Longtime migrant rights organizer Harsha Walia has given our movements a tremendous gift with the release of her new book, Undoing Border Imperialism (AK Press, 2013). Walia gives us cutting edge analysis from one of the most radical and highly effective immigrant rights movements in Canada, No One Is Illegal (NOII). With local organizations throughout the country, a decade of experience, and a growing list of impressive victories, NOII is a critically important organization for all of us in the United States to study and learn from.
As Walia beautifully explains in her book, NOII runs militant grassroots campaigns guided by an anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-state, anti-oppression analysis, a vision of decolonization and collective liberation, a practice of popular education, community organizing, Indigenous solidarity, and multi-issue Left movement building. Furthermore, NOII is a decentralized network of volunteer-based autonomous groups with well functioning anti-authoritarian structures of decision-making and leadership and they are successfully organizing most impacted migrant communities of color, and running campaigns that are winning tangible victories on a case-by-case and city-by-city basis.
Walia's book is an articulation of NOII's analysis of border imperialism along with an exploration of NOII's vision, strategy and practice. For all of us in the immigrant rights movement, this book is essential. As more and more direct actions are taking place in the U.S. against deportations, with the "Fast for Families" hunger strike in Washington D.C., with a growing unrest with the failure of lobbying efforts to pass immigration reform, Undoing Border Imperialism, gives us theoretical and practical insights and tools to help us be both more radical and more effective.
Walia gives us the ins and outs of NOII's work both through her own analysis and in a roundtable interview of fifteen NOII members from different chapters throughout Canada working in different circumstances (i.e. big cities, smaller towns, people of color-majority groups, white majority groups, and so on). NOII is essentially working to win status for all, from the ground up, in a way that erodes the legitimacy and power of the Canadian state. NOII is working to win rights and dignity for migrant communities in a way that destabilizes the Canadian colonial project, actively supports Indigenous self-determination, and advances an agenda of decolonization for all.
Beyond the immigrant rights movement, this book is vital reading for all of us cultivating and longing for a healthy, dynamic, effective Left. Walia's chapter, "Overgrowing Hegemony: Grassroots Theory", which explores strategy, tactics, anti-oppression work, organization structure and leadership, is written for, in her words, "North American movements that aspire to be radical yet accessible in pedagogy, mass based while militant in orientation, and are characterized as the antiauthoritarian, anticapitalist, nonsectarian Left engaged in grassroots community organizing." While this chapter focuses on our organizing practice, her chapter "Journeys Towards Decolonization" goes in depth into the heart and soul of what we are working for and how we can live our values and vision in the here and now.
One of the themes running throughout Walia's book is the centrality of Indigenous struggles for self-determination and decolonization. Walia writes, "Decolonization is more then a struggle against power and control; it is also the imagining and generating of alternative institutions and relations." She then outlines her thinking on what decolonization means for our movement by drawing insights from prison abolition, anti-imperialist struggles, gender liberation, and disability justice. What she gives us is at once inspiring and instructive.
For the past decade I have been watching NOII's work from a far. I always had the feeling that they were one of the most important Left organizing efforts in North America, and after reading Walia's book, I am convinced that they are. I don't write this just because I am deeply proud and inspired by NOII, and my comrades like Walia.* I write this as a call for mass study of Undoing Border Imperialism, which in turn will help us all take more radical and more effective mass action for decolonization and collective liberation.
*I refrain from making comments in this review such as "Harsha Walia is one of the most insightful grassroots organizers of our times", because I know she would respond that her insights are drawn from collective struggle, reflection and wisdom. I think we would both be right, and that the tension of these seemingly contradictory statements is actually the dynamic energy created by anti-authoritarian leadership for liberation, just the dynamic energy that pulses through the pages of Undoing Border Imperialism.
This summer, a courageous group of migrants risked deportation in a cross-country trip asking police, leaders, and the public to work toward humanization—not “Arizonafication”—of national policy. This piece - written by Marisa Franco - was originally published in Yes Magazine.
The No Papers No Fear riders speak at an event New Orleans, La. Photo by No Papers No Fear – Ride for Justice.
Most of the buses that depart from the downtown Phoenix Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office toward the border between the United States and Mexico leave broken dreams and separated families in their wake. But this summer a different type of bus departed from that same city to promote a new ending to that story.
By boarding a bus and declaring their immigration status, riders were taking a significant risk to tell their story.
This piece was originally published in Colorlines in September 2012.
Like many others, I've worked for years to get Americans to think expansively and compassionately about immigration. In a decade dominated by the push for what's been dubbed "comprehensive immigration reform," I've argued that immigrants drive economic growth, pay taxes, add value to the culture, and don't take jobs from native-born people. Although I wasn't thrilled with the enforcement elements of the policy—that fence, beefing up the Border Patrol, growing detention and deportation—it seemed amazing that Congress was even considering changing the status of as many as 12 million undocumented people. Most of the immigrant rights movement focused on winning that policy, and for a time, it really seemed possible.
