I’ve never before written a letter to an author that I did not already know. I’m not telling you this because I want this letter to seem particularly special. It’s more to allow me to introduce a small amount of context about where I’m at as I started to read Experiments in Imagining Otherwise.
I’m in Berlin right now and the idea that I came to Europe for a long, hot summer is already feeling distant as the days become shorter and cocooned in the grey, chill of autumn. I return to my home in Naarm (otherwise known by it’s colonised name of Melbourne, in so-called Australia) in less than two weeks. The mood is definitely one of contemplation and deep thought about the next stage of life, how I hold onto a revolutionary imagination filled with rebellious desires as I get older and how I incorporate the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been here.
I write to try to make sense of such considerations. There’s been a small amount of writing I’ve been doing on this trip – some postcards and letters to loved ones, a couple of ‘travel story’ type pieces and one long(ish) piece of feedback to a friend about a draft of an excellent article that they wrote. But I have no more postcards to send now.
Not the sort of writing I usually post here, but a couple of pieces inspired by experiences while I’ve been traveling this year that touch on issues of anti-racism and colonisation.
1. A story about hanging with some hooligans at a football match in Ireland and a confronting moment of racism that is handled in the best possible way.
2. A somewhat free-form piece describing a beautiful place and the feeling of swimming in water that leads to reflections on history and place.
We had come to be there as a result of a night drinking Guinness at The Cobblestone in Dublin, where we met our Scottish football hooligan chaperones – from Glasgow, but not fans of either of ‘the Old Firm’ teams, instead choosing to follow the middling fortunes of Motherwell FC. We were invited to join them in making the trip from Dublin to Sligo in the west of Ireland for the match the next day. Motherwell were due to play Sligo Rovers in a game to qualify for a low-level Europe-wide competition – a big moment for both teams and their fanbases.
Disclaimer: This was mostly written before the anti-lockdown/ anti vaccine mandate protests that broke out in Narrm on Monday, September 20th, 2021. While those protests added extra layers of complexity, I am still comfortable putting the ideas contained in this piece forward as being relevant to the whole mess we’re in.
Another lockdown drags its weight through the winter and into spring, embellishing hours into days and days into weeks. I endure time by going for runs, strumming my bass, reading, writing, cooking. Materially comfortable enough for now. Missing those I love. Staying close to the few I love that I’m able to. Sometimes bored, sometimes worried. Just passing time.
There’s another post saying not to complain about lockdowns because there’s people in jail or in detention centers or dying. I half nod, caught out by the instinctive call and response posture. Then I shrug. There’s always the guilt of someone worse off. These words are emptied of meaning precisely because of their transcendent righteousness.
Their emptiness is a mirror of the baffling mess that they critique – the anti-lockdown demonstrations. Whereas the righteous words sit in a hollowness of their own creation, of being so correct that they (seek to) leave no space for any other feeling, the protests are all feeling at their core with little interest in the sense they make or in being able to grasp something that holds true. And so we have a constellation of narratives seeking to unearth the greatest conspiracies, possibly entertaining if not for the darker endpoints they often lurch towards.
marshals cannot protect us from police – marshals end up policing the protest, restraining rebellious energy – the authority imbued in the role of marshal makes people suspicious of other participants within a protest – the role of marshals exacerbates two negative tendencies of solidarity; laziness and distrust – an imposed, rigid structure to ensure ‘safety’ cannot be flexible enough to account for variables in danger – instead, organise with friends to look out for each other and then communicate with other groups across the protest – safety can’t be the only factor in determining what action looks like, we have to take risks beyond the pre-determined boundaries of a formal protest – conclusion.
This piece is influenced by a series of diverse and informal conversations about the entrenched role of marshals at demonstrations in this town. However, the political inflection it takes, the conclusions drawn, are mostly reflective of my own thinking. While there are common starting points, I don’t want to suggest that where I end up is necessarily representative of any greater collective intent. That is to say, I think some of you who I’ve had these conversations with will disagree with parts of this. I write this as part of the ongoing discussion, hopefully contributing to new forms of acting alongside each other at street protests that is open to taking risks and looking out for each other without always handing our power over to some higher authority.
It should be noted that there are 2 distinct layers that constitute critical conversations around marshals – one being the articulation of a variety of issues with how the current marshalling structure conducts itself, the other being a more general questioning of the very existence of formal marshals at demos. I start with the first, but quickly move to the second.
