carpark, but even with whose concerted support they were still unable to march. Meanwhile, Moreland Says No to Racism’s rally proceeded unopposed and was a roaring success, moving freely through the streets and celebrating Coburg’s unity and diversity in the face of racist fearmongering. The TBC’s stated aim, of making the No to Racism rally unviable, was not only not achieved, it didn’t even barely get off the ground. Fascist symbols were seized, chucked in the bin and used as doormats by enthusiastic Coburgers.
On a sadder note, the Melbourne Street Medics Collective was left to fend for themselves as Nazis charged their triage area, beat up casualties and Medics and unbelievably attacked the ambulance and paramedics attempting to evacuate a severely injured protestor. As comrades, we are sorry that the Medics were not better protected and we implore all activists to place these invaluable people highest on their list of solidarity priorities.
Mad props to all involved, you’ll always lose in Coburg.
In which context: both fascists and police have targeted MSMC previously, most notoriously at the joint Reclaim Australia/UPF rally in Melbourne on July 18. Future events will obviously require a more concerted effort on the part of anti-fascists to protect the MSMC from attack. By the same token, legal monitoring and support for the arrested as well as the injured will likely be a priority.
• In general, given the circumstances, the day went about as well as could be expected. Importantly, and despite fascist, police and media agitation in favour of its cancellation, the ‘Moreland Says NO to Racism’ rally was neither stopped nor attacked. Further, the TBC, UPF & Co were prevented from marching through Coburg. This was only as the result of the determined action of the hundreds who gathered on Bell Street to stop it.
• Media report that 7 (seven) people were arrested on the day: ‘Police said two people were arrested for riotous behaviour, one for assaulting police and one for hindering police. Another was arrested for robbery. Two people were arrested before the rally for weapons offences.’ It seems likely that these will not be the only people to be arrested and charged in connection to Saturday’s events.
• Capsicum foam has again been confirmed as a now-routine part of policing ‘public order’ situations.
• Predictably, media and police have seized on the fact that some people wore masks to the protests. Apart from anything else, there are actually laws on the books which police can utilise if they feel the need. As lawyer Rob Stary has pointed out, s49c of the Summary Offences Act makes ‘Being disguised with unlawful intent’ a crime. Otherwise, see : Masks up (Andy Fleming, Overland, December 15, 2015); Why Masks? (Melbourne Antifascists, September 8, 2015); Why Wear Masks? (Nerve Magazine, May 10, 2016).
• Socialist media coverage: Moreland says NO to Racism rally succeeds in peaceful rally against racism, Green Left Weekly (Socialist Alliance), May 28, 2016; Fascists driven out of Coburg, Corey Oakley, Red Flag (Socialist Alternative), May 28, 2016.
• Other media: Anti-Islam protests descend into violence in Melbourne, Krystal Johnson and AAP, Yahoo7 and Agencies, May 28, 2016 | Police launch task force to investigate violent anti-racism and anti-Islam rally in Melbourne, 9NEWS, May 29, 2016 | Coburg rallies: Seven arrested as police separate anti-racism, anti-immigration protesters, ABC, May 28, 2016 | Australia immigration: Rival Melbourne rallies spark clashes, BBC, May 28, 2016 | Violence erupts at Australia immigration rallies, Deutsche Welle, May 28, 2016 | Coburg rally: Police out in force as anti-Islam, anti-racist groups face off, Wes Hosking, James Dowling, Herald Sun, May 28, 2016 | Cowards blamed for violent Melbourne rally, SBS (AAP), May 28, 2016 | The anti-racism rally that brought Nazis to the streets of Coburg, Bianca Hall, The Age, May 29, 2016 | Melbourne protests: seven arrested as clashes erupt between opposing rallies, Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian, May 28, 2016.
See also : Outlawing anti-fascism, Corey Oakley, Red Flag, May 31, 2016 | Fascism, Anti-fascism, and a coffee shop full of white liberals, George K, Secretagoo, June 2, 2016.
