A Parallel Movement Rising: On Mutual Aid and the Borderlands

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Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) discusses the growing amount of mutual aid projects based in the borderlands.

In the blur of heat rising from the searing sands of the Sonoran Desert, there is a cascade of drinking water splashed into the dry earth, unclaimed by bodies bent with thirst and the merciless heat. Hands, criminalized by the forensics of a migration-hostile legal system, left the gallons to sustain life. Hands, made powerful by badges declaring Customs and Border Patrol, kicked over and dumped the gallons in a display of apathy and callous indifference to suffering.

The features of fortress America are shifting sharply into view.

Walls.  Delay and process fortified asylum processes.  DNA tests. Fees and Fences. The fine lines deeply creasing across the American consciousness have dug out the us and the them.  Speech sounds are uttered from stages where campaigns, like rock concerts, incite blind cries, frothing in their affirmations of a versus them ethos. America in 2019 shares many commonalities with the precipices of diving-boards just above other fascistic socio-political disasters throughout history.

But, like the tale of the naked emperor believing his nudity is clandestine in layered textiles, so does the naked aggression of the nativist, populist, fascist creep become more apparent. And the topical normalizing of anti-immigrant, nationalist emesis comes trickling down the stairway of the powerful, the wall chanters, the border regime.

[Artwork by Mazatl]

In this acute moment, building up for decades, community kitchens along the border don’t just provide meals, they fuel a migratory movement demanding justice and life.  Medic mobilizations don’t just heal cuts, give fluids, tend wounds – they strengthen the flesh and bones of a widespread resistance to the criminalization of movement itself. Shelter spaces don’t just place people beneath established roofs, they manifest the spirit of sanctuary that can be taken and replicated in virtually every community under fire.

The features of a resistance of the heart, slowly growing in the shadows, is continuing to take form, rise and blossom.

A sibling movement of mutual aid and direct action humanitarian aid is growing.

It was 6pm when the blockade lodged the entrance of access for the incoming shift change buses of detention center employees. Tornillo the Occupation had been holding space as a resistance camp and didn’t dismantle their physical presence until the center was deconstructed before them; tents housing children criminalized for migration in the 20 degree weather.

Fueling the migratory movement in Tijuana, the autonomous migrant-run El Comedor Contra Viento y Marea provides hot meals, a garden space, clothes, toiletries, and other needed items to the thousands making the northward pass. Contra Viento y Marea, means “Against all Odds”, an autonomous movement within the larger caravan movement.

[Artwork by @ashlukadraws]

Enclave Caracol, a center for mutual aid in Tijuana is a people powered movement of folks in migration, local community members and incoming solidarity responding to emergent needs of people seeking asylum. Out of this enclave, Tijuana Food Not Bombs provides meals, there are skillshare workshops and other events, and a library. A volunteer created free medical clinic, including natural medicine has also being launched under the banner of Refugee Health Alliance. This clinic is in need of volunteer providers, licensed medical volunteers, and more hands to create herbal medicines, educational materials, and to cover more ground at shelters. A volunteer form can be accessed here.

On the legal front, know your rights trainings by Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project have continued in Tijuana. Al Otro Lado is a legal collective on the front lines of legal struggles representing undocumented detainees across Southern California. They too, can use more volunteers.

Casa De Luz is another mutual aid effort on the borderlands. This is an LGBTQ+ group formed to protect and support each other, that also has taken in families with special needs kids that were traveling unaccompanied.  The group prioritizes its member’s safety and security. Having already escaped anti-gay hostility in their home countries, they’ve been subjected to violence while en route to the border. Casa De luz is a house in a safe neighborhood in Tijuana away from danger and hostility, which provides security and support. Casa De Luz is in need of American sponsors for asylum seekers out on bail. They are looking for networks on the U.S. side to cooperate with in getting folks good sponsors to support them through court cases and the initial adjustment phase to living in the U.S.

Similarly aligned, and working closely with Casa De Luz and Contra Viento y Merea is a QTPOC, femme, and youth-led, mutual aid oriented art and media collective, Hecate Society. The Hecate Society supports LGBTQ+ and vulnerable populations within the refugee community throughout their transition, pre, during and post detention processes and provides support around housing, food, legal aid, in addition to using art and media for building collective power and healing.

