@ageorge @ManicMax @JaneM Hi all – I have not been involved in these discussions but reading the posts above prompted some thinking. I have written out – in a pretty lengthy post – my thoughts on issues such as alliances with other groups. I am sure some of the issues I outline have been considered and thought through – so I offer these perspectives for further reflection. If there seems to be any worth in what I have said I would be interested to hear what others think.
I will address two issues. These both concern XR’s explicit approach of being apolitical and beyond politics and of being agnostic when it comes to specific policy prescriptions or ideological positions. That is policy responses are to be decided in Citizen’s Assemblies which are designed to increase the democratic legitimacy of those responses. In this sense XR does not advocate for any specific policy but seeks to create Citizen’s Assemblies to address demands 1 and 2. This is the genius and strength of XR. Do others think that forming alliances with other activist groups may compromise this approach – and also create confusion in the general public as to what XR is actually advocating for?
In my experience some segments of the activist community have very specific ideas about contemporary society and the way in which they view Australian culture and history. There are deeper philosophical issues here that can be traced back to debates in postmodern and postcolonial theory and the legitimacy - or lack thereof - of certain monolithic conceptions of the Australian population as seen through the lens of the colonised/coloniser binary - and also how the process of colonization is to be valued. These theories have now moved from the academe to the activist community and the general population.
Some strands in this school of thought argue that Australia is the expression of a hegemonic Western, patriarchal and racist ideology with very little in terms of redeeming features – and it sees colonised populations as existing in a power struggle with the racist settler population and its institutions. In this sense it operates on the basis of a coloniser/colonised binary. This critique informs many contemporary activist groups where it is assumed to be axiomatic. While this view is legitimate to a degree it has been contested on many fronts in the postcolonial scholarly literature – for example in work on cultural hybridity and “race”.
I will not go into that literature here but merely look at how the views held by some in the activist community are open to contestation – and which in some cases are in fact contradicted by empirically based scholarship. My purpose is not to argue which view is true or false – but merely to highlight this is contested intellectual terrain. XR seeks to ground its activism in empirically based peer reviewed science. However, some of the views in the activist community are not so robustly grounded and are more in the realm of values and beliefs – some of which I will suggest are without empirical support.
I will start with the most sensitive and controversial. I have had many conversations with activists who claim Australia is an oppressive and racist colonial state – and that the police enforce that oppression. Some of the evidence that this is the case is derived from differential outcomes between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the population. For example, high incarceration rates and high rates of death in custody are presumed to be caused by racism – whether on the part of the police and judicial system or merely the ambient racism in society. While I am not denying racism exists and that police often ‘protect their own’ when they assault and mistreat people, thereby denying justice to Aboriginal people, these factors do not explain the overall trends in the data. In other words it is actually unclear from the data that racism is the cause here - as many in the activist community (I would argue mistakenly) assert.
In fact The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody actually stated Indigenous and non-Indigenous inmates died in custody at about the same rate – which can be found here: NATIONAL REPORT VOLUME 1 - 1.3 THE DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBERS OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE IN CUSTODY. This means that racism is not the cause. In other words bad treatment of inmates and dereliction of duty of care impacts both Indigenous and non-Ingenious inmates equally. What the report actually found was an overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison which is related to higher crime and incarcerations rates - which are themselves related to issues such as disadvantage, poverty and the lingering impacts of colonization. Further, it was also found that foul play on the part of the police was not evident – which is outlined here: NATIONAL REPORT VOLUME 1 - CHAPTER 3 THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSIONERS AS TO THE DEATHS.
While the imprisonment of people for not paying fines is a practice that should be discontinued and there is definite dereliction of duty of care - racism does not seem to be the cause of the overrepresentation noted in the report. What explains the high representation is actual high incarceration rates – which are a result of high rates of offending. For example as Indigenous academic and activist, Professor Marcia Langton, highlights in this lecture, over 60% of Aboriginal men in jail are there for domestic violence and homicide: Indigenous Violence & Incarceration - Prof. Marcia Langton and Josephine Cashman. It should be noted the imprisonment of these men is providing justice for Aboriginal women who are the victims of these crimes.
