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How we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally

Jun 17, 2020 • 16m 01s

Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance had five days to organise a huge Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne. Under threat of fines and sustained criticism in the press, they coordinated one of the largest protests the city has seen.

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How we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally

246 • Jun 17, 2020

How we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Last week, tens of thousands of people marched in Black Lives Matter rallies around the country.

The organisers of the Melbourne rally - Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance - wrote in The Saturday Paper about staging the protest.

Today, one of those organisers, Dr Crystal McKinnon, on the week leading up to the rally and what’s happened since.

A note for Indigenous listeners: This episode includes the names of people who are deceased.

Archival tape -- reporter:

People are actively on the streets protesting as we speak in the name of George Floyd.

Archival tape -- reporter:

A disturbing video shows an officer holding his knee on Floyd's neck as Floyd pleads that he cannot breathe. George Floyd died a short time later.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Hundreds marching through the streets of Minneapolis calling for justice.

Archival tape -- reporter:

From Washington’s newly named Black Lives Matter plaza, the San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge.

Archival tape -- reporter:

One man’s death has rekindled this movement around the world.

Archival tape -- protest chant:

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

CRYSTAL:

I saw the murder of George Floyd by four police officers whilst I was sitting at home working from home. I remember clicking on it and seeing the footage and was just like it, it took my breath away and instantly made me cry.

Hearing the cries of people around to try and get the officers to stop. And then watching that, but then also all of the other incidents and things that we've seen and witnessed in Australia also coming into mind and just it was quite overwhelming.

And it's a succession of decades of police brutality and murders at the hands of police. It's been built up and this was the moment that drew people together and it’s similar here too I think.

We started talking about organising the rally about a week before. There were numerous other rallies that had already been posted on Facebook, and one of the things that all of us did was to work and contact all of the organisers of the rallies in order to come together as one.

We were incredibly concerned about Covid, but we were sure of the things that we've put in place. You know, we're working with local health organisations. We had more than 55,000 PPE masks and 55,000 hand sanitizer bottles and we also respect people's autonomy, I guess, in order to make the decisions for themselves.

But what we can't necessarily control is police response. At one stage, Daniel Andrews and the police were saying they weren't going to be fining anybody.

That was, you know, that was a good thing but then The Age ran an article demonizing the protests and the rally organizers and they quoted a senior government official that said that we were going to be spitting on police and that, I think they might have said that there might have been potential for violence.

All of the organizers everywhere would have come out against that if that was ever the case. I don't know if it's true that that's what changed the public perception and the way that the government and the police were treating us, but they certainly happened in succession. And though The Age retracted what they said afterwards and apologized, the damage was already done.

Archival tape -- Victoria Police:

If someone spits at police officers, if someone assaults a police officer… we will do what we should be doing and dealing with that matter and arresting them.

CRYSTAL:

And, you know, it kind of creates its own truth, doesn't it? Where you can say that that's not what happened and that's not what we support and that's not what we're doing. But it was too late.

Archival tape -- Daniel Andrews:

I've got a very clear message for every single Victorian and particularly those who are considering going to the protest tomorrow: don't go to the protest.

CRYSTAL:

The premier Daniel Andrews, and Victoria Police completely changed their narrative and what they were saying about the rally that was planned and their attitude towards us as organisers.

Archival tape -- Victoria Police:

This is not the way that it should be done where we have thousands and thousands of people potentially spreading the coronavirus, placing thousands more Victorians at risk.

CRYSTAL:

So they came out and asked us to call off the rally. And if we weren't, we were going to be investigated and fined.

Archival tape -- Daniel Andrews:

Victoria Police have a job to do and they will do it. And that involves maintaining order, protecting property and life. And anyone, anyone who thinks coming out tomorrow is a good thing to do - they're wrong.

CRYSTAL:

So we wrote a media release and then held a press conference and said that we were gonna be proceeding with the rally and reiterated our health statements.

Because our position is that the rally is lawful and it's an essential service as well and it's lawful. It’s a health matter, a crucial health matter, that Aboriginal people are dying in custody. To say that one thing is more important than the other refuses to understand and see what's actually happening to our people in this country, like it's just as urgent and just as important. And the two things aren't in competition.

The rights to protest and COVID health and the pandemic are not competing issues and that these matters around deaths in custody and treatment by police of Aboriginal people is also a health matter.

We always see that Indigenous matters are put to the side and we're told that we need to wait or that we shouldn't be doing this or shouldn't be doing that, and it’s just like, when is the right time?

RUBY:

We’ll be back after this.

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CRYSTAL:

The morning of the protest, I went out for breakfast with the two other organizers, Meriki Onus and Tarneen Onus Williams, just to gather and have some time together and went in together to the rally.

There were easily more than 100 people two hours before the 2pm start. And so when we got there in the morning, it was just like, oh, oh. Like, this is gonna be big.

You couldn't see the end of the protest from left to right or north. Helicopters above couldn't get the whole crowd in. People gathered across the steps of parliament along all of the street corners and all around the area carrying signs and ready to go.

The first speeches were from local Wurundjeri people, Mandy Nicholson and Suanne Hunter and others.

Archival tape -- rally:

They’ve asked me to stand before you and welcome you to this sacred land.

