We have not organised the call for people to pledge to fast for a period of time in support of detainees on hunger strike. Given comments made on Facebook and elsewhere, it is apparent that some people have been given the impression that we have organised this event. We have not, we would not.
A group of people in Sydney have been using our name, variously spelled as Crossborder and xborder, to organise a few events over the years that we do not endorse and would never organise.
We have repeatedly asked them in private conversations over the years to come up with a name of their own, to describe their own politics and approach, rather than appropriate a name whose politics they clearly do not share, have never been involved in, and have not supported.
Worse than this, they more recently use our name to promote events and actions that we believe undermine and distract from work that we have done over many years. Obviously we have been far too nice to people who have few scruples or are too mired in self-deception.
Let’s be clear: we would not spend our limited time criticising the actions of other groups if they did not use our name to organise events we do not agree with. We all have better things to do. But what has become obvious very recently is that this fake xborder group are being used to undermine the work we have done for more than a year in the divestment, disruption and boycott campaigns (see below).
None of the people involved in this group have been involved in xborder or Crossborder Operational Matters. Given they have organised very few things over the years using our name (only to disappear soon after), each time we thought they might have decided to discover some integrity and come up with their own name.
We have given up trying to explain why they are unable to come up with their own name.
But we are clear as to what the effect of this appropriation has been in each instance: it has provided a platform for people and organisations who support mandatory detention, and it has worked to distract from and undermine work we have done, in particular around divestment from the detention industry.
Xborder was established in Melbourne in 1999. We have been consistently opposed to all forms of mandatory detention. We organised around the anti-WEF protests to engage people in solidarity actions with the protests occurring at the same time in detention camps, we organised for the protests at Woomera in 2002, and more recently we have been focused on boycott, divestment and disruption campaigns.
None of the few events organised by this other group have been directed toward ending mandatory detention, including this fast.
We are strongly committed to a diversity of tactics, and it is precisely this diversity that the appropriation of our name serves to undermine. We do not work for those who support mandatory detention. If others wish to do so, that is their concern. The appropriation of our name to form alliances with organisations and people who support mandatory detention undermines a focus on strategies that can end mandatory detention.
We do not work with people in organisations that support mandatory detention because we have seen in practice how this shifts a focus on practical and effective action to end mandatory detention, and turns things into empty hand-wringing events that even those who support mandatory detention can be involved in. Once again, if that’s what people insist on doing, they are perfectly capable of doing it without using our name.
Given it should be a simple thing to come up with their own name, we are left asking what they imagine they have to gain by not doing so.
The tangible effect of this appropriation of our name is to make it appear as if every group involved in the issue of refugees and borders is supportive of conventional political tactics that have proven time and again to be ineffective. This is a false ‘unity,’ and the appropriation of our name eliminates the real differences and diversity that exists among those who campaign around these issues. It is also highly exploitative of the work done against mandatory detention for the political ambitions of those who would see it continue.
We think that a rather Stalinist insistence on the false ‘unity’ of citizens is part of the reason why some will make lame excuses for what is plainly an act of appropriation.
Let’s be blunt: we are not interested in working to organise mini-parliaments of Australian citizens who feel uncomfortable about the concentration camps. Lots of other organisations do this, and we believe that the aim of national representation requires the border that we think is part of the problem.
Nor are we willing to have our name hijacked to make it appear as if all the groups involved in this issue are part of these ineffective citizen-feel-better events. We are committed to closing down the detention camps. We will feel better when the concentration camps are closed. Others are far more committed to recruiting for political parties or fundraising off the back of discomfort about the existence of detention centres. We will not, however, trade on the misery of those in detention.
It has been admitted that fasting is not about closing the detention centres. It is also clear that the Greens are determined to use this event to promote themselves—and the Greens have recently endorsed a policy in support of mandatory detention and for the use of asylum seekers as indentured workers.
Late last year, the NTEU passed a motion in support of divestment from the detention industry, after a series of motions were passed at campus branches.
Since then, we were told that some in the union wanted to “move away” from divestment and organise events that were about “people getting together.” It was unclear at the time what they wanted to “get people together” to do, exactly. Given this fast is what seems to have been meant, it seems therefore that they wanted to “get people together” to provide an audience/recruits for the Greens, and do nothing about mandatory detention.
We note that despite presenting themselves (falsely) as “key activists in the divestment campaign,” those in the NTEU tasked with working on refugee issues have reappeared as organisers of this fast and, as far as we know, both of these people are involved in this fake xborder group and have been directed to organise this fast rather than continue to pursue divestment. We also note the ambitions of a certain NTEU official (who also happens to be the union rep on the UniSuper Board) to be preselected for a Greens parliamentary position, so we are in this case unsurprised that there would be efforts to undermine the divestment campaign emanating from those quarters.
Particular officials from the NTEU might have been directed to ignore their own policy, but we have not forgotten what that policy is, and we call on them to pursue it with some credibility.
We think that this fake xborder group has seriously misunderstood what a crossborder politics entails. It does not mean that citizens should feel entitled to cross boundaries and grab what they can with both hands. Least of all does it mean delivering up the work of the hunger-strikers on Manus, and our work, to the Greens, particularly given the latter’s support for mandatory detention.
Finally, while the fast has been promoted as an act of solidarity, we do not think that solidarity means effacing the very real differences between citizens fasting in Sydney and people going on hunger strike while interned in a concentration camp. The border is not wished away in guilt-induced, attention-seeking gatherings of citizens. It has to be dismantled.
Note: Before this week, the #hungerforjustice hashtag was being used by a global campaign to free political prisoners in India, including a protest recently at the Indian High Commission in Canberra. It’s breathtaking just how appropriative this group in Sydney has managed to be.