The causes here are multifactorial – and racism on the part of the police and judicial system seems to not be one of them. There are broader issues such as poverty, low educational outcomes and lack of employment opportunities that seem to be at play here. Addressing these issues are complex and it will take many years to do so. This is why Indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson focus on education and employment in the hope that this will empower his people and consequently reduce rates of social dysfunction and interpersonal violence.
One of the concerns I have is the belief among many in the activist community that the issues I have discussed above are evidence of the racism and violence of the police state. So my question would be: if XR forms alliances with other activist groups will those groups be promoting the ideas I have outlined above – ideas I do not believe are based on empirical evidence but are more the expression of a broader ideological outlook?
One other issue worth considering is problems in Indigenous communities have gotten worse since the 1980s. There is a paradox here: since the 1980s and into the present Australia – both legislatively and culturally – has become dramatically less racist. Yet during this period problems in Aboriginal communities have gotten dramatically worse. So while the narrative that Aboriginal people’s problems are caused by systemic racism and racism in the police and judicial system is ideologically appealing, it is one not supported by the data. Consequently, there are other factors involved – and to genuinely help Aboriginal people these factors need to be addressed. This paradox, and potential solutions, have been dealt with by Peter Sutton, Rosemary Neil, Noel Pearson and others. Note that all of these researchers are critical of systemic racism as the main cause here and look to other factors such as poverty, low educational outcomes and intergenerational welfare dependency. Link to these resources here - I have also added a video of a lecture given at UNSW by Indigenous academic Professor Marcia Langton on factors contributing to high incarceration rates and the need to provided better protection and support services to Indigenous women who are victims of violent assault and homicide:
The Politics Of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and The End of the Liberal Consensus
White Out: How politics is killing black Australia
Is welfare dependency ‘welfare poison’? An assessment of Noel Pearson’s proposals for Aboriginal welfare reform
Our right to take responsibility
Indigenous Violence & Incarceration - Prof. Marcia Langton and Josephine Cashman
Where I feel we are on safer ground is alliances with activist groups seeking to protect Indigenous land and natural heritage sites – for example opposition to neo-colonial lands grabs such as the Adani mine, opposition to Fracking in the NT and rewilding of Ingenious lands. I envisage a strong Indigenous voice in a Citizen’s Assemblies - and I would like to see massive investment in land management, rewilding and eco-tourism programs for Indigenous youth - particularly in remote areas where there are a distinct lack of employment opportunities. This seems to me to be an important way to link ecological and social justice.
The issue of XR forming an alliance with activists advocating for refugees presents similar problems. In my experience such activists also see Australia as the expression of a hegemonic Western patriarchal and racist ideology with very little in terms of redeeming features – and consequently they feel the broader concept of the nation state has no legitimacy. The obverse of this view is we should have an Open Borders policy as the desire to secure borders is inherently exclusionary – and by that measure racist if not fascist.
While this view may be popular among the activist community – it is not popular among the general public who tend to favour securing borders to varying degrees (I should point out there is a distinction between opposing the inhumane and atrocious treatment of refugees in offshore detention by the current government and advocating Open Borders and abolishing the nation state). While we are predicted to face an ecological and climate induced humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in the coming years, it is not clear that Open Borders is the only – or preferred - solution. For example, a Global Green New Deal may be a means of helping people for example in Bangladesh and other climate impact prone regions adapt to changing conditions in their own region. But this is not something we can petition our government for in March and October – this would require massive international effort. I envision a Global Citizen’s Assembly formulating policies to deal with these issues in the coming years. And this is something XR could advocate for on a global scale as the movement grows.
Probably the most prominent critique of Open Borders policies is to be found in the work of the Hegelian-Marxist philosopher Slavoy Zizek. Zizek argues we need to attend to the conditions in the country of origin - which are often exacerbated by Western Imperial incursions - that lead to refugee crises. By merely opening borders we are treating the symptoms and not the cause. A Global Green New Deal would be a way of dealing with the issue at its point of origin. Interestingly, Zizek argues that some kind of global socialism or economic support for countries facing ecological breakdown within their own countries could have bipartisan support - not only is it humanitarian in orientation but it addresses concerns among the general public of millions of refugees arriving at their borders.
