Racists are not welcome here

Issue 

Riot

Directed by Leticia Caceres

Written by Vanessa Bates, David Brown, Stefo Nantsou and Sarah Gava

Designed by Joshua Mason

Newcastle Civic Playhouse

Bookings 02 4929 1977

Until June 23

In 2005 the neo-Nazi Patriotic Youth League (PYL) leafleted the poor inner Newcastle suburb of Islington hoping to whip up opposition against African refugees living there. Community reaction to this incursion was swift. Widespread public condemnation lead to a series of protests, including a counter mobilisation on the day the fascists planned to rally in Islington Park.

Faced with an irate group of demonstrators bearing down on them, the handful of fascist "heroes", who had slinked into Islington Park, turned tail and ran. This was dramatically captured on video by local filmmaker John Kirk.

The play draws from that experience and introduces a dramatic discussion of the social underpinnings of violence and intolerance. It uses some of the speeches delivered at the counter mobilisation, and the text from the PYL leaflets, to simulate some of the tension and emotion of the day. We hear the racists try to blame the victims for unemployment while counter protestors call for jobs for all and an end to scapegoating. From these early scenes the play goes on to deal with a range of issues which so brutally surfaced with the Cronulla riots of earlier that year and which the YPL was trying to exploit.

Four different stories are told throughout the play through narratives, dance, song and metaphors. Flags as expressions of misplaced national identity are literally put on trial. The role of the gutter media in manipulating and exacerbating xenophobia, and manipulative politicians playing on fears and prejudice towards refuges, or indeed, just anyone different are examined.

The play asks why people express intolerance and violence? Why is it that some people feel good by beating the life out of someone worse off than themselves? What is the real difference between the power exercised by a shock jock, hyped up by self importance and a ratings war, and a street thug, pumped up by drugs and alcohol, laying the boot into someone who is down?

Social alienation and super patriotism create the social conditions for just about anyone to get beaten up if you are in the wrong place in the inner city late at night. How many steps are there from the jingoistic drinking encouraged by beer ads to the drug and alcohol fuelled violence which has plagued late nights in inner city Newcastle in recent times? Clearly Howard's flag waving Australian nationalism has a dark side to it.

My only concern with the script was that it didn't bring out the role of the labour movement, which despite its failings on nationalism at times, has a strong tradition of fighting racism and fascism. Kirk's film does show Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union officials addressing the rally.

When the unions are in struggle workers are more likely to see who the real enemy is and racists have less of an opening. After all it is organised labour which is the ultimate target of the far right's divide and rule tactics. 2005 saw big rallies against Work Choice. Perhaps that was what cut the ground from the YPL and made it so easy for the people of Newcastle to make it clear "no racists here".

The young cast of mostly school students did a great job in keeping interest and attention while dealing with a range of sensitive and controversial issues from a clear anti-racist perspective. Great play, worth seeing.

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