News services over the Easter weekend led with scenes of protests at Melbourne’s Federation Square, where anti-racist protesters clashed with the fascist-organised “Reclaim Australia” demonstration.
It hardly needs pointing out that the Reclaim demonstration and the counter-demonstration were diametrically opposed to one another.
Yet a small number of commentators thought they would burnish their intellect by instead telling their readers that what they probably saw as different was actually the same.
Brad Chilcott, in a piece for the Guardian, entitled “Fighting hatred with hatred at Reclaim Australia rallies is a failure of progressive politics”, decried both protests as “the ugly fruit of hatred, ignorance and violent confrontation”.
He and the Age’s John Elder zeroed in on the profanities and abuse hurled between the protest and counter protest, which should reinforce a perception that the two sides were hostile to each other, but for Chilcott and Elder proved the main divide is between the rational and rabble – racists and anti-racist alike.
In case you couldn’t tell from the swastika tats which people were the Nazis, the caption under the photo accompanying Chilcott’s piece points them out as the “bald headed ones”. The more apt moniker is “skinheads”, but that plays up the differences between protesters who are really only as different as their hairstyles.
When Elder refers to a “droll” placard carrying the slogan, “You keep your burqa, I’ll keep my clitoris”, he betrays the same tendency to downplay the maliciousness of the fascists.
The counter-protesters knew better. The thugs with Nazi insignia, who would beat up Muslims in the street if they could, deserved everything they got on Easter Saturday. Chilcott and “progressives” of his ilk see only ugliness in such a conviction.
I went to the counter-protest and I saw differently. I linked arms with a first year Melbourne University student who had never been to a rally before. At first, I was protective. After all, we were being crushed from behind by police horses and slammed in front by thugs three times our size.
After the third bout of jostling, I remembered my own excitement at pickets a decade ago against immigration minister Philip Ruddock, and realised that for the young woman beside me this was as exhilarating an experience as it was a humiliating one for the muscle-men who could not break through our line of mainly short young women.
For liberals like Chilcott, the exhilaration of struggle is never in the frame because they hate the idea that the chanting voices of the masses could drown out all the Guardian columnists that know better. Imploring people to be more moderate, what they really want is for them to be more quiet.
The real failure of progressive politics is Chilcott’s. His piece contrasts recent migrants dancing together on an Easter camp to the protest and counter-protest. However, we can’t dance around the fascists. If they try to march again, we will confront them.
The counter-protest at Federation Square turned around hundreds of Reclaimers who probably did not realise what they were in for and were not prepared to physically fight their way through a human blockade and be shamed as racists. In this way, the counter-rally starved the fascists of new recruits.
Mark my words, the counter rallies next time will be even bigger because, contrary to Chilcott and Elder’s advice on how to broaden our appeal, the coverage of the blockade stopping hundreds of would-be Reclaimers is the best possible inspiration to join in next time.