Listen to the Episode — 29 min
Clara: Hello, and welcome back to the Ex-Worker! Yes, you heard right—the Ex-Worker is indeed back from the dead. Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. The truth is, there’s just too much still to do to wrap up this project just yet. Unless something pretty substantial has taken place between when we recorded this and when you downloaded it, chances are the world in which you’re listening to this still has borders, police, patriarchy, white supremacy, government, capitalism, and impending ecological catastrophe. So, suffice to say, we’ve still got our work cut out for us.
When started this podcast project almost six years ago – seems hard to believe! – the anarchist media landscape in North America looked quite different. The Final Straw was up and running as a radio show, and you could find traces of a very small and scattered handful of mostly dormant anarchist audio projects. But we were stepping into what we saw as a void in our efforts to make consistent contemporary anarchist analysis, news, ideas, history, interviews, and so forth in an audio format. The show has obviously changed a lot over the years, as those of you who’ve been longtime listeners know well. We’ve had episodes as short as half an hour and as long as over two hours; we’ve done audio documentaries, long interviews profiling local scenes or movements, historical reflections, theoretical discussions, audio versions of zines and articles that have appeared elsewhere from CrimethInc., and plenty of other things, not to mention three seasons of the Hot Wire news show.
And over that time, the anarchist audio and media landscape has really expanded. Whereas before we were just a couple of isolated projects, now we’ve got a whole litany of podcasts and other affiliated projects. The Resonance Anarchist Audio Distro, Solecast, This is America from It’s Going Down, Rustbelt Abolition Radio, Primal Anarchy, Rebel Steps, From Embers; the Final Straw is still raging after nearly a decade, including their occasional Error451 radical tech show. Not to mention all the badass video and other stuff our comrades at SubMedia keep putting out! And all of these projects and more are connected through the Channel Zero Network, and linking up with projects across the world like A-Radio Berlin in Germany, Subversion 1312 in Australia, Dissident Island Radio in the UK, and tons of others—and not just in English—through international networks of anarchist radio projects who now have a yearly gathering to discuss and coordinate activities. When we got started, we never could have imagined that we’d be part of such a vibrant and interconnected ecosystem of projects across the world.
So moving forward, what’s our niche in that ecosystem? What can we offer? We’re still trying to figure that out. Obviously there are limits to what we can do, being a small collective that has never made a dime from our efforts, and subject to the miseries of poverty, state repression, overwhelm, burnout, crises of confidence, heartbreak, and other mundane problems like all the rest of you. At the same time, we’ve got years of relationships built through interactions with you lovely listeners, connections throughout anarchist networks inside and beyond the US, and a platform we can use to make a contribution to the struggles that (at least have a chance to) make our lives livable and worth living.
So all of this is a long way of saying that yes, the Ex-Worker is going to keep on going. But like all things, it’s going to continue to evolve and change. As always, we’re open to your thoughts and feedback, and we’d like to hear from you about what direction you think we should go, and what role we can play alongside the other projects in the anarchist media landscape. But we’ve got some plans up our sleeve, and we want to tell you about them.
MIGRATION, BORDERS, AND RESISTANCE IN THE TRUMP ERA
So it’s 2019, and even if you’ve been living under a rock the past two years you’re probably aware that borders and migration have been central points of conflict in the US and all over the world lately. Are we going to live in a world we can move through freely without borders, or one in which violent states and capitalist interests maintain global inequality by increasingly surveilling, constraining, and directing people’s movements? That’s the questions we’re all fighting to answer, and the stakes are high.
Those of you who follow other CrimethInc. projects know that a year and a half ago we released a book called No Wall They Can Build: A Guide to Borders and Migration Across North America. It describes both the first-hand experiences of a solidarity worker on the US/Mexico border over many years and the analysis about migration, the global economy, and state power the author developed through those experiences.
The recent government shutdown and Trump’s efforts to impose construction of a wall have put questions of the border and migration on everyone’s radar today, including lots of folks who really weren’t thinking about it or paying much attention to the crisis there previously. Folks are increasingly recognizing how more people were deported by the government under the Obama administration than in any previous presidency; of course, the communities targeted by this repression were organizing fiercely against it the entire time, but today there’s a new groundswell of activism in response to anti-immigrant rhetoric and policing.
