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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.

small-crass-book-reviewI've had countless conversations with young white activists who, struggling to reconcile their commitment to movement work with their newfound antiracist practice of embracing leadership from oppressed communities, ask me, quite plainly "What should I do with my life? I don't understand what role can a white person like me can play in building a multi-racial movement."

In his collection of essays Towards Collective Liberation, Chris Crass tackles these kinds of questions, head on. Offering a rare combination of emotional honesty and intellectual rigor, he shares stories filled with inspiration, conflict and, ultimately, insight. He tracks his own development from the Food Not Bombs collective kitchen to the college activist study group to the building of the white anti-racist capacity building hub, the Catalyst Project.

There are many paths into the social movement, and all of them have a deeply personal dimension. Some of us come to this work through the process of learning to embrace our power, to understand our oppression, to give direction to our righteous rage. Some of us come to this work through the process of learning to question our power, to understand our privilege, to challenge ourselves to open space for others.

At the bay area launch of the book, Chris confided about his early struggles dealing with privilege "As a white, middle-class, cis-gendered man, sometimes I felt like the best thing I could for the movement was just stay in bed." The group roared with laughter. You didn't have to be a white guy to relate to the sense of confusion, the lack of direction, the teen-like angst of burgeoning anti-racism.

Most of us, I think, get a taste of both privilege and oppression along our path. My own journey, as a light-skinned Latina from a privileged layer of the working class, as a gender conforming queer woman, as a trauma survivor living with a disability, has been as much about letting go of power as it has been about embracing it. Understanding my oppression was and is core to finding my way into the movement, but that was not the end of the road. Understanding my liberation turned out to be even harder, and, at this point in my life, even more important. My very own and very personal liberation, the liberation of my biological and chosen families, of my peoples, depends on collective liberation.

And, it turns out no one is going to chart that path for me, or for any of us. As the Latin American saying says, you make the road by walking. And, as the Zapatistas modeled, whole communities can "walk while questioning," engaging in deep and critical inquiry, without ceasing to move forward in the collective work.

This is the process of inquiry and growth that Towards Collective Liberation documents, a process of personal inquiry and political growth that many new activists struggle with, and that seasoned organizers will recognize, too.

The book ends with a wonderful interview with Amy Dudely, of Oregon's Rural Organizing Project. Like the book, she articulates a loving challenge to white anti-racists that holds true for any one of us struggling to know our path. She says, "It is better to mess up in the pursuit of justice than to be perfect at doing nothing! This is risky work."

Whether you are starting your movement journey as a young white anti-racist, or needing a little company along a well-worn movement path, this book is a wonderful fellow traveler.

aparadisebuiltinhellReview of Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster

Disasters have always punctuated history. The types of events once considered generation defining are now tailed by new catastrophes—short years, months and often weeks. The past decade offers a catalogue of woe—hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

The politics of Disaster Capitalism, as detailed by Naomi Klein are hardwired into this generation's activist lexicon. It is true, as she documents, capitalists have perfected the art and science of opportunism presented by disaster. Whether this practice is unique to neo-liberalism is still open to debate.

The expectation that human beings will behave at their worst without the market and the state is buttressed in today's popular culture such as the The Hunger Games, Walking Dead and The Road.

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Imagine a world where the death of children is the sport, vicious economic inequity and competition is the game, and culture is created and manipulated through the daily mechanization of a highly controlled political and media system.  In this world, hunger—deep, seemingly insatiable hunger—is etched into the very rhythm of life. This is not simply a physical craving for food or water, but an existential yearning for freedom, self-determined governance, and the kind of love and hope that can outlast even the most powerful enemies and the darkest of days.

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Organizing Upgrade 2012 / Built by Union Labor

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