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One of the last strongholds of the Liberal Party of Canada now appears on the verge of collapse. BC’s Premier, Christy Clark, is now facing demands that she resign after the province’s NDP leaked their “Multicultural Action Plan” last week (read it here). The documents showed an embarrassingly shallow plan to court “ethnic” voters using provincial funding, and it doesn’t seem to have impressed anybody. Clark is now facing resignations within her own party and demands she step down only months before the next election, which she wasn’t expected to win anyway. If so, she would be the second Premier to resign since the last election, herself replacing the disgraced Gordon Campbell earlier this term.

Kinda makes ya wonder how long Kathleen Wynne will last, doesn’t it?

So far, Clark is refusing to resign, though she’s apologized for the “language” contained in the Action Plan. Having just read through it, I wouldn’t say that the language was the problem (though some phrases, like “quick wins”, weren’t well chosen). Rather, people are upset because the plan embraces a superficial strategy of tokenism, and makes no distinction between government and party resources or personnel. It deals almost entirely with ways of speaking to “ethnic communities”, and little or no mention of listening. They’re willing to translate press releases, target immigrant press and compile “lists” and “dossiers” on individuals, but “critically assess our own policies” never makes the list. The strategy is clearly stated in phrases like “bringing voters who should be in our tent, back to our tent”, only a few lines after “Political centre-right is a natural fit for many immigrant/ethnic communities” (p10).

I wonder how many voters know that Liberals elites refer to their party as “centre-right” in their own internal documents…

The “Multicultural Action Plan” shows in print what many have long suspected. It illustrates how this kind of tokenism works from an insider perspective. The prescriptions are simple enough: address the communities in question, speak to them in their own language and appoint a few “party spokespersons” from the community. In an atmosphere where such attention has traditionally been lacking, this can go a long way, but only in a shallow sense. Focusing on media strategies and “validators” within the community for tasks such as writing letters to the editor in non-English publications (p4) shows how superficial these plans get, and explains much of the outrage.

This is not a new game, of course. Political parties have long used influential contacts within immigrant communities to assure large bloc-votes in their favour. The Liberals, particularly, are known for this and it’s been an influential factor in more Hamilton elections than I can count. The reasons it works are simple enough for anybody with friends in such communities – they’re amazingly tight-knit, functional groups. Given often overwhelming adversity, these networks of extended families and friends offer a level of mutual aid almost never seen among white Canadians (at least, in cities…). Since the state itself is often indifferent or even hostile, the notion that one politician or party is particularly sympathetic is going to win a lot of favour very quickly.

In America these matters are often quite blatant to the point where it’s often the deciding factor in elections. Black voters are (somewhat ironically) one of the most important groups, with the Republicans (post-Lincoln), Democrats (post-Civil Rights) and even the Communist party (in it’s 1930s heyday) deriving large amounts of their supporters from them.

The question is, are the connections forged with these communities any kind of authentic or effective way of communication, or are they simply another opportunity for influential people from both sides to advance their own interests? Ask anybody from a reserve how they feel about their Band Councillors, and you’ll see how quickly “one of us” can become “one of them” once becoming incorporated into the state. Power is colourblind, it will use as much or as little racism or multiculturalism as it feels is necessary, and usually finds a backhanded way of doing both. Tactics like this are often most effective when the state and society are otherwise hostile. The more oppressive things get, the more such a friend is needed.

The problems faced by “ethnic” communities in British Columbia and across Canada cannot be solved by a better media strategy, or any number of new token, “representative” spokespersons. “Historic wrongs” cannot be “corrected” with apologies from government (p6). These are not image problems, they’re not communication failures, they’re real problems. Things like barriers to accessing housing, work, education and health care. Years of semi-citizen status under constant fear of deportation. Cuts to refugee supports. Wages, hours and working conditions which approach slavery. Physical assaults for their skin colour, religion or languages. It’s not enough to say you’re sorry – these problems actually have to be addressed in a meaningful, physical way – otherwise it’s just more pandering.