The kind of xenophobic fury stirred up by Trump has a long history in the United States. Since the 1800s, nativist movements across class lines have targeted foreign-born Catholics, Jews, southern and eastern Europeans, anarchists and radicals, Chinese and Japanese, Mexican and Latin American, and most recently Muslim and Middle Eastern folks as scapegoats for everything from economic woes to moral decline. However much the targets change, the structure remains the same; Trump tapped a deep vein in the unconscious of the US that remains powerful.
But as we’ll hear, while right wing and Republican rhetoric takes an especially harsh anti-immigrant line, the two parties are united in their commitment to nationalism, citizenship, exclusion, and policing borders. As anarchists, it’s critical for us to articulate that Democrats will not be our saviors, that policing and borders themselves are the problem, and that direct action and solidarity have the best shot of building towards a world without them.
After Trump’s election, we made an effort here at CrimethInc to learn from what anarchists have been doing to show solidarity with migrants in and around Fortress Europe. We proposed a concrete direct action strategy to target ICE here in the US, which began to take hold in the summer of 2018, with blockades and other actions targeting ICE facilities around the US, as well as actions against private prison companies profiting from migrant detention.
Media reports swelled of horrific cases where ICE officials separated families, tore children away from their parents, and detained them in for-profit facilities. “Abolish ICE” moved from a fringe radical slogan to a mainstream demand, espoused even by some Democrats—which unfortunately indicates that it doesn’t go far enough (as if the point was to change which government agency oversees violence against immigrants, rather than ending that violence itself!) Yet despite the massive wave of negative attention, the current administration relied so strongly on anti-immigrant rhetoric to mobilize its base that it was willing to actually bring the federal government grinding to a halt over its determination to intensify the brutal border regime. Of course, the problem, we’ve argued, is that it didn’t go far enough—we want to shut down all of the coercive operations of government permanently while reclaiming the functions of horizontal coordination and social support that it appropriates for its own ends. Still, as the weeks ground on and the rhetoric escalated, anarchists helped to organize the “Block the Wall” call to action, in hopes of catalyzing the kinds of direct action that could redirect energy from Democrats and reforms towards actually interrupting the regimes of borders and policing that underlie both parties.
Yet as the country gears up for yet another nauseating presidential spectacle, we can already see liberals and even many radicals stuffing their heads in the sand as they prepare to justify going all out for the lesser evil. To address the death and despair along the border and the global caste system it upholds, we need a narrative that focuses not on the supposedly exceptional character of Trump’s border policy, but rather on the essential inhumanity of the institution, which persists from one administration to the next. So No Wall They Can Build, which documents the gross injustices of the border regime under Obama, is more timely than ever.
For some time we’ve been wanting to make an audiobook version of the text. In part, because we know many folks these days prefer the flexibility of listening to reading; in part, because it’ll become accessible to different people that those who’ll end up with a hard copy of the book; and in part, just because it’s a beautifully written and powerfully moving story, and we wanted to help give it voice and share it. And as we see it, now is as urgent a time as ever to be bringing attention to the senseless brutality of the border regime, and to do all that we can to catalyze solidarity with migrants throughout the Americas and beyond, as well as those who suffer consequences for acting in solidarity with them.
Another reason we wanted to promote the book today is because No More Deaths, whose solidarity efforts are described in its pages, has been subjected to a particularly harsh wave of repression in the months since it was released. At the time of publication, as you’ll hear in the introduction, no volunteer with the group had ever been convicted of any crime associated with their solidarity work. That has changed, as the state has initiated a wave of arrests of humanitarian volunteers in an effort to discourage and criminalize the group’s efforts to prevent death in the desert. We hope that if the stories contained in the book move you, that you’ll do whatever you can to show support for targeted migrant communities and the solidarity workers who attempt to help them.
To put the book into the context of the developments of the past two years since it was finished, we contacted a current participant in No More Deaths, who spoke with us about the differences and continuities between the border regime under Obama and under Trump, the impact of the national debate over Trump’s wall along the borderlands themselves, the surveillance and repression the group has undergone, and the forms of resistance that have intensified in recent years.
