This Young Australian Is Starting An Organisation To Fight Pauline Hanson And Cory Bernardi

"Growing up I quickly learnt that people were prepared to treat me differently because of the colour of my skin."

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Let’s be honest, 2016 was not a great year for people of colour. The values of diversity and multiculturalism have been under attack from a resurgent far-right, nationalism is on the rise pretty much everywhere and racist attacks are apparently becoming more common. Oh yeah, and Donald Trump became the most powerful man in the world.

Here in Australia, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has become the fourth largest political party in the country off the back of policies that target migrants and minority groups. According to recent polls they’re becoming even more popular, and that’s emboldening government MPs to push for even more anti-migrant policies.

The toxic state of politics in Australia can be pretty bloody demoralising. What we really need is some kind of exciting and inspiring new organisation to fight back against racism and help build a strong movement to resist the likes of Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi.

Thankfully, we just got one.

Democracy in Colour is a brand new organisation focused on anti-racism campaigning, and it’s the brainchild of Tim Lo Surdo. The 22-year-old is the former Head of Campaigns at Oaktree, Australia’s largest youth-run anti-poverty organisation and has worked for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and as an advisor to two senators.

The goal of Democracy in Colour is to “disrupt the divide-and-rule politics of racist populists like Pauline Hanson, George Christensen, and Cory Bernardi,” Lo Surdo told Junkee.

Lo Surdo decided to quit his job and start this new project after watching political racism really take hold last year.

“It wasn’t a hard decision to start Democracy in Colour,” he said. “There’s a clear gap to be filled and the events of 2016 have reinforced the urgency and importance of an organisation like this. 2016 was a terrifying year for people of colour and those who believe in a compassionate, inclusive and equal Australia. We’re seeing an emboldened racist fringe, increased fear mongering, more racially motivated attacks, the rise of far-right racist populists, and more.”

While there are already a number of organisations that represent people from diverse backgrounds, Lo Surdo believes there’s a lack of serious political organising on the issue of anti-racism.

“I don’t think the current approach we’ve had to tackling racism is sufficient,” he told Junkee. “In a space mostly comprised of education and service delivery work, we need more organisations focussed on tackling racism through political campaigning — fearlessly speaking truth to power, holding political, cultural and corporate leaders to account on the things they say and do on race. We need less platforms for well-meaning saviours, and greater support and resourcing for affected communities to lead.”

Racism is a personal issue for Lo Surdo. “Growing up I quickly learnt that people were prepared to treat me differently because of the colour of my skin,” he explained. “My first name became ‘chink’. ‘Go back to where you came from’ became the weekly mantra of the playground.”

Starting a new organisation from scratch is hard work, but Lo Surdo has plenty of experience in advocacy, fundraising and campaigning. The organisation has already raised $12,000 in individual donations, and has a target of raising another $8,000.

The money raised will go towards “hiring campaigners, setting up our digital systems, constructing new narratives that amplify marginalised voices, funding training programs on best practice campaigning skills for people of colour, and more,” Lo Surdo says.

In particular the organisation will run campaigns on issues like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which some conservative MPs are attempting to weaken, and will fight against calls for Muslim ban.

Democracy in Colour will also get involved in electoral politics. The goal, according to Lo Surdo is to run GetUp! style campaigns in “communities most vulnerable to One Nation’s divide-and-rule politics, pulling back the curtain on their anti-politician shtick and showing them for exactly what they are: an extreme fringe trading in fear and hate, pitting marginalised groups against each other in the pursuit of power.”

The organisation will use traditional, but still highly effective, political tools like doorknocking to get their message across.

While Lo Surdo is the driving force behind Democracy in Colour, he’s quick to acknowledge it’s a team effort. “I’ve had the profound privilege of building Democracy in Colour with a founding team of dozens of people of colour — campaigners, creatives, storytellers, organisers, strategists and technologists with decades of experience creating change between us,” he said.

“In the long-term, I hope Democracy in Colour builds the political power of people of colour — bringing people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds together to create their own change,” Lo Surdo said. “I hope it demonstrates to decision-makers that there’s a political price to pay for weaponising our differences. And I hope it tells a different story of the Australia we know is possible — one where the colour of your skin has no bearing on access to opportunity.”

You can help Democracy in Colour get off the ground by donating here.

Feature image via Daniel Boud