Green Agenda editor Clare Ozich spoke with Tim Lo Surdo, Founder and National Director of Democracy in Colour, Australia’s first national racial justice advocacy organisation led by people of colour. Tim and Clare disucssed Democracy in Colour’s purpose and mission, the nature of racism in Australia and the connections between different forms of oppression.
Edited Transcript of interview between Tim Lo Surdo from Democracy in Colour and Clare Ozich from Green Agenda
Clare Ozich: Green Agenda is today talking to Tim Lo Surdo, founder of Democracy in Colour, a racial justice organisation led by people of colour. Thanks for being with us today, Tim.
Tim Lo Surdo: Thanks for having me.
Clare Ozich: Democracy in Colour is a recent initiative, launched around six months ago?
Tim Lo Surdo: Yes, that’s correct. We had our soft-launch at the start of the year, we did a crowdfunder to raise our early startup capital, and we’ve run a couple of test campaigns since then, and we’ve had our formal launch in the last couple of months, but we’ve been active since the start of the year.
Clare Ozich: You sure have, because I think it’s an organisation that, for being around for such a short time, is already making a significant mark. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Democracy in Colour is, and what you’re attempting to do?
Tim Lo Surdo: Democracy in Colour is Australia’s first national racial justice advocacy organisation led by people of colour, so led by impacted communities. We do three things: the first thing we do is we run campaigns to tackle structural racism. The second thing we do is we hold political corporate and cultural leaders to account on the things they say and do around race, and the third thing we do is we do work to build a political constituency around people of colour. So, we do leadership development, capacity-building training work to strengthen the political voice and power of people of colour in Australian political discourse.
Clare Ozich: So why now? What was the impetus to set this organisation up in Australia at this point in time?
Tim Lo Surdo: So, there are three gaps that Democracy in Colour aims to fill in the anti-racism space. The first one is that this is a space that’s mostly comprised of education and service delivery work. And those things are obviously crucially important, but social change is an ecosystem and the core act that’s not being played at the moment is political campaign advocacy work that speaks truth to power, and isn’t tethered to the leash of government funding. So that’s a core gap that we want to fill, or work towards filling. We’re a campaigning body, we’re explicitly political, non-partisan, but explicitly political. And we’re very independent, so we don’t take funds from government or corporations.
The second gap we want to fill is that the anti-racism space is often overwhelmingly dominated by white people. You have organisations that work in these spaces that are entirely white, or their leadership is entirely white, and these spaces are often dominated by unhelpful things like saviour complexes and victim narratives and other damaging constructs and narratives that don’t lead towards structural change.
we want to do work that’s explicitly about, and unapologetically about, building the political power of people of colour, and tackling racism from a structural lens
The third gap we’re trying to fill is that work around building a political constituency around people of colour. We want to do work that strengthens the cross-cultural and cross-racial understanding of what it means to be a person of colour in Australia. And we want to do work that’s explicitly about, and unapologetically about, building the political power of people of colour, and tackling racism from a structural lens, not just viewing racism as a problem unto itself, but as a symptom of a broader, broken system that intrinsically relies on racism to sustain itself.
Clare Ozich: So you mentioned before, and it’s there on the website as part of how you describe yourselves, the concept of social change being an ecosystem, which I think you were kind of just alluding to then. Could you just tell us a little bit more about that concept?
Tim Lo Surdo: So, I don’t think it’s particularly novel to say that there are a broad variety of actors that need to be played in any sort of social change, and that have been played in all successful social movements, whether they’re your citizens, or your change agents, your reformers, your radicals. And we all play a very important role, and each of the work of those different actors contributes and complements the other.
So it’s a problem when some of those actors are missing, and I think in the anti-racism space, we’ve got a lot of great work that’s happening from the education space and the service-delivery space, and this space has a severe deficiency of work that is around political organising, that’s around campaigning, and using techniques, whether they be online and offline to build power in communities, that’s fundamentally valid. Changing the relations of power to strengthen communities of colour as opposed to just playing the same game we’ve always been playing.