INTERVIEW WITH NO MORE DEATHS VOLUNTEER
Alanis: Welcome to the Ex-Worker. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little but about how you got involved with No More Deaths?
Maria: Sure. My name’s Maria; I’ve been volunteering with No More Deaths for over a decade. I initially came down around 2006–2007 to the border, did some work on the US/Mexico, both sides, and have been an active participant in the group ever since.
Alanis: So we’re about to be releasing an audio book of No Wall They Can Build, which goes into a lot of depth both with analysis about the border regime and how it works in terms of global migration from south to north and the flow of people, resources, capital, etcetera across these borders; and also with a lot of personal stories about life doing solidarity work in the desert. So the book was written over a period of many years, but mostly during the Obama era, when there was a president who a lot of people, accurately or not, thought was a lot more of a friend to immigrants and immigrant communities. Now that we’re living in the Trump era, Trump’s policies about immigration and the border are obviously one of the most high-profile things that radials tend to react against. So to get started with our conversation about releasing this book, I wanted to see if you could tell us a little bit about what continuities and what differences have existed since the time that this was written, since the Obama era through to the Trump era.
Maria: Sure. I think if you look at the differences between Obama and Trump’s managing of migration and enforcement, it’s really just one of vitriol in discourse; but if you actually look at the infrastructural policies, I think there’s a lot more continuity between the Obama era and the Trump era than a lot of people really acknowledge. I would say that Trump is only able to enforce a much more xenophobic and violent and wide-reaching immigration enforcement system because Obama has infrastructurally put in place both the physical infrastructure and the legal infrastructure for Trump to be able to expand the mandates and dictates of the Border Patrol and ICE in our current era.
So I don’t actually think there’s that much difference between them. It’s kind of a soft control versus hard control: where people get taken into custody and in what manner in what kinds of violence they experience at the hand of the state, and then the numbers. I think Obama played a game that had to do with differentiating between deserving and non-deserving categories of migration; Trump simply shifted those categories. I don’t actually think the game that Trump is playing is very different; it’s just about how criminality has been employed against undocumented communities in various ways. So the difference is really mostly in rhetoric, you know, which does have a difference.
And then also there’s been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the undocumented minors crisis, and taking children into custody. And I think it’s really to point out that that was policy that was put into place under Obama administration, and facilities in Pennsylvania and Texas have existed to incarcerate minors. And that the zero-tolerance policy under Trump would not have been possible, just logistically, without the infrastructural investments of the Obama era.
Alanis: Speaking of that difference you mentioned between hard and soft power, I’m been thinking about that in terms of making sense of the crisis going on in national politics around Trump’s effort to force the construction of a border wall, and the way that Democrats are positioning themselves as if they’re resisting Trump and talking about something totally different; whereas if you actually look at the proposal, it still involves more militarization, more funding for border enforcement, things like that, but just with the absence of a physical wall. So given that this has been such a major national controversy, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little but about how that’s played out on the border itself: how folks in Arizona are experiencing it, how they’re responding to it, what impact if any it’s having on migrants themselves, and what kind of responses you’re seeing to that rhetoric along the border.
Maria: Sure. So I would say that the damage of an increasingly militarized border, the human toll, has been lived. I mean, the urban centers were sealed in the 90s and traffic was funneled out into remote areas. It really was a gift to the cartels in terms of consolidating human trafficking. So correctly you’re highlighting that the difference between a Republican or Democratic approach to border enforcement just has to do with physical infrastructure, which Trump is obsessed with—an actual quote/unquote “wall”—versus other kinds of enforcement that the Democrats are more than happy to fund. And I think that it’s really important to remember that there have been studies done that correlate border militarization and infrastructure and its effect on found remains. And we do find with an increase in militarization, we find an increase in people dying crossing. So that is one of the primary effect that is has on people trying to cross through the borderlands: any amount of enforcement and militarization and funding of military and honestly paramilitary infrastructure on the border does concretely lead to loss of life.
