ps/o4 public trading | value system | anti-imperialism and boombox politics
value system dispatch number 8
Memorized by David (Passport CAN)
Produced and written by ultra-red (P. Garcia, D. Rhine, D. Shulman and [*] R. Tamayo). Published by ListMat (ASCAP). All tracks composed exclusively from site recordings made during street protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, Canada, April 20, 21 and 22, 2001. Billed as the first round of negotiations, the April 2001 Summit brought together leaders from all 34 countries of the Americas (with the exception of Cuba). In fact, the actual negotiations have been conducted entirely in secret, without public input and largely dominated by US corporate lawyers and their political executors. According to organizers of Stop FTAA, "The Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA) is an international business deal, disguised as a proposed treaty, that would create the world's largest free market zone Ð affecting 650 million people and $9 trillion in capital." For more information on the fight against the FTAA go to: http://www.stopftaa.org
The screen is black. Emerging from the distance, the sound of a single voice: "This is what democracy looks like." The well-worn phrase is repeated, accumulating voices. Again and again. It's hard to say at what point, but eventually we're aware that the words have dissolved into the surface noise of the tape recording. There is a high-end whisper and at the bottom, the muted pounding where once voices shouted, ". . . what democracy. . . ."
The screen floods with the sun-drenched view of the Pacific. It might calm us, fill us with the warmth of its tropical vista were it not for an ominous black wall of rusting metal cutting the surf in half.
The din of voices chanting all distorted, harsh and cavernous reminds us that it's a long way from the tumultuous streets of Quebec City to the sands of Imperial Beach.
"We have a great vision before us: a fully democratic hemisphere bound by goodwill . . . the benefits of dignity and freedom" George W. Bush, speaking at the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, Canada, April 21, 2001.
On that Saturday afternoon, April 21, 2001, the distance seemed at once a matter of perspective and something more critical. We heard over cell phones the sounds of chanting voices ringing down the Cote d'Abraham. The cascade of 4,700 tear-gas canisters. The marching of 6,000 police. Someone announced one affinity group was using a catapult to breech the 2.5 mile long, ten foot high security fence used to shield the Summit of the Americas from its opponents. Another added that the catapult was launching stuffed teddy-bears. "The fence has been torn down in several places," a speaker reported to the crowd. We cast a glance around us. The wall between us and Mexico stood unassailable.
Gathered near the doubled walls and no-man zone of the US/Mexico border, about 2,000 activists came to the San Ysidro Border Crossing to express their support for the Quebec City protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Touted as a hemispheric expansion of the North America Free Trade Agreement, the FTAA loomed disastrous for anyone paying attention to the border regions between the US south and Mexico. Massive economic destabilization in Mexico and Central America has sent tens of thousands of refugees across the border searching for work. Maquiladoras dotted the arid landscape, fueled on the cheap labor of largely women from rural Mexico displaced by a tide of agricultural consolidation. Working for Matsushita, Zenith, Hyundai and JVC, these women work without a living wage and without adequate job safety guarantees. Many turn to prostitution in Tijuana's red-light district, hoping to achieve that standard of living promised them by the industrial life.
Across the border, the US sends mixed signals with its hunger for cheap migrant labor contradicted by a calamitous sanctions policy that punishes workers when its convenient for employers. As soon as workers demand decent wages, job safety or the right to join a union, employers call in the INS clearing the shop floor for a new crew of cheap laborers. Concurrently, millions of dollars are poured into the border region building up medieval fortress walls, thousands of security cameras and movement sensors and a military zone that forces migrants deeper into the hills and deserts. As of that Saturday afternoon, April 21, in the year 2001 alone, over 300 men, women and children had died attempting to enter the US from Mexico.
Military offensives like Operation Gatekeeper are proven failures in curbing migration. The stakes are too high for those desperately searching for better economic conditions. They accept the risk of the passage (often having been lied to about the exact nature of those risks), eager for work in the US to support their families and communities back home. Those who make it across rarely benefit from the labor rights granted under US law. Few discover a better life than what they had in Mexico. The real beneficiaries are the employers hiring them, and to a lesser degree, the people receiving the dollars at home. With a few exceptions, those who come north would rather remain in their own communities. However, as a person crosses the border, he or she becomes a social, economic, political, cultural, and ideological resource for their home community and family. At a cost. And at risk for their own lives.
The time came for the protest to march towards the San Ysidro Border Crossing. Faced with the uncertainty of passing through the gate, members of the Black Block retreated, opting instead to bang on the fence separating the sidewalk from the freeway. A few US Marshals got excited, but really, where were the Black Block to go should they have succeeded in tearing down the fence? A dash across eight lanes in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Quebec City? The absurdity of the notion would later find resonance in much of what occurred up north along that other perimeter fence.
Eventually the Black Block abandoned their struggle and parted ways with those protesters willing to risk entering Mexico. Those of us who did venture across were met on the other side with Mexican Border Patrol who stripped us of our stickers, our pamphlets, posters, puppets, t-shirts and banners. Although the members of Ultra-red were able to get through with our video-camera, we did have our audio-tape confiscated. When it would later come time to produce the video "Imperial Beach" [commissioned by the Futuresonic Festival, 2001 and released on the CD/DVD, Broken Channel, C0C0S0L1DC1T1, Manchester, England: Forthcoming. Go to: www.cocosolidciti.com] we were left with the conundrum of high-quality audio from Quebec City but none from the Tijuana solidarity action. The reversed was true with video images. This fact would compel us to produce a video combining the audio from the Canadian mobilization with images from the border. It seemed an appropriate juxtaposition as we collectively began to wrestle with the matter of fences, borders, walls and perimeters. Are we so oriented toward temporary barricades that we have ignored the everyday reality of more permanent borders?
This was the question that filled our thoughts as we took a bus from the border crossing to the Las Playas. When we arrived we found a large sound-truck set up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The nearby lapping of the Pacific did little to dull the grim understanding of what the massive fence meant in the life and death struggle for freedom. How crass and fitting that the beach on the US side should be named Imperial. The border wall, constructed from the landing tracks used during Bush Senior's Gulf War, traveled down the cliff side, across Imperial Beach and far out into the Pacific surf. While the landscape bears this scar, the ocean was more forgiving. Waves flowed between the two sides. Children followed the water's example, skipping back and forth between the two countries through the gaps in the wall. Border patrol agents surveyed the scene from their perch on the cliffs. The transgression of the children didn't provoke them. Still, the agents watched the porous wall.
The camera returns one last time to Imperial Beach.
A man leans on the fence gazing across to where an indifferent ocean washes up on US soil. He is a young man, like one of the tens of thousands who have crossed the border in the past. Like one of the tens of thousands debating whether to cross it in the future. As he looks down the sands of Imperial Beach, our own view of the scene is disrupted by the incongruent sounds around us. There is a call for radical action and the command to bring down the wall. We hear the chanting of the women and the rattling of the fence as if it were a cage.
But are these the sounds of Quebec City? Whether Spring, or the deepest winter, individuals and entire families participate in a form of civil disobedience more radical than anything witnessed in Quebec. The sounds of the fence rattling persists. The man on the beach remains still. He imagines taking that first step, free from obstacle, without risking his life or seeing others losing theirs. The fence vibrates with the man's dream. It is a dream planted along that barrier everyday. Just across from Brownsville, Texas to Calexico, California. From Imperial Valley to Imperial Beach.
Excerpted from "Imperial Beach: A Soundtrack with Images", in The Anti-Capitalist Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition. Edited by Joel Schalit (Akashic Books, 2002).