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<nettime> Some Thoughts on the Calexico/Mexicali No Borders Camp
lotu5 on Tue, 27 Nov 2007 16:56:30 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Some Thoughts on the Calexico/Mexicali No Borders Camp


I found this on san diego indymedia and think its worth reposting!
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/11/26/18463586.php by: just
another person from san diego


   ***///// We danced in the dusty dirt, to MIA singing along "All I
wanna do is BANG BANG BANG" under the border patrol's floodlights,
right at the tip of the barrels of their pepper ball guns, with all of
our queer love across borders we kissed over and through their fences,
we painted on the barriers, we raised antennas that reached across the
lines on the maps, we marched right up to their lines with our bikes
as barriers and watched them back off in fear... ////////****


I don't want to make this very long, but I feel like I want to
publicly offer some self-critique about the No Borders Camp in
Calexico/Mexicali, which I helped to organize for the first year of
the organizing process, but haven't been so close to in the last 6
months. I think that this was a large, visible organizing project
in the US and Mexico and it is important to be able to engage in
self-critique in order to understand what our movements are doing and
how we can improve them. I also did not attend the entire camp, but
only 3 days of it, so my comments are based on the time I was there
and the actions I participated in.

There were a lot of good things about the No Borders Camp, as well as
a lot of things that could've been done better. On the good front, the
organizers successfully setup a large 5 day camp on both sides of the
US/Mexico border, despite a massive climate of fear and repression
and despite the very real and constant threat of state violence that
is such a major feature of the borderlands. This is no small feat,
especially given the hysteria around immigration in the United States.
The camp was organized, mostly openly, with the message of No Borders,
in direct confrontation with the massive Homeland Security monster in
the US and the climate of severe repression of anarchist organizing in
Mexico. Many people thought it couldn't be done. Surely, many people
didn't come because they thought we wouldn't be physically able to
take and hold the space of the camp right up against the fence.

In addition, the camp consisted of hundreds of people. I heard
estimates up to 400, but I would estimate that the first day was
around 100 people and the following days were probably up to 200,
possibly 250 people on the US side and over 50 people on the Mexicali
side. Again, I wasn't present for all the days of the camp, I'm only
sharing my personal experience about the 3 days I was present. Of
these people present, there were people from many countries around
the world, from the UK, Australia, Canada, from all over the US,
from many regions of Mexico, from Spain and surely many more places.
Again, this represents a successful attempt to bring together a widely
dispersed, decentralized network of No Borders activists interested in
direct action. Further, the camp successfully engaged in most of the
scheduled activities: the detention center protest, the march along
the wall, protests at the port of entry and protests on both sides of
the fence in downtown Calexico and Mexicali.

Now onto my main critiques of the camp. Probably the biggest problem,
in my view, was the lack of local organizing that went into the camp.
I am totally guilty of this myself, as I did some of the traveling
and promoting the camp in faraway places. I feel like the biggest
problem with the camp was the choice to prioritize going far away
to mobilize people far away to come to a far away place instead of
mobilizing people locally and building a general uprising. The choice
of mobilization over uprising seems to be the problem here. At the
camp, there were only a handful of attendees from San Diego who were
not directly involved in the organizing, around 10 or in the tens.
Even worse, I never met anyone from Calexico at the camp or heard of
them being there, but apparently there were a few people from the
city. There was one speaker at a rally from a union in Calexico, but
I never saw him at the actual camp. This was surely better on the
Mexicali side, as many of the organizers of that side of the camp
live in Mexicali and the location was chosen largely in response to
their request for follow up for a previous action. Still, I think
that the camp could've been much larger in size if more focus was put
on asking people to drive 2 hours instead of to fly in from florida.
In addition, many local organizers expressed their feelings of not
wanting to work on the camp because it was in a far away city and they
wanted to organize locally. In retrospect, I agree totally. How much
better off would the struggle against borders in San Diego and Tijuana
be if the organizers had not spent their time driving and flying to
far away places like the US Social Forum or the Zapatista encuentros?
How much money could've been saved and put into local campaigns? How
much better would the momentum have been if instead of going far away
and convincing people that big things are happening, had we actually
stayed here and made big things happen?

People have said to me that this debate about local vs. international
organizing is "an old debate" or "a conversation we've been having
since seattle". If that is the case, maybe thats because we keep
making the same mistakes. Still, I agree that we can move the debate
forward by not trying to choose local versus non-local. What is
local? Your block? Your city? An issue in your city that is also in
a city two hours away? Yet how can we bridge local organizing with
international networking so that they both strengthen each other?
How can local organizers help to support things like accountability
and context that people coming to a 5 day camp don't have when they
leave? How can large international networking projects work together
with local community oriented projects like Free Skools, Mutual Aid
projects and other forms of long term infrastructure?

An old roommate of mine, a few years ago, helped to organize the
Direct Action Network in Seattle. For the No Borders Camp, there was
a fair amount of talk about the WTO in Seattle as an inspiration.
This old friend of mine told me back then that most of the 50,000
people on the streets at the WTO were from Seattle, which makes
sense. There just aren't very many people that have the privilege to
leave their jobs and fly to a mobilization. So, I think that the camp
could've been much more successful if more effort was put into local
organizing. Surely people in San Diego knew it was happening, as lots
of fundraisers were thrown, but there could've been a lot more Direct
Action trainings, there could've been a lot more collaboration with
other local organizations.