Clare Ozich: So it’s a space that’s perhaps got a few too many reformers, and a few too few change agents and radicals in it?
Tim Lo Surdo: Yeah. And that’s not to discount the incredible work that has been done for a very long time by activists in this space, been doing this for decades. And there’s a longstanding history of work that’s been done in the space by Indigenous groups as well, and a lot of that has been really successful. I think the work that we see that’s missing is work that’s explicitly about organising communities of colour through an organisation, through an institution and a space, that’s dedicated towards supplementing and increasing the capacity of those activists who’ve been doing this great work, often been doing this work without resources and as individuals.
Clare Ozich: I heard you speak very powerfully a few months ago at the Progress conference.
Tim Lo Surdo: Thank you.
Clare Ozich: And you used a phrase there that I’ve subsequently seen referenced again on the website. You talk about the current system, the neoliberal capitalist system creating an environment for the merchants of fear to “weaponise our differences”. Weaponising our differences – I was really struck by that phrase and the power of it. Can you just talk a little bit about that notion?
Tim Lo Surdo: Sure. So I think we live in an economic and a political system that is screwing over people like that with increasing ferocity. It is a neoliberal, predatory capitalist, fundamentally cannibalistic system that is predicated off this fetish with perpetual growth. And it’s a system that has seen human beings degraded, with full hopes and dreams degraded into being nothing more than numbers on someone’s balance sheets. Where our worth is solely based off how much stuff we own or our ability to create capital.
And I think people are becoming sick and tired of a system that treats them like numbers, that treats them like bags of flesh, whose sole purpose is to accumulate more stuff and create more stuff for the big end of town. And it’s created an environment where you’ve got savvy, political operatives who are prepared to do whatever it takes to further their own power, even if it does mean participating in an unconscionable manipulation of our fears, even if it does mean breaking down communities.
You’ve got this savvy, political operatives who have identified an opportunity here, who’ve identified this climate of discontent and dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the establishment, and they’re taking that discontent and convincing us that it’s our neighbours that don’t look like us, that are the roots and cause of these systemic ills. And that we should be pointing the finger of blame at each other, as opposed to the rules.
I think that’s the core of our analysis, Democracy in Colour’s analysis, of how structural racism is created, that it is a tool, fundamentally it’s a tool, and a crucial tool behind how neoliberalism thrives, and just how it survives. You can’t have a system that screws everybody over. The only way that system survives is if it can convince the people it’s screwing over that there’s this other, there’s this opponent, this enemy that’s doing it instead of the rules. And in this case, the opponent and enemy are often are communities of colour.
Clare Ozich: Democracy in Colour’s not afraid of being controversial, already. One of the first interventions you made concerned the Palm Sunday rally in Melbourne, where you teamed up with RISE, a refugee-led refugee organisation, to demand more people with lived experience of being refugees speak at the rally, which was a refugee rally. There was a great deal of pushback from various organisations and people, and I think the reverberations of it are still being felt in various communities.
Why did you take the position that you did, and what are your thoughts on the reception you received?
Tim Lo Surdo: So in terms of why we decided to get involved in that campaign and work with RISE on running that campaign, it’s core to the idea of Democracy in Colour. Democracy in Colour is about fulfilling a variety of different interventions. One of those interventions is that we know that ironically, it is the refugee justice space and the anti-racism space that are overwhelmingly dominated by white people.
I think this has always existed in this space, an attitude where you have white saviours who believe that people of colour and impacted communities cannot create change without the white man getting involved.
Well-meaning white people, who at times participate in saviour complexes and victim narratives, that mean that the agency of impacted communities are silenced, and that we don’t see their leadership because we’ve constructed structures and spaces that either intentionally or otherwise don’t allow for their participation, and certainly don’t allow for their leadership.
