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No Borders Camp: Unpolished Notes on a Glorious Week for Anarcho-Liberalism
by -
Monday Dec 3rd, 2007 8:43 PM
What in the world is happening? When did anarchists stop being anarchists? Maybe sometime in the last 8 years, the effort to generalize anarchist ideas started to mean fusing liberal and third-worldist tendencies with the beauty of self-organization, mutual aid, and attack.
No Borders Camp: Unpolished Notes on a Glorious Week for Anarcho-Liberalism

What in the world is happening? When did anarchists stop being anarchists? Maybe sometime in the last 8 years, the effort to generalize anarchist ideas started to mean fusing liberal and third-worldist tendencies with the beauty of self-organization, mutual aid, and attack.

We would like to hope that the activities of the No Borders Camp in Calexico/Mexicali and the trajectory its American organizers* ferried everyone on is an anomaly to today’s anarchist current in the U.S. and is either particular to the American Southwest or to a certain scene within the Southwest.

Being Midwesterners with little contact with folks in the Southwest, we didn’t know what to expect other than what was broadcast in the Camp’s own propaganda and preliminary workshops: fury at the murderous border policies, an emphasis on “days of action, not a conference,” an emphasis on the establishment of one bi-national camp, strong references to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great Woomera escape, and, well, direct action.

Every day, there were 3 general meetings, 5 or 6 various sub-meetings (toilets, media, security, etc.), 1 or so spokes-council meetings, and, when warranted, a general pre-action meeting. Meetings about when to have meetings, marathon meetings about mundane details of housekeeping, meetings about what to tell self-appointed negotiators to tell the authorities, meetings that spent half of the time telling people the proper etiquette required to participate in meetings, and even the meetings that were warranted degenerated into what restrictions to impose on others at demonstrations. The tyranny of formalized consensus process reigned; blocking consensus meant instant alienation, marginalization, and vilification, as the organizing block of 10-12 people and their 20 or so additional friends always stepped in to defend each other on even the most reformist ideas- which became alarmingly frequent. It was a process which some of us came to mockingly, but quite seriously, call “direct bureaucracy” instead of the self-label of “direct democracy.”

We recall, with a bit of nostalgia, the days of meeting for a purpose: how to blockade the city, what to bring to disrupt business, what time to push towards a hotel, where to break off, how to leave a pen en masse, etc. – matters of urgency to open possibilities, not bottle them up in a suffocating framework of ritualized process. How most people passively tolerated the bullshit of the camp’s organization is scary and baffling.

Wanting to please the border police, those responsible for innumerable deaths in the desert (the same deaths that drove many of us to the camp) and who surrounded us with the weapons of brutality and surveillance, is a completely indefensible attitude for self-proclaimed anarchists. “They are happy with what we are doing,” relayed a legal observer (who had just met with a higher-up in the Border Patrol) to a general meeting. We watched with astonishment as people clapped and congratulated themselves. She continued, “They said, ‘We won’t take any action against you as long as nobody harms an agent, the wall isn’t damaged, and nobody crosses in from Mexico,’” i.e., every healthy impulse for anyone wanting a free society without borders.

In the days before the camp, a Calexico police officer, returning from riot police training exercises in preparation for the Camp, ran a stop sign and died. The first day of the Camp, organizers stressed everyone should be sensitive to the situation because “the police officer came from the community.”** Maybe if we were trying to build a world with nicer police and more humane policies, this would be understood. But we want a world without borders and cops, and if we are going to get there, the last thing we need to be doing is apologizing for their existence. Throughout the week, all instances of confrontation were met with cries of “Deescalate!” and even accusations of “ableist, hetero-normative, white, male privilege”*** when people were confronting institutions that enforce repression and exploitation- namely the ICE Detention Center and the Border Patrol. Upon leaving the camp and cleaning up, a most insulting action was taken: to move the brush barricades back into the neat piles like we found them, so the BP would have less work to do! And all this before most people had left the camp and thus were no longer protected by the barrier from a BP attack.

We needed no negotiations to take the camp and no negotiations other than rocks from Mexico to extend the camp. It was just understood: We want something. We take it. We defend it. Then why oh why from that point forward did everything we want have to be told to the authorities beforehand via self-appointed negotiators?**** The most disquieting moment of negotiations and mass psychosis occurred in the preparation for a joint bi-national meeting(!). Negotiators sent themselves to negotiate more space along the gated barrier for everyone to meet in. They reported back that the BP agreed to cede 6 feet if we agreed not to vandalize their vehicles as had happened during the previous morning’s standoff. The negotiator then said that that means monitoring each other to make sure that doesn’t happen again (read: police each other for the police)! No one groaned or batted an eye for any of this announcement. A short time later, another negotiator announced that the BP would like to know if anyone had put anything in the gas tank of one of the vandalized jeeps so they would know to not drive it. At least outwardly, no one thought it disturbing for a negotiator to be a police spokesperson and few felt comfortable to chuckle aloud at the ridiculous request. What is going on?

