Anti-Raids: Sabotaging Border Enforcement in London
Every day in London, Immigration Enforcement officers get in their vans and carry out raids all over the capital. They bring the border to every street they go. The border is in the hospital, in the market, at work or in your home. If you can’t prove your right to cross the border, they put you in handcuffs and force you into a van. You might end up in a detention centre, away from your family and friends, threatened with impending deportation. You might have to report weekly to an office miles away from where you live, your personal history scrutinised in order to declare you legal or illegal.
If you are one of the ‘lucky ones’, they might grant you permission to stay. But you must remember, it is they—not you—who decide your fate. And this, ultimately, is the real meaning of a raid. At all costs we must be dispossessed of the means and even the desire to live as we please. This is the logic of the system of domination, of which Immigration Enforcement raids are a part.
While there are thousands of raids every year, and many people who support the raids, there are also many people who are anti-raids. Although being anti-raids means different things to different people, at its best, anti-raids is an idea of practice, the practice of a way of life in conflict with this system of domination. If you and I are to take our life into our own hands and dispose of it as we desire, there can be no place for those officers, of any allegiance, who try to regularise us and tell us what we can and can’t do, where we can and can’t live.
All over London, and more recently other parts of the ‘United Kingdom’, the idea of being anti-raids has been put into practice in diverse ways. Immigration Officers have been attacked, insulted, and forced out of areas by angry local people. Immigration Enforcement vans have been smashed and had their tyres slashed on numerous occasions. Raids have been disrupted before being carried out, by groups of people on bikes surrounding and stopping the vans. Information has been leaked in advance of raids. Communication networks have been set up to alert people of raids when they happen. Posters which depict an upside down Immigration Enforcement van on fire with the words, “racist vans go home”, have been put up on billboards and many other places. As well as this, all kinds of information—both practical and provocative—has been spread far and wide. This includes the information handed out at weekly stalls at markets and high streets in several areas.
These are just some examples of daily acts that are in conflict with the infrastructure of border enforcement. As varied as they are, do these acts point to a general strategic aim? Of course, there could be no centralised anti-raids strategy because anti-raids is an idea of practice, not a collective organisation. To think in this way would be to ignore all those unknown individuals who have never even heard of anti-raids, yet who still fight back. To think in this way would be to privilege some group of activists who wear anti-raids badges and decide things at formal meetings. Anti-raids is not the fight itself, it is just a name given to one aspect of the fight. So there can be no “anti-raids strategy”, only strategic ways to practise the idea of anti-raids.
If a general strategic aim can be identified, it is to encourage the spread of individual self-empowerment, and to sabotage the infrastructure of border enforcement. These two aspects are mutually reinforcing, and feed into wider conflicts with systems of domination.
It is not possible to sabotage the infrastructure of border enforcement unless you and I are empowered as individuals. It is simply not true that there is ‘strength in numbers’. A group of disempowered people is a disempowered group. We see this all the time at protests where large crowds of people are easily chased away by a handful of cops. Of course, together we can amplify our power, but only if we act together as empowered individuals. An illustration of this is the incredible event that happened on East Street, South London, in 2015.
There is a large vibrant market on East Street, noisy, busy, full of the life of people from all over the world. It was a normal Sunday, normal because of the market ,and normal because there was another raid. Immigration Enforcement officers came back to detain a man who had worked in the area for years. And all seemed normal as they led him away and locked him in the back of their van. But this time, something unusual happened. People started to gather around the van, preventing it from leaving. Someone got a crowbar and tried to break open the door of the van to free their mate. The Immigration Enforcement officers were terrified, and they called in the riot cops to assist. By the time the cops arrived, the crowd had grown and the people, now well over a hundred, were feeling more confident. So when the cops attacked, people fought back. The cops were using batons and dogs, and people in the crowd were throwing traffic cones and fish heads, anything they could get their hands on. It was beautiful. In the end, the Immigration Enforcement officers and the cops were defeated. They were forced to leave in vans with flat tyres and smashed windows.
In telling the story of East Street, it is easy to fall into the ‘strength in numbers’ trap. On the surface, it seems like a victory that was only possible because of the number of people in the crowd. But a closer inspection shows a different picture. Not everyone in the crowd fought back. Also, the crowd grew. It didn’t appear all at once. In the beginning, it was a few individuals that started the resistance. They had to decide, as individuals, to stop the van from moving. At that point, there was no guarantee they would succeed. They would probably be arrested. They had the courage to act, regardless of numbers or outcome. And even as the crowd grew, it was one person who got a crowbar, one person who was the first to throw something at the cops. In situations like this, self-empowerment escalates. It is not about waiting for someone else to do something before you can act. It is about acting first, from your own power, even if your first act happens simultaneously with my first act. Acting first can even mean acting after others have acted, if your act comes from your own self-empowerment. Helping each other to help ourselves means this. And this is the lesson of East Street.
However, it is not possible to encourage the spread of individual self-empowerment without sabotaging systems of domination, of which the infrastructure of border enforcement is an integral part. This infrastructure is everything needed to make border enforcement a reality, everything from a barbed wire fence to a truck which distributes a racist national newspaper. There is clearly no single point which, if destroyed, is capable of bringing down the whole edifice. Border enforcement is not a static thing. It is constantly reforming and becoming more or less stable, which makes identifying the consequences of a specific act of sabotage almost impossible. But this is not a reason for despair. Rather, it means that, because of the unpredictable consequences of any attack, the infrastructure is in a constant state of vulnerability.
You can only start from where you are, from the point that your life has brought you to. What you feel able to do might seem ‘trivial’ but what does that really mean? The ‘smallest’ act of sabotage could be the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Starting from where you are also avoids the disempowerment that comes from the separation of intention and ability, thought and action. This separation leads to inaction, the least fertile ground for the qualitative growth of ability, and the spread of self-empowerment. Starting from where you are has the further advantage of being reproducible, not by governments or even by collectives of professional activists, but by individuals acting together as individuals.
Border enforcement, as part of the general movement of domination, is expansive. Left undisturbed, this movement will continue to force the possibility of self-empowerment into ever smaller niches. The spread of individual self-empowerment is only possible by weakening, disrupting, and sabotaging this expansion. Self-empowerment is not something that can be done by meditating in isolation. It is realised by attacking that which is attacking you. Just as there can be no separation of thought and action, intention and ability, there can be no separation of self-empowerment and sabotage. Self-empowerment sabotages, and sabotage self-empowers.
By now it should be clear what anti-raids is not. It is not a ‘pro-migrant’ movement or a ‘migrant-led’ movement. What does it mean to be pro-migrant when many of the officers that come to deport you are themselves migrants? What does it mean to be migrant-led for those migrants who are not the leader, or even members of the migrant-led group? Leadership and self-identification in terms of socially constructed categories, like ‘migrant’, are part of the problem of disempowerment.
Neither is anti-raids a movement for legal reform and ‘open borders’. Using the law as a tool to help people affected by raids can be essential. But the only thing that can come from a campaign for better laws or better policies—apart from furthering the careers of activist academics and future charity directors—is more domination. And why call for open borders? Open borders are still borders.
Anti-raids is not an identity you sign up to, or a fixed idea in a book that gathers dust on the shelf. Anti-raids is an idea that you and I give life to by using it up. It is an idea that can be put into practice again and again, without diminishing its force. At its best, it can be an aspect of the tension towards freedom, and the destruction of these systems of domination.
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