Getting in the way – to #LetThemStay
Our round up of resources, groups and training to get involved in, pathways to action and suggestions for affinity group organising to get in the way, to #LetThemStay
It is an incredible time right now with significant movement momentum gathering around the call to #LetThemStay in relation to the 267 refugees at risk of being deported to Nauru and Manus Island after a recent high court case was unsuccessful in challenging offshore detention.
The response across Australia has been phenomenal – from all sectors of civil society, calling on a need for a moral response, rather than a legal one. Civil disobedience and non-cooperation has hit the mainstream with churches offering sanctuary, and other institutions such as trade hall, and individuals joining that offer as well. Teachers and healthcare workers have been speaking out in recent months, refusing to discharge children who could be deported, risking possible charges under the controversial Border Force act, and many thousands of everyday folks have hit the streets, brought cities to a standstill and expressed powerful support in taking further steps of direct action to “get in the way, to let them stay”.
Despite the huge interest at the moment around asylum seekers and refugee rights issues there is an ongoing problem of overstretched grassroots activists struggling to facilitate actions, and conservative organisations who aren’t ready to step into nonviolent direct action.
Some people are taking matters into their own hands… Yesterday two young women got an overwhelmingly positive response from peak hour traffic when they dropped a banner and abseiled from a freeway overpass. One of the climbers, Kat Woskett, said “We were overwhelmed by the level of support we received through social media today. It shows how many people are outraged and sick of the government committing atrocious acts in our name. Over the past few days, people from all walks of life have participated in powerful civil disobedience and creative direct action, and now is the time for escalation. We will be supporting actions in the cities and at the detention centres across the country, if the government starts to forcibly remove asylum seekers. We hope you will too.”
But not everyone is a trained climber or connected to an activist group working on the issue… So how can you participate in nonviolent direct action to support asylum seekers if you aren’t involved in a group that is working in the area? We wrote up some steps folks might like to take.
1 – EDUCATE YOURSELF
The basic principle of “nothing about us, without us” should apply when doing any solidarity work. If you aren’t already connected to asylum seekers directly, then check with organisations that are. Find out some basic information about the issue so you can talk to friends and family articulately about it. Whilst many are currently focused on the call to #LetThemStay – it is both a compassionate and an arguably strategic, though controversial, decision to focus on the young people and babies who are being potentially deported to torture. (Great outline of the concerns about the focus on children here) Most refugee advocates want to see an end to offshore processing, a closure of all detention centres, including camps on Nauru, Manus, and Christmas Island, increase in our humanitarian intake of refugees and a move to community based processing for all women, men and children.
As of December 30, there were 1459 asylum seekers living in detention centres overseas, 537 were in Nauru and 922 on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. You can find out more about how to communicate effectively about human rights, refugees and asylum seekers here, and there is another basic fact sheet here.
The vilification of refugees that built momentum during the Howard years to become the vexed political issue we see today is something that many of us want to see an end to. The current momentum around this issue shows the first sign of a possibly more humane and compassionate approach being considered by more Australians. Let’s not mess up. Make sure you honour the work of those who came before, and those most impacted when you enthusiastically launch into campaigning for refugees.
2 – WHO ELSE IS WORKING ON THIS – Do you want to join them?
There are lots of organisations who work to support asylum seekers and we certainly wouldn’t try to provide a comprehensive list. The wonders of google should send you on your way though.
Different groups focus on different strategies – some organisations focus on direct service provision to help asylum seekers with food and accommodation, some on lobbying to change policy, some on human rights awareness, and grassroots groups that focus more on public protest, rallies and direct action.
We are going to focus more on these, as that seems to be the area many folks are interested in getting involved in currently.
CounterAct staff and volunteers are predominantly based in Melbourne but we have collaborators and connections to activists around the country. If we can help connect you, we will.
If not, you might want to get in touch with a local group, set up your own affinity group. We will explain this more below.
3 – GET SKILLED UP
We provide secular nonviolent direct action training and our friends at Love Makes a Way provide trainings for Christian activists, as well as facilitate the civil disobedience actions at MP’s offices you may have seen rolling out around the country in the last two years. Some other groups also do training, though this can be difficult to access if you aren’t already connected. We will happily share other groups training if they let us know though.
For us, nonviolent direct action is more than just turning up to a picket line. (Though we also reckon that is awesome!)
We absolutely believe that people taking nonviolent direct action and participating in civil disobedience together can be a profound and deeply personal commitment, to stand in the way of situations you feel are unjust, as well as an immensely powerful action when undertaken in large groups, whether it be a symbolic occupation of a politician’s office or a feisty blockade or picket line at the gates of a deportation centre.
