What do the Socialist Alternative, the Greens and the UWA Student Guild have in common? A tendency to advertise themselves at large social protests and promote their own self-interests despite the gravity of the situation at hand. This 26th of January, Perth saw one of the largest Invasion Day protests in recent history but, as with previous protests, the important conversation was repeatedly co-opted by various leftist social groups drawing attention away from the central issue of the day. These largely white groups take the mic from grassroots organisations for their own benefit and refuse to listen to people of colour when confronted about it repeatedly.
Socialist Alternative advertised their own events while speakers were on stage and sold their own merchandise on stalls. Political parties like the Greens, which project an image of being progressive and community-minded, often seek to associate themselves with important sociocultural protests. However, in choosing advertising over active allyship, they are being nothing but utterly disrespectful. Instead of amplifying Indigenous voices using their platform, the Greens were present in branded shirts with their candidates on stage with the speakers, trying to draw focus. They even sold their own Change the Date shirts despite criticism from Indigenous voices against the campaign. The UWA Student Guild was also present with their own branded shirts.
And this story is not unique to Perth; the Facebook page Feminism & Decolonisation criticised the presence of the Victorian Socialists and the Socialist Alternative – Red Flag groups at the Melbourne protest, specifically highlighting the gain of “money, social capital and votes.” There were even reports of them physically stopping marchers so they could sign members up to their party.
There is strength in unity and the more voices that ring out against Australia’s shameful colonial roots, the better. But it seems that white leftists are using the publicity and exposure given to these protests, achieved through the hard work of the organisers who are trying to raise awareness, to capitalise on their own personal interests. There is nothing wrong in planning to support a cause with your fellow political group members, but there is an issue when you repeatedly steal platforms that were created out of difficulty by communities that have struggled to have a voice in our national dialogue. Using these platforms for your benefit and drowning out Indigenous voices on a day which has celebrated their repeated disenfranchisement is insulting and shameful. Even though these groups should know better, it seems that they are more thoroughly focused on their own best interests and intent on ignoring the harm they are causing to communities of colour.
A good ally does the hard work without self-congratulatory and self-promotional behaviour. The question must be asked – if no one knew that the people present belonged to our Guild or to the Greens or to SAlt, would they show up and support the cause? If they were unable to capitalise on the publicity of the event and show themselves in a positive light in the community, would they do the difficult and often uncomfortable work of dismantling white supremacy? It is no longer good enough for white bodies to show up to protests. We must also examine the way those bodies function at these events, the ideologies they portray and the behaviours they exhibit.
By stealing the stage at events that should have centred Indigenous voices, these organisations have continued the Australian colonial project, firmly establishing themselves as above the desires of Indigenous organisers. This behaviour has happened year after year despite the misgivings of community Elders and organisers. From Black Lives Matter protests to Invasion Day events, these organisations have shifted and derailed the conversation from what really matters.
It is not enough for white leftists to simply champion communism or socialism. Before they promote their political ideals, they must listen to people of colour and seriously understand their concerns. The importance of a coalition cannot be understated, but all coalitions must be built on thorough cooperation on the part of those who have the privilege of living a life free from the oppressions that Australia has been built upon. Invasion Day exists to remember the true cost of the establishment of Australia – colonialism, genocide, slavery, lock hospitals, the Stolen Generations, mass incarceration, segregation and more. It is not a day to champion Marxists and the importance of socialism, the Greens or the 20 something political aspirations of UWA students from Cottesloe. The sooner we all get on the same page, the better.
Words by Ishita Mathur
Ishita has recently discovered her love for the KonMari method and applying it to her whole life.