On Saturday June 12th, a hundred anti-racist and democratic-minded folks descended on the south gate of the Texas State Capitol, protesting a rally held by supporters of Arizona’s SB 1070 and who want to enact a similar law in Texas. Supporters numbered around 200-250 and were made up of Republicans, Tea Party folks, Texas Nationalists, and a sprinkling of fascists. The counterprotest and others like it speak to a growing minority tendency of the immigrant rights movement who are ready for confrontation with supporters of white supremacy and which has added new dimension to the debate over the road the movement should take.
Counterprotest in Context
Before the State of Arizona passed SB 1070 and a following bill banning ethnic studies and teachers with accents, Texas made a major encroachment upon public school curriculum which removed historic figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez and will place more emphasis on the non-violent tendencies of the Civil Rights movement and in opposition to organizational experiences such as the Black Panther Party.
Such attacks remind us that we’re not living merely through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, but also the deepest political crisis in likely 100 years. All of the old concessions the rulers have formerly used to coopt mass struggle: better wages, pensions, free and public education, public hospitals, ethnic studies programs, etc. are being removed from the table. There are hardly vestiges of the organs of struggle that working people built in the early 20th century, the 1930s, and 1960s to put the rulers in check and build the independent power of workers, women, and people of color.
Political struggle has been narrowed to either liberal and progressive NGOs and non-profits or spontaneous bursts of mass activity to emerge every few years and that go far beyond the limits of the established organizations. It is this spontaneity that has yet to find permanent organizational form and that can carry it during the highs and lows mass rebellion and consign liberals and progressives to obscurity.
To Fight or Not to Fight
With the defeat of HR 4437 aka the Sensenbrenner Bill in 2006, no doubt due to popular insurgency through mobilizations, strikes, and walkouts, the struggle over immigration, like gay marriage, is being fought out on a state level. Many are hearkening back to the Freedom Summer of 1964 where civil rights organizers from the North spent a summer in the Deep South, with some staying even longer, organizing voter registration drives and desegregation campaigns, and the need to recreate a similar initiative in Arizona. While such a project is important, what SB 1070 demonstrates is that the fight is where we already are. As lawmakers propose and launch comparable attacks on people of color elsewhere in the South, we need to build fighting organizations in our state, our own cities, and our own communities.
The debate over the way forward for the immigrant rights struggle has been radically changing ever since the sit-in at Senator McCain’s back in May of this year. Defying the terms of struggle and the logic informing it, three students have risked their livelihoods and residency by sitting in and demanding support for the DREAM Act which if passed would offer conditional, permanent residency to undocumented students.
The established immigrant rights organizations are asking those who want to engage in this type of direct confrontation with their oppressors to take a back seat to their leadership. Some of them claim they are in support of amnesty but that it isn’t the right time to introduce such a demand and that it runs the risk of alienating politicians who would then not support the DREAM Act or Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Furthermore, they fear that radical approaches that break the law would confirm the perspective of the racists that immigrants are criminals.
Others, many of them radicals in the academy, suggest that undocumented peoples should abstain from some or all direct action because they face greater economic and political uncertainty. Many can go into great theoretical detail about the institutions of white supremacy and the inequality of capitalist society but find themselves beholden to the narrow parameters such a society offers us to participate in politics. In short, they talk left and walk right.
Yet another tendency, though small, rejects such condescending liberalism. They feel an urgent desperation after years of organizing, beginning with the 2003 immigrant freedom rides, that our liberation is not the burden of citizens or white folks or liberal organizations whose leadership is merely biding its time until they win political office. They aren’t afraid of calling attacks on undocumented workers what it is: white supremacy. They see the struggle of immigrants as bound up with that of all people of color, queer folks, and women and their methods of struggle correspond to their perspectives.
It is in this spirit that a counterprotest was organized to confront the white supremacists who want to extend and centralize the powers of the state despite their claims to be desiring of “small government.” The organizers of the rally encouraged folks to not bring racial signs or make racial statements, yet many yelled at counterprotestors that it has “nothing to do with race” alongside others armed with automatic weapons yelling “Go home, wetbacks!” As much as they tried to police their own racism, it was for not.
The counterprotest kicked off at noon. After a few minutes of introductory speeches and chants to get the crowd hyped, we marched onto the Capitol grounds directly toward the protest. We were instantly cut off by the Capitol police. We employed a variety of tactical formations, from marching to different sides of the protest, to conducting a picket line, to opening a space for anyone who wanted to say something to do so. We had the effect of being louder than their music performances and their speakers to the point where one speaker lost his cool and began screaming at us to “shut up” as the above link indicates. Eventually, the police threatened us with confiscation of our bullhorns and arrest if we continued to use them but it didn’t stop us.
