Why we need to speak out on refugees: a response to Liz Thompson

Yet despite over ten years of working with people like this, I still make mistakes like not thinking about the amount of space I am taking up, like saying yes to another rally I know serves no useful purpose.

Step back, think about the space you are taking up or helping others to fill.

I am probably a target of such criticism. I’m somebody who takes up (a tiny) space in the refugee movement, though I myself am not a refugee. I do what I can as a lawyer, writer and campaigner. It is ridiculous to think that in the first of those roles I take up space that others should fill: as a lawyer my job is to stand in and make arguments on behalf of others. But I also reject this concept more generally, as a writer and campaigner.

There were a few different ideas tied up in Liz Thompson’s piece about why she changed her mind about speaking at a refugee rights rally. Mainly, the type of activities we should be organising, and who should take part in the movement and what role they should play.

On the first point, Liz’s real problem appears to be rallies themselves. In my opinion, rallies are useful and important. Public displays of opposition have value; they show that it’s possible to speak out and that when you do, you usually find that there are many others who feel the same. Rallies are also a place to have debates. If there is a Labor person speaking, for example, and you disagree with that, an organising meeting is a place to discuss the decision and a rally is a place to make it clear what you really think.

I’d like Liz, or someone else with the same opinion, to explain why a rally is something that they ‘know serves no useful purpose’. Pure moral outrage doesn’t serve much useful purpose either, but every rally I have attended has always had a mix of views and strategies beyond such a simplistic motive. In fact, a rally is precisely the platform to discuss such positions and strategies. BDS is also a useful form of activity. So is civil disobedience. So is writing opeds or submissions or reports. All these things make a movement stronger.

Which leads me to Thompson’s second point about who should be involved in a refugee rights movement: we need everyone to be involved, in as many ways as possible. The movement is not speaking on behalf of others – Australia’s treatment of refugees is an issue that affects everyone. In part, because offshore processing is a political and legal black hole, and the exceptionalism for refugees sucks the life out of legal protections for all citizens. In part, because the political culture of indifference to brutality is offensive and means other vulnerable groups may become the target for similar treatment. But also because the system involves billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

The treatment of refugees is not only a moral issue about people suffering. It is also very much a political question about how we structure our society. Our current system maintains a divide between haves and have nots, and between capital that moves freely across borders and people who do not. It is a system that degrades human dignity, preferring to preserve chauvinistic systems of profit.

There is always a need to build better, stronger links between refugees and activists here on the mainland. But this does already happen regularly. While the majority of activists and paid campaigners I know have prioritised deep and longstanding contact with refugee communities, the reality is that collaboration on public activism is almost impossible, given the very real difficulties for refugees of speaking out. Very few of my clients are willing or interested in speaking publicly about their plight for fear they will not be provided permanent residency or a protection visa. RISE is the notable exception to this and I respect their work, but of course, RISE alone can’t speak for all refugees.

Crucially, the idea that activists from non-refugee backgrounds speaking out about this issue is a self-referential exercise is mistaken. My anecdotal experience confirms the exact opposite: all my clients in detention are shocked and thrilled to learn there are protests in support of their rights going on within Australia. That is not erasure of resistance within the camps. Rather, it is what solidarity looks like. There is a hunger strike right now on Christmas Island. A rally in solidarity can only give such actions more attention, more support, more momentum; it does not take anything away.

Politics is not a zero-sum game. People ‘taking up space’ don’t take it from others. Actually, it’s the opposite. The more people involved, the more space for discussing alternatives. We need more activists from all walks of life generating a fuss about our treatment of refugees. Whistleblowers are fantastic, because detention is a closed environment: they are in a unique position to shine a light on the system, often with more information (about the bigger picture) than actual detainees. Survivors of detention are also an important part of the movement, providing insight into the system of torture and the nature of movement across borders. Lawyers are good at pointing out the dangers of legal exceptionalism and the departure from precedent. Public intellectuals and experts can provide help working out what we could be doing instead. (Indeed, why aren’t more of them doing this? We should demand that they do.) Unions should be doing more to highlight the effects upon employees who work in the detention environment. Superfunds can divest from the supply chain – you get the idea, the more the merrier.

But none of these groups should have a monopoly over political strategy for the refugee rights movement. That’s a question that we all have a say in and all have the power to contribute to through activity. You don’t have to agree that everyone else’s strategy is right. But we should talk about it and discuss it politically, rather than from the view that only certain people have the right to speak about Australia’s treatment of refugees. We should reject the call of anyone who wants to shut others down on the basis of their identity rather than their ideas for a significant political movement.

