How Can We Combine Direct Support Work with Political Analysis?

By Law, Victoria | Monthly Review, March 2014 | Go to article overview

How Can We Combine Direct Support Work with Political Analysis?


Law, Victoria, Monthly Review


How Can We Combine Direct Support Work with Political Analysis? Harsha Walia, Undoing Border Imperialism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2013), 321 pages, $16.00, paperback.

One December day in 2007, two thousand people showed up at Vancouver's International Airport. Unlike other days, these particular people had not come to catch a flight; they were there to stop a person from boarding one. Laibar Singh, a paralyzed refugee from India, was facing deportation. On the day he was to leave, those two thousand people, mostly Punjabi elders and aunties, shut down the international terminal, causing the cancellation of dozens of flights. They formed a protective circle around Singh for hours, finally forcing immigration enforcement to back down.

"This historic blockade in December 2007 is the only documented time in recent North American history that the violence of deportation has been prevented through the power of a mass mobilization and direct action," wrote Harsha Walia, one of the organizers responsible for this mass mobilization and the author and editor of Undoing Border Imperialism. Walia is a longtime organizer with No One Is Illegal (NOII), a decentralized network of groups across Canada that works with refugees, undocumented migrants, and migrant workers. At the same time, NOII also offers a systemic critique of border imperialism. This combination "stands in contrast to more mainstream immigrant rights movements that ignore the centrality of empire and capitalism to the violence of displacement, migration and border controls" (110). Walia combines her own analyses, experiences, and writings with poems and short essays by other migrant justice organizers as well as a roundtable discussion with various organizers with NOII.

The stopping of Singh's deportation is just one example of migrant rights organizing documented in Undoing Border Imperialism, the latest in the Anarchist Intervention series, a collaboration between AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies. But beyond being a list of visible victories, the book also examines the behind-the-scenes organizing that enabled this and other successes while placing immigration and deportation in a broader political context. Moving away from the popular rhetoric that blames and punishes migrants or forces them to assimilate, the concept of "border imperialism" examines and analyzes the processes of displacement and migration. It situates border imperialism within several larger issues:

(1) The free flow of capital that creates displacements while simultaneously securing Western borders against the very people whom capitalism and empire have displaced;

(2) The process of criminalizing migrants by constructing them as deviants and illegals. In addition, this criminalization profits companies that receive contracts for border militarization and migrant detention;

(3) The entrenchment of a racialized national and imperial identity;

(4) The legal denial of permanent residency to a growing number of migrants to ensure an exploitable, marginalized, and expendable pool of labor.

In other words, "Border imperialism can be understood as creating and reproducing global mass displacements and the conditions necessary for the legalized precarity of migrants, which are inscribed by the racialized and gendered violence of empire as well as capitalist segregation and differential segmentation of labor" (75). While Undoing Border Imperialism focuses on migrant rights and anti-deportation efforts in Canada, these topics are just as relevant to those organizing within the United States, where immigrant rights issues continue to fuel debates and activism.

Undoing Border Imperialism is not just academic discourse. Drawing on both her own and others' experiences with NOII, Walia explores how groups-particularly those engaging in support campaigns-can remain politicized and maintain a principled message while also working with groups and individuals who may not share their full analysis. …

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