CRYSTAL:

They really set the tone and set the agenda. And it's really important for us to have them there and to do that.

Archival tape -- rally:

It’s taken an incident in America for us to have some light shed on what's happening here in our country. Brother boy over there in America.

CRYSTAL:

Uncle Thomas spoke about the death of his son, Ray Thomas Junior, who died in a police pursuit in Northcote.

Archival tape -- Uncle Thomas:

Ray was our gentle giant, he was 6 foot 7 too. A big caring man, sadly we lost him in 2017 before sister Tania. And it was a police pursuit, because he was driving an unregistered car. That’s not a crime. There is no crime committed.

CRYSTAL:

The family of Aunty Tanya Day. So Warren and Aunty Tanya's first cousin spoke about their loss and grief.

Archival tape -- Warren:

I don’t have much to say but this is what I do have to say - the racial profiling by police, inhumane treatment by police and the harassment of our youth, and the murders of our loved ones: uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers. All at the hands of police. All we want is justice and to be treated as equals. That's not much to ask for, is it?

CRYSTAL:

We had lots of members of the African diaspora speak and the West Papuan community speak.

Archival tape -- rally:

Australia is also responsible for its detention centres that cage black people fleeing Afrophobic violence across the world and inhumane living conditions.

CRYSTAL:

So it was really important to kind of draw the links between prison and detention and custody and all of the different ways that the state operates to contain and control black, brown and Indigenous bodies.

Archival tape -- rally:

But for those of us who bear the brunt of Australia's Afrophobic violence, we know that the liberation of the most marginalized black African bodies is here, is tied in the liberation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies, lands, waters, and can not be separated from its source.

CRYSTAL:

Uncle Charles, Jim Edward spoke, so, “Chock” talked about his experiences policing.

Archival tape -- Chocko:

My name is Talgium "Chocko" Howard Edwards, I am Pawala, Boonwerrung, Yorta Yorta, Taungurong, Muthi Muthi, I am a stolen generation person.

CRYSTAL:

I remember him saying his first experience with police was when he was a kid, and also saying that he couldn't breathe and that it's happened a number of times.

Archival tape -- Chocko:

I’ve been in front of the judicial system in 1956, I’m still fronting the judicial system in 2020.

CRYSTAL:

And I'm sure that's the same for a lot of Aboriginal men who are his age as well and younger but, looking at someone who is an elder like him and talking about his life experiences of policing and I know that my own father talks about this.

It just breaks my heart when you hear people talk about these things, it just really brings it back home and hearing the families of people whose immediate family have died in custody.

It's really important to us to elevate those voices and to make sure that they are heard because they don't often get a chance to be heard.

Archival tape -- rally:

Margaret Brown, grandmother of Kumanjayi Walker, says, “When I saw the video of George Floyd in America, I screamed and cried. We are feeling the pain for his family. We support them all the way from our remote community in Yuendumu, in Australia.”

CRYSTAL:

You can't listen to these stories of these families and not feel compelled to stand with them and to fight for justice.

Archival tape -- rally:

“The video made my stomach sick and it made me think about my grandson. I am still heartbroken.”

CRYSTAL:

The feeling in the air amongst people is just incredibly powerful. I can't describe it. To have people… to have everyone show up and say, you matter and this matters to us and that we stand with you is… Yeah, it's just incredible.

Archival tape -- rally:

All together we are standing with our brothers and sisters across the world and we say enough is enough! [Crowd cheers]

CRYSTAL:

People have been fighting for years and years and years for justice and. The opportunity is now for people together and we stand in solidarity with everybody who is fighting against the state.

This constant and consistent denial of Indigenous histories and Indigenous experience and Indigenous realities - it's like that's foundational to Australia, this denial and this erasure.

These systems are operating exactly as they were intended. These systems are built on the theft of Indigenous land. The genocide of Indigenous people. Like, the police have been foundational to that. And that's what the state set up upon. And this is why we need to work towards abolishment of the police, of the state, and then build a new one together collectively.

We will continue to fight and continue to elevate Aboriginal issues, and we will continue to build upon the movement and we'll do it in a range of different ways. And that's what we will continue to do all of our lives.

We're not a group that has just come out of nowhere. We've come out of generations of resistance and movement building. After us, there will be others that fight.

RUBY:

That was Dr Crystal McKinnon, part of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. She is an Amangu woman from the Yamatji Nation and was an organiser of the Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne.

Since the rally, Victoria police have fined her and the rally’s other two organisers 1,652 dollars each for breaching coronavirus health orders.

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RUBY:

Also in the news -

South Australian Police have launched an internal investigation after footage emerged of an officer repeatedly striking an Aboriginal man.

The video shows one of the officers hitting the 28-year-old, while two other officers restrain him on the ground against a fence in suburban Adelaide.

**

And the Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz has become the third minister to leave the Premier Daniel Andrews's Cabinet.

Ms Kairouz is a factional ally of Adem Somyurek, who was sacked from Cabinet on Monday following allegations of branch stacking.

Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance had five days to organise a huge Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne. Under threat of fines and sustained criticism in the press, they coordinated one of the largest protests the city has seen. This is the story of how it was done.

Guest: Organiser with Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance Dr Crystal McKinnon.

Background reading:

Why we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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246: How we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally