Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ideologies and Realities: some thoughts on migrant solidarity in Athens

Something I wrote and first posted on ContraInfo, now reproduced below, for your delectation...

Saturday December 3rd, approximately 200 people gathered in Omonia Square to show their solidarity: Against fascism; For the legalisation for all migrants and refugees; For citizenship for all 2nd generation migrant children. The demo was called by SEK and the Union of Immigrant Workers.

Representatives from different migrant and native communities spoke about the real and daily experiences of racist discrimination and violent persecution in the city. Many spoke in Greek and also in their native languages. Their messages were heard by the gathering crowd, those passing through and those from the neighbourhood of Omonia.

After an hour or so of speeches, the rally evolved and expanded into a moving demonstration of maybe 500 people, who took to the streets together in a march to Syntagma. The march progressed along Stadiou street, around Syntagma square, pausing outside the parliament before returning back to Omonia along Akademias street. The path of the demo was sounded out by a mix of political slogans, chants and the rhythm of African drums, making an atmosphere that was both defiant and celebratory.

One unit of MAT made a symbolic presence at Syntagma but were otherwise visible in their total absence from the rest of the demo; neither to scare, nor control; neither to protect nor attack. No fascists showed their faces.

Speaking to a Senegalese man carrying a placard reading ‘Against fascism! In solidarity with immigrants!’ he said he had come to the march to fight for freedom in a city where he had experienced regular police attacks after living here 9 months without papers.

If the aim of Saturdays demo was to generate a greater feeling of solidarity among communities, we can call the demo a success. But a demo is also a symbolic act; showing those who don’t participate, who disagree who hold ‘the power’ how much power we also have. In this dimension, the demo was not successful. Where were the anarchists on Saturday?

Because it seems on that day, the reasons not to attend were greater than the reasons to be there. And this seems to be the case more often than not. The complexity of the reality; the confusion of mapping political ideology onto the situation, freezes us to act despite our desire to do so. Reasons not to act take on greater importance than the reasons to act. Maintaining the purity of our ideologies seems to become more important than the reality of the situation. On single issues, this dilemma often exists: between acting to bring about a world we want to see, and dealing with a situation that is created by and within dominant power. On the issue of migration, the dilemma of whether to act seems to go something like this: As a movement that is anti-state, anti-capitalism, how can we really show solidarity with migrants who, by their mere status as migrants, are appealing to the state for their rights, and to the capital for their place within that system?

But which is more important? The purity of an ideology, or the reality of the situation? If we walk around the centre of Athens right now, we see people searching through the rubbish for scraps to eat or sell[1]. If we walk around Ermou, se find street sellers who regularly have all their goods stolen by police. If we go to the squares where its still safe for them to hang out and talk to people, we hear stories of no work, no money, no means of escape despite the plans to leave. No hope. And this is just what we can see. We can’t see into the basements, housing 5 people to a room, into the prisons doing the same, into the squats where people take shelter. And say we go beyond the city and head into the mountains around Igoumenitsa. We find people starving and thirsty, because the police refuse to let them enter the city to look through the rubbish for food[2] (and some people have lived that way for years).

In front of all of this, what can we say? That we cannot show solidarity because what they want reinforces the state and capital? Because the way you struggle is ‘not very anarchist’?

Because there is a difference between wants and needs. Ideology cannot feed you. If we wanna face the reality, most people who migrate here and then face these violence’s are 'not very anarchist'. But the oppressions they face here are very real and very different from our own (despite coming from the same source). But, like anarchists, they also want freedom.

So, I see my role - as an anarchist - to fight: against my own oppression, and the oppression of others, under this system. In the first case, I can do it in my way, or in the way of the collectives I chose to participate in. In the second case, I can show solidarity with those who may not feel like they can fight, or who may choose to fight in ways that I might not actually agree with. Here, I try as best I can to be led by those experiencing the oppression first hand. In both cases, as a citizen, my ability to rebel is also a privilege and having a passport is a massive freedom. It gives us the privilege to act upon our political ideologies; to dedicate time to rebel in ways people without papers cannot. I fight against the idea of a passport, I fight in solidarity for those who don’t have one to have the right to a passport. This massive contradiction is also at the heart of the dilemma of acting to bring about a world we want to see, and dealing with a situation that is created by and within dominant power.

So, we take our ideologies and we don’t forget them, but we combine them with being lead by the needs of those facing this oppression. We help people break and keep squats so that people have a place to stay. We coordinate ourselves so that we can accurately document racist violence and police violence against people of colour and we share this information with others. We take to the streets and show solidarity together, when the people who face this oppression feel they can show their power. We create hybrids from the connections we make with people who don’t think the same way as us, and new things become possible.

Saturdays demo was just one event, using one tactic with one rhetoric; just one blast of smoke out of the volcano. The reasons not to be there were many (the political intentions of SEK, whether immigrants really had any actual power/say in the event and whether making a demo was the right strategy).

But if we don’t like what we see, particularly if we feel that migrants are being lead, rather than being heard, then we must make our own things happen. Starting by making connections to those experiencing this oppression first hand, that we witness with our own eyes, on our own streets every day. Daily experiences of racist and structural violence transcend political ideology.

[1] Extreme poverty clearly does not just affect migrants, but economic inequality, combined with xenophobic racism works together to make migrants far more likely to experience extreme poverty.
[2] We would also need to be capable of time travel, because this summer, after several previous raids, the mountain camp in Igoumenitsa was razed by cops, and the majority of the 400 (needs checking) people living there arrested. Those who remained were told that if they dared to claim asylum, they would also face arrest. Indeed, this happened. Igoumenitsa has now been hailed as a ‘migrant free zone’ by its Mayor.