Today at 1pm, more than 100 people gathered at the Hub in Newtown to protest against racism in the area.
Following several community demonstrations against a mural that says, “say no to burqas” at nearby Station Street, the group decided to go to the mural in opposition to this racist statement. Together residents threw paint and pasted anti-racism posters over the mural, made noise and held banners with the statements, “fascists off our streets” and “racists out of Newtown”.
Police acted to protect the mural. As people attempted to leave the area together significant numbers of Police continued arriving to the scene. Heavy-handed tactics were used to violently arrest 8 people, and to intimidate and harass everyone present. Police officers were not wearing identification. Witness reports attest to a high level of police aggression, with punches, grabbing people by the neck and threatening to break bones. Charges are being pressed against those arrested and court solidarity will be essential. Right now there is a solidarity action outside Newtown police station until everyone is released.
Sergio Redegalli, the owner of the mural, has claimed that his mural is a political intervention into the trajectories of “contemporary Australian society” - that this mural is an attempt to open a debate about “fundamentalism”. It is clear, however, that the painting is only a poor repackaging of sexism and racism. This so called “opening” of a debate, serves only to shut down space with both physical and violent effects. It is doing no more than increasing the tendency towards Islamophobia and vilification of Muslims – with Muslim women as no more than an object to be contested – that has for a few years been the most fashionable form of racism in this country.
The anti-burqa mural articulates one form of patriarchy in the guise of what he perceives to be the patriarchy of another culture. The act of determining what is suitable behaviour for others and calling on the government to regulate this, is typically authoritarian and patriarchal. Empowerment and liberation are not things that can be prescribed and dictated to others. Some people might find empowerment in affirming aspects of their heritage, others by shedding all such traditional values. An anti-racist and anti-sexist politics of solidarity has to act in common with those who are struggling for their emancipation, not dictate what their freedom will look like.
Over the past months increasing levels of racism have been seen in the Newtown area. Far-right, white supremacist groups have had a much greater presence on the streets than in recent years – to the point where some groups have felt comfortable having stalls on King St; putting up racist stickers; and threatening anyone who doesn’t fit into their caricature of life in Australia. The Australian Protectionist Party (APP), for example, held a pre-election stall at the “I have a dream” square. Far-right groups directly threaten the safety of people in the area. They exist solely to organise violence against people of colour – whether that be in the form of harassment, intimidation, physical attacks, or attempts to exclude and marginalise them.
Sergio Redegalli has recently spoken at far-right gatherings, such as “The Lodge” – a private meeting in Rozelle. His affiliation with the Australian Protectionist Party is very clear, as APP members have taken to gathering at the “say no to burqas” mural whenever there is a demonstration against it. Sergio, the “glass artist” who painted it, has become a hero to this group. He hides behind the authority he derives from owning the building and by protecting it with security cameras and security guards. Given this, it is up to the rest of us to self organise and mobilize against this racist presence and to ensure its immediate removal by whatever form people see fit.
It’s easy for people in the Newtown area to be complacent around issues like this – to have faith in the “cosmopolitan” flavour of the area, believing that racism only happens in other areas. If extreme racism isn’t seen in Newtown everyday, it’s because there has been a history of fighting it. The APP were driven off their pre-election stall because people on the street saw them and confronted them, making them leave. Similarly, when white supremacist groups turn up in pubs and at gigs in this area, they need to be confronted and forced to leave by everyone who believes that this world doesn’t just exist for racist arseholes.