And it’s been kind of Kafkaesque to hear Trump and the Republicans utilize this verbiage of there being a “crisis” on the border for their own ends, in order, honestly, to create more crisis on the border. Because, you know, there is a crisis on the border: there’s a crisis of death and disappearance, and there’s been a lot of lives lost and families affected by missing loved ones. But the crisis is one that’s being created by Border Patrol, by ICE, by the state as an enforcer. That is who is enacting violence on the border; that is where the real crisis lies. And it is one that isn’t just unfolding in the desert; it’s happening at detention facilities, with conditions that are subhuman. And so I think that it’s important to kind of try and check the really uncritical dialogue that people are trying to have about the border, and to understand where the sources of violence are really coming from. And I would say by and large they are coming from the state.
And I think as far was what people are trying to do to address that: you know, we’re here, we’re doing the same work that we’ve been doing for the last 15 years, albeit under a heightened environment of surveillance and repression. But you know, people are going to be continuing to do what they’ve always done, which is to help other people in the borderlands, and to reach out in solidarity to directly affected communities. So we’ll see. You know, at the end of the day the amount of money that is appropriated or misappropriated to increase border militarization is a problem, needs to be resisted, and does concretely lead to death and disappearance.
Alanis: You mentioned the increasing climate of surveillance and repression going on with No More Deaths in particular. I know one of the things that y’all have been dealing with there has been these legal cases against some of your volunteers, and there’s been some developments in that in recent weeks and months. So I’m wondering if you can start off giving a little bit of background about the arrests and the charges, the first wave of trials, and what’s coming up in the weeks and months to come.
Maria: Sure. So we’re about half way through our process, our trial process for our volunteers. The only outstanding defendant now is Scott Warren; he’s facing a misdemeanor and a felony, and the felony is related to charges of conspiracy and harboring. And we have finished with a series of misdemeanor trials that had to do with putting water out on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. So we’ve been having discussions (and conflicts) with accessing really remote areas where we put water. And one of them is Cabeza Prieta, which is a National Park. And in order to cross in this extremely, extremely hot area, people have to walk across a bombing range. And Cabeza Prieta is the wildlife refuge where we put out water; it’s the closest area we have access to in order to provide water to folks who are crossing in that area. So the charges that we were dealing with had to do with driving restricted roads; basically, the wildlife land managers changed their permit to explicitly forbid humanitarian aid, when that had not been a previous policy, and then pursued these cases, harassed our group, and then they were definitely referred for prosecution. So the government has been prosecuting humanitarian aid volunteers for putting water out, while largely ignoring the deaths and disappearances that are happening in these areas. And these are you know the more extreme, the more remote, and the more fatal areas where we work.
So I think what has been shown in both the misdemeanor and the felony case is the level of collusion between different government agencies to surveil our organization in order to interfere and intimidate and try to stop the humanitarian aid work that we do. And then as we’ve been going to trial, we have been finding this counter narrative that’s really hard to push against in court, that Border Patrol is somehow also providing humanitarian aid, and there’s somehow a humanitarian component to their mission of enforcement. So one of the arguments we had during the last trial, the government was saying there are these beacons that get put out on Cabeza—there’s not very many of them—and that somehow pushing a button in a very remote area where there is no water, that will lead to someone’s incarceration and referral into the deportation and immigration detention facilities is somehow “humanitarian.” And so, you know, they’re saying, we don’t need to put water out because there are beacons for folks who are lost. So it’s been challenging to push against these very recuperative and bizarre narrative that somehow an agency that is a paramilitary agency by their own admission somehow has a humanitarian role to play in this scenario.
And this is of course a posit[ion] that is widely discredited internationally. Most aid organizations are very, very clear that you must separate the provision of humanitarian aid in low intensity war zones from any groups that are actively militarizing or enacting violence in those areas—and I would say that the border patrol definitely fits that definition.
Alanis: So what can folks do to show solidarity with the people who are still facing legal charges as a result of their humanitarian aid work?
Maria: So you can definitely look up the case; No More Deaths has an Instagram and a Twitter account. And also I would just like to say that Scott Warren is not the only person facing prosecution in this country for being in solidarity with undocumented communities, and there’s plenty of activists across the country who are fighting against their own deportations. And I really encourage folks to look up our cases; The Intercept is doing really great coverage if you want to go in-depth with the cases. You can definitely look there for more information, and you’ll see in a lot of the organizations and journalists and other groups that we work with in southern Arizona, that we are facing a level of repression that is being echoed in other communities and other activists are also facing. It’s just part of the general reign of terror, I would say, that the Trump administration has unleashed against undocumented communities and anyone in solidarity with them.
