Renowned Australian historian Humphrey McQueen spoke outside Parliament House, Canberra, at a November 17 protest to mark US President Barack Obama’s Australian visit. His speech, which first appeared on ChrisWhiteOnline, is below.
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Ten years ago, we were told that we were going to choose who came here. Today, we are exercising that choice by protesting at the arrival of the war and economic criminal Obama.
In saying that he and his gang are not welcome, we are not turning our backs on the people of the United States. On the contrary, we stand in solidarity with them against the forces that oppress and exploit them and peoples across the globe.
Let’s apply the policy of choosing who can come here to the Obama entourage. Some 600 security agents are here to protect him, presumably from assassination. That number is an insult to Australians.
Whatever is wrong with our public life we are not yet subject to the ravings that infect US politics, even though its shock-jock lunacies are being imported.
But let’s think more about Obama’s guardians. What is their background? What checks have been made to ensure that none have been CIA kidnappers, torturers and assassins? Who better to protect you against assassination than your own trained assassins?
Refugees are held in detention until ASIO has given them a security clearance. Some suffer behind razor wire for years. Obama’s security team flies in without so much as a by your leave. Their names are state secrets. They get a blanket clearance. Perhaps that is just as well.
Imagine the fate of anyone who tried to serve an arrest warrant on Obama or any one of his minders. Such people are not welcome. If anyone should be detained until we have checked their criminal status, it is these state terrorists.
To make it clearer why they are not welcome, we can indicate some of the US Americans who we do welcome. In running through the reasons for opening our borders to them, we shall see more clearly why Obama is the enemy of us all.
Before explaining who is welcome and why, we must acknowledge that choosing who could come here, or to the Americas or Africa, was not a choice that the invaders gave to indigenous peoples.
Colonisers resorted to force and practiced genocide. Their impacts continue. All that has changed is the scale and methods of dispossession. Hence, we acknowledge the traditional owners. Who will give Obama a welcome to country?
Looking back to the early years of the invasion of this continent, who might the original occupants have welcomed? One group was from the US of A but could not be citizens there because they were runaway slaves. Many US citizens helped them to move north to Canada. We hope that the settlers here who opposed the transportation of convicts would have provided sanctuary for those fugitives.
In like manner, we recall the “terrorist” John Brown who raided Harper’s Ferry in 1859 to set up a non-slave republic. His soul is more than welcome to go marching on through Australia.
Of course, the regime of terror for Afro-Americans did not end with their legal emancipation after the Civil War. The spirit of our protest welcomes the ex-slaves and their descendants escaping from Jim Crow Laws and the lynchings that ruled beyond the old South into the 1970s.
Since then there have been judicial lynchings. In September, Georgia executed Troy Davis although the case against him was unsound. Davis joins the hundreds of those executed wrongly. They were convicted because they were poor, black and had been ill-educated. We welcome a humanitarian intervention in the US of A to put an end to this systemic injustice grounded in class and race.
Reverting to the nineteenth century, it is easy to imagine the welcome that the diggers at Eureka gave to the 200-strong Independent Californian Rangers’ Revolver Brigade in 1854. The warmth of that welcome from other miners extended to the Melbourne jury who acquitted the first of the rebels brought to trial, the Afro-American John Josephs, whom the crowd carried through the streets.
Since Obama’s electoral base is in Chicago, let’s ask which past and present residents of that city would we most like to have with us today.
A police attack on a labor rally in the city’s Haymarket in 1886 led to May Day’s becoming the international celebration of the working class movement. The Pullman rail strike was centred there in 1894. One of its leaders, the Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, spent time in prison for organising that and other strikes. He later went to jail for his anti-war activities.
The first English translation of Marx’s Capital came from Chicago, as did Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle (1906) about the horrors of working in a meat-packing works.
Also from Chicago came the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. They contributed to the fighting strength of Australia’s working class, and were also at the forefront of anti-war movement here to oppose conscription for the slaughter at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
After one US Wobbly, Joe Hill, was executed in Utah in 1915, his fellow workers sent packets of his ashes around the world, including to Sydney. We welcome every chance to breath life into his ashes, along with the Haymarket martyrs, Debs, Sinclair and all the Wobblies.
From Chicago today we welcome the late community activist Saul Alinsky. Obama stole his methods of organising — “Rules for Radicals” — so that Wall Street could continue to occupy the White House.
As his chief economic advisor, he appointed the man who had de-regulated the financial system, Larry Scum-mers.
As Secretary of the Treasury he appointed Timothy Geithner, who presided over Wall Street during its wildest speculations and swindles. Hence, we welcome the US documentary Inside Job which exposes their crimes, as we do the work of Michael Moore.
We also welcome all those involved in the Occupy Wall Street upsurge.
We welcome the Wisconsin teachers and students who initiated the fight-back against the latest attacks on the ability of working people to organise.
These twin movements challenge the resentful rhetoric of the Tea Party. Unlike that body, the occupiers are not in the pay of the plutocracy that dominates US politics and whose power and privileges Obama serves.
Many of the profoundest critics of the serial criminality of US capitalism are and always have been its own citizens.