Hiring translators is great, and I’m all for making government documents more open and accessible through any route possible. But instead of using them for propaganda and press releases, how about actually sending a few of them out into our cities. Not as a party looking for supporters, but instead to listen. Not just to “community leaders”, but to everybody. Such an initiative wouldn’t have to be secret or scandalous, and in fact could be done entirely without the help of parties or the state. Lots of amazing people already do this kind of work, and it usually goes unnoticed in today’s world of political opportunism. For anybody who actually cares, that would probably be a good place to start…

Once again, racial tensions in America are exploding in the wake of a tragedy. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager on the streets of a Florida gated community, has incited controversy across the continent, with even President Obama weighing in. Wednesday, Congressman Bobby Rush was “escorted” out of the House of Representatives for pulling up a hood as spoke to the floor. Both the media and internet are embroiled in controversy, and many protesters have taken to the streets.

The internet has seen a coordinated campaign of racist misinformation about Martin, often coming openly from white supremacist groups. “Evidence” showing young Trayvon Martin’s criminal intent and “nature” is spreading like wildfire across the internet. Among other things, he wore a “hoodie” (hooded sweatshirt), and pictures were found of him posing shirtless in his bedroom and sporting a “grill” (gold teeth). These pictures seem to have originated at Stormfront.org, the notorious Neo-Nazi web forums, and Martin’s online accounts were recently hacked by a white supremacist on 4Chan. Police also leaked records showing he’d been (*gasp*) suspended for an empty pot baggie. Many are also bringing up injuries sustained by Zimmerman in the confrontation (he was allegedly punched in the head and knocked to the ground) as proof the shooting was “self-defence”. This video, just released from Zimmerman’s arrival at the station, is casting doubt on that story.

Who is George Zimmerman? His father is a retired Judge. He aspired to be a cop and helped start the “neighbourhood watch” in which he was a “captain”. In his zeal for law-and-order in his suburban neighbourhood, he’d logged dozens of 911 calls over the past few years, for everything from potholes and trash-piles to “suspicious-looking” (usually black) individuals. He called police prior to shooting Martin, and the 911 operator distinctly asked him not to follow him. Also worth mentioning is his record for domestic violence. All of this paints a picture of an obsessive, hot-headed man with a very polarized, “action movie” notion of “law and order” which he felt constantly compelled to act on.

It would be hard to argue that racism isn’t a factor in either the shooting or the response, but so was age, class and culture. Zimmerman may not be white, but he’s not exactly from the “ghetto” either. This speaks to what has become a very dominant ideology in American suburbia – one which goes right back to the original “white flight” from the inner cities. Poor urban youths of colour have been cast as barbarian hordes, and suburbs as frontier outposts of civilization. There’s an ever-present fear of an urban black underclass coming to take their “property”, arguably the best marketing campaign in history for suburban gated communities, handguns and conservative politicians.

Whatever the truth behind the shooting itself, the fact that so many have rushed Zimmerman’s defence really says something about how ignorant and terrified the underlying society is, and how eager people are to assume the worst about Martin. In spite of all the evidence that Martin was doing absolutely nothing wrong, many still simply refuse to believe that a black teenager could have a legitimate reason to walk down a suburban sidewalk.

This is hardly an isolated incident. It could just as easily have been a Latino kid stopped by some gun-wielding idiot for his “papers”. And for all the outcry over “vigilante” gunslinging, we need to be realistic – Zimmerman’s constant police calls were every bit as likely to get somebody shot as personal confrontations like this. Today’s news of a Pasadena California man’s arrest for a 911 call which led to the fatal shooting police of Kendrec McDade, another black teenager, shows how easily this can go down. It even happens in Hamilton, as it did in 2008 around Upper James and Mohawk when passers-by chased and restrained a (young, black) shoplifter, Djo Bwabwa Kalamba, running from Canadian Tire, killing him in the process. These aren’t just random deaths, there’s a clear pattern in which young black males are presumed to be armed and dangerous when they venture anywhere near “white” communities. Every additional death is another tragic reminder to all youths of colour that a different standard applies to them.