One who is fed up with a society of confinement and its alarming growth and normalization of prisons would expect to find friends and accomplices at an anarchist demonstration against a detention facility (or to at least shake the walls of the prison without interference from other demonstrators). Not the case! Only a dozen or so participated in the dismantling of a section of the fence, paint-bombing, graffiti, and the near toppling of a large gate into the facility, while a crowd of 100-150 simply danced around the facility and in some cases lambasted those taking direct action with virulent diatribes of pacifism and again, accusations of privilege from the vaults of anti-oppression politics. It’s also worth noting that more people were taking photos and videos than acting against the facility. And strangely, most of these images never surfaced in the following days. Which leads us to…

The only actions worth broadcasting to the rest of the world were those of the repressive forces. Upon escaping from the police attack and subsequent hunt, we ran back to our cars. Eight of us and only 2 people with cars, one of whom was an organizer milling around, infatuated with calling the mainstream media while the rest of us begged him to get in his car and drive us out of the area. Finally he caved. When we got to a safe space, he again launched into a frenzy telling people to get the media’s contact info and call them. But those of us with our heads screwed on straight were more concerned about calling our friends to make sure they were safe. And in the following days, we dug through media reports (mainstream and independent) and the camp’s website. BP attack, BP attack, BP attack. Little to nothing about our initiatives, our attacks: the rocks hurled by the Mexican side at the BP on the first day, the actions at the detention facility, the hole pried open in the fence on the last day, the Mexican side throwing whatever they could over the fence at the BP after the attack*****, the vandalized jeeps, even the immense stretch of border wall covered with paint.******

Always victims, never actors creating our own destiny.

We are filled with utter confusion at how an anarchist movement, once strong and complex, has regressed so shamefully.

* Spending all of our time on the Calexico side, we cannot speak to those who spearheaded the effort on the Mexican side.

** What community? What does community mean in a world of social control and dispossession?

*** Funny how this verbal tirade wasn’t launched against the Mexican side for stockpiling rocks and bottles, or for throwing rocks at the BP on the first day, or for throwing everything they could at the BP on the last day.

**** At one point we even witnessed an organizer hop the barricades to ask the BP if we could build a fire, and then accept no for an answer. Fortunately, the next night, cold people did as they pleased.

***** Apparently, many Americans who had crossed over to march with the Mexican side on the last day were screaming for those trying to slow the BP’s attack on their comrades with rocks and bottles to stop “escalating” the situation.

****** The occupation of the camp itself was the only openly celebrated action, and this seemed largely to be the planning work of two years(!) by the organizing core- an action completely within the confines of the organizers’ blueprint.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Not an anarchist, sorry.
Wednesday Dec 5th, 2007 7:47 AM
If I didn't know you were serious about "ableist, hetero-normative, white-priviledge" whatever, I would think I was reading a parody in National Lampoon or watching Saturday Night Live.

Next time watch Monty Python's Life of Brian before your publicity stunts. At least then you can get the benefit of laughing at your selves. Remember a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, maybe you should strive to get one.
by yet another anarchist wanting more
Wednesday Dec 5th, 2007 4:02 PM
thanks for writing this! i had a friend who came to the first day of the camp and left after the camp was taken and didn't come back. she came from a city way up on the west coast, but was so unimpressed and so uninterested in the camp after the first day that she changed her plans and bailed.

by Kim Sky
Wednesday Dec 5th, 2007 6:36 PM
Thanx for offering some new info/insight into the no-borders-camp.

"we didn't know what to expect... except fury at the murderous border policies, an emphasis on “days of action", not a conference.

Oddly enough, a clear statement about why camp never seemed to surface. What was the goal? cross-border organizing, solidarity/new friendships/social linkages, a protest to lead to more protests, an educational event to ricochet throughout the world? Most people seem to have been baffled by the action.

you believe that "days of action" were the ultimate goal? why? why create a peace-love-hippy-camp and then fight? at your most vulnerable -- what for? lot's of people were there, instead of the tens of people getting injured there could have been hundreds.

regarding the negotiations: "We won’t take any action against you as long as nobody harms an agent, the wall isn’t damaged, and nobody crosses in from Mexico,’” i.e., every healthy impulse for anyone wanting a free society without borders."

again, the healthy impulse was the days of action -- by the non-repressive force, rather than the repressive force?

"Every day, there were 3 general meetings, 5 or 6 various sub-meetings" -- this does sound terrible, I never did really agree with consensus as a process. And the bullying by the organizers felt very totalitarian -- kind of like they had organized an event for elementary school children.

"The only actions worth broadcasting to the rest of the world were those of the repressive forces. "

This seems true, Democracy Now would not have covered the event if there had not been some police repression to report. In fact, seems like the whole thing would have slipped into oblivion without the repressive forces acting out.

For me, the no-borders-camp was a different kind of action. Odd to see folk next to the border who where experienced riot-police-[anarchist]-fighters -- who were sorely out of place, a total displacement into an environment that very few had any understanding of.

Let's see now. What was the goal again?

Create solidarity -- Friends will meet again and make actions again? Hope so.