Many had never spoken in front of others before and learned the strength of their own voice. Some high schoolers had remarked that this was the first political action or had never participated in anything like it. Others got the chance to debate individually and as a group with supporters of SB 1070 which went a long way towards developing their debating and polemical skills.
How It was Organized
It is understandable why some advocate the Left working together. They are tired of the sectarianism that isolates the Left from mass struggle, creates a culture of divisiveness, and throws up barriers to fighting alongside each other. The stick can be bent too far in this direction however, where the Left champions working together at the expense of their own principles or where there is no objective basis for unity; meaning no organizing is taking place that creates terms of struggle and unity.
With no large and bureaucratic coalition structure, several groups came together, including ¡ella pelea!, MEChA, Anti-Racist Action and others, to organize the counterprotest in a temporary organizing committee. The committee was majority women and people of color and largely queer. While the groups were disparate in politics and in focus, we agreed to the terms of a united front which ensured a democratic respect for folks to bring their own signs and flyers and employ a variety of tactics. This prevented “movement cops” from policing the actions of others as we see all too often in popular front-type coalitions. Instead we used the committee space to share and coordinate different tactical approaches. It was a real high note of Left solidarity that was grounded in organizing.
Critiques by the Left
There have been criticisms coming from elements both here in Austin and nationally about what the merits and points are of such counterprotests. While there are numerous points above that speak to the strength of the counterprotest, let’s take them up one by one.
The liberals say we become equated with the Right when we confront them directly, chant and yell at them or debate them individually. Others limited their critiques to more trivial issues, such as numbers; you need this many or that many to do this or that. Still others on the Left contrast organizing counterprotests to building the from-below power of undocumented workers and their organizations.
For the liberals, their conflation of principles and tactics doesn’t allow them to see the most obvious differences between white supremacy and anti-racism. An undocumented worker who yells in the face of a racist is not the same as a racist calling them a wetback. The number crunchers assume the reasoning of petitioning, that the more who sign on to a “cause” give it more legitimacy. I think for those of us who chose to show on June 12th, the struggle against white supremacy is a valid struggle in and of itself. We didn’t feel the need to wait for everyone else to give us their okay. Numbers are important in so far as strategy and tactics are concerned. The organizers of the event didn’t plan for a physical confrontation with the Right or the cops, not out of principle, but because of the odds stacked against the counterprotestors.
For those that contrast counterprotests and building organization, how are such counterprotests antithetical to developing the political power of undocumented workers and students? It is precisely in such confrontation where folks can overcome the perceived omnipotence of the racists, build their confidence and capacity to fight, discuss organizational and protest strategy and tactics, etc. This is giving them the experience to lead in all areas of the struggle. Counterprotests are not the full extent of the immigrant rights movement, but it is an arena of struggle that can’t be ignored or dissed.
We need to begin setting up the chess pieces for larger and more direct forms of confrontation as the struggle begins to advance. We need folks organizing for civil defense against ICE raids and minute men attacks, defending and expanding ethnic studies and immigrant access to universities, as well as on-the-job action against racist bosses. In ALL of these areas, confrontation is an indispensable component and they will go hand-in-hand with creating the kind of strong, dynamic organizations that are needed to win.
But the counterprotest has a greater import beyond what it did for the folks who organized and participated in it. Most of us acknowledge the dynamism of the Right today; their perspectives, strategies, and organizing are cutting edge and far advanced of stale liberal and social democratic talking points. But what was clear on this day is that they were out-organized. What was a Saturday afternoon picnic of a protest for them was a spirited, organized, and dynamic counterprotest for us. What was stale and pale for them was youthful, militant, and diverse with people of color clearly taking the lead.
Links to articles, photos/video
19 thoughts on “Advancing the Immigration Struggle in Texas”
Great article Krisna, and nice work folks in Austin. We had a project here in Portland for a time which focused on various approaches to dealing with the nativist movement’s electoral/activist wing in Oregon.
Its noteworthy that in Arizona, JT Ready and the National SOcialist Movement have launched a broad propaganda campaign around their armed patrols on the border and armed marches in support of SB 1070. Its also worth noting that Nazis in Portland have not hesitated to use those arms in recent months in assassination attempts against those who organize to oppose them .
Its worth debating and thinking in our circles what sort of credibility successful Federal Intervention against 1070 will give to these,”marginal” radicals. The mythology of a,”multicultural” ruling elite robbing the entitlements of”real(read white)” Americans becomes reality-and its worth considering that there is a difference between these radicals and the Klan of Jim Crow. We can’t assume that the radical conclusions working class people will come to in a time of crisis will neccessarily lead to liberatory struggles.