What we cover at a training can include history and case studies of successful action, perspectives on the strategic use of nonviolent action, discussing fears and barriers to participating, and how we can support each other, an overview of your legal rights and typical scenarios in dealing with police, an understanding of physical tactics and how to use your body safely, the type of roles and practical preparation that can be useful in actions – from dealing with police, to media, to welfare. And where possible giving context to likely situations – whether it be, what may happen at a picket line at an anti-deportation action, or likely scenarios at a climate change action at a coal mine.
We also sometimes work with our buddies at Melbourne Street Medic Collective on sessions about how to stay safe, and who have a brilliant overview of useful information here about how to stay safe and look out for each other at anti-deportation actions. We also support and work with Melbourne Activist Legal Support who send legal observers to actions, and provide ‘your rights’ training for activists. One of the issues MALS has identified is the need for more legal education for asylum seekers and refugees to remove one of the barriers to their participation in peaceful protest – so they have an awareness of their rights once in the community as different from their home countries.
UPCOMING TRAINING & EVENTS
13th February – Sydney – Love makes a way – secular – in collaboration with climate activists
13th February – Melbourne – Love makes a way – for Christian activists
13th February – Brisbane – Solidarity event for hospital staff
13th February – Adelaide – Let Them Stay SA – brief intro to direct action
27th February – Sydney – Love makes a way – for Christian activists
27th February – Melbourne – CounterAct – OPEN TO ALL: to be confirmed
Sign up to our email list to be advised of training and resources in future.
So, WHICH OTHER GROUPS ARE DOING WHAT?
Melbourne has probably got the biggest and most diverse progressive movement in Australia. It can be confusing if you don’t know where to get started.
Here you could check out
- Refugee Action Collective Victoria – they have been working together for some time and have organised large marches and rallies, including a notable recent one. They have open meetings and welcome new people. They support some kinds of civil disobedience. They have members with different politics though their core organising philosophy tends to be socialist in perspective. You can ask to join their open facebook group.
- Anarchist Affinity work on different issues including refugees.
- Families, Friends and Feminists against detention are a group committed to civil disobedience who have coordinated a series of family friendly direct actions, where kids and babies have been welcomed and supported to participate. They are open to new members.
Some individuals from these above groups, as well as other autonomous people are organising Rapid Response Anti Deportation actions. These are likely to involve blockades at the detention centres in Broadmeadows and Maribyrnong, as well as actions that may seek to intervene in the transport of detainees. You can find out more and sign up for ACTION ALERTS here.
- Love Makes a way describe themselves as a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. They have undertaken many peaceful occupations of MP’s offices across Australia and are working with churches on the issue of sanctuary, events are here.
- Beyond Borders work in this area but aren’t an open collective at this point.
If you would like to support in other ways in Melbourne, check out RISE, an organisation run for and by asylum seekers, or the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre – they are both extraordinary organisations that supports refugees in numerous ways, and could direct you to many different areas you could support if you aren’t interested in participating in nonviolent direct action.
Melbourne activists have made these resources available for general download – flyers, and information about anti deportation actions that you can share with your friends and family.
Around the country Love Makes a Way are the main group with national reach that are organising around this issue. Their actions are only open to christian leaders, however they occasionally do open trainings (not just for Christian activists), and have a series of open vigils planned where you could go to meet and engage with others interested in direct action. More information on their events page here.
Here is a list of where detention centres are located around the country.
Love Makes a Way are active in Perth, and also Refugee Rights Action Network who have organised actions, rallies and convergences at detention centres. They also have chapters focused in some universities.
There is a detention centre in Darwin which could transfer asylum seekers to Nauru so this is a key area that could do with support. Dassan is a group organising there who you could make contact with.
Amnesty International – Tasmania refugee group coordinated recent rallies in Hobart.
Rural Australians for Refugees – south eastern Tasmania group (Huon Valley) can be contacted here
More recently there has been a smart strategic push to highlight and call to account companies that profit from locking children up – Transfield, Wilson and Serco have been mentioned and several groups now campaign to interrupt the supply chain – you can find out more at Divest from Detention and No Business in Abuse.
Other national organisations like GetUp, Save the Children and Amnesty International among many others also have focus on refugees.
We would love to add to this list to make it more useful, please contact us with updates.
4 – WHAT IF YOU WANT TO DO YOUR OWN THING? OR WANT TO BRING FRIENDS TO ANTI DEPORTATION ACTIONS… then DIY ACTION GROUP
For many decades social change activists have organised in what are known as “affinity groups”. They mean different things to different people but essentially it is a small group of people (eg: 5-15) who have something in common who take action together.
They could be an affinity group that works around a specific theme – for example the street medics, or the legal observers, or, more commonly it is a group of people that take action as a team.
Why do we use affinity groups?
There are lots of reasons. Sometimes in a large, mass action it can be easier to coordinate and allow more flexibility if people organise in smaller groups. It is also a good way to keep track of people. For example, at a mass civil disobedience at a coal mine last year, 100 people organised themselves into affinity groups. That way people could ensure that everyone was accounted for when different groups came in from different directions ad folks looked after each other.