It’s the one per cent and their operations for sovereign borders that need to be shut down. Now more so than ever, we need a broad-ranging movement which welcomes all people who come here to seek a better life, prioritises humane responses to the movement of people and respects human dignity as the fundamental basis of equality.


Lizzie O'Shea

Lizzie O’Shea is a lawyer. Her book Future Histories (Verso 2019) is about the politics and history of technology.

More by Lizzie O'Shea ›

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  1. ‘Rather, it is what solidarity looks like.’

    Spot on! What a great article.

    I was thrilled to see such a large turnout to the rally in Melbourne on the weekend and hope not only that news of it filters through to the detainees themselves but that it inspires more people in this country to get involved.

  2. Excellent and thoughtful rejoinder, Lizzie. I think the point about the detention system being a broader political issue for both refugees and non-refugees is crucial.

  3. Does it matter that many of the voices in the discussion that Lizzie is talking about here (with the exception of RISE?) have a history of debating each other about forms of activism, building the Left, and Marxism/socialism/communism of which their activism on detention is a part (while obviously laudable and inspiring for many and not cancelling out the importance/value of this work)?

    most people in politically disengaged Australia who want to ‘do something’ – to be part of a movement of some kind – about Australia’s horrible treatment of asylum seekers don’t want to join a Left or a movement against fascism, they want to join a project that might stop the cruelty of detention? learning, after that point, about detention’s implications in racism and capitalism will take some time?

  4. Thank you.
    I have recently heard a few voices that decry the ‘rally’, the futility of it mostly, I in honesty don’t understand this, as a marker for opposition to current practices I see nothing stronger than people leaving their keyboards and online petitions to physically back their moral outrage by raising their voice in public. And although some people may see this as misuse of privelege, I don’t believe it is misappropriating ownership of who suffers most or who receives credit. Is it not mimicking actions being used in detention centres thus showing solidarity.
    For those of us who feel so angry, frustrated and helpless a ‘rally’ allows a physicality to our emotions.
    Sorry, just adding a perspective.
    Greatly appreciated the article.

  5. Extraneous detail, for sure, but what do you make of the “Burn Down The Detention Centres” banner that Kropotkin-like figure precedes, and to whom two of the women holding the main banner appear to be awaiting? What too is that green gunk on the building in the background?

    1. Excellent questions Dennis.

      I understand the banner to be carried by members of the Arsonists’ Union posing as members of Socialist Alternative;

      the Kropotkin-like figure to the right represents the future political evolution of the group towards a more sustained commitment to anarchist communism;

      the green gunk is the corporeal embodiment of the neoliberal restructuring of RMIT which — due to an unfortunate ‘accident’ in a science lab — has now become a monster, and is steadily oozing from the VC’s office, consuming all in its path.

  6. This article misses the point of Liz Thompson’s intervention. The point is that there are times at which individual activists with the privileges of citizenship, and yes whiteness, must stop to take stock of their role in building a movement to oppose mandatory detention. To what extent are they actually connected to the movement within the camps and among ex detainees and people of colour that Liz wrote about? To what extent might they be using the refugee agenda as a platform on which to build another movement that does not have the interests of refugees, migrants and POC at heart and which may in the past or still be involved in their active political silencing, whether or not they admit or even know this? I have conducted extensive research into Antiracism over many years and have always heard the same argument from white activists : that refugees and POC are too frightened or too apolitical to speak for themselves. Often what this really means, as was admitted to me openly by a prominent Italian activist and academic is that the way refugees and migrants choose to do politics does not fit in with the established modes of political engagement already worked out. They deeply problematise the established forms by refusing to fit in, to play their role – often that of narrator of authentic stories – rather than decision maker. They might be too invested in what the white left dismisses as ‘identity politics’ which actually means that they want to foreground an analysis of the status quo which is critical of race and coloniality including that replicated by the white left. Working with, really working with, refugees, migrants and POC means giving up power, not just ‘listening’, then moving on. What Liz T. has done is to cede the little bit of power she knows she has in order to insist we all do the same. Of course, the white left’s feather are ruffled and it is doing all it can to reassert itself. That is to be expected, but the rest of us will keep making the point: no resolution to racism will be found without a displacement of privilege, and that includes dropping the ridiculous notion that the border negatively affects us all.