Thanks to my comrades at GF for this implicit critique of the Repeal Coalition’s work against nativism in Arizona. I think it’s healthy to debate how best to confront the right and the state.
You state: “For those that contrast counterprotests and building organization, how are such counterprotests antithetical to developing the political power of undocumented workers and students? It is precisely in such confrontation where folks can overcome the perceived omnipotence of the racists, build their confidence and capacity to fight, discuss organizational and protest strategy and tactics, etc. This is giving them the experience to lead in all areas of the struggle. Counterprotests are not the full extent of the immigrant rights movement, but it is an arena of struggle that can’t be ignored or dissed.”
With all due respect, I do not set out this antithesis between “counterprotest and building organization” in my “Nativism and Fascism” piece that you cite. I do not argue that counterprotests are necessarily antithetical to building workers and student power. I explicitly do not diss or ignore them. But what I do argue is that a _strategy_ that centers on such protests and on “countering the right” is ultimately antithetical to building working class power, because it does not build an alternative vision.
I am curious if you all agree with this formulation or not.
I think it’s fine to confront the Tea Partiers and white supremacists on occasion. But given that our groups are small and have limited resources, should we concentrate our organizational resources and energy on fighting the nativists or the state? Do we concentrate on building a fighting force of antifas or on organizing with undocumented workers? Do we concentrate on refuting white supremacist slogans or do we demand the freedom to live, love, and work wherever we please? The Repeal Coalition in Arizona obviously focuses on the latter. Should we reconsider our priorities? How?
In “Nativism and Fascism,” I wrote: “The Repeal Coalition doesn’t directly fight the nativists. Rather, we seek to out-organize them by building our own fighting movement, one that challenges the nativists’ program of hate, harass and blame with one that asserts the freedom to live, love, and work wherever you please. We are competing with the nativists for the hearts and minds of Arizonans, including white Arizonans who currently see migrant workers as enemies rather than allies. It is our hope that by creating a true alternative to quasi-fascist anti-immigrant politics, we can win the day in Arizona.”
I still think this is the right strategy. It does not necessarily dismiss confronting the nativists, but it does not focus our efforts on doing that. Rather, it focuses on building working class power for communism.
Again, I appreciate the critique. We in Repeal are so close to the ground we can’t always step back to see the big picture. I appreciate my comrades at GF for helping us do this, and I wish your work in Texas total success.
I wonder why this article insisted in correlating leftist ideas with people fighting for the cause..
I was present at the counter-protest and many of the attendees do not consider themselves leftists, or even advocates of the left. Many are simply undocumented immigrants fighting the cause.
I think there is an effort to associate revolutionary movement with human basic rights. I do think generalizations are not necessary, to infer everyone is leftist is morally, mentally and completely oppressive.
I invite the writer to understand her/his privileges and what it means to write from the outside, but being connected with the inside through a westernized political thought, the left.
Thanks for this, good article. I have a question for you, you mentioned a current political crisis tied to the breakdown of past deals. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this crisis. It’s clearly a crisis for a lot of working class people. Do you see it as a crisis of legitimacy for the current order and/or tied to the economic crisis as well? What I mean is, it’s clearly a crisis for our side, but it’s not clear to me how much of a crisis it is for their side. Obviously there’s an economic crisis and all but I’m not sure that the erosion of deals you talk about is necessarily a crisis for their side — perhaps the lack of mediation could cause a political crisis (analogous maybe to the role of lack of regulation in the financial crisis?), but clearly that’s not guaranteed and I don’t think the present attack is particularly the product of the economic crisis.
i hear what IXCHUHETL is saying, and i think it’s important for people to be attentive to differences of ideological positions that might be cooperating/intersecting in any given moment of struggle.
but to frame this issue under “basic human rights” is to ignore how “human rights” is largely a construct of western political thought and how “rights” are essentially provisional ways of organizing power relations. they are neither basic, nor unalienable – they are forged in struggle, and this in particular is a struggle against the state violently enforcing racism as a means of managing the power and mobility of capital and labor.
I should have said so at the beginning of the blog post but it does not represent the view of any organization. It is merely my own interpretation of events as they transpired the day of the counterprotest and in the organizing committee leading up to it.
I am also a member of ¡ella pelea!, a UT campus group of students and non-students who organize around the relationship between budget cuts and immigration. Some of us are revolutionaries, some are not. I identify as a revolutionary and am a member of Unity and Struggle. U&S facilitates the Gathering Forces blog project.
I think its important here to reemphasize the debate on “the inside” of the immigrant rights movement. This has national dimensions. For instance, the Repeal Coalition in Arizona have focused their efforts on repealing all anti-immigrant laws and cohering their own independent organization instead of tailing politicians and doing work that they think will only be acceptable to them. I would say that this strategy is to “the left” of the latter approach (and one I generally support). We don’t have to use the terms “left” and “right” but its important that we qualify the complexity of the struggle and take a position on which strategy is most effective. Its important that we get to the heart of the substance of the differences.