So that’s the whole idea of Democracy in Colour. We’re an organisation led by and for people of colour. And so the whole idea of impacted communities taking leadership, both in terms of communications, in campaigns, but also in the strategy development, is central to our DNA. And so when we’re looking at the Palm Sunday march, which had an expected reach of 20,000 people, could’ve been this extraordinary opportunity for people to hear from actually impacted communities about what we can do as allies to help dismantle this brutal system, that we are all complicit in, as non-refugees.
It could’ve been that opportunity, and yet when we first engaged with the Palm Sunday march, the first programme had just one speaker with lived experience on it. And this is not an isolated incident, this happens not just with the Palm Sunday march, but it happens with a lot of, again, ironically, it’s a big thing in the refugee rights space, it happens with a lot of refugee events, and it has happened with a lot of Palm Sunday marches in the past.
And so we decided to launch this campaign around encouraging the organisers of the Palm Sunday march, the Refugee Advocacy Network, to increase the number of people with lived experience, former refugees, former detainees, who were speaking on there. And RISE put forward a list of suggested speakers around that.
Clare Ozich: And you received a relatively hostile reception to your campaign.
Tim Lo Surdo: Yes, we did.
Clare Ozich: From the organisers of the Palm Sunday rally. What are your thoughts on that? When I found out about it, which was a bit later down the track, I was quite surprised by the tenor of some of the responses that I heard about.
Tim Lo Surdo: Well I don’t think it’s surprising, I think this has always existed in this space, an attitude where you have white saviours who believe that people of colour and impacted communities cannot create change without the white man getting involved. Who believe that they are the heroes in these narratives, who construct these narratives where they are the central protagonists, and who treat impacted communities and broadly communities of colour as tokens.
There was no way they were going to be able to run the Palm Sunday march with no refugee speakers, they had to have one, and that’s what they did. I mean, the whole idea of it just speaks and reeks of tokenism, of symbolism, meaningless symbolism, and the response to it, to what is just such a simple request, that you add more speakers with lived experience. RISE even provided some suggestions. They were the organisers, they could’ve turned around and agreed to that, but the fact that they not only didn’t agree to that, but they participated in silencing tactics like deleting the comments and posts of people, supporters, and of both Democracy in Colour and of RISE, who were encouraging the organisers to increase the number of people with lived experience in the programme in the Facebook event.
And then they completely shut off the ability of people to comment and post in that event, examples like that just showcase, I think, the real attitude of some of the people in these spaces towards impacted communities. And I think it’s always existed, and it takes moments like this, and it takes campaigns like this to bring that hypocrisy out from the shadows.
And I think the moment where, with the deleting of comments and posts, which is what the Refugee Advocacy Network engaged in, and the moment where they released these bizarre statements accusing us of, I think, derailing the campaign, derailing the rally, they were the moments where that hypocrisy became real, that always existed in this space, but it’s been hidden behind well-meaning platitudes.
And it takes moments like this, and it takes stress points like this to bring it out into the open. Because at the end of the day, this was a predominantly white organisation, organising a rally about refugee rights. You have a refugee-led advocacy organisation going to that white organisation saying that your rally is in danger of being perceived and of being tokenistic because you only have one person with lived experience on it. Instead of engaging with that refugee-led organisation in a reasonable discourse, they decide to shut down debate, they decide to release bizarre statements, accusing that organisation of trying to derail the rally.
I think if you look at it in that way, just with how simple a request it was, and just how strong a backlash it was, backlash that is still continuing today, it goes to show how entrenched structural racism is, even within our own so-called “progressive” spaces.
We had a refugee speak, a former refugee speaker, at our Melbourne launch, Democracy in Colour’s Melbourne launch. And he got phone calls from, I think, three different states, from some of the groups who were involved in the Refugee Advocacy Network, telling him not to speak at our launch event because of the campaign that Democracy in Colour was involved with around the Palm Sunday march.
