Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflections on a Crucifixion: the Arizona Immigrant Movement's Slow, Steady March to Oblivion

Or, "The Smartest Guy In The Movement Revealed"

As we approach the one year anniversary of the passage of SB1070, we naturally tend to look back. As I've pointed out in other articles, the year leading up and and since then hasn't been the easiest one, as we have fought off recuperators, reactionaries and straight up Nazis in the meetings, on the internet and in the streets. No one has yet written a comprehensive analysis of that period of heightened struggle, which for me stretches from the first Inglourious Basterds Bloc through the DO@ Bloc, on into the hot summer of 2010 with its student walkouts and the Border Patrol occupation, and then culminating with Inglourious Basterds II. I for one would welcome it if an anarchist would take on the job of documenting and analyzing that struggle, although I don't yet feel up to the task.

Although that larger project remains incomplete, in a recent discussion, we at PCWC decided that it might be worth tackling it in smaller, bite-sized portions -- reflections on the interesting moments, those lightbulb-going-off-in-your-head instances, and those things that weren't perhaps clear at first but became so over time. There were a lot, even for us veteran militants. The terrain of this struggle became so complicated over time that we were bound to come out of it wiser and, of course, surprised, as one always is when the working class is in motion.

In July of last year, we saw the last gasp of the mainstream migrant movement. It had marched us to death, sign-held us to death, and fund-raised us to death. Will it return? The prognosis is not good, as the political rump that remains clings to its dirty non-profit money and celebrity contacts like a Titanic refugee to a bit of driftwood.

No new or creative ideas emerge from that bottomless whirlpool, that navel-gazing vortex. All the interesting things happen outside the movement, and have for some time. The Border Patrol occupation. The resistance around the new freeway and Snowbowl desecration. Interestingly, all these actions operate within the analysis developed within the militant anti-state, anti-capitalist wing, with its assertion of "free movement for all" and "no to dislocation" as its main guideposts.

Meanwhile,"Boycott Arizona" remains the mantra of the defeated movement. This is a movement that celebrates year after year it's never-ending protest outside Sheriff Joe's office with cake, music and party favors. Another year of failure, another year of using the same bankrupt tactics to no avail. Failure, increasingly, is the goal of the movement. Implicit in the slogan is its desperate cry for outside help.

Because the movement leadership was at war with creativity and critical thought, in the end it was the Arizona Chamber of Commerce that answered that plea and stopped the march of anti-immigrant legislation. Capital re-evaluted its relationship with the reactionary white working and middle classes and blocked further regression, much as the Libertarian right had nearly scuttled SB1070 before that. The movement is a sham, and it wouldn't be so terrible if it hadn't had such terrible consequences for so many.

So it's in the spirit of reflection that I share with you the smartest man in the immigrant movement. This is a person who really understood what was going on, long before any of us did, with our flyers and our sweaty and tired participation in the mainstream miles-long marches. I mean, we came around eventually: at first we just started skipping the marches and showing up at the end to handout literature. Then we gradually returned more and more to doing our own things, playing with contradictions, fucking with the Libertarian right, provoking reactionaries and designing actions and events with ideas and composition that the mainstream leadership could not ignore. Our "fractures and fissures" theories developed in the midst of this phase of the struggle and we deployed them. And it was during this time that we organized the neighborhood assemblies, actions and marches in Tempe, for instance, a deviation that movement leaders and the sycophantic non-profiteers they surrounded themselves with found hard to countenance.

But at first, there was us, with years of showing up at these protests, supporting, holding signs, playing nice and watching movement leaders one after another peel off to the right, towards conservativism in action and thought, terrified of their own rank and file. Not that they ever had our allegiance, but one is polite at first, especially as white militants. One waits to see what develops and what can be supported, without compromising one's views, and one hands out a lot of flyers. One organizes her friends and breaks up Minuteman rallies in front of the Mexican Consulate. That's what one does.

It's hard to really remember now how before things exploded with the general strike, the rallies had only twenty, fifty, a hundred, maybe two hundred attendees. We were all opposing the early wave of reactionary laws, although we didn't know it for sure then -- it seemed apocalyptic even then. Now, with a tiny shadow of what had come before remaining, the movement leaders are surely more comfortable with a few dozen activists and non-profiteers than they ever were with several hundred thousand wildcatters waving Mexican flags, like in those early days. We know they are happier with a handful of dedicated student activists rather than the thousands and thousands of students who walked out a day earlier than their "responsible adult" leaders had prescribed, occupying the capitol lawn and finally rioting in an explosion of righteous anger when the law was signed despite their protests.

So, let me get back to this seer of the movement, the man who saw with total clarity before anyone else the purpose of those long -- many, many miles long -- hot, summer marches. Before I even figured it out, when I was just stoked at seeing so many people in the streets of Phoenix, even if we anarchists had to fight for them to be open to us. It's easy to forget the blistering heat of those marches, which repeated every so often, leaving from the same park and heading to the same, distant destination. People collapsing of heat stroke all around. The ritual of the march, the self-sacrifice of the struggle -- it all looks so obvious in hindsight, now that the excitement of the working class in motion has worn off and that same working class has been out-maneuvered, bored, exhausted and beaten down by movement leaders. But one man got it right from the get-go, from the minute we set foot to blacktop (or sidewalk, as the leadership tried so desperately -- and sometimes unsuccessfully -- to limit it).

I present to you this man.

This man showed up every time, along with others from time to time, dragging this ridiculous cross with him march after march, mile after mile. He understood that these marches were a punishment, a self-sacrifice, not intended to stop the raids, not intended to mobilize the people, but instead meant to tire them out, to discipline us like a teacher punishes a student. These marches were meant to kill the movement, literally. Where the heat couldn't do it, boredom would, as we literally took the same route month after month. It must have made filling out the permits easy as hell, as well as routinizing the police response, as the plan is put into action time after time, refined and redeployed again and again. This guy understood that he was a martyr and that, as a movement, we were marching up a hill to be crucified.


no name said...
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no name said...

This would be better if you presented a self-critique. It would be more honest and useful.