You attended the counterprotest so you probably are aware of the different groups here who have different strategies. AIRC has a certain method and politics. They actually considered not having a May Day rally this year; as it turns out, it was one of the biggest ever with 10,000 people showing in Austin. They tend to be very conservative generally, though I am aware there are different perspectives from different folks inside AIRC. I invite them to elaborate on that. You also have the Dreamers (DREAM Act) who do not want to do anything to upset politicians, they do not want to make the demand for Amnesty, even though, as far as I understand, some of the Dreamers personally support amnesty. I highly disagree with that. I also invite them as well to clarify their position.
There is also PDL and MEChA at UT. I know little about PDL’s position or if they even have one, but I know they organize. MEChA organizes around immigration as well (¡ella pelea! and MEChA have worked together on this), but they don’t all have the same position on it. There is also ¡ella pelea! and we are still working out what our collective position is though we are definitely NOT in the conservative camps, but we’re not waiting until we figure it all out before we begin organizing. Please feel free to mention any other folks organizing around immigration in Austin.
Nonetheless, there are real debates and they must be had.
So while we shouldn’t reduce all of those who attended the counterprotest to “the Left” (which is very vague anyhow), it is equally reductive to say that those fighting for “basic human rights” are all coming from the same place. They are not. There are divisions, and not just political divisions. There are also class divisions. Today you have individuals who came up in the Chicano movement who are now a part of the State and telling young Chicanos who walked out of school in opposition to HR 4437 or SB 1070 to go back to class. This is conservative but also middle class because these folks are trying to protect the status quo ethnic patronage system they helped build. I’m not for a Chicano middle class, they are bourgie and they need to be confronted and smashed, especially when they stand in our way. What I am for is a militant and independent Left Chicano and undocumented working class movement.
Furthermore, while there’s no disagreement that many of those who attended the counterprotest would not have defined themselves as generally “left,” I also think that people’s formal politics tend to contradict their actions. For instance, perhaps some who attended would say they were Democrats but I think we would probably agree that the official Democratic party machine would never sanction such confrontational actions as counterprotests unless they were in control of it. And if they were in control it would have been much tamer in spirit.
I also wouldn’t conflate all the left with revolutionary groups. There are non-revolutionary left groups, that is, groups who believe in basic human rights but whose purpose isn’t to challenge the very nature of capitalism or white supremacy. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is one historical example. But look at what happened. SNCC facilitated the organizational transition from Civil Rights to Black Power itself. They became a Black Power organization and influenced a whole new “generation” of radicals and revolutionaries. But I think revolutionary groups and movements need their own qualification.
I think what’s potentially dangerous about confounding “the left” with white folks or Western or European thought is that it says people of color can’t be revolutionary on their own. How are we to understand revolutionary movements in the Third World or what about the Civil Rights and Black and Chicano Power movements in the US? Were the League of Revolutionary Black Workers or even United Mexican American Students on “the inside” because they read Marx and Lenin and hence “privileged”?
To conclude, I will say the good thing about your comment is that is an opportunity to bring the national and local debates to the surface where they have been bubbling for some time now. The success of the various tendencies in the movement will mean qualitatively different things in each circumstance. By you choosing to show at the counterprotest, you were in effect taking a position against the conservatives in the movement who tell us to be nice to whitey, to be patient, to leave it to “the leaders.” I don’t know what you think, but I say fuck that.
Can you elaborate on what that organizing looked like in Portland around the nativist stuff?
Its not really an implicit critique and certainly not a critique of the organizing. I think the Repeal Coalition is doing fantastic work still if I’m in the dark about what that looks like on the ground. Perhaps you might talk in more detail about the nuances of that work. The critique was what I read as a false dichotomy b/t confronting the Right vs building our own independent organizations. I don’t think those things are opposed but it seems that you don’t either. It just wasn’t clarified in your piece. I think its also due to some folks here in Austin who have criticized us for doing this counterprotest, some of which I mention in the blog post. I agree with the problems of antifa work and strategic considerations that must be taken. This was the first counterprotest that ¡ella pelea!, a group I am a part of that was part of a temporary “Democratic Solidarity Committee” that organized the protest, had participated in. I’d also say that its the general question of confrontation that has been important in debates with liberals generally. So while for you it seems that confronting the from-below right isn’t the best strategic use of time (which I don’t entirely disagree with), we’ve had general debates with others about the necessity for confrontation in and of itself, whether its the Right or whether its our bosses or school administrators. Its just that that has meant a lot politically, organizationally, and spiritually for what was a women and people of color-led organizing committee.