And we’ve had ongoing backlash that has been facilitated in part by these groups up until this day. Predominately again, because of our work around the Palm Sunday march, and it’s just, again, it just strikes me as just such a simple thing we asked for, and the fact that we got quite a brutal and immediate backlash. Imagine if we’d asked for something even more structural and tangible than having more speakers, what kind of backlash would we have got there? I just think it’s so indicative of how, at times, broken this space is.
Clare Ozich: Yes, and indicative I think, as you said before, of our capacity as white people particularly in the progressive space, or the left space, to really genuinely, I think, acknowledge and appreciate not just that structural racism exists and is a fundamental kind of part of our society and culture and nation, but that to address it means something more than just often what we already do, because it’s going to have to mean fundamental changes to power relationships in our society, and not many of us feel comfortable in acknowledging that, and acting accordingly.
Tim Lo Surdo: That’s right. Who speaks at rallies, who is seen as the leaders, who is doing the media, who’s creating and involved in the strategy discussions, all of these things require space to be given up to impacted communities, and that does mean losing power from the dominant groups of people that have traditionally been in those roles and been making those decisions. And that evidently has been uncomfortable, too uncomfortable for some of these groups.
Clare Ozich: So in terms of not just those groups, but kind of any groups working on any kind of issues that are wanting to be more effective allies or work in coalition with people of colour, what’s your advice? And I feel uncomfortable even asking that question because it’s an annoying one, I know. But I guess the answers are actually just what you said, it’s about providing space for leadership for people of colour in what you are doing.
Tim Lo Surdo: Yes. And I think it’s being genuine and honest and real with your intentions as well. Why do you actually want to engage with communities of colour? Why do you actually want to engage with impacted communities? And oftentimes, the real reason for that, not the one that you’ll say on your website or on your strategic plan or around the water cooler, but the real reason that everyone in the organisation intuitively knows, even if it’s never said, is that it’s because you have to because it’s socially obligated, or because it makes your annual report look a little bit more colourful. Or because it’s the sob-story that you need, that’s been tested, in terms of fundraising, performs best in fundraising tests.
We want to break down systems of white supremacy, of the patriarchy, of neoliberalism, and the only way we can do that is by ensuring that yes, we build broad base movements, but we have and centre the leadership and experience of the communities that are most impacted by the issues we work on in those movements
And it means that often engagement with impacted communities devolves to treating people’s bodies like PR tools. And that might be sufficient if you’re just working on an issue-by-issue basis, but it will never be sufficient if you actually want to facilitate structural change, which is, I’m sure, ultimately what we all want to do.
We want to break down systems of white supremacy, of the patriarchy, of neoliberalism, and the only way we can do that is by ensuring that yes, we build broad base movements, but we have and centre the leadership and experience of the communities that are most impacted by the issues we work on in those movements, so that those movements are real, and that they’re most strategic, that they’re directed towards the source of the problems, and the best solutions that these communities know best because they live them.
Clare Ozich: And just following on a little bit from that, Australia at the moment is in the midst of this debate on same-sex marriage or marriage equality, which is in many ways not really a debate about marriage equality at all, but a debate about the threat or otherwise of queerness in our society. And Democracy in Colour have recently fundraised to employ some organisers to work on that campaign.
Tim Lo Surdo: That’s correct.
Clare Ozich: Why?
Tim Lo Surdo: Why have we done that? Well there’ve been a couple of reasons. The first reason is that we know that opponents of equality are relying in part on tired stereotypes and manipulative campaigning to portray communities of colour as intrinsically homophobic. And we know they’re doing that so that they can get people of colour to either not vote at all or vote no.
And they are going to some of the more vulnerable communities in this country, some of the communities that are more susceptible because of a whole variety of different reasons around language, around culture, around their history in this country. Some of the communities that are more susceptible to misinformation, and they deliberately are promoting those. You might’ve seen the disgusting fliers in Chinese that were pushed out in some suburbs in Sydney as an example.