MSMC STATEMENT #Coburg, May 28 – “Solidarity is not just a word”
Many of our comrades have provided thorough and well-articulated accounts of what transpired and how events unfolded in Coburg on Saturday, when due to being left without the support of the bulk of people who were initially on Bell Street, our medics and the casualties they were attending ended up behind police lines, open to not one but two attacks by the racists and fascists. For those wanting a detailed chronology and report, we would direct you to Slackbastard’s rundown as well as this timeline outlined by Melbourne Antifascist Info.
As many of our supporters will be aware, there has been much coverage and debate already about the unfortunate situation that the Melbourne Street Medic Collective (MSMC) found itself in, when our triage space on Bell Street was left inadequately protected and was subsequently charged and attacked by members of the far-right. It is true that both casualties and those of us who support the injured were attacked. To this we would like to point out the nauseating cowardice of those members of the True Blue Crew, United Patriots Front and the affiliated crew of motley thugs and neo-Nazis who seized the ‘opportunity’ to attack those most vulnerable on Saturday and ask all readers to consider this as part of a mounting case of evidence that the far right were doing anything but merely defending the supposed instigation of violence from antifa, despite their bleating insistence to that effect.
At the heart of Street Medicine is an appreciation of the systems of domination & oppression that make us and our communities sick. Capitalism and its symptoms are indeed destroying our communities and laying waste to the health of generations. This could not have been clearer on Saturday and provided a timely reminder for us all to reject the scapegoats thrust forward by politicians and abetted by the mainstream media – refugees, queers, feminists and Muslims are truly distractions put forward to divert us from the true oppression of capitalism and its ability to isolate, disenfranchise and divide us.
So while we see the need to oppose fascist bullying and intimidation – especially in thriving multicultural centres like Coburg – the need to dismantle a system that turns disenfranchised working-class people against one another must be replaced.
Further, MSMC would like to take a moment to reflect on suggestions made that the matters of hate-speech and fascism are best handled by the influence of police. On Saturday Victoria Police, while exercising extreme force with an apparent lack of discrimination or mercy, showed no consideration to the injured and hurt. To this we call shame on Victoria Police and assert that we unequivocally cannot surrender responsibility for the defence and protection of our communities to their authority.
In contrast MSMC stands in solidarity with the brave paramedics who attended and were besieged and intimidated in their ambulance by aforementioned fascists, neo-Nazis and thugs. These individuals acted courageously in the face of utterly unreasonable circumstances.
Specifically, there are a number of things that we strongly encourage. We would encourage a respectful and open dialogue prior to actions. We acknowledge the differences in many groups’ political analysis and tactics, and on this basis we encourage more thorough, widespread and representative communication-sharing between groups and individuals during the course of rallies, in the spirit of comradely collaboration and to enable individuals and groups to make informed decisions about their actions and movements. We would encourage a respect for some baseline levels of safety, such as the needs of the Street Medics not being dismissed when we communicate these at actions – requesting extra people to provide support, or safety in numbers, and things as simple as helping to form privacy circles. We encourage people to buddy up, and not leave their friends and individual members of their groups and organisations behind if they require assistance with getting home due to OC spray exposure – particularly with roaming groups of racists and fascists around. We also encourage people at actions to be aware of those around them, and that for example things such as OC spray are imprecise weapons that are designed to spread to a radius of people. We have absolutely no desire to police people’s behaviour, but rather to provide support for our communities and to promote sustainable activism that works against burnout and trauma from police violence.
Finally, whilst we are still gathering our thoughts on all that transpired, we do look forward to the opportunity to engage in a continuing dialogue with various organisers and groups around solidarity and adequate support of all factions at future demonstrations. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better and we’re keen to now look towards an immediate future where mutual aid, care and respect get rapidly much better. Solidarity is action, not just a word.