So to clarify, yes, I agree with your formulation. Its just that the context is larger than confronting the Right. Hope that makes sense.
To qualify my point, I meant that basically it is a political crisis for us, the workers. And to be more precise, a crisis of our political independence. I think there is a general political crisis implicating both the rulers and the working class, that there is definitely a crisis of confidence of the workers in the system, though some Leftists think this means folks are moving Left. I’ve found it more accurate to see it as leading to a polarization sending folks left and right.
As regards our political independence, I mean it as not only the defeat of previous mass and revolutionary struggles and organizations, but also the traditions and informal methods that grew out of those periods of upsurge (1890s and turn of the century, 1930s, and 1960s). And while I think the economic crisis accelerated this process, even before it happened, the old wage and benefit concessions, for example, were not offered to buy off workers independent struggle. I’m not trying to imply that shit ever worked anyhow but it just shows that capital doesn’t have to do it anymore. They don’t even need the unions to mediate the class struggle, capital does it through other intermediary middle class, supervisory, NGO, and human relations layers. I guess that’s why I see we don’t even see vestiges of struggle, let alone institutional ones.
The below comment is from Don Hamerquist which he forwarded to me this evening to post here.
A number of important issues are tucked into a description of an action in the current ‘Gathering Forces’ post by Krisna. The article and the accompanying discussion which I expect will expand, is definitely worth looking at.
“It is in this spirit that a counterprotest was organized to confront the white supremacists who want to extend and centralize the powers of the state despite their claims to be desiring of “small government.”
In my opinion a more careful picture of the politics of the anti-immigrant constituency is needed; one that does not use the categories of ‘state’ and ‘government’ so casually and does not compress a complex social force into a caricatured lump. There are some important internal distinctions and the categories and concepts used to understand them should be as precise as possible. The demand for more military and police power on the border should not be confused with wanting to generally ‘extend and centralize the powers of the state’, any more than white settlers asking for more troops to move out Native Americans marked support for a strong state. Perhaps the intent in giving this weight to a purported contradiction between support for stronger state action and opposition to big government – a contradiction that would be limited in any case to that section of the movement that actually does support strong state action, – is to show the anti-immigrant movement as stupid – or as exhibiting what Gramsci would call ‘bad faith’. But that would be shortsighted, in my opinion.
What is more relevant is that this movement wants a government, small or not, that is ‘theirs’, while the state that exists is the capitalist state, and it is not ‘theirs’ and is rapidly losing even the appearance of being ‘theirs’. These folk want to take back what they think rightfully belongs to them and is being taken from them, but there are distinctions about how this is viewed. So in the first place we aren’t dealing with stupidity or with ‘bad faith’ with this section of the movement, but with some of the same reform/revolution dilemmas that we know too well – but as they confront the right. The gradualist element, which undoubtedly will initially hold a disproportionate fraction of the formal leadership roles, may think that what they have lost has been lost to Obama and the Democrats and, as the G.F. article says about a left parallel, may be “… merely biding its time until they win political office.” However, the concerns of more radical elements go beyond the replacement of one set of representatives with another. They want a recapture of the instrumentalities of government as a platform from which to oppose the hollowing out of the capacities of national and local governmental structures to defend their interests from the impact of global capitalism – with “illegal immigration” being seen as one such impact.
It is easy to see the emergence of a radical faction from this milieu, a faction that casts their objective in more revolutionary terms, that of overthrowing the existing order and establishing a centralized authoritarian new order. This is more or less the project of the NSM dress-up nazis and it might have some appeal to a much wider reactionary constituency. Clearly extending and centralizing the power of a different type of government, representing different social forces, should not be equated with a strengthening of the existing government.
Perhaps more important, an important strand of this movement is committed to some type of secessionist perspective that opposes any increase in centralized authority and emphasizes the formation of resilient communities with their own military capacity. The inherent racism still is a factor, but not in the conveniently packaged format that the left prefers to deal with. We have already seen this in the National Anarchist attempts to both participate in and provoke this struggle. More is to be expected and differing tactical perspectives are being debated on a number of neo-fascist sites like Occidental Dissent, Attack the System and Alternativeright.
“Political struggle has been narrowed to either liberal and progressive NGOs and non-profits or spontaneous bursts of mass activity to emerge every few years and that go far beyond the limits of the established organizations. It is this spontaneity that has yet to find permanent organizational form and that can carry it during the highs and lows mass rebellion and consign liberals and progressives to obscurity.”
