Longtime migrant rights organizer Harsha Walia has given our movements a tremendous gift with the release of her new book, Undoing Border Imperialism (AK Press, 2013). Walia gives us cutting edge analysis from one of the most radical and highly effective immigrant rights movements in Canada, No One Is Illegal (NOII). With local organizations throughout the country, a decade of experience, and a growing list of impressive victories, NOII is a critically important organization for all of us in the United States to study and learn from.
As Walia beautifully explains in her book, NOII runs militant grassroots campaigns guided by an anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-state, anti-oppression analysis, a vision of decolonization and collective liberation, a practice of popular education, community organizing, Indigenous solidarity, and multi-issue Left movement building. Furthermore, NOII is a decentralized network of volunteer-based autonomous groups with well functioning anti-authoritarian structures of decision-making and leadership and they are successfully organizing most impacted migrant communities of color, and running campaigns that are winning tangible victories on a case-by-case and city-by-city basis.
Walia’s book is an articulation of NOII’s analysis of border imperialism along with an exploration of NOII’s vision, strategy and practice. For all of us in the immigrant rights movement, this book is essential. As more and more direct actions are taking place in the U.S. against deportations, with the “Fast for Families” hunger strike in Washington D.C., with a growing unrest with the failure of lobbying efforts to pass immigration reform, Undoing Border Imperialism, gives us theoretical and practical insights and tools to help us be both more radical and more effective.
Walia gives us the ins and outs of NOII’s work both through her own analysis and in a roundtable interview of fifteen NOII members from different chapters throughout Canada working in different circumstances (i.e. big cities, smaller towns, people of color-majority groups, white majority groups, and so on). NOII is essentially working to win status for all, from the ground up, in a way that erodes the legitimacy and power of the Canadian state. NOII is working to win rights and dignity for migrant communities in a way that destabilizes the Canadian colonial project, actively supports Indigenous self-determination, and advances an agenda of decolonization for all.
Beyond the immigrant rights movement, this book is vital reading for all of us cultivating and longing for a healthy, dynamic, effective Left. Walia’s chapter, “Overgrowing Hegemony: Grassroots Theory”, which explores strategy, tactics, anti-oppression work, organization structure and leadership, is written for, in her words, “North American movements that aspire to be radical yet accessible in pedagogy, mass based while militant in orientation, and are characterized as the antiauthoritarian, anticapitalist, nonsectarian Left engaged in grassroots community organizing.” While this chapter focuses on our organizing practice, her chapter “Journeys Towards Decolonization” goes in depth into the heart and soul of what we are working for and how we can live our values and vision in the here and now.
One of the themes running throughout Walia’s book is the centrality of Indigenous struggles for self-determination and decolonization. Walia writes, “Decolonization is more then a struggle against power and control; it is also the imagining and generating of alternative institutions and relations.” She then outlines her thinking on what decolonization means for our movement by drawing insights from prison abolition, anti-imperialist struggles, gender liberation, and disability justice. What she gives us is at once inspiring and instructive.
For the past decade I have been watching NOII’s work from a far. I always had the feeling that they were one of the most important Left organizing efforts in North America, and after reading Walia’s book, I am convinced that they are. I don’t write this just because I am deeply proud and inspired by NOII, and my comrades like Walia.* I write this as a call for mass study of Undoing Border Imperialism, which in turn will help us all take more radical and more effective mass action for decolonization and collective liberation.
*I refrain from making comments in this review such as “Harsha Walia is one of the most insightful grassroots organizers of our times”, because I know she would respond that her insights are drawn from collective struggle, reflection and wisdom. I think we would both be right, and that the tension of these seemingly contradictory statements is actually the dynamic energy created by anti-authoritarian leadership for liberation, just the dynamic energy that pulses through the pages of Undoing Border Imperialism.