An affinity for hip-hop culture isn’t a crime, nor does it prove criminal intent. Millions of young people across the continent listen to rap music, and I’d be surprised to find anybody under 30 who doesn’t own a hoodie. This shooting resonated so deeply because it could have been anyone, and because his case reminds us of so many others. When these actions are so common and so often go unpunished that means millions of youths of colour need to fear for their lives. Like the old-time lynchings, that’s the point. Racism isn’t just a bunch of “bad words” or off-colour jokes told at parties, it’s a power structure maintained by regular acts of violence. Until we grapple with that, these murders are just going to keep happening.

Right now in our very own city, authorities are threatening to deport a single mother, and not two of her high-school aged children. This woman, Lucerne Charles, has hurt nobody and committed no crimes, except a desire to keep working, raising a family and continue living in what she’s come to know as her home. Her “offences” include a failed marriage to a Canadian citizen as well as living abroad for several years before returning to Canada. For this, Lucerne risks being declared a threat – not simply a criminal, but “illegal” as an individual, and verboten from our shores.

This is an act of violence and racism coming straight from our government. Forcibly relocating someone away from their home, family and friends on the basis of their race and heritage fits that definition perfectly. However, it’s also utterly and completely legal. There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary about this case – our government does this all the time, as do others. It may be brutal, but this kind of action has become completely normalized, leaving those caught up in it functionally invisible.

There are many objections to immigration. Some come from explicitly racist and fascist groups, but many others from more “moderate” sectors. Many demand to know why people like Ms. Charles should be “allowed” to stay in “our” country, or why she should get “special treatment” when so many like her don’t. Some claim that allowing “outsiders” into our society drains our resources. And of course, many simply feel that the laws of our government must be obeyed, no matter what the cost. Frankly, I’m not convinced.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for “special treatment” for any immigrant. I’m asking why they receive so much ‘special treatment’ as it is. There is no definable biological difference between citizens and non-citizens, it’s an entirely artificial legal distinction created for bureaucratic and political purposes. The consequences of this label entail significantly less “rights” in every arena – political, legal, economic and social. Citizens are those the state defines as “people”, and those who lack it are clearly defined as something less. Lacking citizenship means stiffer penalties when you break the law and less recourse when you’re victimized. It means being excluded from social programs and political discussions. It usually means lower wages and fewer rights at work. And it fundamentally changes how you’re valued as a human being and community member. This is exactly what policies of social exclusion look like.

These laws are all about power and control. Establishing borders and registering individuals are basic tasks of any state. It makes populations far easier to track and regulate while granting (some of) them privileges as a means of creating a vested interest in the state and sense of identity springing from it. They expand the state’s power to control and exploit people without extending its responsibilities to them. These divide-and-conquer tactics are as old as power itself. In Rome, citizenship distinguished full “people” from slaves. In most colonial regimes, such laws have established multiple grades of person-hood for whites, natives and imported slaves and servants. Today these laws segregate the First and Third worlds, insulating countries like Canada from the citizens of those they draw products and resources from. In each of these cases, they were the result not of ignorant jingoism and xenophobia, but cold, rational and tactical planning for military and economic aims. One need only look at racism today to see the lingering colonial attitudes toward African, Asian and American peoples One need only open a history book to see how those attitudes were used to loot and pillage five continents.

Today’s immigration issues are an inescapable result of the world’s division of wealth and power. It’s no surprise that many from the Third World wish to move to wealthier countries, and for many that is the only real option available for escaping crushing poverty. What’s left out of the xenophobic tirades about immigrants storming our borders is why we are so much wealthier. Beyond the centuries of colonization, slavery, most of these regions are still hopelessly indebted today, sending back a dozen or so dollars for each one we send in “aid”. Their currencies have been devalued to the point where land, labour and resources from these nations are almost free for First-World investors, and the consequences of the development which comes (mines, dams, plantations etc) often destroys the surrounding communities and ecology. Wars (directly and by proxy) have devastated many areas, as have foreign-funded dictatorships and now the threat of widespread climate change. Those of us in wealthy nations like Canada and the US cannot pretend we haven’t been a big part of this devastation, nor can we claim we haven’t benefited greatly from it. If we really wanted to stop the flood of refugees arriving on our shores, a good first-step would be to stop fucking up the rest of the world.