Reflections on the proliferation of borders from a pandemic world. (written mostly in 2020, finished off in 2021)
When the flames engulfed the home of the brave,
The stampede towards the the border was in vain.
Faces palmed, faces paled
As the wall they said would make them great could not be scaled.
– ‘Victory Lap’, Propagandhi
The nation closes its borders. This is both remarkable and not. Unremarkable because the militarised border regime that has governed the political trajectory of this island nation had easily created the capacity to enforce a total shutdown. It ordinarily walks the line between living up to the racist fantasies of a paranoid population and the economic need for certain types of migration to fill gaps in the labour market. But these aren’t ordinary times and so it flexes and the racists swoon while the ‘progressive’ liberals are appeased in their sense of (bio-)security.
Some fairly loose thoughts about how once radical conceptions of ‘safer spaces’ have been invoked in protecting us from COVID and reinforcing the State’s biosecurity apparatus. Written specifically from Narrm, but probably with parallels elsewhere.
I retain a lingering trace memory of safer spaces being a direct and vital intervention into the complacent expectations of radical and transgressive spaces, before it settled into its current form as a bland and lifeless procedural appeal to higher authority. As a radical proposal, safer spaces is about those whose well-being is generally deemed unimportant, being able to claim space and take the necessary actions to assert control over their own safety. These actions will more than likely be an uncomfortable interruption upon the normality of those on the dominant side of a power relation, and all the better for that discomfort. What it shouldn’t be is a blunting of sharp edges, where instead of a spiky interruption, there is simply a broadening of pre-established terms to include those who are more marginalised.
Some reflections from a town under curfew, as further authoritarian measures are imposed.
Today The Guardian – which has taken an unapologetic deep-dive into asserting liberal obedience as its M.O. – runs a headline that ‘Tighter restrictions bring relief to Melbourne locals’ , with the tagline that “the sense of structure provided by the new lockdown plan has comforted many”. A comforting sense of structure!? Who are these people? I guess i’m not that surprised, liberals have always been the likeliest bootlickers, the ones preparing the confetti at the sound of imminently approaching goose-steps.
Down here there’s a strange Stepford Wives-esque, idyllic suburban calm hiding the darker scenes. An implicit consent to creeping authoritarianism. An attempt to flatten social contradictions as the comfortable, but always anxious and fearful meditate on their mantra of “we’re all in this together”. Ohm.
In the midst of the COVID-related lockdown I wrote of how “time passes at the tenor of a slow murmur” to try and describe the sense of a distortion that I was feeling. It might have been apt at the time, but the weeks following have passed at a different, much quicker tempo. Now the institutions (police, prisons) and systems of oppression (white supremacy, anti-blackness, colonialism) that seemed so fundamental to daily life that they must have been born with the changing of the seasons are teetering on the precipice. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has sparked a rebellion that has spread and taken form in all corners of the globe. Suddenly, time is a blur as history crashes around us.
Anti-authoritarian ideas to hold onto in these times of virus and crisis.
We’re all living quite a situation here. Before the virus had got near most of us, we were thrown into this necessary mode of life called social-distancing. Our lack of knowledge and the speed it has covered the globe and is transmitting within the locations we live has produced feelings of shock, confusion and fear. While these feelings make sense, we should also recognise and counter the tendency that they produce towards individualism and isolation.
Fear. Individualism. Isolation. Currently the circulation of these sentiments is exponentially bolstering the power of the state. As Crimethinc have said, “social distancing must not mean total isolation. We won’t be safer if our society is reduced to a bunch atomised of individuals”. Such an atomised society is the path to least resistance. Even as the virus spreads we must not become too isolated and disconnected from each other to be able to resist state control and the implementation of measures that fuck most of us over in a desperate attempt to save the economy.
For people who aren’t white and living in a colonised and white supremacist society, being able to understand and process feelings of guilt, shame and trauma is an ongoing exercise that requires honest reflection and accountability. Where We Stand is a dance/ performance ‘ritual’ that facilitates this by inviting Indigenous and other people of colour into a theatre turned into a healing space filled with warm, soothing aural tones and soft places to be in. In that space, personal stories of the damage of these interlocking oppressive systems are shared amongst us. In being there, feeling the intimacy of relating such experiences, a question arises in my mind: how do these personal affects, these lifelong traumas shared between us as confessional mementos translate into forms of anti-colonial solidarity and action that might upturn the colonial, white supremacist society that we inhabit?