Education -- certainly practicing cross-cultural organizing. White privilege, wealth-poverty, power. Wow, what a conglomeration of confusing stuff. Seems like things degenerated into -- you have more stuff than us, type analysis at the camp. This is the stuff we need to de-construct -- a couple of the Mexicans at the camp came from the wealthiest families of anyone there. On the other hand, a US-american's class changes automatically the minute (s)he crosses the border, whether they want it to or not. US-americans have so much more wealth and power than the Mexicans that it aint funny, where it leads to ridiculous expectations and preconceptions about how their comrades from the south should react to "gifts".

Anarchist -- does being an anarchist mean that you've got to create the grooviest action, to appeal to the sensibilities of the most radical of us out there? Kick some ass, burn some border fence, a truly spiritually violent experience? Or is it a peace-love event? You got me? At least there are some do-ers out there, tying different kinds of actions.

by ..
Thursday Dec 6th, 2007 2:40 AM
if you wanted to express your rage about the border, why didnt you form an affinity group of like-minded folks and take action in a way that didnt entrain others who werent on the same wavelength? earth first no borders took action against a border wall construction company in calexico during the camp.

perhaps you were waiting for a vanguard of camp organizers to create the anarchist experience for you.
by m
Thursday Dec 6th, 2007 12:03 PM
you don't find it odd that during an event promoting itself as taking action against the border, discouraged people from taking action against the border???
by @
Thursday Dec 6th, 2007 1:45 PM
Well, I have also had experiences like that among "anarchists" and just see it as a continuing pattern of "authoritarian anarchists" trying to keep everyone in line.
They should be treated like the authorities they are negotiating with.
by talk is cheap
Thursday Dec 6th, 2007 9:36 PM
there are numerous solid concerns expressed in this critique. many of the concerns i understand and was frustrated with, as well. that said, i am not surprised that this person didn't spend time on the "other side". because, if they had, i think the rhetoric would be very different. i've learned a lot about what it means to have solidarity in the last couple months. most of it is that you shouldn't make actions if you aren't really capable of defending them. unfortunately, at the nbc, we weren't really ready to go head to head for the space. i didn't see anyone organizing bad ass "alarm" responses to the border patrol. i didn't see anyone figuring out how to better defend our space. i didn't see many people trying to coordinate direct actions at the border crossings (or other spaces where detainees were directly at risk, such as at the detention center). without those preparations, the rhetoric is weak. we have a long way to go before we're ready to tear down that wall. i hope we keep moving in that direction....
in the end, it won't be the anarcho-liberals who get in the way, it will be the people who are too busy critiquing to make any real shit happen.
by nobody
Friday Dec 7th, 2007 12:49 AM
yeah, fuck critique! lets just keep doing shit and not think about it or talk about it. now that's anarchist!
by talk can be cheap
Friday Dec 7th, 2007 12:57 PM
i'm confused...and, i apologize if i made it sound like i didn't think critique was important. i think it is critical, which is why i am engaging in it. rather than titling it "talk is cheap", i should have said "can be cheap". i was just trying to point out that there wasn't a lot of self-organized shit happening at the camp...and that we can do a lot better. it's not really fair to criticize organizers without having a similar critique of the people who showed up!

i'm tired of the shaming rhetoric i read here...we can do so much better! let's talk about the real shit!!

what i was trying to do was start a dialog about what it would look like to have a camp that was more autonomous (sorry if i didn't do such a good job of launching such a conversation). i want to dialog with people who are trying to understand the realities of the border and migration controls, and who are interested in developing action plans rooted in such realities.

for example, did the author of this article know that the organizers on the mexican had asked people on the u.s. not to lead a charge against the fence? not because they don't want to see it fall...because of course they do...but, because we haven't built the trust yet to engage in such serious actions. actions that will cost people their "freedom". maybe even their lives.

personally, i don't want to end up in a jail cell for a half-baked action. but even more, i don't want my friends on the other side take the heat because we aren't ready to act in real solidarity.

was negotiating shit with the border patrol bullshit...absolutely. but, so was the reaction we had when the riot cops showed up the second day...most people on the u.s. side stood around watching while the compas on the mexican side responded with a well organized, aggressive stand (a few people on the u.s. side took the opportunity to deface b.p. vehicles, which was great--but, it was very little compared to the strategic, defensive, positions the folks on the other side took up immediately). after talking with my friends on the other side, that was a great moment for see the border patrol scared of them for once!

in fact, i credit the fear instilled in the border patrol agents by the mexican side--combined with the eventual blockading of their access road by the u.s. side--that caused their "retreat". not the negotiations.

but, it may have been the negotiations that prevented an even more aggressive attack later that day, or in the days to which the u.s. side was clearly not ready to respond.

i say, let's be ready next time. then, we can tell the negotiators to go home.

in my opinion, one of the most important things we did on the u.s. side was show up for the camp. by showing up, we began to build trust. could we have done more?...maybe...but it was a good step. further, we spent five days in a space that is normally a war zone. a place where people are shot in the back, drowned, terrorized. we transformed it in many positive ways. was it a fatal blow to the border-military-industrial complex? of course not!

so, where we go from here is critical. i hope we don't just write this off as a "glorious week for anarcho-liberalism" because it was so much more.
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