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A People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!

Some thoughts on the new trans-border citizenship being generated by migrants.

The recent World Social Forum on Migrations [1] was electrified by an unexpected event: for the first time, two major groups of migrants from Latin America and North Africa met and realized that they had the same goals. The Mediterranean and the Mexico-USA border both lie across the path of the great migratory flows of the twenty-first century. Spurred by many and varied difficult situations, people have criss-crossed the planet since the dawn of time and today African countries and China see millions of migrants, mostly women and young men, resettling within their borders. Whether people migrate from South to South, from South to North, or from East to West, all have essentially the same goal and are prepared to risk their lives to achieve it: to have a decent and peaceful life.

Researchers have analyzed these migratory flows from many angles: economic, legal, demographic. It is clear that the Mediterranean and the Mexico-US border exhibit the same stark contrasts in economic and demographic conditions over a relatively small geographic area. But quite apart from these material questions, migratory flows also play an important role in radically changing cultural and political issues. Migrants represent a new social movement, capable of developing new forms of citizenship at both the local and the global level.

The World Social Forum on Migrations was attended by delegations of Mexicans from Chicago, Nicaraguans from Costa Rica, Salvadorians and Guatemalans from Miami, Bolivians from Argentina, Chileans from France, Italy and Spain, Ecuadorians from Spain, Colombians from Barcelona and Mexicans from Los Angeles. There were also North Africans from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, West Sahara and some Sub-Saharan Africans, mostly from French-speaking Africa. We also met with European migrants, principally from France. The delegation from Marseilles hired a bus and made their presence felt with their well-organized efforts to promote the “World Charter of Migrants”. There were unfortunately no Chinese in Madrid; they still do not participate actively in Social Forums. This is a shame, since they constitute one of the largest flows of migrants within China, within Asia, and all around the world and since an active civil society in China would be a key element in encouraging civil democracy in the world in its entirety.

Where migratory flows meet ...

One of the most meaningful experiences at this meeting of world migrants, and in particular between Latin Americans, North Africans and other migratory peoples, was that the participants represent new components of social, political and cultural alliances, alliances which are indispensable for encouraging social and political change in the United States and in many other countries and regions.

If Latin Americans living in the United States succeed in strengthening their organizational structures and ensure that their demands are heard and in creating links not only with black movements (led by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s successors) fighting for civil rights, but also with the numerous Asian and poor white communities in the United States, they could build social alliances that will challenge neoconservative domination and bring down its reactionary and hegemonic programs.

Latin Americans at the World Social Forum on Migrations were well aware that racism has deep roots, even among migrants themselves, and that creating links between Latin-Americans, Blacks, Asians and Whites will not be an easy process.

South Africa and the Freedom Charter

In this context, the Freedom Charter, drafted by South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, and proclaimed on 5 June 1955, represents a major step forward.

At a meeting of almost 3,000 South Africans in the Johannesburg township of Kliptown, Mandela and his companions drafted the Freedom Charter and decided that Article 1 of the Charter should include the words: “We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.”

Mandela and his companions were already being hunted by agents of the Apartheid regime, and some members of their organization found it hard to accept that the proclamation, in the Freedom Charter’s first article, that South Africa belonged not just to Blacks, but also to Whites. Nevertheless, Mandela held fast and the statement remained intact. He was imprisoned for 27 years by the Apartheid regime dominated by Whites and this text became Article 1 of South Africa’s new Constitution.

By situating these new social alliances of migrants in the same context as the Freedom Charter, we are saying that we too can learn important lessons from this historic document. The declaration – that South Africa, though still ruled by the apartheid regime, belongs to all South Africans, including the Whites – states unequivocally that all nations are plural and multicultural and that diversity can give birth to unity.

Indeed – and this is where we can see how ingenuous Mandela and his companions were – this declaration of diversity made it possible for them to isolate, encircle, neutralize and, in the end, destroy the enemy. They used every means possible, including democratic action and armed combat and finally, led by Mandela, they were able to triumph in the elections in 1994 – only 12 years ago.

Mandela and his companions clearly understood that, under the apartheid regime, Blacks were not equal to Whites, and that the situation of the oppressors was not the same as that of the oppressed. Indeed, in today’s societies, it is impossible to see an occupying power and the occupied population as equals. Mandela and his companions perfectly understood that harmonious collaboration with the ruling class that had established the apartheid regime was not feasible, but, by stating that South Africa belonged to everyone including the Whites, they were already beginning to undermine the foundations of that regime.

Saying that diversity and plurality provide the basis for unity is in fact an act that is profoundly revolutionary and libertarian, but it also lays the foundations for a vast and powerful social movement that can change society and topple political regimes.

New social alliances

The new social alliances now being created by migrants constitute, in some ways, a more modern version of the alliances established on the American continent during the pre-independence period in order to liberate the local populations from the colonial powers of Spain, Portugal, England and France. The inconclusive alliance linking Haitian Negros, the first people to fight for independence, and the indigenous peoples from the Caribbean and today’s Venezuela and Colombia failed to emerge before the Independence Wars of the 18th century. Nevertheless, new social, political and cultural links are now being created among Latin-Americans, Blacks, and Caribbeans, with the participation of Asian, North African, Sub-Saharan African and European migrants.

Today, we see the construction of new social and political environments which are giving rise to new social movements. Migrants are speaking out for the new citizens of the 21st century, even if they are hounded out, even if they are undocumented; they survive by working in dreadful conditions, which is just another form of modern slavery, they drown in the open seas and are shot by those who build the new walls of apartheid.

Today, migrants, and in particular the younger generations, transcend purely national relationships. Mexicans from Michoacán or Zacatecas living in Chicago and Los Angeles fought for the right to vote in the United States and in Mexico and their success has given them more than just voting cards. Ecuadorians and Colombians in France, Italy, and Spain are developing new social and cultural relationships. Chilean and Bolivian youths fighting for Bolivia have transcended their individual nationality and now have higher ideals, North Africans in the French suburbs are French and North-African and the combination strengthens them. Global capitalism exploits, persecutes, seeks to reject and neutralize these migrant flows, but migrants continue to migrate, not only because, in the early 21st century, the tectonic plaques of humanity continue to move and crack, but also because new cultural paradigms travel in migrants’ backpacks and they transcend borders, create new customs, new forms of expression, of cuisine, of song and dance, of sensations – and of combat.

[1Held in the town of Rivas, near Madrid, 22-24 June 2006


Gustavo Marin
Director of the Forum for a New World (...)
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Migrants of the World, Unite!

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