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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.

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Naomi Klein just published a lengthy piece in the Nation discussing the future of the climate change movement, as well as its broader effects on the political world. In many ways I like this piece, these kinds of acknowledgements of the need for a broad “civilizational paradigm shift” are long overdue. In others, though, I really don’t. Klein’s discussion of action “on all levels” is both hopelessly broad and very restricting. Political responses, such as taxation, nationalization or regulation changes are really represent the least creative and inventive ways to deal with this issue, and in all too many ways stand at odds with some of the more community-based solutions she also brings up.

For all that I, too, disagree with the Heartland Institute and other conservative conspiracy theorists regarding global warming, I’m not quite as willing to write off their fears. Conservative views always tend to re-enforce those in power, and Klein is right to point that out, but there’s more to the fear of a centrally planned state response than a bunch of wealthy white men who don’t want to lose their privileged lifestyles. The best essay I can point to on this subject would be Kevin Carson’s “Thermidor of the Progressives“, which illustrates this re-branding of authoritarian viewpoints under the guise of moderate leftism. Crises like climate change have just as much potential as those described in “The Shock
Doctrine” to galvanize ambitious new regimes to restructure our societies.

The time to wax philosophical about the need for a transformation of our society’s economic and political values is quickly drawing to a close. We need clear and consistent proposals for solutions. This goes beyond “things that should happen” into the realm of “how we’re going to get them”, and at some point that means a very important choice in terms of values, tactics and the overall goals of our movement(s). Perhaps we are finally at a point where we can reach some sort of agreement regarding capitalism, but there’s another unmentionable elephant in the room which we can’t afford to ignore: the state. The government’s role in supporting ecologically destructive corporations goes so far beyond their meagre attempts to mitigate these problems that it has to be considered at least on par with the conservatives Klein mentions. While right-wing think tanks may sound off about these issues, they wouldn’t be issues at all if not for the support and funding of the government – look at the Tar Sands for evidence of that, or urban sprawl or nuclear power.

Assuming that our governments can be quickly or easily re-purposed for sustainable and ecological ends is no less deluded than talk of “clean coal”. Their obsession with development and growth goes beyond petty political alliances with bankers and CEOs, it’s a basic necessity of the state. Klein’s right that any sensible approach to consumerism would likely mean havok for large parts of the economy, but what of tax revenues? How would they fund prisons and war machines, to say nothing of their own colossal bureaucracy? By nationalizing the oil, timber or fishing industries, would the state then need to rely on them to fund itself? And how, then, would we escape the kind of ugly ecological fate that befell the USSR?

It’s not just an issue of whether we act on the issue of Climate Change, but how we act. A top-down approach, one involving carbon taxes or markets, nationalizations and regulations is fundamentally at odds with a grassroots approach which comes from the bottom up. Local economies, organic agriculture, appropriate technologies and participatory decision making can not be imposed from above, but must grow from communities themselves. Organizing “from below” entails an often total lack of support from the government, or even outright opposition. The path of lobbying, on the other hand, involves pulling many punches in terms of our analysis, and devoting amazing amounts of effort to working within convoluted bureaucratic systems.

We shouldn’t underestimate the drawing potential of movements which operate in spite of or even in outright opposition to the government in this sense. If the success of the Occupy Movement doesn’t demonstrate this clearly enough, the rabid “anti-government” ramblings of the conservatives Klein describes must. Since the days of Reagan, American-style conservatism has nurtured a lot of seemingly rebellious language when it comes to the state, even while being some of its staunchest supporters (prisons, debt and military budgets, for instance, have all exploded in this time). This has been very successful because it casts liberals and “the left” as simply advocates of government, statism and central planning.

We, the people of the world, are under threat due to climate change. We cannot trust that our governments will “do the right thing”. We cannot wait until they decide to do so to take action. We need plans which offer options even if we’re encouraged, ignored or actively opposed by the state. The stakes are simply to high to sit around hoping that the next Obama (or Bratina) will be better. If we want things like local, cooperative economies and participatory democracy we’re going to have to invest our efforts in building them, not simply asking for them.

The time is certainly right for a “paradigm shift” in the way our civilization operates. These same issues of explosive growth and catastrophic collapse have been threatening human life since the Babylonians salted their fields with excessive irrigation. Most of these civilizations were not “capitalist” and relied entirely on renewable energy yet every one had a state. Their neighbours which lacked such centralized governance rarely saw these same problems on any comparable scale. Why? Because centralized power is very expensive, and typically requires unsustainable levels of resource extraction. As these resources dwindle locally, expansion is required to keep things running (conquest, intensification etc), which takes even more resources, prompting even more expansion. Capitalism works very well as an engine to drive this system, but that doesn’t mean it’s responsible for all that’s wrong with the establishment. Feudalism, slavery and imperialism worked too, for a time. If we’re going to shift the paradigm of this civilization, we need to examine that civilization itself, and not just the ruling class of the here and now.

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