I am feeling really strange these days, mostly due to this job. I’m the volunteer coordinator for a non-profit that puts water out in the desert for migrants and has an aid station on the Mexico border for deportees. I feel like my role within the activists I interact with has moved from thinking of ways to empower vunerable people to thinking of ways to improve and protect our organization. I also feel really weird about the fact that a humanitarian problem now means job security for me. If they were to pass any sort of competent immigration reform right NOW, I would probably be jobless very quickly. Putting myself in a situation (this job) where I would have mixed feelings about that, even if 99% of them would be “awesome awesome awesome” and only 1% “what am I going to eat?!” almost seems to be against my goals. I feel that an important part of being part of a social justice movement is making sure not to put yourself in situations where you might be tempted to join “the other side,” much like Christians protect their belief by never reading science books, or reading them with selective understanding.
But anyway, I’m here, and I don’t think I’m going to quit, so I might as well talk about the actual work: There are so many people from so many places (as far as Canada and Germany, as close as people I meet in the street in Tucson) that want to help. And my job is to tell them how they can do that – and honestly, I don’t know what to do with them all! We are not limited by the work that has to be done, but by the work we (as an organization) can provide.
What I want is to know what to tell these people. I want to ask my roommate, who is a history major with a focus on labor movements and writing his thesis on the social movements of young people in the United States, what HE would have happen if he had a lot of people who were saying, “we want to be part of this movement.”
But I’m worried that he’ll tell me there are no answers. If there were, we would know them, wouldn’t we? Sometimes I feel like I am incredibly under-qualified for my job, being so unsure about everything, but I know that historically, even people who have a lot more training and experience than I do haven’t changed much from this position. I only know this from the fact that nothing substantial is happening. Our organization continually loses people who want to be part of an anti-racist humanitarian-centered movement because we are unable to mobilize them! As much as we “resist” racist legislation here in Arizona, it continues to get passed. As much as we learn about and document abuses at the hands of our government, people continue to get shoved into cactus and taken away from their children and denied access to water in the DESERT, of all places. I’m not saying resistance is futile and we should just give up – but I think we need to resist BETTER. I do not see any organizational improvement where I feel it’s really necessary – but every day, there’s a new way to brush your teeth faster in the morning so you can get to work earlier and make more money and shave more closely and effectively so that no one has to get razorburn. THIS IS WHERE HUMAN ENERGY AND CREATIVITY IS GOING!? Where and when does educational theory turn into practice as far as social movements go?
In reality, I do know some answers. I just don’t know how to address them. First of all, I really believe that it’s great that people come down to the border to volunteer – BUT – they need to understand that the action isn’t all here. It’s everywhere – people are getting deported and exploited in Chicago and New York and Tennessee and oh god, Idaho. So it bothers me when people say they want to help, but that they feel they have to be here to do it. I want to say, “stay home! start organizing over there!”
The other thing I know is that the government has no interest in ending death and suffering in the desert or in comprehensive immigration reform. This is because it’s beneficial to them to have cheap and quiet labor. The solution to immigration problems is not going to come from lobbying our “representatives.” Its backbone is going to be in labor rights and corporate boycotts. You DEFINITELY don’t have to be on the border to be involved with that. No More Deaths is just a somewhat effective bandaid on our country’s damaged skin – the true cure has to involve the whole body.