Yesterday afternoon we went to our first demo responding to Kevin Rudd’s PNG solution to the asylum seeker problem. It was the third such demo organised by Sydney’s Refugee Action Coalition, and the plan evidently is to keep them up on a weekly basis until the policy is dead.
It was a smallish demo, but spirits were high, and speakers assured us that there were millions of people all over the country who shared our opposition to the policy. A young Hazara woman stood out, reading an eloquent account of the sufferings of her people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and, heartbreakingly, Australia; with a postscript on the contribution her refugee family is making to Australian society.
We marched around the block, carrying placards and chanting. The Socialist Alliance and Greens were strongly represented in the placards, but there were also Labor for Asylum Seekers and iamaboatperson.com, and a beautiful patchwork banner for a student women’s collective, as well as any number of individually crafted signs. Some art students handed out crayon and people were chalking slogans on the street and footpath (‘Refugees are welcome’, ‘It’s not illegal to seek asylum’ ‘We’ve boundless plains to share’ etc). The main chant was
Say it loud! Say it clear!
Refugees are welcome here!
Although I think it’s generally a mistake to personalise these things, I liked:
Kevin Rudd’s a racist coward!
We don’t need another Howard!
and propose a variant:
Kevin Rudd’s a racist rabbit!
We don’t need another Abbott!
Given that both major parties are looking for quick political fixes rather than a solution to the problem of desperate people risking their lives in unsafe boats to seek asylum here, and given that both major parties seem to think it’s political suicide to have anything remotely like Australia’s response to the ‘boat people’ who came here from Vietnam in the 1970s, I was thinking it was probably futile to take to the streets about this policy. But something happened to make me think that it may actually be important.
About three quarters of the way around the block, we noticed a deeply unhappy looking man in a grey suit filming the march. As we were about to turn back into George Street, I saw him stop behind a traffic control box and put on an identifying badge. He was fairly obviously a policeman of some sort. A little later I saw him talking in a threatening manner to two young women with chalk in their hands, then approaching another young woman who was writing on the road. He took this young woman aside and was asking her questions, close to a uniformed policeman, filing her answers and filming the ID he evidently asked to see. I approached and asked what was going on. He siad it was a private conversation. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask him why he was filming a private conversation and if he had the young woman’s permission to do that. She told me later that he had said writing on the road constituted malicious damage to public property and that she would be hearing from the police department within three or four days.
From this I deduce that the NSW Police consider these demonstrations to be potentially a serious problem.
I do wonder if a policeman asking someone for their ID while filming them and threatening them with legal action in the middle of a street can by any stretch be called a private conversation. I also wonder if writing on asphalt with crayon can by any stretch be called malicious damage. I have photos of this unpleasant, deeply unhappy looking individual if anyone is reading this and needs a record of his behaviour.
And meanwhile, the protests will continue, every weekend at Sydney Town Hall and I expect all over the country. The Refugee Action Coalition have an excellent web page.