    1. I think your response fails to engage in building a refugee campaign. I also think that your remarks about a “white left”, intentionally or not, erase people of colour involved with the left, both historically and presently.

      You write as though there’s a purist kind of politics that people of colour naturally have, which you seem to suggest is counterposed to socialist politics. I find the whole tenor essentialist and, frankly, kind of racist.

      We want to build a campaign that wins, and that means as broad a campaign with as many people involved as possible. All this talk of a “white left” destroys the potential for a powerful, cohesive, coherent campaign.

      1. I agree. As a POC involved in refugee activism, references to the ‘white left’ disappear my contribution to RAC and other activists groups. I do not expect to find such hateful terms on forums like this.

        1. While I agree with the above criticisms of Alana’s article, I also find myself a little disturbed by the idea that the detention system affects us all! The detention system reinforces white privilege. It does NOT affect all of us in the same way, and it does not affect all of us in a negative, discriminatory way.

          1. Jasmina, we’ve had this argument before (sort of), but if you think that detention does not “Affect all of us in a negative, discriminatory way.” this tends to imply that the only real basis for getting involved in these sorts of struggles is altruistic concern.

            For a variety of reasons I prefer the more optimistic perspective that, quite aside from moral concerns, the vast majority of the population stand to gain from the dismantling of white supremacy.

          2. Of course it does not affect all of us in the same way BUT it did affect all of us in a negative way. The bigot lives in a small, narrow world surrounded by violence and fear. As someone who was raised to hate people based on their color or religion let me tell you it is very negative and damaging. Treating a human being as less then human is soul killing. And it affects the whole society like a cancer. From such cancers police states are born. Everyone should stand up in the rights of immigrants as if those rights were your own, cause one day they maybe.

          3. This is to Timothy and to anyone who argues that offshore processing and not to Jasmina.

            Please outline how indefinite detention as part of offshore processing has a material affect on your day-to-day life.

  7. Thanks for the piece. I agree with all you said, but also think there are important points in LTs piece. I imagine she was pretty distressed when she wrote it and perhaps the thought of addressing a rally of conscience stricken Australians was too much to contemplate – its quite understandable although her sentiments are usually expressed at the rally itself as you say. I think her decision not to speak brought those sentiments to the fore and led to more pragmatic consideration of what future action should be, though we shall see. Certainly the effect of giving rise to your piece and the fine responses says something. I especially liked the respondants phrase about a response to racism requiring a removal of previlage, being v useful to think about. Not enough can be ssid about racism in this country and the space we well might occupy in our representations. Certainly it is a domain in which comfort and previlege are ours to either deny or enjoy, a luxury in itself.

  8. Thanks Elizabeth O’Shea for your excellent rebuttal. I was rather disgusted by Liz Thompson’s elitist put-down of the movement, which does incalculable amounts of unpaid work to support asylum-seekers and refugees, both morally and physically. This movement is NOT separate from the asylum-seekers, but includes and embraces them and their communities. If Liz had any grass-roots experience of this, she wouldn’t have written what she did. Rallies and other actions to change policy are ALL worthwhile and part of the overall effort. I passionately reject Thompson’s analysis, and strongly agree with Benjamin Laird’s comment about the incipient racism behind her analysis.

  9. It’s like being at this big party in a Toorak Mansion, people raiding the fridge, pantry, the wine cellar. Some are out the front inviting passers by to join the party. It seems a bit surreal to me, so I dare to ask “Where are the owners of this place” and am told by a chorus of revellers “The owners? Don’t worry about the owners, they’re locked in a shed out the back.”

    How many First Nations peeps have been invited to speak at these Refugee Rallies?

  10. Alana et al. You semantic arguments may be fine in a,thesis or undergraduate debating forum, but such sophistry, hair splitting and sowing the seeds of dissent will never do one whit to advance the cause of refugees or asylum seekers; Activists and people of good will are NEEDED on the ground without quibbling over the turn of a phrase.

        1. It’s not written by the Leninology blogger Richard Seymour but by Houria Bouteldja … I found it useful.

          The analogy is to the migrant rights movement in France: the risk is when priority is given to building “a refugee rights movement [in which] everyone [is] involved, in as many ways as possible”, this curtails the autonomous involvement of the refugees materially affected by detention policy. The left

          “Everyone involved, in as many ways as possible” flattens the value of involvement, but refugees’ direct involvement is essential. And “Australia’s treatment of refugees is an issue that affects everyone” is another piece of rhetoric that flattens the effects of detention policy, not to mention writing out the beneficiaries as “the one percent” instead of the complex network of individuals and organisations that actually exists.