There are certain aspects of this passage that I like a lot; the recognition (and in a sense the prediction) of periodic “…bursts of mass activity…” that break with the “…limits of established organizations…” and “…consign liberals and progressives to obscurity”. However, I think there should be more thought to what “spontaneous” means in this process. More specifically, I question the emphasis assigned to finding a “…permanent organizational form…” that can “carry” the movement forward through peaks and lulls. Perhaps there is no such permanent form and we can expect each upsurge to wipe out such “permanent” aspects while constructing new, but most likely temporary, mass organizations. That pattern is what I believe to be most likely and so I am very taken with the notion of the central importance of ‘intermediate’ organizational forms (http://anarchowhat.blogsome.com/2010/03/13/the-intermediate-level/), open to the potentials of temporary mass organizational forms, but committed to develop a growing cadre of organizers from upsurges of struggle without a normally futile attempt to sustain their essential radicalism in an permanent mass organizational structure.
Reply to Nate: 7/21
“Do you see it as a crisis of legitimacy for the current order and/or tied to the economic crisis as well? What I mean is, it’s clearly a crisis for our side, but it’s not clear to me how much of a crisis it is for their side.”
Nate directed this question to Krisna. I’d like to comment, recognizing that Krisna’s response might be quite different.
Nate appears to believe that the border/immigration issues that face the system probably do not rise to the level of a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ for the current order. Indeed, while, according to Nate, this is “clearly a crisis for our side”, it may not be “much of a crisis” for the current order. I disagree on all counts.
In the first place, I think there are three sides to this issue, not two. In the second place, as I said in an earlier post in this discussion, for a major element of the political forces that the Repeal Coalition misnames as ‘nativists’, the legitimacy of the Federal Government is definitely at issue. In the third place, “our side” may rhetorically treat the situation as a “crisis”, but through failing to clearly separate “our” response to the crisis from the liberal reformism of the crisis managers within the state apparatus – the third “side” in the equation – it does not act as if it were a crisis. Thus it is not always clear that for our side also, the legitimacy of the state – and not the state of Arizona – is definitely at issue.
In my opinion labor mobility across borders of all types is a major stress point for global capital. The attempts to control it in the interests of both profit maximization and maintenance of hegemony whether in Northern Italy, South China, or the U.S.-Mexico border is accumulating contradictions that in many cases will rise to the level of a crisis of legitimacy. It is unfortunate that in the instance under discussion, it is the quasi and neo fascist “side” that is closest to recognizing this reality and adopting the appropriate tactics.
If Repeal is anywhere engaged in “organizing around reformist blocs with the ‘progressive elements,” I’d appreciate knowing in what way. If Don (or anyone else) has an alternative strategy to what we are doing in Repeal, I’d love to hear it. I ask genuinely, not disrespectfully.
Krsna, you asked about what Repeal is doing on the ground. I’m giving a talk on Repeal, immigration, and the racial order in NYC next week. Below is my outline for the strategy part of the talk. If any of it is not clear, let me know and I’ll elaborate.
A. Mission: The Repeal Coalition is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization that seeks the repeal of all anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. We demand the freedom of all people to live, love, and work wherever they please, and for the right for all people to have a say in those affairs that affect their daily life.
B. Our work
1. Makeup of the group: 3/4 Latino, majority Latina, 3/5 undocumented. Working class folks plus some college students and profs. All volunteer; no paid staff.
2. Two-pronged campaign
a. Noncompliance campaign: urging individuals, businesses, churches and other institutions to sign a pledge promising not to comply with SB 1070 if/when it goes into effect.
b. Repeal resolution: a resolution calling for cities such as Flagstaff to declare themselves “sanctuaries,” and essentially to refuse to comply at the municipal level.
c. The intention is in part to win these demands, but even more, it’s to build a fighting constituency through the struggle to achieve them.
3. Tactics: doorknocking, protests and vigils, Know Your Rights events, regular meetings.
1. Repeal SB 1070 and similar legislation
2. To create a third pole in the immigration debate. Right now it’s “Kick them all out” vs. “immigration reform.” We want a 3rd pole: “Live, love, and work where you please.” Goal is to create a counterhegemonic discourse. If we can change the debate in Arizona, we can change it nationwide.
3. To improve the organizing capabilities of the working class by resisting borders between them.
4. And hopefully, to get more and more whites to recognize that their interests lie with undocumented folk (UDF) and other workers of color, not with the white democracy.
5. The task is to involve the working class in grassroots politics, documented or not.
a. As David Bacon argues, the goal of both nativists and liberals is to depoliticize undocumented workers. SB 1070 is designed to silence UDF. “Immigration reform” is designed to exploit their labor while denying them political power.
b. The antidote is to develop UDF as political beings. The goal is to empower UDF by getting them to participate in grassroots politics. The solution is politics, political participation.
c. The rights seeks disenfranchisement. We seek participation.