So that’s one reason, that we’re in a better position than some other organisations just because of the DNA and makeup of our organisation, to go got communities of colour and talk about why our values are in sync with the values of equality. And we’d be talking to them in their language, literally and metaphorically, we’d be talking to them with people from their own communities. And so we believe that we have a value-add in that space.
So that’s one reason, the second reason is that queer people of colour obviously exist, and these are some of the folks that are most invisible when we talk about these debates. Especially when we have these sorts of campaigns, especially when they’re so time-constrained, and there’s a very clear strategy to win. And that means turning out the vote of likely yes voters, and that means focusing on predominantly white, predominantly middle class, tertiary-educated, inner-city people. And that’s not communities of colour generally.
And so there’s that gap there, and that’s fine, because that’s what the campaign needs to do to win, but again there’s that value-add of what Democracy in Colour can add. And that gap there and that intervention around the communities that are often forgotten and most invisible in these debates. And these are the communities that are some of the most impacted.
You’ve got queer people of colour who live at the intersection of racism, homophobia and transphobia. So you’ve got this idea that we have a value add to play, because of the makeup of the organisation. There is the point that the mainstream campaign is not going to be talking to these communities because it’s just not the most strategic return of investment. And then you’ve got this idea, that we’re talking about some of the most impacted of these communities, communities that are often forgotten and invisible in these campaigns. That’s why we’re involved.
Clare Ozich: Awesome. And I’d also think too, that the other thing that you’re bringing, I think very clearly, is a much deeper understanding of the interactions between systems of oppression. So similar systems of oppression work around racism, you talked about it before, racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and how they actually come from similar places and wielded in similar ways by people that want to keep those structures in place, which is I think what we’re seeing on the No side of this campaign.
Tim Lo Surdo: And that’s a core part of our DNA, I’d hope that’s a core part of all work we do, not just in the marriage equality campaign, but that’s one of the core reasons why we wanted to set up Democracy in Colour beyond the other reasons I talked about, was that, like I mentioned before, we don’t want to treat racism just as a problem unto itself, it is that, but it is so much more. It is the symptom of a broader system that treats us like nothing, that degrades us to be these numbers, these machines.
And that flows through every manifestation of oppression, whether it’s around your sexuality, your gender, your class, your able-bodiedness, the colour of your skin.
Clare Ozich: So I want to move on to another question. The victory of Trump in the U.S. and Brexit, and a the rise or the re-rise of Pauline Hanson here in Australia, has led to a lot of discussion on the broader left around a distinction that’s being made between economic and material concerns, and what gets called identity politics. And I have my own various thoughts on this distinction – I think is quite false – but I’d been quite keen to know your thoughts on that debate.
Tim Lo Surdo: Well, I believe that all politics is identity politics, and we have seen and we are seeing incredibly successful organising for decades around gender, around sexuality, around class. And Democracy in Colour is about adding to the organising that’s happening around race. So I don’t think what we do with regards to race and racism is any different to what unions do with workers, or to what feminist organisations do with women, or to what LGBTIQ+ organisations do with queer folks.
I think when we put up this false dichotomy between class and race, that’s playing into the hands of our opponents, that’s what they want us to do, because we have, I think, going back to what we were talking about before, we’ve got this system where all of our oppression is intertwined
The difference, I think, is that there is less work happening in this space that’s actually led by impacted communities, and that’s what we’re trying to add. So I think that all politics is identity politics, and look, people’s identity is often what leads them to get into politics in the first place, and I think that the idea of identity politics is how people who aren’t white, radicalise in the first place.
And I think when we put up this false dichotomy between class and race, that’s playing into the hands of our opponents, that’s what they want us to do, because we have, I think, going back to what we were talking about before, we’ve got this system where all of our oppression is intertwined. We have this structure that is absolutely contingent on racism and structural racism, it is institutionalised racism.
