Reporter's Notebook

Taking a Stand at la Linea

Protests at Mexican border target FTAA

By Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1102, May 13, 2001, posted at

"This border is covered in blood. It's covered with all the blood of all our people who die trying to cross it. It's covered with all the blood of the people who are forced to cross out in the desert and die of dehydration. It's covered with all the blood of the women who are raped at the hands of the INS and the blood of the men who, once they do get here, are beaten and shot by racist ranchers. What I want to know is, how many of you want to tear this motherfucker down?"

Latina with Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade,
speaking at the U.S.-Mexico border during the
April 21 demonstration against the FTAA

I'd never been to the border before, and the image in my mind was of a dusty, barren landscape--maybe because I recently saw the movie Traffic. But the scene I saw as we drove south from San Diego was very different. The previous night's downpour was giving way to the sun. The low hills wore spring green set off by bright outbursts of color: fields of yellow mustard, poppies and daisies, strips of near-flourescent purple ground cover and clusters of bright red bottlebrush bushes. We passed Chula Vista and meadows, wetlands, and estuaries where the occasional great heron motionlessly stalked its next meal. As we got closer we could see the hills of Tijuana shimmering in green and rising gently from the border flats. A giant Mexican flag flew, announcing for miles that Mexico was coming up.

People could build something beautiful in such a spot, but I knew things weren't beautiful for the people here. Even from a distance, seeing the border--a swath of razed ground and metal walls that looked like a scar slashed across the earth--brought that into focus.

We were in the border area for the weekend of protests in solidarity with the anti-FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) resisters in Quebec. The activities included a teach-in, tours of the border, and a "cross-border solidarity conference" at a colonia in Tijuana. And now, we were on the way to the rally and march on the border on Saturday, April 21.

La Resistencia's "Stop the attacks on immigrants!" fact sheet that I picked up at Friday's teach-in pointed out that over 625 people have died trying to cross the border between San Diego and Yuma, Arizona since October 1994. Now, a new 14-mile-long "triple fence" is being built on the San Diego-Tijuana border, which will force more immigrants to cross through the dangerous deserts. At the same time, the people in Mexico are suffering bitterly as a result of U.S. domination and plunder of their country.

The imperialists have turned a place of natural beauty into one of misery and suffering--one more reminder that they aren't fit caretakers of the planet. The FTAA is another crime of this criminal system, and this was what we had come to fight.

Solidarity and Anti-Imperialism in Larsen Park

When we arrived at Larsen Park in San Ysidro, the rally was just getting started, and the scene was festive. The border was visible less than a mile away--a 12- to 14-foot steel fence sitting on top of a wall of earth buttressed by sheet metal--a barricade on top of a barricade.

The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB), the Youth Student Network of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation (YSN), and Refuse & Resist! were out strong and mixing it up with environmentalists and a big crew of anarchists. The Filipino group Bayan, Green Party, Food Not Bombs, and labor unions like the SEIU and Carpenters Local 713 of Alameda County, Witness for Peace, and others were there. I saw "Free Mumia" banners and giant puppets from Art and Revolution. People came from as far away as Colorado and Oregon.

Over the next couple of hours a speaker from Global Exchange, a farmworker, a representative of the U'wa people in Colombia, a Central Labor Council official, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine spoke out against the FTAA. Border activist Jose Palafox connected the dots between the militarization of the border, the assaults on immigrants, and the growth of the imperialist-operated maquiladora factories.

I wandered through the crowd, checking out the banners and talking to people. Ruben from UC Santa Barbara Students for Global Justice held their banner: "500 years is enough; End manifest destiny." His group of about 20 had come to show "solidarity with people on both sides of the border."

Ignacio, an immigrant from Guatemala, was with a crew from San Diego State University. "The same thing is happening on our border between Mexico and Guatemala," he said. "A lot of poverty, a lot of maquilas, a lot of injustice, and a lot of corruption." Ryan from San Diego State told me there were students from MEChA chapters at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona, San Diego State, UCLA, Cal State LA, Cal State Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, UC Berkeley, San Jose State, and many junior colleges. One of their banners read: "Cruzar la frontera no debería ser sentencia de muerte" (Crossing the border shouldn't be a death sentence).

I head more talk of "capitalism" and "imperialism" than I had last August at the Democratic National Convention protests in L.A. Tim from Cal State LA, holding a beautiful red and black banner saying "Our world is not for sale," told me: "U.S. imperialism is the biggest problem. U.S. corporations obviously care about one thing and that's their profit. What they do is exploit other nations, and they have the leaders of other nations exploit their people. We and the people of Mexico are all united in the same protest against the same corporate greedy bastards that steal all of our wealth and keep us enslaved in sweatshops. Basically we all have one common enemy."

A serious desire to link up with the people of Mexico ran through the crowd. "This is about people's globalization--really connecting people and not having the borders being the most important division between us but having it as a place of unity," said Allegra, a UC Berkeley student.

I spotted a UC Santa Barbara student wearing La Resistencia's "Illegal" T-shirt. "I'm wearing it to represent those people who are coming and who are still on the other side of the border and can't be here and represent themselves," she told me.

Marching to la Línea

By 2 p.m. or so, the radical and revolutionary youth were getting restless. The original plan was to march to Border State Park for a "hands across the border" solidarity rally with demonstrators in Tijuana. But last night's rain had turned the road to mud and apparently made that plan impossible.