6. Our goal is not to “resist the right.” We do not focus on exposing and defeating the right but on building an alternative to right wing politics among the wc. Our goal is to build our own program, not simply to oppose the right’s. Rather than nativism or liberalism: live, love, and work where you please, regardless of the implications of that.
I agree with you that labor mobility/migration is a major stress point for global capital. I’m not convinced that this being a stress for global capital means that it will lead to a crisis. Maybe it will. It’s not guaranteed, though. When you say “accumulating contradictions (…) will rise to the level of a crisis of legitimacy” about immigration issues, it sounds like you think crisis is the only option here with regard to immigration. It would help to clarify how everyone is using the term ‘crisis’ too, which is what I was trying to ask Krisna to do. As I understand the term, among other things a crisis of capitalism is a period of time when the system is weakened in some important way and we have new possibilities. I’m not convinced we’re in one of those. Maybe we are, I’m not sure. I’d like that to be true. I find most claims that we are to be unconvincing. I also think that from what I’ve read when people say “this is a crisis of capitalism” it provides a sense of urgency. I like that, I’m for communists having a sense of urgency, that’s useful. I don’t think we need to say “this is a crisis of capitalism” to have a sense of urgency, though. (I also should say, I’m talking about the United States, which is what I know the most about because it’s where I live. I ought to know more than I do about the rest of the world and about global trends.) I think crisis is not likely here due to immigration, maybe it’s more likely elsewhere, I don’t really know.
When I say this is a crisis for our side, I mean that there are big attacks under way for the working class. That provides plenty of urgency, in my opinion, and is something that communists need to respond to, regardless of whether or not this is a crisis of capitalism. I also think that we might be able to turn this into a crisis of capitalism eventually – I’m a bit of a voluntarist. Anyway, about this being a crisis for our side: My father’s last marriage broke up a few years ago when his wife and stepchildren was put in an immigrant detention center for several months and leading to deportation. This is happening a lot for a lot of people, more frequently. That’s a serious crisis for a lot of people’s lives, in the sense that there are some very nasty attacks on the working class going on, systematically, and they’re mostly succeeding. That’s what I meant by “a crisis for our side.” And the communist left seems to have little analysis of or practical proposals for responding, unfortunately.
All of that said, I’m not convinced that the border/immigration issues threaten the legitimacy of the current order. You’re right that it’s a major stress point. I think there is some potential here for radicalization of people which could become an imporant threat; there is some possibility to turn this into a crisis for capitalism and governments. There’s also plenty of possibility that immigration issues can be managed by the powers that be in such a way that it won’t spiral out of their control.
Also: you say that it’s unfortunate that I’m not “recognizing the reality” of all this. That’s not helpful and is not an argument. I could say it is unfortunate that you’re not recognizing the reality that this isn’t a crisis. That would also not be an argument. We’re both engaging in a bit of speculation here about reality, with claims that are hard to test or prove. In this discussion, saying “you don’t recognize the reality I’m talking about” is little more than a rhetorically sophisticated way of saying “you disagree with me, and you shouldn’t.” I’m totally open to being convinced here – I would like you to be right. I don’t feel the sense of possibility that you do. I would like to. My wanting to be convinced by you and you’re suggestion that I’m wrong for not being convinced doesn’t make me convinced.
Finally, about the legitimacy of the state – you said that you’re talking about the federal government rather than the state of Arizona. I get that. But it seems to me that there are a great many people who don’t like the current administration of the federal government but who do not oppose the federal government as such. They’re basically right wing militant reformists — they’re willing to be very aggressive in talk and in action, and they have electoral and policy agendas. I find all of that more worrying than I do the neofascists, as I said, though I recognize that in a few locales they really are a short term problem and should be a priority. Anyway, I think you and I see certain opposition to the federal government differently, but some examples might help clarify this to help get clear on what our disagreements really are. In my view, strong stances against the federal government are not necessarily a threat to the legitimacy of the current order. I think that’s part of what the US having federal system does, it allows for a fair bit of elasticity in this sort of opposition. I know you lived through this and I’ve just read about it, and only a little, but I think fights over segregation are instructive parallels. In my opinion, the conflicts over desegration in Arkansas and Alabama are important parallels here and might help think out some of our differences. As I understand those moments, there were intense conflicts between several sides, but the state government actors (like the governors of each state) who opposed the federal government, and many of the supporters of those actors, were not right-wing revolutionary forces. They were still a huge problem, but the problem was not one of an autonomous neo-fascism threatening the legitimacy of pro-capitalist government. At least that’s how I understand it. I think there are possibilities for similar standoffs here, but unless I misunderstand you I think that’s different from the scenario you’re suggesting about neofascism.
ps – people reading this discussion will probably also be interested in Don Hamerquist’s article up at Khukuri right now and the discussion that follows it, here –
I guess what is still unclear to me is, based off of the two pronged campaing, how are undocumented people invloved in resistance?