We’ve got a system where in this country inequality is at 76 year highs, 40% of Australians are in insecure work, you’ve got youth unemployment is in double digits, you’ve got 1%, the top 1% of Australians who have the same wealth as the bottom 70%.
So you’ve got all of these different things that create an environment where people are, an increasing number of people are, living paycheck-to-paycheck, because of diminishing economic prospects for themselves and their families, and it’s creating this fertile environment for these merchants of fear, these con artists, people like Pauline Hansons, your Avi Yeminis, your George Christensens, and Cory Bernardis, to come together, and speak this narrative that, one, recognises that pain but offers them false solutions and false opponents, and tells them that the cause of their structural ills is a neighbour who doesn’t look like them, who has different cultural practices, who believes in a different god.
And so when we have this dichotomy between class and race, we’re playing into that. When you’re playing into the narrative that says that the housing affordability crisis was cause by, or is being caused by immigration, that the answer to complex national security problems is scapegoating Muslims. You’re playing into the narratives that end up with those policy outcomes.
So I think it’s absolutely crucial that we start to talk about, one, structural and systemic change, that we start to talk about neoliberalism as wrong. It was never designed to work for us. We need to talk about that first
Then, we need to be designing and putting forward a radical vision for what a more just and fair world could look like, the world that most people everywhere want to live in, a world where it’s the maximisation of a human potential and not profit, that guides our decisions. A world where the inherent worth and dignity of everyone is recognised, irrespective of your class, your race, your gender, your sexuality, or anything else. We need to be putting that forward, we need to be fighting for that.
And that’s the kind of politics, and that’s the kind of narrative that I think builds the type of broad-base movement we need to be building, to have the power we need to be building, to win that sort of structural change. So, you can’t get there if you don’t have a narrative that recognises how those oppressions are interlocked, if you think they’re at the expense of each other, if you think they’re somehow mutually exclusive, which is what that debate puts forward.
Clare Ozich: I agree. I get quite frustrated with the way that the concept of identity politics has been turned into a negative, because while I think there’s an element of that politics that’s decoupled from structural oppressions, which is an annoying politics, but what I think a number of people do is write-off the whole concept of identity politics and that I think, in large part because of the influence of neoliberalism. It has focused us away, very successfully, from an analysis of structural oppression, and making everything about the individual and whether we are good or bad individual people, rather than a structural analysis. And the structural analysis that has come from anti-racist work, from feminism, from queer politics is actually not something that we ever want to let go of. We want to build on it, and we want to critique it and we want to keep interrogating it, but it’s pretty essential part of a society that is liberated and free.
Tim Lo Surdo: Yeah. And I think the debate is damaging as well because it masks the real challenges I think that the left faces, which is establishment politics. It’s not having the courage to say forthrightly and unapologetically that neoliberalism is a broken system that was never built for us, never built for the majority of people irrespective of what you look like, who you are.
And it was built to serve a tiny elite at the perpetual expense of the opportunity and dignity of everyone else. And as long as we’re having these fights amongst ourselves, we’re never going to be speaking about this broader narrative that I think has the potential to speak to a lot of people who are feeling the pain of neoliberalism right now, and will continue to feel that pain.
Clare Ozich: Following on from that, Green Agenda’s recently published a couple of pieces on the rise of the far-right. We spoke to Jason Wilson in America about the rise of the right over there, and I note that you recently spoke at an anti-fascist rally.
Tim Lo Surdo: Yeh. I did.
Clare Ozich: So, we’ve talked a lot today about progressive organisations, and we’ve just talked a little bit about the material concerns that might be seen to contribute to the rise of the right. What are your thoughts on the rise of the right, is it a genuine threat? And if it is, what do we do to combat it?