          Maybe the possibilities for current and former victims of detention finding space within this movement aren’t yet exhausted just because some understandably don’t want to risk penalty by identifying themselves in this cause. Without needing to go as far as aggressively seeking to prove a conflict or skewedness of the left’s interests, is there a failure of imagination at work here?

          1. Well, I don’t think the situation here is comparable to the situation in France.

            But it is interesting that many in this debate treat refugees as a single homogenous group, with a singular experience and a singular strategy.
            When you say refugees, I wonder which refugees you refer to: those currently involved in refugee rights? Who are they being excluded by? RAC? ASRC? RISE? I am genuinely curious.

            Or are you referring to the former refugees now in the community who support current govt policy? Or the refugees who did not come by boat but support the treatment of those who did? Refugees in camps who think those who violently resist should be deported?

            I think that when people talk about refugees being ‘excluded’, it’s more about political disagreements within the movement: which actions to take next, how to grow the movement. The kinds of questions any campaign faces. But I don’t think that simply because someone was a refugee, they have all these answers.

            But seriously, how can more people fighting the government be a bad thing? How does more resistance mean less resistance (which is what your ‘flattening’ formula seems to suggest)? Can you give me a concrete example?

            Even more importantly, this is Australian government policy we’re talking about – and I think we are dehumanised by our government’s treatment of refugees. How can the onus not be on citizens to change these policies? Who would want less activity around this issue, and why? Surely we need more pressure on the government. Have you seen those recent polls? Only 25% of Australians think these policies are too harsh.

            Many citizens resisting government policy in a multiplicity of ways can lead to a crisis in policy and government – and changes in those policies. I cannot fathom why we would not want that.

            Why would people stay home when this is occurring with Australian funding and laws (meaning we are, quite literally, paying for it to occur): https://medium.com/p/56c6f081f617

          2. Hi Jacinda, thanks for a thoughtful response. I’m not at all the right person to address it but I’ll give it a go anyway.

            I agree the situation in France referred to in Bouretdja’s article isn’t similar in many ways. But what I took from the article is the shape of the problems that can occur when the white-dominated left attaches itself to a racialised political question—like that of Australia’s racist policies against asylum seekers—and holds the subjects of that question back not just from political participation, but from political autonomy.

            Detention policy harms those who will suffer, are suffering or have suffered detention and those directly connected to them. They will have priority in a successful movement against the policy because the movement is indispensable to them. That’s the problem that Liz Thompson raises, that I feel is being understated here in the name of building a broad-based movement: “nothing moves without directions from within the camps”.

            There is no homogeneity of detainees or their experiences. But there is even less equivalence between suffering consternation about the uses of taxpayers’ money, and suffering indefinite detention in a fenced camp under threat of violence. The stark categorical difference needs to be accounted for.

            There are also detention’s beneficiaries, from the service providers carrying huge service contracts and their employees, to those who have a stake in this newly elected government’s opportunity to implement the rest of its agenda. These aren’t just the “one per cent”, it’s at the very least a huge network, a rapidly growing network that has its own inertia and includes workers as well as the corporations that employ them and the indirect beneficiaries.

            As to a concrete example of when “more resistance means less resistance”, consider the widespread support for Rudd beginning to dismantle the Pacific Solution in early 2008. That support failed then, I believe because Australian left concern about moral liability for an inhumane system didn’t survive the global financial crisis. That soft support lost its focus and you know the rest—Gillard proposed the Malaysia solution, and Rudd subsequently became the architect of the policy of (fake?) resettlement in PNG.

            Now Jess Rudd writes op-eds describing herself as “the luckiest asylum seeker there is” … endorsing Light The Dark without directly mentioning Reza Barati, events on Manus or even the detention system in the piece. The Greens still retain onshore detention as policy, meaning some onshore centres would stay permanently open under a Green asylum regime, and the detention industry would remain in some form until the next electoral turn. These are not the leading voices that will permanently end detention.

            A successful movement against this structure will have content and protagonists that are much harder to shift, not just a long reach. It will have leaders to whom the movement is not in any sense dispensable. The truth is that the logic of “not in our name” can be satisfied just by severing liability for detention without ending it and taking apart its dependencies. And consequently I think if current campaigning tactics of the left don’t permit the direct involvement of detainees and former detainees (because they fear penalty) that should tend to foreclose the tactics, not their involvement. As Liz Thompson says, the predominantly white left should reflect on the amount of space it takes up.

