- “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!” ~ Martin Luther (1483-1546)
On Saturday June 20, on the eve of the second anniversary of the Federal Government’s implementation of its ‘Northern Territory National Emergency Response’ — aka ‘The Intervention’ — there were protests in a number of urban centres, including Melbourne (also Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth and Sydney). Pics of the rally are available courtesy of (the irrepressible) Sina.
Following the protest, there was a public meeting @ Trades Hall, with a panel presentation featuring Adam Bandt, Valerie Napaljarri Martin, Aletha Penrith and Robbie Thorpe.
I didn’t take notes, but here, for what it’s worth, are my recollections. (These are not intended to be exhaustive.)
The third and fourth speakers on the panel on June 20 @ Trades Hall were Robbie Thorpe and Aletha Penrith.
Robbie Thorpe provided some of the historical context for The Intervention, the latest in a series of incursions upon indigneous peoples’ lands, rights, and cultures. In this context, Robbie drew attention to (that ass called) the law, both international and British. Robbie made particular note of the fact that the ideological foundation of the British penal colony later called ‘Australia’ was the doctrine of terra nullius; that this legal fiction was only overturned in 1992 after a long legal battle (the Mabo case); and that the legal status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australian citizens (a form of political recognition which Robbie rejects) was only secured in 1967, following a successful national referendum and the re-categorisation of indigenous peoples as human (as opposed to, say, fauna).
Beyond this, Robbie also drew attention to Australia’s status as an international pariah, which has yet to ratify — by way of introducing into Australian law — the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). Robbie listed the various criteria by which the crime of genocide is defined in the Convention, all of which apply to Australian Settlement.
In concluding, Robbie remarked that justice might be obtained by way of recognising these facts; of acknowledging genocide (an ongoing process, not an historical event which took place at some point in the distant past) and Aboriginal sovereignty, and the negotiation of an end to the war on the indigenous peoples of Australia by way of a treaty (or treaties). These three proposals form the basis of The Black GST (see : The Black GST, a short doco produced by Undergrowth and directed by Tim Parish & Krusty; Melbourne 2006 Stolenwealth Games Corporation; camp sovereignty blog. www.blackgst.com is now defunct.)
- Note that Robbie Thorpe has been the subject of a slanderous campaign by the neo-conservative hack Andrew Bolt (the Herald Sun‘s resident vaudeville performer), in a manner not dissimilar to that launched upon US academic Ward Churchill by Bolt’s North American equivalents. Both men have been prominent critics of exterminationist and assimilationist state policies — their success predictably generating racist responses (which, as a general rule, it does in the case of all other such figures). See : Ferals run amok, April 12, 2006; Smoke and mirrors, April 19, 2006; TRACEEEE SMOKED, Timmeh! Blair, April 16, 2006; Flame still burns despite blue from the Bolt, Graham Ring, National Indigenous Times, April 20, 2006. The racist bottom-feeders at white supremacist websites like Stormfront — including one Darrin Hodges — naturally responded with glee to Andrew’s half-baked notions.
The fourth and final panel speaker to address the meeting was Aletha Penrith. Aletha expressed her opposition to The Intervention, her support for those resisting its imposition, but primarily addressed the situation of contemporary young black radicals (or rather, this portion of her presentation is the one what left the strongest impression on me at any rate). Thus, while acknowledging the efforts of The Greens (and other non-indigenous institutions) to address The Intervention and related matters, Aletha’s principal concern was the manner in which indigenous peoples, especially young indigenous peoples, might organise, both now and in the future, to secure ‘self-determination’ and its embodiment in a variety of political projects. To this end, Aletha voiced support for a renewed effort on the part of young black radicals to gather and to determine their own political agenda into the future — if possible, with the financial support of sympathetic non-indigenous groups and individuals. (One individual — and I don’t remember who — directly asked Adam Bandt if the Greens would be amenable to some such proposition.)
One final, impromptu speaker to address the meeting was Gary Foley, who temporarily joined the panel (and partly in response to Aletha’s presentation) to address the question of ‘self-determination’ for indigenous peoples, especially in the context of White Australia’s resistance to such a project, and in light of both more recent and historical debates within the contemporary Aboriginal movement. Some of his remarks echoed those he voiced at an earlier rally (see : Gary Foley @ Melbourne anti-intervention rally, June 20, 2009, June 21, 2009); in both cases, I think, Gary was at pains to emphasise the importance of arriving at a) a critical analysis of political developments within the Australian body politic vis-a-vis indigenous ‘issues’ and b) within this context, a greater knowledge base from which to produce such a critique. Gary also expressed the importance of non-indigenous Australians seeking both to educate themselves about such matters but also taking whatever opportunities present themselves to educate others — family, friends, work colleagues and the general public — regarding the practice of race and racism within contemporary Australian society.
By way of (temporary?) conclusion, as noted, these are merely my own recollections of the meeting, I did not take notes, and I’m unaware of any other accounts — although I understand that the panel presentations were recorded for possible later broadcast on 3CR(?). Secondly, the only response that I’m aware of to my previous post is by way of the Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (Australia) — which, as it happens, is an excellent resource. Finally, please to remember that, as Jock The Interpretative Dancer once reminded me during a fit of pique: Nobody Likes a Thinker.
