Monday’s organised protest against Milo Yiannopoulos and his alt-right views was expected to be speeches and an exchange of chants, in the usual way of peaceful protests; a physical representation of the ideological clash between white supremacy and anti-racism. But what happened Monday night was not that.
The protest did begin the way we anticipated, as we booed and shamed Australians who paid to enjoy a show profiteering off of anti-blackness, xenophobia and misogyny.
But quite early on, one protester spotted Neil Erikson among the other Nazis walking into the Melbourne Pavilion, the venue hosting Yiannopoulos’ event (the same Neil Erikson who had stolen the microphone and yelled ‘all refugees are rapists’, a famous Milo line, at the recent SOS Manus #BringThemHere protest). This protester tangled with Erikson and police jumped on them both.
This, by the way, is the ‘clash’ the media reported on. It wasn’t between protesters, but between individuals outside of the protest line. Trust the news to warp reality.
We watched in shock and anger as hundreds of young men, women and even families continued to walk into event. The sheer number of people was a confronting reality. Our chants intensified and the atmosphere grew in hostility. This was all across the Melbourne Pavilion on the same side road as its entry.
Kensington and Flemington community residents soon started to gather, asking why we were there and why so many police officers were present. Some of our protesters explained the presence of Nazis in the area and their anti-Muslim and anti-refugee stance. I walked over to the residents I recognised, and asked them to join us in making our message clear: Nazis not welcome in this area.
The residents hesitated – understandably. The presence of police in full riot gear at a protest is a tactic specifically designed to scare people, and it’s a tactic that works. The residents did not ask for an alt-right racist misogynist to hold an event in their area, or for their area to be swarmed by the best of racism Australia has to offer, or any of it at all. They preferred to remain as spectators on their side of the intersection.
But they didn’t stay there for long. Only a few minutes later Donald Trump supporters with the Trump caps and flags marched through the intersection taunting demonstrators with anti-Muslim and anti-black slogans, chants and hate speech. When the mostly African-Australian local residents saw the Trumpers with their flags and caps, something clicked.
How dare these racists come here and bring their imported American-brand of xenophobia with them?
We raised our voices to drown out their vitriol with positive messages of solidarity: ‘Black, Indigenous, Arab, Asian and White – Unite, Unite, Unite to fight the Right!’.
The locals joined our chants and the Trumpers situated themselves between the police line blocking the event, and the residents. They were facing the residents, taunting them, gesturing racist signs, and yelling at them to get out of this country.
The residents, mostly women and children who were out to enjoy the bit of sun after Melbourne’s recent rain and flooding, while still in their park behind the gate of their residence, were gathering in greater numbers as more family members came down from the flats.
Some of them ran up to their homes, grabbed Australian flags and scarves to cover their faces, and rejoined the protest to reclaim their space.
Police did not instruct the racists to move along and leave the intersection. Police did not even form a line to protect the residents from assault.
Police did not escort the Trumpers away from this area so they could demonstrate back into the side road. Nazis in broad daylight were intimidating and verbally attacking residents, and police did nothing at all.
Some of our protesters formed a line between residents and the police as a show of protection, support and solidarity. The residents showed immense courage and leadership. They were offered the mega-phones by socialists and took charge of the chants. This forced police to block off the entire intersection and the Trumpers were surrounded completely by the protesters from every end of the intersection.
If police had done their duty to protect the community and moved the racists along before the protest surrounded both sides, the demonstration would have remained contained and both sides would have occupied clearly defined spaces. Instead, the Nazis were in the middle, protected by the circle of police facing us.
Trump supporters surrounded from both ends of the intersection by protesters, police facing demonstrators, without any eyes inside the circle.
The Nazis continued to gesture vile racist signs, chant hate speech and air-punch at a group of youth as a way of inviting them to a fight. Some of the youth residents walked closer to the police line and police pushed them, yelling at demonstrators to stand back.
A number of us kept marshalling and patrolling this line to ensure demonstrators did not try to break through police line, mainly because we had children at the front lines, and these were riot police with the state-sanctioned authority to violently diffuse our demonstration.
One young protestor pushed his ‘No Nazis’ placard closer to the police line. One of the Nazis grabbed that sign, smeared it, and ripped it apart.
This same Nazi continued to taunt the protestor, later walking out of the police protected circle and down the tram line, continuing the racist chants and gestures (as can be seen here).
A group of youth chased him down the road and police marched onto them, pepper-sprayed them then escorted the Nazi back.
