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Issue #1920      June 22, 2020

Black Lives Matter protest held in Perth

Perth held its second Black Lives Matter rally and march on Saturday 13th June 2020 without the occasional shower dampening the enthusiasm of the more than 15,000 people who attended. This made it one of the biggest rallies ever held in Perth and the biggest rally on racial injustice. The rally was organised by the Black Lives Matter collective, made up of predominantly young Aboriginal women who are concerned about the high rates of Aboriginal incarceration and the consequences of systemic racism, in Western Australia. Although the issue concerns predominantly Aboriginal people, it also affects other people of colour.

In the lead-up to the rally, the WA State Premier Mark McGowan and Australian Prime Minister urged the organisers to postpone the event until after the COVID-19 health concerns were over. However, just days before the rally, two voices of significance shifted the tide in favour of the rally going ahead peacefully. They were the States Police Commissioner Chris Dawson and a Palyku woman, Carly Lane, the aboriginal partner of state’s Health Minister Roger Cook. Dawson told media on Friday the focus of the police officers would be to, “keep the peace.” He added, “I can’t wrap a Superman cape around myself and issue 10,000 infringements.”

The welcome to country was given by Noongar elder Uncle Ben Taylor whose fight against racism and for justice for Aboriginal people has spanned over seventy years. He acknowledged his daughter Jacinta Taylor-Foster as one of the organisers of the rally and voiced appreciation that young people like his daughter are leading the fight. Something that gives him hope that justice and peace will be realised for his people.

Derek Nannup, a younger Wadjuk Noongar man and one of the many speakers that made contributions at the three-hour long rally, highlighted how racism works saying they are born into a world with pre-existing stereotypes which they must fight their whole lives. He stated it was time to change the narrative. Nannup added that while many Noongar people of the south-west of WA may not live a Noongar lifestyle, they have Noongar cultural values.

Robert Eggington of the Dumbarton Aboriginal Corporation spoke of the origins of the Aboriginal flag – the Black of our people; its yellow represented the sun, its red a link to their totemic existence – the flag being a potent symbol of struggle for land rights and sovereignty. In an acknowledgment to the racism that precipitated the death of George Floyd in the US, Eggington read the first two poignant verses of Billie Holiday’s song about the lynching of Black Americans, Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit Blood on the leaves and blood at the root Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze […] The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.”

The violence against Black people continues; only the methods change. Eggington also addressed the rally which was run earlier in the week against the recent attack on cultural sites by multinational corporation Rio Tinto. Corporations more powerful than governments used weak Aboriginal heritage legislation to blow up the 46,000 year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge which contained a wealth of artefacts linking those past inhabitants to the Aboriginal people of today. Eggington concluded the greatest sins of these rapacious corporations is against our Mother Earth. We are at the crossroads with our humanity and we needed to believe in our cause – which through a fight against racism is linked to the larger struggle of climate change.

Another young Aboriginal speaker likened racism to a pandemic which needs to be challenged and eliminated.

Great placards held by the crowd were read out by speakers for the benefit of all those in attendance. One of note said, “It’s not about black vs white but Black and White against racism” in a nod to unity and solidarity being the key to winning this struggle. There were also calls to, “Change the date mate” in reference to the division created by the current date for a national day.

Morrison’s statement that the Black Lives Matter movement is not relevant to Australia as we did not have slavery here was called out by Noongar Yamatji lawyer and activist, Hannah McGlade. McGlade also renewed the call for a treaty and the right to self-determination by the Aboriginal people.

Speaker, well-known and respected Noongar activist Marianne Mackay accused the WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt of being a Yamatji man who agrees with everything the white man says in his handling of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio in the McGowan government. MacKay called for a setting up of an Aboriginal parliament to have a direct voice for the Aboriginal people.

Solidarity came from a young speaker from the African community who acknowledged the struggle of the Aboriginal community. The Free West Papua movement from another long-standing indigenous struggle was also represented at the rally.

Valerie Weyland, an African American woman expressed her happiness at the sea of love being shown in Langley Park. Weyland recalled the warnings from her mother about the challenges in life that would await her. Of George Floyd, the African American man who was murdered by police in the city of Minneapolis, she blamed the consequences of 246 years of slavery in the US. To transcend racism said Weyland, we need to choose to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and demand diversity in our workplaces.

The rally cumulated in a march through the CBD of Perth. Traffic was blocked to allow people to peacefully yet passionately march to end racism and bring justice to Aboriginal people.

The five demands called for by the organisers of Black Lives Matter in pursuit of justice and peace were:

  • End racial violence
  • Reduce the incarceration rate of Aboriginal people
  • Stop the removal of Aboriginal children
  • Address systemic racism
  • Sovereignty Now!

The Communist Party of Australia supports the campaign by Black Lives Matter to end racism and bring about justice for the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Next article – Consequences of racist attitudes towards China

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