#LetThemStay Fieldnotes 2: Updates and Meeting reflections

Courtesy Kara Burns 凯拉 @karaburns (used without permission)



Since the announcement that Asha would be placed in community detention, to return to Naura at some future moment, Peter Dutton stated that ‘over the last couple’ of weeks another boat had been turned back to Sri Lanka and Julian Burnside has reported another example of the violent abuse of asylum seekers by guards on Nauru . This news of business as usual should steel us about the nature of the terrain we are on; and sharpen our diagnosis that the mandatory detention of refugees as part of an aggressive process of reinforcing the border is (rather than simply a moral failing of conservative politicians) structural and systemic to the order of society itself. (My comrades who read Agamben often quote him that the camp is the ‘biopolitical nomos of the planet’)(2000, 45).

The latest news I have heard (so it might not be true) is that Asha and both her parents are now in transitory accommodation whilst community detention is being organised. The government has also made an undertaking that for at least the next month it will provide 72 hours’ notice to lawyers before any of the 267 are deported. St John’s Cathedral is shoring up its commitment to providing sanctuary with Love Finds A Way providing non-violent direct action training on Wednesday 2nd March from 7pm-10pm at the Cathedral.

The experience of the last two weeks continues to inspire people and has produced a great deal of debate on what has happened and where to go next. For example see (posted without endorsement):

I attended ‘Community Meeting: Where to now after Lady Cilento Vigil’ on 25th February. The meeting was large, over 40 people, and driven I think by a desire to keep on struggling specifically around Asha’s conditions and against mandatory detention more broadly. My impression is that the experience of the last 2 weeks has increased people’s desire to do something ‘real’ and ‘concrete’ and has opened up the horizon of possibilities. I knew only a handful of people who were there: which was a good sign. The ages at the meeting seemed to hover either around 20 or 60, it was a very ‘white’ meeting, and whilst I didn’t ask for people’s papers I am confident that vast majority there had Australian citizenship. Only a small number of people were there from the far left and announced themselves as such (IWW, Socialist Alliance and the Marxist-Leninist Group) but they didn’t engage in any organised interventions and did act in a comradely fashion. (Edit: a number of participants identified as anarchists and/or coming from the environmental movement. ) Most people weren’t members of groups though a significant number – maybe 10 – were attending as paid (one assumes) representatives/organisers of NGOs, Churches and Unions: GetUp!, The Queensland Community Alliance, St John’s Cathedral, the Services Union and others.

A superbly facilitated meeting it was divided into two sections. First a large round-robin where people introduced themselves and presented (quickly!) ideas that they wanted to proceed with. Four small discussions formed out of this that then reported back. The four were: targeting politicians/electioneering, direction action, divestment and broadening support/outreach.

I think these four positions can then be divided into two orientations. One is aimed at trying to influence the creation of policy on a national level: by mobilising significant public support to sway political parties, increase their fear of losing an election and changing voting behaviour. The other is aimed at interfering with, with the aim to break, the operation of the detention complex: by stopping the deportation of asylum seekers, interfering with the flows of capital to/and share prices of companies in the business of detention or temporally shutting down/inhibiting the specific elements of the state’s detention apparatus. The former is internal to the logic of the parliamentary state whilst the latter is subtracted from it and maybe even directly antagonistic (Cf.Badiou 2015). Both are attempts at wielding power: the former the potestas of the state the latter the potenza of struggles.

The nature of the meeting and the generally generous mood of the attendees meant that these two orientations weren’t posed in opposition to each other. It will be interesting to see how that plays out: will they maintain a fertile juxtaposition or will this become a serious point of debate and division? All four groups have committed to specific steps.

One very noticeable disjunction was between those who are paid organisers and the rest of us. There was a distinct undercurrent that this wasn’t a meeting of equals. For someone of my generation this is a new version of an old problem. I am used to having to address the contradictions of being in a room with union officials, or trying to have an orientation that includes the ALP etc. Organisations like GetUp! and QCA seem to operate differently. They bring social capital and resources but I’m not sure how much social power they have. Rather than brow beating you they act like super encouraging kindergarten teachers – trying to get you involved in projects and modes of activism that have been decided elsewhere. Noticeably there was a comment made that some element of decision making would be made over coffee: presumably when most people are either at work, studying or looking after the kids. This internalisation of decision making power within the most heavily resourced sections of the movement, staffed by paid organisers, that are also the ones most closely aligned with, indeed part of, the political class, is sure to be a knotty problem. Reverting to an older more rigid activist decision-making structure is (I think) both undesirable and impossible and an intense and confrontational debate over this might just burn the building down with us inside.

For those who want to be involved go to: Close the Camps #LetThemStay Brisbane


Agamben, Giorgio. 2000. Means without Ends: Notes on Politics. Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Badiou, Alain. 2015. “Politics and Ethics.” Philosophy Today no. 59 (3 (Summer 2015).):401-407.


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