Despite clashes outside the protest lines, we maintained our presence and worked to continue marshalling the protest to ensure the protection of the community members who had joined us, from the police and from the fascists who were becoming more belligerent. The local residents were beautiful in their hospitality despite the ensuing events. They led protesters out of the streets and into their homes to help them wash off the pepper spray. They brought tea out to injured protesters and stood in circles protecting medics in the garden and offering assistance.
We decided to do a victory march to clear the air for a while. The police blocked off the entire intersection in our absence. Seeing this, the Nazis began to walk through the residential compound to taunt the mostly African residents. These fascists were coming out entering the compound from all directions in groups of three or four, and they were heading to assemble across the venue, not to attend it. They were not there for the event.
Once they had crossed into the compound, the demonstration was no longer a demonstration, but a physical struggle over space. Each time fascists were spotted inside the compound, and across the tram line down the road from the venue, identified by their chants and labelled outfits, some of our antifa and youth protestors would chase them out. Demonstrators were situated across the elevated tram stop gates, across the residential garden gates, across all ends of the intersection.
It was a large area to cover, and as clashes broke out, demonstrators began to scatter across the tram line and into the compound as police pushed us without warning to isolate us further off the road, using pepper spray and banging on their shields.
There were so many moments where those of us who were more experienced activists had to physically put our arms out between protesters and police. Each time a protester moved slightly forward, the police would bring up their shield and throw that protester back. Each time a protester put up their fists when officers were pushing our line back, police would put their hands on their pepper sprays and sometimes on their guns.
I had to physically push children out of harm’s way further back into the demonstration lines. Children who became witnesses, not only of police violence and heavy-handedness, but of their streets becoming safe-havens for the estimated 2,500 fascists attending Milo’s events.
The protest went on for four hours, and close to 10.30 pm sound and light grenades were thrown in the residential garden. It’s unclear whether they were thrown by police or by protesters.
Police marched towards us, despite being on the street and far from the grenades, ready to use their batons. We needed to remain in the area to keep the riot police in position away from the residents. We remained in position for as long as possible, then organisers decided to escort the protestors out of the intersection despite police blocking off all roads to the area. We chanted: Let us march. Police refused to move. They surrounded us in a small square from both sides of the road.
Residents led us out to another main road through the residential area. It was close to 11pm and as a visible hijabi living an hour away by train, I needed to leave. I escorted the children with me further back into the residential area so they could walk up safely to their flats and then walked to the train station.
I left the protest with an immense feeling of guilt. I left in safety while my brothers and sisters faced the brutal end of the law. I wish I could have been there to the end, to assist in whatever way I could, to remain in solidarity.
I don’t know what happened afterwards in the residential area. How the people in the area were treated by police. How the fascists assembled after Milo’s third show ended. How the children walked home with riot police occupying the compound. How the children went to sleep on a school night and woke up the next morning to business as usual.
It was scary, it was horrible, it should not have been allowed in Kensington, a so-called multicultural hub, a refugee community. As soon as Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre learned of the selection of Milo’s venue, they released a statement condemning the choice as an intrusion on the community:
Whether this became a physically violent clash or didn’t is not the question. The violence was not within any one group’s control – not the protestors, and not the residents.
The violence was everywhere, in the approval of Milo’s visit, in the Nazi slogans, in the police armour, in Milo’s hate speech, in Trump’s caps, in the fascist placards, in the vitriol coming out of the racist microphones.
Violent clashes emerged as a resistance to the unprecedented presence of anti-black and anti-Muslim individuals in a local area with a long history of racial oppression.
How could the City of Melbourne council allow Nazis to emerge, literally, on the doorsteps of a refugee community? How could locals be confronted by vile racism in their own homes? Where was the duty of care?
The racism and police violence that pervaded the Kensington community last night was horrifying and traumatising. This is what happens when riot police are called on demonstrators who simply want their placards to remain untouched. This is what happens when fascists descend upon and antagonise communities with a history of political trauma.
What a shameful, overt display of white supremacy that will taint this community for years while the alt-right choose another community to target. What a tragedy that Nazism is able to invade even our safe spaces.
The VicPol assistant commissioner reportedly stated that police stayed on Racecourse Road and did not enter the housing estate. These videos clearly show otherwise.
You can see riot police storming the Kensington flats. According to reports, police harrassed residents for hours after anti-racist protesters had left the area, beating them and spraying them with pepper spray.
Cover image via Charandev Singh, Facebook