Tim Lo Surdo: I think it is very much tied to our discussion around identity politics that we just had. I think it’s definitely a genuine threat. I think like we talked about before, we’ve got an economic system that is contingent on, relies on growing the global economy, I think, by an average of 3% every year, which requires more than two trillion dollars worth of new wealth every year. And it’s this ideology that we have been fooled into following since birth, through propaganda, being drip-fed it through every single aspect of our lives, and it means that it’s manifested in a lot of the challenges that we’re seeing right now.Like the logic of that system just doesn’t work, you cannot have a system that has this fetish with perpetual growth on a finite planet. And we’re seeing the results of that, we’ve seen since 1980 the economy has grown by, what is it, 380%? It’s grown by a lot, and since that time there’ve been another another 1.1 billion people since 1980, another 1.1 billion people in poverty living under $5 a day. Since 1980, we’ve seen an increase of 94% of global material extraction and consumption.
So we’ve been sold this lie that the only way we build a prosperous and harmonious society is if we buy more stuff, consume more stuff, create more stuff, and in fact, it’s totally the opposite. That ideology means that we’re burning our planet literally and metaphorically, it means that we’re putting more people in poverty, it means that we’re seeing spiralling inequality, it means all of these different things.
We’re currently in the 6th major extinction crisis over the history of complicated multicellular life, 500 million years of history and over that time there have been five major extinction crises, and we’re currently in the 6th one, and this wasn’t caused by some asteroid or some natural phenomena. It’s been caused and driven by us. We’re driving extinction levels to heights not seen in 60+ million years.
So we have this system that is fundamentally broken, it has real repercussions, and those repercussions are being felt by everyday people around the world. And those people are looking for answers, and when they look to the left, they see a group of organisations and political parties and actors that don’t even recognise that pain. Ironically, the main actors on the left are the biggest proponents and the biggest defenders of the status quo of the establishment. And then when they look to the far right, they see a group of actors who they might not agree with everything that they’re saying, and the proposals to the challenges that they’re saying, but at least those people actually recognise the pain that they’re facing.
And they see their lives as real, I think. They see diminishing economic prospects, they see that there’s a housing affordability crisis, they see that the cost of living is going through the roof, and they see that it’s becoming increasingly hard to just survive and exist in this world, whether it’s anxiety and depression, all sorts of things. The way that neoliberalism atomises us to be individuals, to fight as individuals, against these increasingly complex and large problems.
And I wish these people would recognise those challenges. And so I think that’s why they go to them, that’s why we’re seeing an increasing number of folks who find that sort of rhetoric, and those policies and these actors convincing, because when you’ve got a choice between a group on the left that doesn’t see you at all and doesn’t recognise you and that thinks everything is fine, that we just need to be doing more of the same. I think it’s typified in Hillary Clinton, one of her campaign slogans that, “America is already great.” Well, it is for a small elite, but it’s definitely not for a large chunk of American families.
And then you’ve got a group on the right who again, they might not agree with all of the proposals that are coming out of their mouths, but at least they see the pain they’re going through. And so I think in terms of fighting the far-right, it’s crucial that we recognise the pain that is being felt by all communities. At the end of the day, there is much more that separates the 48 millionaires who paid no tax in Australia in 2015, then there is that separates me from a white person, or a straight person from a queer person, or the divisions that society likes to construct amongst us, that’s what we’ve got to be focusing on.
We need to recognise who our true enemies are, and that’s the 1%. It’s the tiny elite that built the system, that built this enormous, unprecedented wealth off our labour, off our sweat, off our blood, off our bodies, off our families.
We need to have a politics that speaks that, that recognises the pain of all of these different communities, that recognises who our true enemies are, and that proposes a radically different vision of what this country and what this society and world could look like. I think that’s how we call that.
Clare Ozich: The other element of that of course is that when the far-right is active, it is the bodies of people of colour that are often on the front lines. They’re the targets, often. The scapegoats. So how do communities of colour deal with that? Manage that? And how do we as a society deal with that and manage that?
