[ 29. Dec 2007 ]

Reportback from No Borders Camp / Campamento Contra Las Fronteras

Fence from Mexico side

The strange part was seeing this fence - a flimsy piece of metal, a line drawn in the dust, and believing that the barrier was anything other than imaginary.


I ducked underneath the metal poles (I've seen this same kind of fence used to separate cattle) into Mexico and felt like I'd pushed through the Looking Glass into a different world I'd been glancing at for the past several days. But no, I turned around and looked back through the fence at the northern side of the camp and saw the same stretch of barren desert that had suffered at the hands of humans manipulating it on behalf of governments. The New River picks up where the fence leaves off, separating North from South, and shimmers in a dangerous yet almost tempting shade of green, and stretches forward underneath arches of industrial floodlights. (It is the most polluted river in the United States, and it is sometimes swum through to avoid La Migra.) At this strategic location, border patrol agents lined shoulder-to-shoulder, creating an impervious barrier and filling any cracks that have been left by the river or fence, lest the sacred barrier should be breached. Strapped with weapons and with their backs arched like cats prepared to strike, they stared straight ahead and chewed their gum ferociously, amused and irritated and maintaining some sense of being official while they engaged in a game of tug-of-war over how much space this No Borders camp could take up.

No Borders camps have occurred in other locales around the world, including Canada and in Eastern Europe. This No Borders Camp, which spanned November 7th through the 11th in Mexicali/Calexico, was the first camp to straddle a border and encompass "territory" of two nations. The camp, for which organizing had begun more than a year in advance, was planned not to be a convergence but to be an action camp against the border and what it stood for. On each side of the border was an encampment, and the idea was to form one large camp. Each side had latrines dug into the compact ground, and on each side was a kitchen in which free meals were cooked to feed the camp's many participants - (estimates are as high as 500 participants). The camp had that impressive element of having been pulled together little pieces as a time, a functioning camp created in a such a barren environment, with each person bringing someone to make the temporary autonomous zone more functional - a stockpile of dumpstered snacks, a craft area, water tanks, literature.

During the camp, there were several symbolic actions against the border and the military force that makes the border so dangerous (around 500 people have died crossing into the U.S. in the last year, and the number of deaths are increasing). On Thursday, demonstrators :: at the I.C.E. detention center in El Centro, CA - a town near to Calexico - hoped to make enough noise to permeate the cold walls of the unregulated detention center. As it passed along the fence, the demonstration turned into a street party. Later, on Thursday night, we gathered at the border close to the port of entry, on both sides, to have a theater action and die-in. A puppet was torn apart and as she was destroyed money came spewing out of her body. I grasped at the edges of the fence and peered across at my friends who seemed so far away though they were close enough to touch, with just fingers through the gaps in the fence. Participants of the camp also organized a memorial service at Holtville cemetery, which is where the bodies people who have died crossing the border are buried as "Jane Doe" or "John Doe". (At this cemetery, all of the flowers and crosses placed in memorial of the victims are promptly removed by the land managers.) Workshops and meetings also took place at the camp, as well as a bilingual meeting where folks on both sides spoke about what some successes of the camp were, and also lessons we could take from our failures.

One point brought up at that meeting was some aspects of how the camp had been set up and played out mimicked the patterns of globalization. For example, there were two huge tanks of water on the U.S. side, and the pirate radio station had been set up on the U.S. side. There were, of course, logistical concerns regarding what can cross borders and what can be returned. But it did make clear that the patterns of globalization have been internalized inside of us, and that action against the state also necessitates de-colonizing ourselves. These issues brought up questions of what is charity, and what is mutual aid?

Though there were failures, organizers from Mexico and from the U.S. worked so that the camp functioned as closely as possible to being one large camp separated by a cattle fence and intrusive border patrol agents. We all watched a slideshow together, had meetings together, and shared meals together.

On the last day of the camp, we had a march on both sides of the border, along the span of the fence up to the port of entry, where we congregated. Once again, as one group separated by a fence, we danced and chanted and rattled the bones of the fence as if to rip it from its concrete foundation. (It was interesting to me that, though traffic was blocked on the Mexico side because of our presence, many people sitting in their cars were smiling and seemed to be with us to an extent.) On the U.S. side, more and more Border Patrol agents began to filter in, pulling up urgently in their white cars. Some of these agents were familiar faces who'd been frothing at their bit throughout the week but ultimately displaying restraint with so many eyes on them. The demonstration was confrontation but legal. Regardless, the :: Border Patrol swooped in without giving a dispersal order. They tackled people, shot at the crowd with their pepper-spray bullets, and liberally utilized their batons. Three people were arrested, and all participants were detained in the area of the demonstration. Two of these arrestees were later released, with the court date pending for the one individual (Juan Ruiz) who will still be tried for assaulting a federal officer.

At the time of the attack by La Migra, many participants with U.S. citizenship had crossed over to the Mexican side. It was perhaps an oversight to have so few people on the U.S. side of the border at the time of the demonstration, because that is the side that is most highly militarized. As we have seen at convergences and actions in the U.S. this past summer, including the 2007 CrimethInc convergence in Ohio and the pReNC in Minneapolis, law enforcement is eager to clamp down on any public and known anarchist activity. We should be realistic and prepared for whatever the police might do.

Organizers in Tijuana have suggested their city as a location for the next No Borders camp. With the lessons we have learned from the camp this past November, it can be an even stronger event - and obviously our resistance should not wait till then.

Written on the wall of a squat in Mexicali: "An act against the border is an act against the State."

This article by somebody who lives in the twin cities was published first @ :: on 23. Nov 2007.