I mean, beyond the meetings, vigils and protests (not disregarding the importance or potential of these things) the focus seems to be on documented people and forcing them into action.
I know that undocumented people are in a different position (way more vulnerable to repression whether from the state or the racists), but I don’t like the argument people make that that makes them less capable of resistance (not that you are making that argument).
Again, I am not disregarding the importance or value of meetings, vigils and protests. I am just curious as to how undocumented people (especially womyn) are gaining confidence and building organizational power amongst themselves.
Also, I want to say that I enjoy the conversations had here at GF very much, and I hope to be involved more in the future.
Que estén chevere!
Thanks for posting this outline. It was very helpful. Any chance someone may take video of it or you will later post the full speech? I’d like to hear some elaboration on each of these points, helpful as they are for a starting point.
You are right that I used the term ‘crisis’ much too loosely. My point is that a significant sector of the anti-immigration constituency sees the issue in terms of a crisis. And as Rahm Emmanuel might say, it is a crisis that provides an opportunity to advance to advance their specific political agendas which, in important cases, are not premised on strong state authoritarianism and state repression, but on a reactionary vision of local empowerment that specifically includes secessionism.
You might follow this link: http://attackthesystem.com/2010/05/anarchism-and-immigration-restriction/ for a national anarchist view. You also might google Occidental Dissent and immigration for a number of posts that support my point.
You are upset by my statement that the right understands the implications of the immigration issue and is better prepared to deal with them than the left. I might have worded it more kindly, but I believe it is accurate.
i want to touch something Rene is getting at because i think it clarifies the debate and where some of the confusion may be coming from.
we’ve had the experience that Rene is describing here in Austin: conservative immigrants and people of color arguing that they cannot engage in any sort of organized resistance, direct action or direct confrontation with university officials, ICE, the bosses or the police because the consequences they face are far more dire than if white folks were doing it.
the last part of the argument is no doubt true: the consequences they face are far different than if documented white folks engaged in this form of resistance. but the first part of their argument is rooted in the fault lines within the broader Left on race and the class politics that both animate and flow from them.
this is normally expressed through the framework of privilege theory. many would say that documented white folks have the privilege of being able to engage in these forms of resistance. Left and revolutionary politics, building militant, independent undocumented organizations, and engaging in direct confrontation with the ruling class get framed as a white thing. we saw how this happened in the anti-budget cut work in Cali.
people of color, on the other hand, are left only with the middle class politics of policing militant, autonomous working class resistance by other people of color, and fighting for a position in the ruling bureaucracy. a perfect example of this occurred in the 2009 Oscar Grant uprisings.
the experiences of undocumented people of color are materially different from working class white folks. the police are more likely to arrest us, and we are more likely to lose our jobs, but it’s up to organizers and the rest of the Left to devise strategies and organizational forms that account for and combat these forms of repression.
in contrast to these conceptions of privilege theory, the linchpin for our organizing has been placing the class struggles within communities of color at the center of our organizing. this struggle is an essential part of the fight against white supremacy because of the role of middle class people of color play by providing legitimacy to the ruling class.
i think this plays a part in crafting different conceptions of the historical tasks of PoC, and how we think about ourselves. but in contrast to these middle class politics is reviving the tradition of militant people of color organizations such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Young Lords Organization.
it’s within the context of this historical tradition that conversations about identity take on a role with an explicitly working class and revolutionary content. of course none of these projects can nor should be repeated, but should be vindicated, analyzed, criticized and be placed in the tradition of our identities.
Quick note to Don – Don, I agree that there are opportunities here for anti-immigrant racists. If that’s all you and Krisna mean by crisis, cool, works for me. You’ve probably not surprised to hear that I’m more worried about the anti-immigrants racists whose views *are* “premised on strong state authoritarianism and state repression” and I’m less worried about those who have “a reactionary vision of local empowerment that specifically includes secessionism.” The latter sound more marginal to me. I suspect they will be important insofar as they form a militant pole that shapes how things play out, but I don’t think their right-wing revolutionary aspirations will come to fruition, it’s their militancy that’s the worry to me and how they shape the statist right, who are still very far right.
And I’m not upset by your phrasing, just unconvinced. I know you believe it’s accurate – you wouldn’t say it if you didn’t think it’s accurate. That doesn’t help me understand why you believe it’s accurate, which means it doesn’t change my mind, unfortunately.
Also, as you phrase it here the point seems softened – I agree with you that the right is better placed to respond to gain from the immigration issue. I think the statist/gradualist right above all. I thought you were making a bigger claim than that.