After an hour of discussion and debate, the RCYB posse'd up with Students for Justice from San Jose, OLIN, Students for Justice in the Americas from UC Berkeley, and different MEChA chapters. Some anarchists told the RCYB, "We just wanted to let you know we got your back." A little after 3 p.m., people headed out to the streets and toward the border.

The police--on horseback, in cars, and on foot--were lined up at the park exit. But people were determined and headed out to the street. The cops didn't make a move. We took the Camino de la Plaza, with the border a few hundred yards to the right, and headed to the crossing.

The march unleashed people's spirits. "From Cincinnati to Quebec, the people's anger is in effect!" "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose world? Our world!" "Who let the pigs out? Oink, oink, oink, oink!" "FTAA, we say no way!"

The insults of imperialism were on both sides--the border on the right, a NikeTown mini-mall on the left. Ernesto from Mission College in L.A. remarked, "The FTAA is just another excuse for capitalism and imperialism to exploit people all over the world and in the Americas."

I looked back and it seemed like the march stretched a half mile. Someone said there had to be 1,500 of us; someone else guessed 2,000. There were a lot of us, and it seemed like most everyone in the park had joined in.

Neighborhood Youth Step Out

We were about halfway to the border crossing when I noticed that a half dozen or so Latino youth from the apartment complex along the Camino were at the front of the march. When they heard the chant "migra, policía, la misma porquería," they looked at each other, their faces lighting up with radiant smiles, and busted out laughing. They carried themselves like it was one of the best days of their lives.

They'd hooked up with the march earlier, back at the park. One youth from L.A. who marched with the RCYB told me how it started: "This guy--this is his park, his hood--he probably just came to see what was all the commotion. The cops started fucking with him, and then everybody was there chanting 'let him go, let him go'...and the cops let him go.

"When it was time to march, he saw that the masses were with him so he marched with us. Then his other homeboys came. And this other dude who's a little well-versed--I guess he's participated in stuff before--started talking against police brutality, la migra and everything."

Later, a young Latina supporter of Libros Revolución said, "One of the most beautiful things I saw was the masses that hooked up, like kids from the hood right here. They were chanting and talking on the bullhorn: 'Man, I grew up in this hood, I've seen firsthand how they oppress us, how these people are dying on the border.' The people in this hood made it beautiful--seeing them speak out, it hits you, like, damn the masses are down for this!"

Shouting Out at the Border

We reached the end of the Camino and the turnoff for the pedestrian crossing. The cops had blocked off the freeway entrance and off ramp. We kept going toward the border--down the walkway, past a maze of fences and barricades, into a cul-de-sac. Mexico was across the steel fence. If you continued down the walkway to cross the border, it narrowed into a 20-foot wide passage with thick steel bars on both sides.

It felt like being funneled into a prison yard. And this, along with everything people felt about the border, stoked people's anger. The anarchist black bloc pressed up against the fence separating us from the border crossing, rattling the chain links and facing off with a wall of Highway Patrol and San Diego cops. A drum circle/dance party started up behind them. People on the walkway over the freeway stopped to check it all out.

Closer to the crossing, Xochitl of the YSN led off a powerful, impromptu speakout. "It doesn't have to be like this; we say 'fuck you' to the fucking cops, to the FTAA, to America... It's our day with the Mexican people and the Central American people and the South American people. We ain't going be part of NOBODY's slavery!"

A student from San Diego State, a rank-and-file union organizer, an anarchist, a MEChA member, a member of La Resistencia, and the RCYB all spoke out. A youth from the neighborhood who'd marched with us from the park was inspired by what everyone said: "This is all true, I live here. I wish we could have a demonstration every day, cause this shit is fucked up!"

Some people crossed into Mexico for the solidarity rally/concert in Tijuana. They had to walk one-by-one through two rotating steel separators, and they were searched by Mexican cops who confiscated signs, leaflets, spray-cans, and banners. I heard later that several hundred people gathered at Playas de Tijuana for the event.

Most of us headed back to Larsen Park. The leaders of the march wanted us to keep it tight--there were cops on either side of the walkway and helicopters overhead.

The police buildup pissed people off even more. One pig stood on a bench videotaping everyone. The youth flipped off the cops, and the chant of the moment was "Sha na, sha na na na, hey, hey, fuck you!" The other favorite, to the tune of the song "War," was, "The border, good god, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again..." One kid--probably junior high age--rode his bike back and forth past a cop van just so he could spit on it and get in the cops' faces.

¡No Soy Animal!

Back at the park, people were energized by getting to the border and back united. Xochitl wrapped it up from the stage: "Today we showed that all kinds of people can come together... Right now we should make some noise--because today we represented for the people of the world, and they take heart!"

One anarchist came up to me and underlined the point: "It was cool that anarchists and communists and punk rockers were all in solidarity. There are too many divisions going on, we can't get divided."

Aztlan Underground, a band that mixes hip-hop and hard metal, ended the day with an intense set that felt like it channeled all the energy and outrage of the day. They introduced one of their songs: "People are suffering like animals crossing the border, people are dying here. It's a place of mourning--just because they wanted something to eat, something to put on the table.... So in the spirit of truth, justice and love for the rights of being human, this song goes out to the pigs and the migra--'¡No Soy Animal!' "

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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