As we write, thousands of men, women and children are traveling to the southern U.S. border with Mexico. The largest group of the migrants who make up the “caravan” are from Honduras. They are fleeing poverty, corruption and violence that is largely the result of over 100 years of US domination, beginning with massive banana plantations. This American business took over most of the best land, and later the US came to dominate mining, coffee and banking as well. To keep its interests safe and also play a role in fighting the Sandanista rebels in neighboring Nicaragua in the 1970s, the US developed and dominated the military. Although a liberal reformer, Zelaya was elected in 2006, the military, with US support, overthrew him in 2009. Since then, poverty, crime, drug trafficking and police violence have driven ever more people to flee.
These conditions are not unlike those in other Latin American countries, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, from which migrants also come. Similar conditions also account for the over 200 million migrants currently seeking a survivable place to settle around the world. While each country has its own specific causes for migration, from wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to hopeless poverty in Pakistan, India, and Somalia, these migrations reflect the drive for cheap labor, resources, and markets by the major capitalist countries, topped by the US. For decades, the US has off-loaded its manufacturing industries to countries with un-living wages, impoverishing workers in the US and other countries, especially exploiting black, Latin, and Asian people. (See Migration: a reflection of capitalism in this blog at https://multiracialunity.org/2016/05/07/migration-as-a-reflection-of-capitalism)
Rulers around the globe, from Trump to Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Orban in Hungary, use racism and nationalism to attack migrants and blame them for society’s ills. These ideas are not different from those of white supremacists who have murdered blacks, Jews and anti-racists from Charlottesville to Kentucky to Pittsburgh, encouraged by the White House. For most African Americans, racist terror began under slavery never stopped. Klan and Nazi organizations have flourished throughout US history, blaming black and Jewish people for the economic and social problems created by capitalism.
We have also seen powerful movements to fight racism and inequality around the world, from revolutions in Russia and China, reforms in Cuba, anti-colonial movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the civil rights movement in the US. With the murders of black and Jewish people this past week and the growing Administration threats against the caravan, many are asking what we can do to oppose these trends. The following proposes some ideas. You can use the Comments section to add your own suggestions.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT THE CARAVAN AND FIGHT RACISM?
+ Mass at the border to greet and protect the caravan. Stop the police and military from arresting and shooting the marchers with massive action.
+ Speak up against racist and nationalist ideas. There are no such entities as “illegal” people or “invaders.” There are no distinct human races with different capabilities. Jewish people do not control US policy; they are rich and poor, conservative and radical.
+ If you are in the armed forces, refuse to follow orders to detain or attack people trying to cross the border.
+ Refuse to work in a detention center which imprisons migrants.
+ Join the sanctuary movement and find placements for immigrants and oppose deportations.
+ Organize demonstrations and vigils against deportations and racist violence.
+ Confront white supremacists wherever they rally.
+ Forge friendships and political alliances with people from different backgrounds. Fight for each other’s issues, such as open borders and against police violence, to grow the anti-racist movements and build trust.
+ Build a stronger, inclusive labor movement to organize for better working conditions and to unite US born workers with immigrants. During the early 20th Century, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) opposed immigration fearing that Eastern European and Mexican workers would take “American” jobs and spread communist ideas. The CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) organized immigrant workers during the 1930s; immigrant women working in the garment industry created the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the most militant unions in that period. Mexican workers organized the United Farmworkers Union in California led by Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta and struck big agriculture for better wages and safer working conditions. Thousands supported the grape boycott to pressure growers to recognize the union (California has the strongest labor movement in the US with 22 percent of the workforce unionized while the national average is 11 percent).
+ Support immigrants on the job. Unions can oppose “reverification” actions where ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can demand to see the immigration status of employees. Many unions have represented workers caught by this policy and lobbied against it in California.
+ Defend Immigrants with sanctuary places, legal aid, and amassing people at sites where raids occur and at the border. The meatpackers union exemplified fighting racism off the job when they defended black residents who moved into segregated Chicago neighborhoods during the Great Migration. They also guaranteed that black union members serve on the executive boards and other leadership positions.
+ Reject anti-communism when it is used to attack mass struggle. Communists built the CIO and led many labor struggles in the shipping, garment, and meatpacking industries among others. The Russian Revolution in 1917 inspired people around the world to challenge capitalism and build a more equitable society. Important anti-racist communists in the US, such as Paul Robeson, William Patterson, and Claudia Jones, led campaigns to free the Scottsboro boys, falsely accused of raping a white woman, abolish racist ideas, publish progressive newspapers, support international anticolonial struggles, and build antiracist organizations.
+ Do not remain silent in the face of racist speech or acts.
+ Do not defend or excuse racist speech as “free speech”. Fascists use free speech principles to recruit members and build deadly movements.
+ Do not adopt nationalism and separatism as a response to racism and anti- Semitism. For example, Zionists in Israel use the history of the Nazi holocaust, which murdered six million Jews, to justify oppression of Palestinians. Farrakhan, a black nationalist, voices hate against Jewish people.
+ Do not allow violent racist attacks to be portrayed as “not the American way.” Violence and white supremacy instigated by a small financial elite have always dominated American domestic and foreign policy, from the war against Britain, enslavement, colonizing South America and Asia to conducting the current wars in the Middle East and exploiting globalized labor.
+ Do not think that voting out Trump and the Republicans will end deportations. Obama deported more immigrants (3.5 million people by 2012) than all previous administrations. The police have murdered black and Latin citizens with impunity under liberal and conservative administrations.
Capitalists and the politicians who represent them need cheap labor to maintain profits, and the super-exploitation of immigrants, as well as women and non-white workers, helps maximize profits. Immigrants are also scapegoated and blamed for many problems, like unemployment.
We must not allow white supremacists to build their movement attacking workers of color, native born or immigrant. We need to unite students, employed and unemployed, immigrant and US born from all backgrounds to oppose racist ideas and practices. As Ibram Kendi writes in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Epilogue): “Racial reformers have customarily requested or demanded that … White Americans sacrifice their own privilege for the betterment of Black people… based on a myth that racism materially benefits the majority of White people, that White people would not gain in… an anti-racist America…. It is also true that a society of equal opportunity would actually benefit the vast majority of White people much more than racism does. …eradicating racism must involve Americans committed to antiracist policies seizing and maintaining power … over the world.”
We have an opportunity to realize this potential to create a more equal world. But we must fight racism every day.
Karyn Pomerantz is a retired public health worker and librarian who has been active in antiracist movements in the U.S. She she co-edits the multiracialunity.org blog.