          1. Thanks Tom, I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Some of your points I agree with (such as the profiting of the detention industry), but others I don’t. I might leave it there, however, because I’ll just be repeating points already covered.

          2. No prob Jacinda. I think the questions you raised to me were very substantial and I’m aware I didn’t address them all effectively. Agree it’s best to leave our bit of this discussion here.

  11. Every child knows that the points made directly after Alana Lentin’s almost perfectly evidence what she is saying. They first deny that what she describes are even intelligible categories and then claim that *she* is racist – ! – for bringing them up. Dear God, please help me.

  12. Thanks for this great article, Elizabeth. As a refugee activist during the Howard years, I agree that rallies won’t free the refugees. Nor will any of the other actions refugees and their supporters take, whether that be riots, prayer or online petitions. But over the course of the Howard years, the massed effects of all these actions, plus many many more, involving thousands of people on both sides of the wire, did start to push back the worst of the Australian government’s brutality. Hundreds of people who were told they would never get visas are now Australian citizens. The Labor Party had to pretend they gave a shit about refugees for about five minutes. This is the point of being active for refugee rights. As a socialist, I certainly believe that rallies, public mass demonstrations and active resistance both inside and outside the camps are more likely to create a political crisis about racism and human rights than more passive, individual actions – but unlike Liz, it seems, I can happily be part of a movement that includes multiple values and approaches. Ironically, if Liz really wanted her message of disorientation and demobilisation to reach a wider audience in the movement, she should have argued from the front of the rally. But I can’t help being glad she didn’t.

  13. And at what point will this movement actually stand back and reassess? It is undeniable this movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people being disgusted about the treatment of refugees and wanting to do something about it, there still remains a very real need to check your privilege and check it often. Liz’s statement is a timely critique, and I don’t think one that’s intended to fragment the movement, but to call upon it to take a look at where it’s heading and how, and more importantly, who it represents.

    This doesn’t remove the value of the contribution that POC have made to this movement, or anyone else for that matter, but rather acknowledges that it sits within an organising framework that is very much white, just like the rest of the left. The only harm in acknowledging this is that you might actually need to address it from time to time.

    1. ‘…there still remains a very real need to check your privilege and check it often.’

      In the context of a refugee rights movement that regularily invites refugee speakers, provides solidarity and whose ultimate aim the abolishment of mandatory detention, the above statement regarding privilege is not only essentially meaningless, it is yet another obstacle to broader layers of people in this country becoming involved in the movement.

      The rally I attended in Melbourne on the weekend was encouraging in that its composition included those outside the established Left. Reading these demands to check one’s privilege, fosters the suspicion that they are made on the basis of an emotional investment that is uncomfortable with an influx of ‘Mum and Dad’ types who take the focus from a self-appointed elite of gatekeepers to the movement.

      1. For 200 years, the settler state has kept the Rightful Residents of these lands in forms of Mandatory Detention, be they kept in the Missions up to 50 years ago, or Gaols today.
        What right do we have to welcome refugees, when we ourselves are trespassers on other folk’s lands.
        I support Refugees and their Human Rights, but also recognise that motives can include assuaging guilt, whilst still denying the Rightful Residents of the lands, their Rights as Indigenous Peoples.

          1. Can you answer the question instead of calling me moralistic?

            Also how do you know I don’t believe in rallying – are you psychic?

      2. Also there are plenty of non-established Leftist types who do think about racism–especially non-white people, because we do not have a choice. Your discomfort with ‘checking privilege’ is a displaced interpretation about what non-Leftist people are capable of – even if many of them would not use this language.

          1. So you don’t understand and are answering the wrong bit btw – so you resort to accusations of ‘infantile moralism’ and are a psychic? Is this how you act when you organise with people who aren’t in your group?


            “In the context of a refugee rights movement that regularily invites refugee speakers,”

            Can you really not understand what my question means in response to this specifically? Or do you have to take my question so literally that you are in denial of how the movement is dominated by a specific class of individuals? To point this out is not to erase the strong contributions of people of colour and especially of groups and organisations comprised of refugees.

          2. Would even question what is this movement? What are the contours of this movement? What are we all fighting for?

            Those are rhetorical ones, not really into talking to you about it.