Of course I am not necessarily advocating one of these positions over another - for example the Global North may need to both increase humanitarian intake and enact a Global Green Deal. My point is the Open Borders platform of the left is one that is open to contestation - and there seems to be no objective moral imperative to prefer Open Borders over assistance in country of origin.
Here is some material on and by Zizek:
The basic dynamic here is that ostensibly left-wing parties have put the right wing in the driver’s seat and have no strategy other than to denounce the very right-wing racism that their preferred policies actually stoke. The refugee article [by Zizek] aims to unmask a similar dynamic in more radical leftist circles. Among leftist commentators, academics, and online activists as well, there is an abdication of any responsible policy-making that takes actual-existing reality into account. In its place, we find only empty rhetoric aimed at guaranteeing the speaker’s ideological purity.
From: (How to Read Žižek on the Refugee Crisis)
Other works on the same topic by Zizek:
Against The Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours
Slavoj Zizek: In the Wake of Paris Attacks the Left Must Embrace Its Radical Western Roots
I think my overarching concern is if we say we are having marches in alliance with other groups how do we prevent people from having signs and advocating positions as part of XR – positions of the kind I have outlined above? It is not our job to advocate specific policy prescriptions – and having such alliances may confuse the public. It may result in lack of clarity in both our messaging and media coverage. This is why I feel it important to stick to our 3 demands – and that a Citizen’s Assembly for all Australians is how we form policy responses.
So in conclusion if XR did form alliances with activists groups, and that if as a consequence the movement became a lobbying platform for any of the above ideologies, I would no longer be a supporter. Also I would not attend the actions in March and October. And I know there are many well informed Australians, who would otherwise support XR, who would feel the same way as I do. Part of the reason is I do not share the conception of Australia that many hold in the activist community - and I would hope there is room for those of us with different views under the broad tent of XR. What is brilliant about XR is its apolitical orientation and advocacy for a Citizen’s Assembly. If it became a platform for advocating for the above ideologies I think that would deprive XR of what is best and unique about the movement.
And a final word on marches - this may not be a problem but I thought I would mention it. I thought that Mass Mobilisation was about sustained blockades in order to bring the government to the negotiating table – or to force their hand to react in a draconian manner and hence produce a backlash effect? It is not clear to me how having numerous marches in different places and at different times focusses our resources (in fact I thought the premise of XR was marches from A to B have proved ineffectual and what is required is sustained blockades, civil disobedience and mass arrest). The UK Rebellion in April 2019 had this focused approach with specific blockades where people congregate and sing, read poetry and where a hundred or so people sit on the ground holding the space while the police arrest them. And this is what caused maximum impact and launched XR globally. The second rebellion in the UK in October 2019 did not adopt this approach but had many actions dispersed around London – which is one of the reasons it was considered less successful than April 2019. People and resources were dispersed around the city as opposed to focused in a few key specific locations.
I attended the Spring Rebellion in Vic in 2019. While it was great it lacked the focused blockades that occurred during the April UK 2019 action. There was not a specific date and place where a blockade would begin – instead different groups organized their own actions at different times and in different places. This resulted in dispersed (and hence reduced) impact around the city. While these actions were excellent in order to raise the profile of XR – it was an awesome place to begin from - they fell short of the sustained blockades we saw in the initial UK Rebellion. If all of those groups in Vic had occupied one or two major intersections on the same day they may have had greater impact. Is the thinking that the March actions, with marches being organised in order to build up to bigger blockades in October where a week long blockade will occur? If so I see the rationale.
My concern is if we advertise numerous events people will pick and choose which they want to attend – which will disperse our resources as opposed to focus them. Would we not be better off saying everyone prepare to occupy the city (exact locations to be announced) on the 22nd? Then once we have occupied spaces, we can organise marches from their – if they are at all needed. However, if we have occupied the CBD and cause maximum economic disruption why do you even need a march? Once they had occupied the major intersection in London that became a magnet for people to come into the city – and party - with a DJ on the pink boat in Oxford Circus. Having marches may prevent this from happening. Anyway that was a longwinded post – but hopefully it provides stuff to think about and discuss.