BY MELANIE SJOBERG
SYDNEY — In the biggest show of Australian opposition to the war in Afghanistan yet, more than 10,000 protesters mobilised in 11 cities on the weekend of November 3-4, declaring: "No to racism, no to war — this is what we're marching for!"
The biggest rally was in Sydney on November 4. Shoppers and tourists were gob-smacked at the sight of the 5000-strong protest led by jumping and chanting young people. Chants and placards clarified the twin demands of the rally: to end the war and to free refugees within Australia.
The protest was attended by a diverse range of migrant, peace, environmental and socialist groups as well as unionists — banners from the National Tertiary Education Union and NSW Teachers Federation were prominent in the march.
The Urban Guerillas churned out up-tempo music to start the event, as protesters welcomed a 200-strong refugee-solidarity contingent. The arrival of 25 pro-war Australian and US flag-bearers was barely noticed by most of the crowd, although they featured prominently in corporate media coverage of the event.
The Network Opposing War and Racism (NOWAR) organised the event under the slogan "Not in our name", and NOWAR speaker Tara Povey condemned the attack on the United States as well as the war on Afghanistan. She pointed out that more Australian troops have been deployed in this war than in any conflict since the Vietnam War — on a per capita basis, almost equal to the US deployment.
The rally at Hyde Park was also addressed by Sister Margaret Hinchey from Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace and Samila Hatami of the Afghan Women's Network.
On arrival at First Fleet Park, the protesters were addressed by representatives of anti-war parties standing in the November 10 elections. The Socialist Alliance candidate for Lowe, Max Lane, won rousing applause for castigating the corporate media for "their lies". But "people are not fooled", Lane declared urging protesters to show their disgust with the parties of war on November 10.
"Imagine a world without war", Greens NSW Senate candidate Kerry Nettle asked the crowd. Speakers from the Nuclear Disarmament Party and the Communist Party of Australia also endorsed ongoing action against the war.
The protest was closed by Refugee Action Collective member Ian Rintoul, who was also a NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance. Rintoul slammed the Coalition government for scapegoating refugees and playing the racist card to get votes.
In Melbourne Jody Betzien reports, 1000 protesters came in solidarity with refugees and opposition to the war, including a contingent of 300 refugee-solidarity protestors, who began their rally with a mock arrest of refugees.
"We can no longer be silent. In the weeks ahead, in the months ahead we need to keep mobilising against this war", Socialist Alliance Queensland Senate candidate Sam Watson told protesters in Brisbane on November 4, Simon Butler reports. The rally was co-organised by the Refugee Action Collective and Brisbane NOWAR.
The 1000 people gathered in King George Square cheered and applauded as Watson condemned the Howard government's involvement in the war against Afghanistan.
Watson, well known as a radical Aboriginal activist, went on to tell the crowd that the Australian people should not accept the racist refugee policies of the Coalition or the "lap-dog opposition" Labor Party.
"If people in Afghanistan need to flee to this country the vast majority of Aboriginal people will say come into our country, share our lands — welcome", he said.
Queensland State Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, Howard Guile, criticised the Labor party for its support for the war and urged the trade union movement to mobilise its membership for peace and justice.
Chanting, "One, two, three four, we don't want your racist war! Five, six, seven, eight, we will not cooperate!" the protesters marched through the Brisbane CBD finishing outside the offices of the Liberal Party.
Bronwyn Beechey reports that 1000 people marched through Adelaide streets on November 4 in a protest organised by Adelaide NOWAR. Speakers at the protest included SA Trades and Labor Council secretary Chris White, and Selim Sezgen, the imam of the Adelaide Mosque, who condemned the media for associating Islam with terrorism. Referring to reports that the Taliban had called for a jihad (holy war) against Australia, Sezgen said: "The only jihad we are part of is the struggle for peace and justice."
The rally also heard from senate candidates Kathy Newnam from the Socialist Alliance and Cate Faehrman from the Greens. Newnam pointed out that "the leaders of the US are the last people who should determine who is or isn't a terrorist."
Faehrman told the rally of an ALP leaflet being distributed in marginal electorates which shows a navy ship intercepting a boat carrying asylum seekers, with the headline "People smugglers and drug runners".
Roberto Jorquera reports that on November 4 more than 1000 people rallied at the Perth Cultural Centre, united against the war and terrorism. The protest was organised under the slogan: "Rally for peace and compassion — stop the bombing and support the refugees!", and publicised by an statement published the day before the rally in the West Australian. Organised by the November 4 Alliance, the statement said, "War creates refugees. By joining the war being waged by the US in Afghanistan, we are attacking some of the poorest people in the world. They are fleeing from oppression and starvation, and adding to the numbers of asylum seekers who will need to find a home elsewhere."
The alliance included the Network for Justice not Revenge, Quakers for Peace, Refugee Rights Action Network, Coalition Against War and Racism, People for Nuclear Disarmament, the Socialist Alliance, the Democratic Socialist Party, the International Socialist Organisation, the Greens (WA), and the Community Anti Nuclear Network.
Clarrie Isaacs, lead Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance, said: "The white people were the first boat people. They must show compassion and solidarity by supporting those who come to our shores. Other speakers included Greens WA Senate candidate Rachel Siewert and Farid Kakar, Secretary of the Afghan Social Council of WA.
From Newcastle, Troy Saxby reports that three anti-war candidates were united in leading the march against the war on November 4.
Carrying 26 crosses representing 26 countries where the United States has promoted terrorism to defend its interests, the 100-strong crowd marched to the foreshore via Liberal Senator John Tierney's office — chanting, singing and decrying the war against the Afghan people.
At the foreshore, protestors held a die-in in solidarity with those already killed in the war. Socialist Alliance speaker Erin Killion-DelCastillo said: " The only way we can stop the war on Afghan people is by people power. That's how we stopped the war in Vietnam, so we're going to keep protesting and our numbers will grow until this war is stopped!"
One-hundred and fifty supporters of all ages converged onto the streets of Rockhampton, Terrica Strudwick reports, to march in protest against the "war on terror". Accompanied by the beating of drums and chanting of slogans, protesters marched to Colonel Brown Park, where Jen Hayward from the socialist youth organisation Resistance addressed the crowd, stressing that war will only continue the cycle of terrorism. The march showed that Rockhampton, renowned for it's stereotypical "rednecks", has compassionate people who will unite when there is cause.
Students, farmers, and disabled pensioners joined a march for peace down the main streets of Toowoomba on November 3, Tim Stewart reports. Meeting at East Creek Speakers Forum, the gathering heard activists from the Moratorium Marxist Discussion Group, peace and anti-nuclear campaigning veterans, a high school student, and a local candidate for the Greens.
As the march made it's way to the offices of sitting National Party member Ian McFarlane, a horn blasted continuously from a car full of supportive Murris and a woman on horseback joined the protest.
Rallies were also held in Darwin, Lismore and Wollongong on November 3. More demonstrations against the war are planned for December 9, as listed on this page.
From Green Left Weekly, November 14, 2001.
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