Some activists in Australia experience higher levels of police violence and legal threats or may be less able to cope with legal repercussions. Activists who are Aboriginal, Muslim or from an Islamic country, activists who are gay, lesbian or queer, transsexual or transgendered or who are experiencing mental illness or homelessness or have a criminal history may be particularly targeted or vulnerable to police and legal repression. Racial profiling or racialised policing, where police stop, question, target or search a person because of their race or (suspected) religious background has been documented in Australia and around the world.
Activist legal support needs to recognise that white, middle class or educated activists can be privileged in the legal system, and that others are particularly vulnerable to violence or discrimination. Support and solidarity across lines of difference and discrimination is crucial if all activists are able to withstand police and legal repression.
Most people in detention do not choose to be arrested, and incarceration is a tool of the powerful most frequently used against those who are poor, non-white, or illiterate. If we choose to be arrested as a direct action strategy we also must acknowledge this in our relations with other people who are in detention.
Mass arrests can also cause crowding in cells and this can make experiences of detention even harder for other inmates. This happened in Darwin at the height of the Jabiluka Blockade. Some Aboriginal women were transferred to prisons outside Darwin, which made it impossible for their families to visit. The women asked the Jabiluka arrestees to accept bail and thereby enable their return to Darwin prison.
It is also important to recognise that solidarity across lines of class, race and gender can often be paternalistic. Gary Foley (1999), for example, writes of the repeated problems of patronising attitudes and paternalism amongst white solidarity activists who support Aboriginal struggles. But he also writes of the principles for,
“successful cooperative action … between Koori [south-eastern Aboriginal] community activists and non-Koori supporters”
which have also been in evidence in some local campaigns, but also since the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
Solidarity activists in these campaigns,
“did not seek a say in how the protest was run … [and] were more aware of the need for Koori people to be determining their own destiny politically, and they were prepared to stand with Koori activists when the crunch came”.
Foley urges non-Koori supporters to make sure that they join a group that,
“genuinely supports Koori control of Koori affairs and is in some way affiliated with, or taking guidance from, the local Koori traditional owners and/or local Koori community”.
Gary Foley, ‘White and Blackness in the Koori Struggle for Self-Determination’ (1999) The Koori History Website, available http://www.kooriweb.org
Organisers, activists and legal support workers need to respond to political and social repression as core to activist legal support.
These are all things that activist campaigns must overcome if they are to involve more people in the campaign and support people who are already a part of it.
For useful resources to assist in thinking through how race class and gender intersect and workshop resources for thinking through these issues with collective and affinity groups see Australian Student Environment Network.