  14. Thank you so much for the article. I totally agree with Liz, but then there also is another side ( there always is). There is, however, a difference between people that have actually witnessed these gulags first hand and those that have not. The ‘real’ truth if you will.It would be nearly impossible to actually picture the human misery that we are inflicting on already vulnerable people. And therefore I do agree with Liz. We talk too much, which, of course is what lawyers are good at. I too, have been invoved in this argument and I have come to the same conclusion Liz has come to, it is time to get our collective shit together and devise a strategy that actually is going to make an impact. I am open to concrete ideas. Somehow we are not ‘getting’ it. Which, of course, is precisely what the pollies want. Let’s not give them any more encouragement! Let’s focus on these people and get them out of there. The sooner the better! Whatever it takes, let’s DO it.

  15. They only way Woomera and Baxter were closed is because those who worked inside would not shut up, once it was not a secret prison any more it could not be maintained.

  16. Instead of replying here, Alana Lentin has left a post on her site, in which my comments were singled out. Here’s the link: http://www.alanalentin.net/2014/03/04/on-the-indignance-of-the-white-left/

    Below is my response that I also left on her site:

    Thanks for quoting me Alana, but to clarify: I wasn’t pointing out that this was an issue of reverse racism. Rather, by you stating that POC have a certain kind of politics – which you claim by its very nature is separate from the Left or Marxism – is essentialist. In fact, your arguments seem to largely consist of POC say this or POC think this – that is, speaking for people of colour, as if they all think/feel/want the same.

    This debate strikes me as a lot of white folk telling other white folk to stay at home. And your argument goes further, basically claiming that POC can’t be part of the Left, meaning our activism and politics are erased. (What, for instance, of the Marxist Sri Lankans, who were once the largest Trotskyist group in the world?)

    The worse part of this is that now to gain any credibility in this debate I’m supposed to declare that I am a POC. Tell you about how I grew up in an outer suburb of Melbourne that was almost entirely white. That I have had relatives who have died in Sri Lanka and have gone missing or fled on a boat, only to disappear.

    So thanks for the erasure! Oh, and if I’m not brown enough for you, shall I ask my mum to leave a comment? She’s involved in the refugee rights movement, she’s a lifelong unionist, was involved in the moratorium and is never mistaken for white.

    I don’t appreciate the Glenn Beck comparison, for obvious reasons. I also don’t appreciate “white” comrades being compared to Beck either.

    Lastly, this is never a comment I thought I’d have to leave in a debate where we all want the same thing – open borders and equality.

    1. So much of this discussion presumes that people who want an end to this horrible policy are naturally also committed to the Left and that the questions of the Left/building it/theorising it are the same as those of a movement against that policy/the camps. This immediately leaves out anyone who does not consider themselves Left or thinks about what a Left should look like, and I think that’s a lot of people in this country and definitely lots of people I have met who want to be involved but are put off when they find themselves part of something they didn’t sign up for, ie a debate about “the white left”.

  17. It’s true, LM, I see this as a debate about winning people to leftist ideas generally because I think that is the quickest and best way to win gains in the refugee movement. In part because it focuses on mass involvement but also in part because it orients the demand to equality and open borders.

    Thanks everyone for the kind words in response to this post.

    I can’t make head nor tail of Alana’s argument on the other blog, to be honest.

  18. Plenty of other people understand me perfectly well Lizzie. And it’s encouraging that the majority of commenters here and on twitter are taking on board the necessary critiques that need to be made if a real movement inclusive of everyone but led by those who understand Australia’s policy in relation to racism a lived experience is to emerge.

  19. I think Karen’s comment at the beginning of the thread perfectly illustrates Liz Thompson and others’ criticisms:

    “For those of us who feel so angry, frustrated and helpless a ‘rally’ allows a physicality to our emotions.”

    I’ve taken part in many RAC rallies over the years and will probably continue to attend. And of course I’ve felt angry, frustrated and helpless too.

    But I also know that some practices serve primarily to process and demonstrate citizens’ shame, guilt and disapproval.

    I understand that such practices may overlap with political action for refugee rights, but cannot seriously be called a ‘refugee movement’.

    I see that these practices threaten to overshadow and obscure the action refugees in and out of detention take, as evidenced in Wendy Bacon’s Guardian article:

    It’s important to remember that we don’t need to build a movement – there already is one. The Refugee Action Coalition group, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and other centres and faith based organisations that have never stopped campaigning on refugees’ behalf.

    And I fear that such practices legitimise Australian colonial sovereignty and re-enact the borders we aim to abolish – the constituent and the object of policy, those who are represented and those who are processed, who is inside the movement and who is locked out.

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