This is a reposting of the second part of "The Strategy and Organizing Behind the Successful DREAM Act Movement: How Undocumented Students in the United States Shifted Strategy, Regrouped, Refocused and Won an Historic Victory," orginally published on NarcoNews on July 11, 2012.
By Paulina Gonzalez
The failed Senate vote (see Part I of this series) of December 2010 could have been the end of the effort to stop the deportation of undocumented students in the United States. It certainly felt like a devastating blow to the movement. Tears flowed; anger, frustration, and heartbreak were unleashed on social media sites and in protests across the country. “After the Senate vote, there was a convening at the UCLA Labor Center. We took to the streets in a sign of protest, unity, empowerment, and solidarity. We embraced each other’s grief of losing the campaign and the opportunity,” said Carlos Amador, one of the organizers.
Undocumented, unafraid and unashamed. DR 2011 Pocho1 Visual Movement.
Neidi Dominguez, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz and an aspiring lawyer began to research the possibilities for a way forward. Together with other Dream Movement organizers, they evaluated the 2010 Dream Act defeat. They took note of the fact that although the Republican Party was the most vocally opposed to the DREAM Act, and the President publicly supported the DREAM Act, Senate Democrats had failed them. In the end, the movement fell short of advancing the DREAM Act when five Senate Democrats failed to vote to end the filibuster. Together they evaluated the strategy they had undertaken, and carefully considered the lessons learned from strategic missteps in order to develop a new strategy. “When we didn’t get the Democrat votes we needed in the Senate, it was a transformational moment for us and we decided to target the President and Democrats in our strategy,” said Dream Team LA member, Neidi Dominguez. “President Obama had publicly supported the DREAM Act, and now we were going to hold him to his promise,” she said.
Undocumented Youth Have Shown that Ordinary People Build Extraordinary People Power, Even in the United States
In the year that TIME Magazine named “The Protester” as the Person of the Year focusing on the three-month-old “Occupy” on its cover as the pinnacle of protest success, the three-year-old national Dream Movement was moving steadily toward the most significant victory the immigrant rights movement had seen in 40 years. They were about to prove to the world that there is a difference between protest and movement. As we witness the birth of Mexico’s inspiring “Yo Soy 132” movement, as students take to the streets in Montreal, and as Occupy continues to struggle to find a focus and direction, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the Dream Movement and the lessons it shares with us.
In a June 24 talk at the Fletcher Summer Institute for Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict, the Reverend James Lawson stated that “power comes from ordinary people.” The civil rights leader and architect of the Nashville student sit-ins reiterated that the civil rights movement was not a spontaneous series of actions. In fact, he said, almost all the actions that took place were carefully strategized, thought through, planned, and examined beforehand. This, after all, is what is required to outfox and outrace the opposition powers. “There is a wonderful example of this, right now, going on in the United States, and it is making me rethink some things about strategy and action, and that is the Dream Act students,” said Rev. Lawson.
Gina Perez is a member of Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance. She has been a leading member of the growing movement in Georgia, being among the first students in the state to ‘come out of the shadows’ in civil disobediance. In response to the education ban, GUYA has organized the Freedom University, where students are taking classes despite being barred from public universities.
In this piece for Organizing Upgrade Marisa Franco interviews Gina Perez.
The migrant rights movement in this country is about to enter a new phase and every person, no matter their position, will have to decide how they will relate to it.
While many are waiting to see the decision of the Supreme Court related to the Department of Justice’s SB1070 case, a human rights crisis of epic proportions is already roiling in Arizona.
The status quo we face now and the results of even the best possible decision from the Supreme Court still represent a steady march toward anti-immigrant attrition that the state has constructed over years. First we faced efforts to restrict our ability to function in society: drivers’ license bans, denial of social services, and English only rules. Then they built ways to humiliate and dehumanize us through Sheriff Arpaio’s outdoor jails and Florence’s expanding penal colonies.
Let's make a toast, but don't drink yet
Thursday felt like time for a toast for America’s largest social movement, the folks fighting for immigrant rights. With the news that the Obama administration would review many of its pending 300,000 deportation cases and allow some of those with no “criminal” record to stay, you could literally hear the cries of joy jumping out of Facebook updates, twitter feeds, cafecito spots (I live in Miami), college campuses, and even a detention center or two.
Everyday I wake up thinking about how to transform the intense suffering of young people that live in the margins into power. I work everyday to transform the systems that impact my life, the lives of the youth around me. But I still question what elements in the movement transformed me from just another boy in Miami into a leader in a liberation movement. How did my participation in Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) [a Florida statewide student immigrant rights organization] give me the strength and power to engage in the Trail of DREAMs, a 4 month walk from Miami to Washington DC highlighting the plight of undocumented youth in the US. How can we engage people in many levels in a way that edifies and empowers themselves and our movement? Those are the question that I try to answer with my actions, daily.
In 2006 and again in 2008 I wrote pieces inspired by friends and colleagues working on the ground predicting the coming Immigrant Apartheid. In 2006, I laid out that a set of institutions was developing to ensure that immigrants, non-citizens specifically, “would permanently have less rights than citizens.”