In New Mexico, the Trans Liberation Coalition supports trans asylum seekers primarily once they have been released from detention, though they also do outreach into the Cibola detention center, the only detention facility in the US that currently contains the “trans pod” for the entire country. This initiative offers temporary housing, clothes, food, cell phones, transportation, friendship, and airport/bus support to get asylees to their longer term sponsors.

In El Paso, Food Not Walls has served thousands of home-cooked, immune-supporting, familiar meals to asylum seekers after they have been released from ICE Detention while they wait to travel to family and friends all over the US.

Altruist Relief is just one example among many of people engaged in disaster relief turning those same skills and experience to migrant solidarity humanitarian aid.

The two struggles are intimately linked. We know that migration is, and will be, a necessary element of surviving the climate crisis. Opening the borders will prove to be a prescient tactic for our collective survival.

Often, asylum seekers just released from detention on the U.S. side are put on greyhound buses. Angry Tias and Abuelas is, again, just one example among many, of people in cities all around the country who are meeting these asylum seekers at bus stations, with water, food, and other items – thousands of brief encounters of hope and connection, as they pass through these cities to their sponsor families.

No Mas Muertes – No More Deaths provides emergency first aid to people in distress across the deserts in southwestern Arizona and to deportees and northbound migrants in Mexico.  No More Deaths holds a humanitarian presence year-round, documenting abuses and leaving life-saving water and food along migrant passes.

[Artwork by Fernando Marti]

Dehydrating to death in the desert has been the fate of hundreds whose remains have been dredged from sunbaked sands.  A human being in migration across this landscape needs approximately a gallon of water a day, by low estimate, to survive.  Customs and Border Patrol agents have willfully destroyed nearly four thousand gallons of water left by No More Deaths.  That is enough water to have sustained life for thousands of migrants whose lives ended while committing the “crime” of evading death and violence to sustain their lives.

No Customs and Border Patrol agent responsible for destroying the water gallons is fighting for their freedom in the justice system.  Dr. Scott Warren, who participated in leaving the sabotaged gallons and other humanitarian aid, is.

Across the colonized ‘United States,’ movements building mutual aid and solidarity for resilience with immigrant and undocumented communities have subverted ICE raids and defended their streets with their voices and their bodies.

Neighborhood networks have fleshed out and defended an underground railroad of sanctuary and safe spaces where the sans papiers have resisted the hammer drilling down a rhetoric that life is prioritized and preserved based on origin of birth, that death can visit unabated those bearing the burden of forced movement and mass displacement, that borders are fiercer than skin, that fences are denser than bone, that walls are stronger than blood.

Every pillar of aid, from medical to legal, from food and water to housing, from all out defense to front line resistance- all are deftly met with mutualism, direct aid and direct action. The ground is being co-created by front line movements for justice as we move forward. As a movement also committed to direct action humanitarian aid, we see the asylum-seeker solidarity and mutual aid work as a sister movement to our own. We know this work is important work, it is revolutionary work, and it is sacred work.

People in migration from and across every continent are on their own freedom rides.  Challenging nativist segregation from displaced populations vis-a-vis borders means articulating and internalizing that borders cause and empower human smuggling, sexual trafficking and deadly crossings that have resulted in thousands of drownings in the Mediterranean, thousands pulled from nearly freezing to death while moving along the French Alps, thousands of missing children, countless suicides and the mass imprisonment of survivors of rape, torture, war, political disaster, starvation, disease and climate catastrophe.

They have the borders but we have the numbers.

People have jammed fistfuls of seeds into the cracks of every wall and through the holes in every fence to grow a movement of movements rooted in mutual aid, in recognizing, celebrating, and taking care of each other.

We see you.

And though we may be in different geographies or time zones or calendars, we are moving towards a similar place. Whether engaging in mutual aid with disaster survivors, asylum seekers, or the refugees of capitalism in your home communities, we see you. You are making a way through the desert, where there was none before. And we are humbled and honored to walk alongside you.


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Mutual Aid Disaster Relief
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a grassroots disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. MADR envisions strong, vibrant, resilient, connected, and empowered individuals and communities as part of an awakened civil society that will restore hope following crisis, and turn the tide against disaster capitalism and climate chaos, in favor of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.