Open letter to the organising committee of Sydney rally against Reclaim Australia on November 22

We write to express our disappointment in the way the demonstration against Reclaim Australia concluded on Sunday. The rally itself was very good. We outnumbered the racists by at least 3:1. The speakers were representative of the some of the key social forces we need to mobilise in much larger numbers if we are to push back the Islamophobic offensive — unionists, Muslims, Aboriginal people and the broader left. Clear points were made against the demonisation of Muslims under the current government and the Western bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, the importance of justice for Aboriginal people and the need for working class unity in the fight against racism, war and Islamophobia. Aboriginal leader Ken Canning, whose photo was used to promote the demonstration, made a strong point as part of his speech — and again towards the end of proceedings — that the rally should remain stationary and any attempt to march would only lead to pointless confrontation with the police. This position was widely supported in the crowd with clapping and cheering. The rally looked to be ending strong and unified, when the chair Omar Hassan, from Socialist Alternative, announced that some people wanted to march — and quickly proceeded to lead one without the chance for any discussion for or against. The march did not make it 100 metres down the road before it was broken up by police, including horses. We condemn this violence used by police, reject media suggestions protestors deserved to be attacked and defend the right to demonstrate. But this outcome was entirely predictable. Many people left feeling confused and demoralised. People had not attended the rally to pointlessly confront police, but to make a political stand against racism and Reclaim Australia. It is an urgent imperative that we strengthen the movement against Islamphobia and war by mobilising far wider layers of people than we had at Martin Place on Sunday. This needs to focus not just on fringe far right groups, but mobilisations against the government policies driving the racism. It needs to include Muslims, many of whom do not feel confident to take to the streets in the current climate of fear. The rally on Sunday had a number of strengths that can be built on to take this movement forward. But the unnecessary and undemocratic confrontation with police was a step back and must not be repeated. We will need a more democratic, honest approach to organising to make any future events successful. Signatories: Ken Canning, Murri activist and rally speaker Ahmed Aboushabana, community activist and rally speaker Elizabeth Jarrett, Goori activist and rally speaker Kyol Blakeney, 2015 Sydney University SRC President Clare Fester, Solidarity and rally organising committee member Padraic Gibson, Jumbunna Research and Solidarity Bruce Knobloch, Greens activist Susan Price, National co-convenor Socialist Alliance Ian Rose, Greens activist Mia Sanders anti-racist activist, Socialist Alliance and rally organising committee member Amy Claire Thomas, Solidarity and rally organising committee member Evan Van Zijl, Greens activist Natalie Wasley, anti-nuclear and Aboriginal rights campaigner