Alanis: And at the same time that this reign of terror has been going on, we’ve also been seeing a really wide range of actions that folks have been undertaking in the last couple of years, from airport occupations to ICE shutdowns to all sorts of other forms of solidarity. Are there any of these tactics or groups or initiatives that you’d particularly like to highlight or let folks know about, or ideas that you have about other ways that folks can show solidarity in the places where they are?
Maria: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the interesting opportunities that the internalization of the border provides us, as police departments are deputized across the country to check immigration, as ICE is getting more strong-armed in collaborating, doing more raids, and just, you know, as the rest of the country starts to reflect a place like Arizona where a traffic stop can lead to incarceration and detention: there’s also a proliferation of rapid response networks that are trying to address and trying to intervene in that point of enforcement. So I think it’s really an opportunity anywhere there has been an increase in enforcement, there’s also an opportunity to resist that enforcement in whatever way the local community finds to be most salient. And there’s been just a lot of coalition and faith-based organizations who are standing up for folks in their communities who are being targeted and are most vulnerable to this kind of state violence. So you don’t have to be on the border to resist the border; you can definitely connect with a local group pretty much, most places in the country people are realizing that this is negatively impacting people that they love and trying to do something about it.
Alanis: I have the sense that in recent years, it’s become increasingly prominent among anarchists in our sense of who we are and what it is that we’re about to be thinking about fighting for a world without borders; and that while obviously that struggle is, in one of the most intense ways, happening for us here on the US/Mexico border, it’s also something that we’re seeing all over the world as so many conflicts over migration and solidarity, and borders and undoing them, are unfolding all over the world. So just to close, I’m wondering if you want to share any reflections about how the solidarity work that you’ve been involved in on the US/Mexico border fits in to the broader struggle for a world without borders.
Maria: Yeah. Before I started working on the US/Mexico border I was definitely involved in other social movements for freedom of movement in other parts of the world, on the periphery of Fortress Europe and also in South America, and I think that at the core is people saying that there should be a right for basic dignities like the freedom of movement, the freedom to flee from state or paramilitary violence, the ability to provide for one’s family, the ability to seek a life where you can be sure that your kids are safe and have a place to sleep at night and are well fed. And I think that even though the specific polemics around these struggles can get framed in a local context in so many different ways, the common themes for me just have to do with acknowledging other peoples’ humanity and being present with them and trying to create a space for a more dignified life. And for me, that’s what I come back to again and again, that we can live in a different kind of world. It takes a lot of work. And resistance is something that you can do every day. And so I just want to encourage people as they’re waking up to or exploring for the first time the realities of the enforcement by the carceral state that for as many ways there are for the state to incarcerate and deport and detain our friends, there are people who are trying to resist those tendencies. So I think I don’t now if we’ll ever get there, but liberation is really in the process.
Alanis: Great. Maria, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Maria: Yeah, thank you for taking the time to get the book out and the message out, and to share our struggles with your listeners.
Clara: Over the next three months, we will be releasing an audio book version of No Wall They Can Build: A Guide to Borders and Migration in North America, divided into 11 installments released once per week. If you prefer to read, you can find the entire book in PDF form at crimethinc.com/borders, as well as a Spanish translation. You’ll also find there a poster that visually diagrams the border regime, stickers to indicate solidarity with migrants, and other materials that you can order or download. On our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, you’ll find a list of links to organizations, writings, campaigns, and more that deal with the border and solidarity work.
In a few months, once we’ve released all of the installments of No Wall They Can Build, we’ve got other ideas for audio projects the Ex-Worker will present. So stay tuned, let us know what you think, and feel free to send us any feedback or suggestions for what you’d like to see, or hear, from us.
In the meantime, we hope that you’ll enjoy the audiobook, and that it’ll inspire you to take action in your own communities, wherever you live. As Maria said, you don’t have to live on the border to resist the border. Let’s do everything we can to fight for a world where all of us can live safely, move freely, and love fiercely.