Of course, this has never been about “stopping” immigration. Our “leaders” are well aware of our declining birthrates and ageing population, and understand how futile such an attempt would be. Rather, these policies serve to make immigrant populations more vulnerable. They create an under-class of workers, tenants, and spouses who risk deportation for going against the wishes of “citizens” they depend on, creating a truly awful power dynamic (in this case, with a husband). A common complaint is that immigrants are “taking our jobs” by working for less money, but I can’t say that I know any immigrants who want to work for less money than their peers. Does this drive down the wages of others? Of course it does – exactly the same way it does when employers get permission to underpay any group (women, people of colour etc). We live under a labour market, and that means a ‘discount’ anywhere will put a downward pressure everywhere. With every crackdown on “illegal immigration”, the situation gets worse (lower wages, fewer rights). Let’s not blame the victims here – those responsible for these choices are the same ones who enjoy the profits entailed in cut-rate workforces of all kinds. They make the hiring choices, they set the wages, and they have far more political influence than any group of workers. Like the un-persons created by their laws, though, they too are invisible.

Ms Charles is not facing deportation for criminal activity, there’s no reason to believe she’s dangerous in any way. What she’s “guilty” of is what the rest of us enjoy every day – breathing our air, living on our land and participating in our society. The “crime” she’s charged with is surviving, and having the gall to think she might be entitled to a small piece of what so many of us take for granted every day.

Today a 4pm in front of the Federal Building (55 Bay St. N, across from Copps), a rally will be held in support of Lucern and her family. It’s time to make a statement which comes from all quarters, that these actions are not acceptable, and that families in this situation are not alone.

To follow up the other day’s report about a “riot” at Mayfair Mall, it’s looking more and more likely that this was a facebook-organized flash mob. Nothing further (predictably) has come forward about the motives, however, it’s a fairly good illustration of the way flash mobs are being characterized as a postmodern terrorist threat.

What actually happened? Still no more real information. The kids pulled down manequins and threw clothing about. There was an armed robbery nearby at the time with no demonstrated connection. But other than that, nearly everything that happened seems to have been a reaction – security guards, gates, putting the mall on lockdown. Surely people were scared out of their wits – but whether this was a result of a gun-toting terrorist takeover of the mall, or simply a rowdy game of tag having fun at the expense of racist suburbanites is extremely unclear. Every single word of this, right up to the point where stormfront.org started showing up in the top ten google searches on the subject yesterday, has assumed the guilt of those involved. Only a handfull of words from their side have been heard, one kid saying he was just there to have fun, and many pages have been written about it.

The racial dynamics of this situation are pretty horrific. I remember a night long ago where a large chunk of a Burlington punk show I was at left to play tag in a nearby mall during “Midnight Madness”. They had a grand old time and returned an hour or so later with tales of being chased up the down escalators by security guards, making out in broom closets and other such youthful shenanigans. Strangely, this did not soon appear on international newswires as an insurgent threat, nor did the mayor have to come out and reassure everyone that the mall was still “safe”. Oh, and did I mention the kids involved in this were almost all white? Strangely, no major media voices of the white community felt compelled to offer explanations or apologies on behalf of our race…

The use of this kind of fearmongering, against youth, people of colour, working class folks or simply citizens in general is nothing new. It’s classic authoritarian dogma. The assumption that any sizeable group of people is a gang or riot waiting to happen means that anybody participating in any “unsanctioned” gathering is guilty until proven innocent. This assumption, and the typical hard-handed responses which us usually appear in response, only tends to bring out the worst in crowds.

Flash mobs represent something known as freedom of assembly. And the terror around them relates mainly to the fact that new digital communications options now allow anybody and everyone to organize themselves as quickly and efficiently as an old-time army. It removes the long, complicated and easily infiltrated organizing which used to come before any large action, and makes it far harder for authorities to stop them. But is that a bad thing? Especially given how much more control authorities now have over us because of these same technologies – Facebook and cell phones?

Gatherings can be used for good or ill, and the actions of people involved need to be judged as just that – the actions of people involved. We cannot charge people for rioting simply because what they’re doing looks like or could lead to a riot. The internet allows us to connect to each other in ways we never could before, and that translates to the ability to utilize public space in new and interesting ways. And while people in power may not wish to let us do so, it’s pretty clear they can’t stop us either.

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