Mark Twain was the quintessential voice of American literature. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn continue to provide models for US fiction.
No one could be more “American”, yet he has been portrayed as “Un-American”. The reason is simple: he condemned the US takeover of the Philippines.
Today, we hear about ‘humanitarian interventions. In 1898, the Marines landed to “liberate” the locals from the tyranny of their Spanish colonisers. The US forces soon turned their guns on the independence fighters. In 1900, Twain joined the Anti-Imperialist League, declaring: “I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
He recognised that “we do not intend to free, but to subjugate … We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem”.
The general order to “kill or capture” became a policy of indiscriminate slaughter. Twain called the US troops “Christian butchers”.
Twain had been welcomed when he lectured throughout Australia in 1896. Today, we welcome the lessons he learned about US Imperialism.
Similarly, we have just welcomed a contemporary US citizen, Noam Chomsky, with the Sydney Peace Prize.
Part of Chomsky’s message is that Obama is more dangerous than Bush because he is still able to get away with crimes that were seen as such under Bush. With Bush, the person and the policy were recognised as one.
Obama emerged behind a smokescreen of hope. Bob Brown says he won’t protest this time because Obama is “wiser, more astute” than Bush. Sure he is. He is astute enough to sucker Brown.
We extend a welcome to Ralph Nader to return. His Unsafe At Any Speed (1965) sparked the consumer fightback against the auto industry. Never has he compromised with the corporates or with the Democratic machine.
Workers on the Sydney opera house in 1960 went wild when Paul Robeson sang to them. When Pete and Peggy Seeger toured in 1960, the Courier Mail refused to accept advertisements for their Brisbane concert which nonetheless overfilled the City Hall.
We look forward to a tour by Dixie Chicks whose songs were put off the air in 2003 after they told a London audience that they were ashamed to have had George Bush as their governor in Texas. We welcome the successes that their music has had since.
Offers of asylum
Harry Bridges was the Australian-born leader of the West Coast Longshoremen’s Union. The FBI spent decades trying to deport Harry to Australia. As much as we would have welcomed Harry home we rejoice in the success that his members had in keeping him there as a fighter against exploitation.
We will also welcome back non-violent resister Scott Parkin who was deported this time last year. We will welcome home Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, despite Killard’s determination to throw him to the coyotes. We offer asylum to Corporal Bradley Manning.
On top of this liturgy of crimes, there are two new reasons for not welcoming Obama. The first is military and the second is economic, though they are inseparable.
The Darwin base is the base that you have when you are not having a foreign base. The US marines and bombers are not welcome. Neither are the bases at Pine Gap and Nurrunga. We are told that those bases are now under Australian control.
In truth, they are managed by Australians who work as agents of a foreign power. That arrangement was put in place in the 1980s by the most significant agent of US influence in our history, Robert J Hawke. His successors in the trade of selling us out range from Senator Mark Arbib to Bob Carr and Kim Beasley to Julia Killard.
The other source for alarm is the Trans Pacific Partnership on so-called free trade. Smell the spin-doctors at work with the use of “partnership”. What that weasel word means is more domination and control by global corporations. Two aspects are of particular importance.
The first concerns our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Big Pharma wants open slather for their most expensive drugs.
The consequentual cost blowout will undermine our subsidised system. It will open the way to the abolition of Medicare as an impediment to profit-taking by the corporations that oppose even the modest system of health care proposed by Obama.
The second concern is with the Australian content provisions of the television licensing system. Hollywood executives see those regulations as a restraint on trade. They need to dump more of their programs here.
The more networks that have to buy from Hollywood, the more they profit. Of course, the current laws are observed in the breach more than the observance. The media corporation fill up the hours with reality TV and other trivial pursuits. When they do make dramas they mimic Hollywood models.
Why is this latest piece of cultural imperialism important? One reason is to keep jobs here for writers, actors and technicians. But a larger question ties back to the military bases.
If we grow up thinking that all music and movies come from somewhere else, we are being indoctrinated to accept that that somewhere else must know best for us on far more than entertainment.
The claim is not that Australian screen culture is the best in the world. The point is that we need our own second-rate stuff. We need our own daydreams. Without them, we are more susceptible to accepting military bases and trade deals that open the door to plunder.
To occupy our imaginations is what the Pentagon calls soft power.
How best can we help those from Wisconsin to Wall Street? The way we can help US working families who are also victims of US monopolisers is to weaken their grip on the one part of the world over which we as Australians can have some influence.
Only the people of the US can destroy US imperialism. We cannot do that for them anymore than they can free our lives from domination by the US military-industrial-congressional-academic complex.
The US rebels at Eureka pledged to stand truly by each other. Our presence here today renews that pledge among our fellow Australian workers and to the millions of US citizens who are stirring against the monopolising capitalists. The unity that counts is unity in action.
The more we Australians act in unison, the more we shall realise that the fault is not in the Stars and Stripes, but in our own politics, if we remain underlings.
[Humphrey McQueen’s latest book, a history of Australian Builders Labourers and their unions, is called We Built This Country.]