Tim Lo Surdo:I think it is everyone, I think like we were talking about before, at the end of the day there is so much more that separates me from a billionaire and a millionaire than there is that separates me from some white One Nation voter in Townsville or wherever.
And I think the system does impact us all, the system is a structure that atomizes us, that is making us feel more anxious and more depressed than any other, more meaningless and purposeless than maybe we’ve ever felt before. It’s a system that’s getting us to work harder and longer and more efficiently than ever before. It’s a system that gives us less because of it. And it’s a system that’s screwing over our planet and destroying our precious places. And these impacts are felt by everyone.
it is important to think that at a fundamental level, we are all screwed over by neoliberalism, and we are all going to experience the impacts of this, and it is in all of our self interests to come together to fight back
Obviously some of those impacts are experienced in a more pronounced way by some communities, and a more immediate sense by some communities, and definitely communities of colour are on the forefront of those, whether it’s environmental racism and some of those communities being on the forefront of the impacts of climate change, whether it is them being the scapegoats of far-right, white nationalists or other things.
But I think, it is important to think that at a fundamental level, we are all screwed over by neoliberalism, and we are all going to experience the impacts of this, and it is in all of our self interests to come together to fight back.
In terms of how communities of colour can work against some of those immediate impacts and some of the more pronounced impacts that we inevitably face, I think it’s crucial that we’re talking in those broader narratives, that we do the work with allies to build broad-based narratives that speak not only of our own pain, but of the pain of everyone, if you’re not in the 1% of elite, is most likely feeling. And to speak of our hope for what a better society could look like and how that society only manifests itself if we all work together.
And whilst we’re doing that we’re still doing everything else we talked about around centering the leadership of impacted communities, they’re not mutually exclusive concepts.
It’s often portrayed that if you want to centre the leadership of impacted communities, you can’t build broad-based movements, well that’s not true. In fact, I think it’s the leadership of impacted communities, and it’s their stories of the pain and the horrors and the hope that they feel that inspires and provides the foundation for something more. The kind of movement that we need to be building in order to get the power we need to have to fundamentally change these structures.
So I think it’s about coming together as communities, it’s about speaking that pain, speaking our hopes, it’s about organising amongst ourselves and building our strength up, but it’s also about building broad-based movements, centering the leadership of impacted communities at the forefront, and ensuring that allies know what their role is, and know what their role is isn’t, as well.
Clare Ozich: We might leave it there. Thank you so much. I think the analysis that you and the organisation bring is just extraordinarily important right now.
Tim Lo Surdo: Thank you.
Clare Ozich: So thank you so much for sharing it with Green Agenda, and Democracy in Colour has a website.
Tim Lo Surdo: Yes, it’s democracyincolour.org and you can donate, if you’re an ally you can sign up as an ally, and you can donate. The donation part is important because we are a grassroots startup, and we want to be scaling our resources rapidly, so we can be scaling our impact rapidly.
If you identify as a person of colour you can become a member of Democracy in Colour. We’re a member-led organisation, so you’ll have an opportunity to shape our strategic direction, inform what campaigns to run and participate and lead in those campaigns yourselves. You can also sign up to volunteer, again, we’re led by volunteers around the country. All of our roles are essentially done by committed people of colour who are bringing their skills and their talents and their wisdom to growing this dream.
Clare Ozich: And you’re national, there’s people in all states?
Tim Lo Surdo: That’s right.
Clare Ozich: It’s extraordinary, what’s occurred in the last sort of six months, it’s really quite amazing.
Tim Lo Surdo: Got a lot of work to go.
Clare Ozich: I know, I know. Always a lot of work to go. Still, as I said, I think you made such a mark already, and to have that analysis so clear and being acted on so forcefully is really quite excellent. And Tim is also going to be at the Green Institute conference, Everything is Connected, in October. So if you want to hear more from Tim, come along to the conference.
Thank you so much Tim, really appreciate you taking the time.
Tim Lo Surdo: Thank you for having me.