This work deals with the highly topical issue of multiculturalism and, as such, a warning is necessary. It is written for those who are, or aspire to be, members of the intellectual elite. These are the people who believe that knowledge is the product of hard labour; the people who believe that you need to do a great deal of time-consuming research, read a lot of books and reflect on many difficult philosophical, empirical and theoretical issues to produce intelligent knowledge.
In John HoWARd’s Australia, there seem to be many individuals who feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’ in talking about issues about which they haven’t bothered to read a single researched article, let alone a book. Apparently, ‘life taught them’. In fact, such people are so ‘relaxed and comfortable’ that they believe that the more someone works at trying to learn about an issue, the more they become part of an ignorant and arrogant lot: the intellectual elite. The role of this elite is apparently simply to put down naturally intelligent people and find ways to stop them from expressing the truth they capture so effortlessly by merely living.
When I used to visit my grandmother in Bathurst in the late 1970s, she would often make comments such as ‘You’ve been reading too much’ or, even more explicitly, ‘People who go to university become mad.’ Although such comments helped me reflect on how and why university knowledge clashed with everyday knowledge, I resented pronouncements such as ‘You have read books, but life has taught me.’ I used to say, ‘But Granny, I have a life as well you know, and it teaches me too. Can’t you see that books and research provide me with extra knowledge.’ I was naive even to try.
- The so-called ‘intelligentsia’ always looks down with a really limitless condescension on anyone who has not been dragged through the obligatory schools and had the necessary knowledge pumped into him. The question has never been: ‘What are the man’s abilities?’ but ‘what has he learned?’ To these ‘educated’ people the biggest empty-head, if he is wrapped in enough diplomas, is worth more than the brightest boy who happens to lack these costly envelopes.
This is neither my granny, nor any of Australia’s anti-intellectual populists speaking, but Adolf Hitler. And I cannot help thinking of him when people start abusing intellectuals. Hitler was the classic anti-intellectual: a man who had enough intellect to be a mediocre intellectual and enough also to realise that he wasn’t a member of the intellectual elite. Like many mediocre intellectuals, he thought he had a natural talent for knowledge, rather than realising how much hard work is put into whatever knowledge people end up gathering.
Hitler was not, however, the sort of person who would just sit there and take it. He was too motivated by dreams of social, political and intellectual mobility to allow himself to just sulk and do nothing. So, he found the time-honoured way to ‘beat’ the intellectual elite. This is the road often chosen by people who want to be recognised as intellectuals, but who are either not socially equipped to be so or feel they have better things to do than putting in the hard labour necessary to achieve such a status. These people compensate for their lack of knowledge by speaking in the name of ‘the people’. ‘The people’ becomes such a formula of success for mediocre intellectuals that they make themselves — and some others, too — believe that they actually are ‘the people’.
The mechanism is very simple: 1) ‘The people’ already know everything there is to know: ‘life taught them’. 2) Consequently, anything that the ‘intellectual elite’ says which is not known by the people is superfluous knowledge, if not actively against the people. 3) Therefore, any attack on the knowledge of the intellectual elite is a defence of the knowledge of the people. And who else is better at defending the instinctive knowledge of the people if not the instinctively intelligent, mediocre intellectual? In reality, ‘the people’ are too busy living. In addition, one can be certain that anyone who uses the concept of ‘the people’ is already someone who distinguishes himself or herself from them…
~ Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White supremacy in a multicultural society, Pluto Press, 1998, Preface, pp.7–9.
Some of our ideas about who we are as a people hamper our struggles. For example, the Black community is often considered a monolithic group, but it is actually a community of communities with many different interests. I think of being Black not so much as an ethnic category but as an oppositional force or touchstone for looking at situations differently. Black culture has always been oppositional and is all about finding ways to creatively resist oppression here, in the most racist country in the world. So, when I speak of a Black anarchism, it is not so tied to the color of my skin but who I am as a person, as someone who can resist, who can see differently when I am stuck, and thus live differently…
As a Panther, and as someone who went underground as an urban guerrilla, I have put my life on the line. I have watched my comrades die and spent most of my adult life in prison. But I still believe that we can win. Struggle is very tough and when you cross that line, you risk going to jail, getting seriously hurt, killed, and watching your comrades getting seriously hurt and killed. That is not a pretty picture, but that is what happens when you fight an entrenched oppressor. We are struggling and will make it rough for them, but struggle is also going to be rough for us too.
This is why we have to find ways to love and support each other through tough times. It is more than just believing that we can win: we need to have structures in place that can carry us through when we feel like we cannot go another step. I think we can move again if we can figure out some of those things. This system has got to come down. It hurts us every day and we can’t give up. We have to get there. We have to find new ways.
Anarchism, if it means anything, means being open to whatever it takes in thinking, living, and in our relationships—to live fully and win. In some ways, I think they are both the same: living to the fullest is to win. Of course we will and must clash with our oppressors and we need to find good ways of doing it. Remember those on the bottom who are most impacted by this. They might have different perspectives on how this fight is supposed to go. If we can’t find ways for meeting face-to-face to work that stuff out, old ghosts will re-appear and we will be back in the same old situation that we have been in before.
You all can do this. You have the vision. You have the creativity. Do not allow anyone to lock that down.
See also : Our Generation film project | STICS (Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney) | Alice Springs [Northern Territory] Intervention Rollback Action Group. The Melbourne rally and meeting was organised by the ‘Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective’, which will presumably have an online presence at some point.