Another main problem, in my view, was not working with local People
of Color groups in the US. I think that the organizers, including
myself at the time, made a major mistake by not involving local groups
like Colectivo Zapatista in the process way earlier, like when we
were deciding to do a camp or not. If we're trying to get a lot of
people to engage in direct action against migration controls, okay,
but then to make the decision about the tactic of having a camp is a
big step from there. So, we committed the classic mistake of deciding
as a group of mostly white people what to do, starting the project
and then asking the people of color later "do you want to join our
thing or not?" Predictably, the answer was that they had a number
of critiques and so ultimately we did not work with them at all. I
think, in retrospect, that a much better process would have been to
work with them from the beginning and to have the flexibility to
change our plans based on their critiques. Instead, we were well along
the planning process by the time we invited them and decided that
we couldn't make the changes they wanted. Clearly there were many
groups in Mexico involved with organizing the camp, but the San Diego
organizers, I feel, made choices that led them to not work with the
organizations made up of migrant people in San Diego.

I'm trying not to make this too long, but I've thought a lot about
this and talked to a lot of people about it. After such a long time
organizing it, its hard not to want to figure out what we did wrong so
that we don't do it again.

There were other factors that led to the organizing of the camp being
done by a relatively small group of people, instead of being a big
broad community process. One factor that led to less of my involvement
was "consensus through exhaustion". Being in two graduate programs, I
didn't have as much time to put into the organizing as other people,
and so I felt basically like I wasn't welcome. At some point, the
decision was made that meetings would be 4 hours long, every other
week and that no notes would be sent out from the meetings. since I
didn't have the time or the inclination to sit in 4 hour meetings, I
didn't have much of a say in the process. In addition, the meetings
were spread out over lots of locations, so they often involved weekend
trips to Arizona or Calexico, another thing I can't do while I'm in
grad school full time. This of course was added to by the personal and
political disagreements that build up over long organizing projects,
but isn't it always easier to work with people far away than to work
out the emotional and communication issues with the people you see
everyday? Again, I'm at fault as much as other organizers in all of
this...

This led to another problem, which was that when the time came to
take the camp, only a small group of people really knew where we were
going. Someone in the march said "I feel like a lemming." Someone
posted on the forum that they wanted to come but came to calexico
(a very small town) and couldn't find us! This is not decentralized
organizing. This is not transparency. It may have been what allowed
us to setup camp, but I'm not so sure, since the Border Parol was
there before us. Somehow the decision was made to not have open
spokescouncil meetings where affinity groups would present proposals
to the larger gathering, so many of us didn't actually know the plan.
I don't think this makes us more secure, but a lot less secure,
as it means that on that day, the forces of order would've had to
arrested a lot fewer people i order to stop us. The main reason we
have decentralize organizing that is transparent an open, why we
have camp logistics separate from direct action plans is so that a
few people cannot be targeted, but also to get valuable input and
feedback on the plan, to have more people feel empowered and feel a
sense of ownership and because its harder to stop a group where every
single person knows the plan. I think the choice of security over
accessibility was another reason that more people did not come to
the camp and it made me feel seriously disempowered and disconnected
from the organizing process. I can only imagine how people from other
cities felt! Apparently there was a meeting the night before the
taking of the camp, but it wasn't publicly announced. There were also
camp wide meetings at the camp where decisions about the camp were
made.

Still, I stayed. We did our small march around the detention center,
shook the fence hard, made some noise. I'm hopeful that the many, many
detainees heard us or at least knew of our presence, as the response
from ICE was obvious fear and standing watching our every move. If we
offered the detainees some sense of hope or some sense of solidarity,
it was totally worth it.

I stayed an extra day thanks to the Queer Youth Organizing Project.
They were amazing in all their queer beauty and strength, with amazing
costumes and signs making links between queers and the struggle
against immigration. I didn't feel very interested in the macho
dynamic of fighting with the border patrol for our chunk of land,
but I did feel strongly about spreading the message of love across
la frontera with the people of QYOP and the Clandestine Insurgent
Rebel Clown Army. I also stayed to give a workshop, but most of the
workshops were canceled because of the endless camp meetings, which
are always a part of No Borders Camps, apparently.

I offer this bit of thought to all the organizers, attendees and
everyone watching this process in the hope that we can improve our
tactics and strategies and be more effective. Hopefully, it will
spur some more critical dialog about this action and future actions.
Hopefully its not the same thing you've heard a hundred times from
other mobilizations. Maybe it is, but it is my description of my
experience. Hopefully we can all take some time for reflection and
critique and careful weighing of priorities in our organizing projects
before moving on to the next one. Hopefully there will be a lot
of follow up work done to help free Juan Ruiz, the person who was
imprisoned on the last day following the vicious border patrol attack.
Considering the fact that he's possibly facing deportation, it seems
like a major issue for people concerned with organizing the camp to
focus on.

One more note on that attack. I wasn't there, but I think that it
was predictable that after a week of watching us in all our joyous
rebellion, the forces of order would wait until we were outnumbered
and then attack. I don't know how to prevent it, but I think the legal
team and media team are doing an amazing job of working on all the
arrestees' cases. A day or so after the attack, a google news search
for "calexico border patrol protest" turned up 250 articles in print,
tv and radio all over the country and around the world about the No
Borders Camp, describing the Border Patrol's violent response to
drummers and a cross border kissing booth.

Hopefully this small attempt in the centuries old struggle against
borders, colonialism and enclosure will help shift things towards
liberation. Hopefully.


-- 

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