Give Sydney Back: The Move Against Keep Sydney Open
For most non-white folks who live outside of the CBD, Keep Sydney Open has always appeared deeply problematic, perpetuating systems of white supremacy and refusing accountability when called upon. Their recent alignment with the Sustainable Australia party has sparked much more conversation around the ethics and intent of this party. As a settler Thamil womxn who grew up in Western Sydney, the child of immigrants and an artist who is actively attempting to navigate the decolonial option: I have never felt represented by this party. For those who may resonate with my experiences, here is a breakdown on why you should steer clear of Keep Sydney Open.
- Their first preference is the anti-immigration Sustainable Australia party.
The NSW State election is this Saturday, March 23rd. KSO has called on their supporters to mark Sustainable Australia as their first preference. Sustainable Australia runs on the platform of securing “an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable Australia”. The party calls for an urgent policy reform to lower “permanent immigration from a record high 200,000+ per year back to the long term average of 70,000.” So basically, the premise is that cutting down on immigration will increase environmental sustainability within Australia: the party runs on the basis of anti-immigration, veiled as environmentalism. A few clicks through their Facebook will reveal the incredibly xenophobic rhetoric they appeal to.
There are two extremely dangerous points I need to stress here. First, a party that runs on the principle of environmental sustainability but that does not prioritise environmentalism in terms of Indigenous repatriation is performative and aligns with the white supremacist structures this country was built on. Although, I’m not surprised — KSO has routinely denied accountability when it comes to addressing Indigenous struggle. How about addressing the fact that climate change and environmental destruction was caused by the colonisation of Indigenous land throughout the world? How about addressing the root of the cause instead of the symptoms?
Second, any party that maintains a policy of capping immigration is contributing to the marginalization and discrimination of non white Australian bodies. Sustainable Australia is adamant that they are not racist but are instead considering the future of Australia’s environment by insisting on the immigration cap. Whether directly or indirectly, Sustainable Australia’s anti-immigration sentiments contribute to racist resentment. This language is incredibly Trumpian. It may not seem explicitly discriminatory, but it is. Borders did not exist before colonization. Borders are white supremacist tools of oppression, we all know this. Borders have been imposed on stolen land as a way of entrenching white supremacy and systems of whiteness. Sustainable Australia are settlers who benefit from white supremacy daily, and for them to determine who can and cannot migrate onto stolen land is the epitome of white privilege — it’s dangerous and it’s divisive. KSO preferencing Sustainable Australia needs to be vigorously scrutinized, what is the intention here?
2. KSO prides itself on being “the youngest and most diverse” group of candidates running in the election. With the rise of liberal progressivism, the tokenization of diversity reaffirms the status quo. In reality, the ‘diversity’ KSO speaks of is fundamentally exclusive. Just have a look at the faces of their party here, most of their candidates are upper class white men.
Who is KSO actually representing? All of their candidates benefit from class and education privilege, and exist in spaces that are dominated by whiteness (not the Western Sydney). Tokenizing his own diversity, KSO’s campaign manager Tyson Koh talks about being a representation of non white queer artists. Koh exists in an upper middle class circle that is dominated by white creatives who are complicit in the elitism that is rampant in Sydney’s creative scene: bar, club and gallery owners, artists who hoard wealth, artists who do not make space for artists of colour. Having one representation of the queer and non white community does not equate progressivism and is only done for optics. It is dangerous to believe that being non white automatically removes you from systems of white supremacy — we must not forget that along with white privilege, class privilege is one of the greatest entitlements you can have as a settler.
So who is Koh speaking about when he talks about being the leader of young artists of colour? Is he referring to the young, working class creatives of colour who live outside of the CBD and never had access to the ‘vibrant Sydney’ due to poor infrastructure and affordability issues? If KSO is supposedly supporting to artists — what about the artists of colour who have been unpaid by the same venues that support KSO? What about artists of colour who live in the suburbs and have been historically excluded by the same entertainment industry KSO is vouching for?
Assuming that the collective diversity KSO proposes is not antithetical to neoliberalism is risky. KSO perpetuates a very skewed, exclusive model of diversity that fails to accommodate to the suburbanization of disadvantage that exists in Sydney. Just as firstwave feminism disregarded the intersections of race, gender, and class, KSO fails young artists of colour who come from working class, suburban backgrounds. Their approach on diversity is classic for white progressives who attempt to appear revolutionary while refusing to unpack their own power and privilege. KSO does not actually value diversity and inclusion, they do what it takes to appear as valuing diversity and inclusion and instead reaffirm the status quo and further white supremacy. Just as Angela Davis rejects bourgeois activism, so to do I push back against this neoliberal agenda that is cloaked in a progressive politic.
3. KSO does not prioritise Indigenous struggle. This is the most pressing goal when working towards and thinking about the decolonial model. As settlers, if we are not working towards reparations and sovereignty for our Indigenous communities, we are complicit in white supremacy. KSO has the platform, the ‘progressivism’ to initiate this move — but time and time again they refuse to acknowledge how they benefit from stolen land and white privilege. The entire party runs on the notion of preserving the right to create and enjoy art but does not acknowledge how stolen land is the basis of their wealth, power and law. They’re fighting for their right to party on land that is not theirs.
White supremacy assumes reconciliation with Indigenous communities equals repatriation. White supremacy brainwashes us into thinking it is not our job to do the work, to consciously choose the decolonial model, act in solidarity, proactively pursue anti-colonial work. White supremacy is the fabric of our everyday lives. The ongoing Indigenous struggle and the ramifications of chattel slavery are entrenched in the structures of the western world that we occupy. Australia was built by and for whiteness, and KSO reestablishes this by not recognizing how their settler movement is further erasive of Indigenous communities.
White supremacy is the belief that the struggles of our Indigenous communities is separate from the struggles of non white and queer communities. When I approached KSO about addressing their settler privilege, they told me to “choose my battles”, epitomizing the neoliberal notion of an exclusively singular movement, proving the limits to their understanding of intersecting struggles. As settlers on stolen land, we need to be thinking about a joint struggle, about defending the earth, defending trauma and systemic violence caused by colonialism. Dismantling white supremacy means breaking down settler, resource and border colonialism. We need to address the disproportionate violence against Indigenous folks, we need to protect sacred sites. There is no liberation without Indigenous repatriation and sovereignty. Failure to recognise how we play into structures of white supremacy daily reaffirms the status quo and furthers structural inequality in Sydney and throughout Australia.