“It’s all too much,” Rima thinks. Weeks after Trump took out the election, the hate crimes are still on the increase. Her eyes glaze over as she reads another article on her Facebook feed. A Muslim woman was attacked at San Jose University. A man ran up behind her, pulled at her hijab and choked her. “Sure, Sydney’s a long way from California,” she reasons, “but the impact this Ku Klux Klan-endorsed buffoon is having is being felt globally.”
For the past weeks, Rima’s been in a daze. “How could a nation like the States actually elect a man who proposes a ban on Muslims?” she asks herself again. But then it comes back. Australia recently elected Pauline Hanson to federal parliament and in her maiden speech she’d called for a similar ban.
Scrolling down, Rima comes across another article. This one states that Syrian government warplanes are pounding opposition-held areas of Aleppo. It’s a continuation of a four-year long battle over key areas of the city, which has resulted in the deaths of countless civilians. Rima thinks about the never-ending turmoil of her people back home. Then she turns her head away from the screen.
There have been times when Rima thought she could make a difference, but with this growing climate of hate, all she feels is powerless.
Rima walks down the avenue through the university on the way to her chemistry lecture. One of those politically-aware types approaches her from a table covered in a socialist red cloth and hands her a flyer.
The photocopied leaflet is titled: The Rise of the Alt-Right: How Can You Make a Change? There’s a picture of Trump, a swastika, a couple of what look to be Nazi stormtroopers and then to the side some Islamic women in burka. Rima goes to roll her eyes – her generic gesture – as she looks at the piece of paper, but then she checks herself. The message somehow speaks to her, and she notes the meeting time that afternoon, along with the room it’s to be held in.
This-really-isn’t-my-scene is the emotion that sweeps Rima as she makes her way into the tutorial room at half five in the afternoon. She rarely mixes outside the company of her fellow science students, and the motley group gathered here all look like they’re from the arts. There’s a few women with dyed green and blue hair, the guys have either long flowing locks or it’s all clean shaven, and they’ve all got that opinionated look.
Rima takes a seat at one of the tables arranged in a horseshoe around the room, so that everybody’s facing one another. And in a few moments the conversation begins.
“It’s all happened before. Chomsky said it years ago. This period in US history is like Germany’s Weimar Republic right before the rise of Hitler,” says Ai, who isn’t affiliated with any group, but considers herself an anarchist.
“But we all know that Trump – despite his rhetoric about helping the working class – represents the wealthiest part of that top one percent of society. And these guys have got these fascist bullyboys out in the streets attacking people of colour. I just can’t see how someone like me can make any impact when facing such institutionalised oppression,” she says.
“I’ll tell you how you can make an impact. It’s about bandying together and taking affirmative action – letting those neoliberal forces know that we ain’t going to support their system or fight for it,” explains Terry.
He’s been the secretary of the university’s main socialist group for several years now and his Marxism is down pat. “It’s times like these when the conservatives are in power that citizens unite. Take the counterculture of the late sixties. Here in Australia and in the States people mobilised in huge numbers against the Vietnam War.”
“Well I can tell you, over recent years, there’s been a lot of headway made for transgender rights, and a major reason why is that people like me have been putting it out there,” says Cindy, who’s just finished her final philosophy assignment for the year. “We’ve had a strong media presence and we’ve made ourselves known in the streets.”
“Now if you look at the reports coming out of the US hate crimes towards trans people are increasing due to Trump. And they’re happening here too,” she continues, as all eyes in the room are upon her. “But this is certainly not the time to try and hide who you really are. I’ve read reports that some trans people are detransitioning in the US to try and stay safe as this guy’s about to take power.”
“This is what they want. They want us to obey them in advance. This is where they get their power from. We think there’s an oppressive government coming in and we start doing what we think they want us to do, before they even have time to ask,” Cindy concludes. “We have to stay strong and make it known that we do exist.”
And these last words resonate with Rima. She realises it’s her duty to speak out. “Yes Cindy, I agree with what you’re saying. For weeks, I’ve been wandering around depressed, feeling like there’s no hope for marginalised people in Australia,” she says, as her voice breaks with embarrassment.
“It’s like this though. Here in Australia there’s a vocal right-wing minority who declare that people like me shouldn’t be allowed to live here. And they’re represented in politics and in the media.”
“But as you walk through the streets of the city, you find a diverse society – both multiculturally and gender-wise – and people on the ground are living and interacting as a cohesive community. And it’s the power of this unity that this hateful alt-right doesn’t take into account.”