One of the most important functions of an affinity group is to support each other. This could be particularly important when it comes to a picket at an anti-deportation action. Civil disobedience can be an intimidating thing to participate in for the first time so here are some thoughts about how you could organise your own affinity group to participate:
- Get together for a dinner or coffee with a group of people you would like to work with. They could be friends, work mates or family. Have a talk about your shared values and politics on this issue to see if you would work well together.
- Have a chat about how you want to be involved
- Do you have certain skills that could be useful? Some of these skills include: making signs or banners, child care, organising food and logistics, legal support (find out more here), are you calm in times of stress, are you big and burly and hard to move? 🙂 There is something for everyone to do in a direct action, even if you have never participated before.
- How can you support each other to take action?
- Ie: if a rapid response text was received today, what would you need to do…
- Do you need to pool child care, make sure dogs are fed, quickly run errands before you head there, make sure you have plenty of warm gear or a comfy chair for people who need it.
- Check here for suggestions about what to have ready to bring.
- What level do you want to participate in?
- Have you had some experience before, or are happy to jump in the deep end? (Just ask questions when you are there if you aren’t sure of anything, an experienced person should be able to help you out)
- How do you handle conflict and situations of stress? Do you have any concerns about how you could be treated by police? A really simple suggestion is to have a conversation with people in your affinity group… and talk about three questions
- What I look and feel like under stress … do I get pale, do I shake or do I exhibit symptoms people can’t see…beating heart, dry throat etc… at least if you have thought deliberately about this, you might be aware that you need a bit of support
- What I act like under stress … do I get fidgety, do I get withdrawn, do I get hyperactive
- How can people support me if I’m under stress (hell no, don’t hug me, or yes please…. I really need some sweets, or I really need some space and quiet)
If possible it is always good to have a buddy, even if your affinity group is doing different things – they can keep an eye on you, you can talk stuff through and support each other. It is also really important to debrief after actions as well with your group where possible.
- Have you thought about how militant or feisty or peaceful you want to be? Sometimes in large, group actions you won’t be able to do much about how other people behave or interact with police – and you should always be aware that people have different triggers and responses around police… but it is useful to have a deliberate think about how you want to engage with workers, security guards and police. Some people find the role of police liaison useful to have clear communications with police. Other activists prefer not to interact with them at all. In any case, regardless of your politics, it can be useful to be civil with police as it can assist in keeping the situation more calm.
- Have you considered if you might want to put yourself in an “arrestable” position? When police have moved people on from picket lines before they have often done it quite quickly without formally arresting and charging people… they have basically just moved them off the road. But you could run the risk of arrest. It isn’t actually as scary as the police and media make it out to be, and is quite low risk in Australia, but you should always make your own informed decisions. You can check out more about your legal rights and frequently asked questions (can I travel, what about my job, and a criminal record?) about protests in our handbook for activists, as well as the excellent activistrights.org.au website.
Another commitment you might make in your affinity group could be to fund-raise and help each other pay any fines incurred through action. Many activist groups operate on the premise “the action isn’t over until the court process is over”… it means we show solidarity with each other all the way through, a great principle to work on.
5 – NEXT STEPS… ACTION!
Have some fun whilst standing up for things you believe in. Get on the list for anti-deportation actions or create your own! We have heaps of great resources here where you can find out more about the practicalities of running your own action.
Nonviolent direct action can be powerful and fun, and there seems to be a huge interest in participating in it right now. Learn as you go, and look out for each other.
Get in the way to #LETTHEMSTAY
This resource was created by volunteers and collaborators of CounterAct. We work to protect the natural environment but we also work for climate justice, and social justice. We believe these issues are intertwined. We welcome additions if you want your action or group listed. This was created as a community resource for everyone to adapt. Once we receive some more updated information we will save this as a PDF for easy distro.
Note: This article has been updated regularly with new information over several days and was edited on the 13th February to accommodate some concerns around people on Manus Island being under-represented in current reporting. We also acknowledge there are diverse views on the #LetThemStay campaign. We support it as an opportunity to further the debate about ALL men, women and children being freed from detention. CounterAct unequivocally supports the call for all offshore detention to cease and camps on Manus and Nauru to be closed and all asylum seekers to be returned to Australia as per both our moral obligations and international law.
*Additional note, 13 Feb, 2016, 9pm: This article was edited early this afternoon before a public statement put out by one of the groups mentioned. We were trying to highlight the excellent work of grassroots activists in initiating divestment campaigns, and have previously sought to promote and support their work. We have offered to take down, or amend the reference to HestaDivest, but received no answer to date. Their statement was put out despite our offers of amendment, feedback, constructive critique and a direct attempt at dialogue. We were trying to support the refugee rights movement by collating resources for newer activists. Some folks have found this helpful, and it appears some have not. (14/2: Final note, after not receiving a response for 24 hours we removed Hesta Divest)