Interview with organizers of the Tarifa bordercamp

31.Oct.01 - Maria and Pepe were involved in the organization of the Tarifa bordercamp at the Straits of Gibraltar in the South of Spain. Here they talk about the objectives of the bordercamp, the way it was carried through and the need to connect the struggle for open borders globally.

-There are many ways to organize social movements. Why did you decide on the concept of a border camp?

-We think that the border camp is a very complete political device. It's a very good example of what Hakim Bey calls a žTemporary Autonomous ZoneÓ, a place that works as a political tool but also as an expression of multiplicity: It's a place that can be seen as a market of conspirators, who exchange ideas and experiences to fight the empire; a fair of political engineers, who exchange formulas to build political machines; but also as a pagan celebration, people just happy to meet so many and different people.
It's a tool but also a machine: When you get together so many companer@s with such a different background, all anxious about meeting each other, exchange experiences be productive, you get an intensity that is really hard to find. The question is that this nomad camp is not in an ordinary place, it's right on the border.
That's essential not only to do big actions for outside, also to understand physically (with all your senses) how the paranoid capitalist machine works in a border regime and also to understand and feel from a global perspective the brutal geopolitical division of the world.

- What made you choose Tarifa as a location for the border camp?

-Tarifa, in the South of Spain is well known as a major windsurfing resort. But more importantly, it represents the main border in Spain and one of the biggest in Europe. Every night, žpaterasÓ, little wooden boats, arrive, packed with African people. From Tarifa to Africa you just have 13 km. The biggest flow of African migrants that arrive to Europe passes through the strait of Gibraltar and the first European town that they find is Tarifa. In Tarifa's beaches, you can easily find shoes or clothes from the migrants who risk their lives to get here: more than 1500 have died already.
It was essential to all the companer@s who are working against the borders to go there and get to know the reality of a border regime, with thousands of military police controlling the border and thousands of migrants trying to break this control. It was clear from the beginning that if we wanted to organize a camp at the border, this place had to be Tarifa (even when it was hard for us because we had few contacts there).

-Can you describe one of the public interventions, which happened during the border camp in Tarifa?

-Well, one Saturday morning when all the beaches where full of surfers, tourists and local people, suddenly more than 50 naked people appeared. They where hand in hand, dancing and singing. In the beginning, people were shocked, but then all the nudists showed their backs, everyone had one big letter painted on it and together, they formed a sentence: NINGUNA PERSONA ES ILEGAL-RACISMO NO-YA BASTA! (NO HUMAN BEEN IS ILEGAL-NO RACISM-ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!).Behind them was a huge banner that said: Frontera de Europa - Peligro de Muerte (European Border - Danger of Death). Meanwhile, lots of people were handing out leaflets and talking with the people.
The reaction of the ordinary people was very good, the media repercussion was as we expected and we all had a good time together. It was very good!

-How do you feel about the experience of the border camp now that it's over?

This border camp was the first experience in Spain not only as a border camp, but also in coordinating different people and groups from all over Spain who are working shoulder by shoulder with migrants against borders and racism. It's something that we have to validate a lot, even when some things didn't work as we expected.
This experience was necessery to realize the long way we have to walk to increase our political capacity, also to meet people from different places and to learn about the experiences of other companer@s.
This was only our first step. The experience to organize such a big event is something that all the companer@s take to their local places and gives us very useful knowledge for further actions.

-What were your objectives, and how did you try to achieve them?

-Our first and main objective was to build a framework for exchange of experiences.
The first four months of this year, a huge and historical fight for the regularization of all migrants and against the foreign law took place all over Spain. Migrants from all over the world got organised, occupied churches, universities and public buildings (ženclosuresÓ) and started hunger strikes in Barcelona, Madrid, Murcia, Almeria, Malaga, Huelva etc.
The main unions and the classical left parties looked away and all the (essential) support that the migrants got came from small groups, small migrants associations, social centers, small unions and a lot of people who after that experience started to get organized against the fortress Europe.
From the beginning we knew that it was going to be very hard to get the migrants to Tarifa, especially because after this big fight most of them were really exhausted. Also the movement was, so to say, a big mass of migrants who fought for their papers and in this process became a political fighters. But just a few of them were politically organized. So it was hard for them to understand why they should come to Tarifa and hard for us to explain in a short time, that we wanted to connect the immediate fight for their papers with our fight against borders and even against the capitalist system that built these borders. During this struggle, people from all these cities were fighting almost in the same way, with the same perspective but without knowing each other and with big failures of communication.
So the main objective of the camp was to bring these people together, discuss about the different experiences and analyze the possibilities of coordination, networks and common projects. In this way, we wanted to consolidate this political space, clearly against the fortress Europe and its border regime and supporting the self-organization process of migrants from a political perspective.
The structure of the camp was mainly in this direction, with lots of open spaces of discussion (self-organization and fight experiences; globalization and migratory flows; gender and migration; civil disobedience) but also with many workshops (the experience of the migrants union in USA, deportations and detention centers, basic income and migration, foreign law, communication guerrilla, kein mensch ist illegal experience etc) and video-forums.
The second objective was to visualize the border regime with actions and intelligent media work.
The people who were organizing the camp were not many, and we had some problems about this second objective. One was the worries of the local people. They have an informal and clandestine network to support migrants who arrive to Tarifa's beaches.
Before the camp started, the media were talking about the anti-globalization movement, black bloc and the typical things. So they asked to us to try to avoid any confrontation with the police, because of the problems they might encounter after we would leave the place. The other problem which we consider the most important was a decision of how to distribute our energy. We considered that it was much more necessary to guarantee a good space of discussion, to try to build an interesting political perspective than to organize the actions. Even when we think that both are absolutely compatible we didn't have enough energy to plan really good actions. So we decided to open this point to the rest of the camp and any group who had any proposal could express it. That was what happened with the two actions we planned, which were mainly organized by germans, who have some experience in this topic.

-A tendency for alliances between political activism and artistic forms of expression is (re) emerging. Did you see any of this happen in Tarifa?

-Yes, there was somehow an expression of this tendency. A group of a really interesting people from the artistic scene took part in the organization of the camp. Some parts of this connection worked well (pictures, video, graphic design) but we think that we have a long way to walk to break these two strong identities. From one side you have žthe activistÓ identity that is mainly defined with old ideas of sacrifice, compromise, hard work, serious and worried about almost everything and in the other side you have žthe artistÓ, absolutly extra-situational, obsessed with the esthetic part of the fight, etc.
You could find both in Tarifa but trying to infect each other. We think that this connection in Spain is more a tendency than a reality but is showing good experiments that can reinforce the movement if we can leave these identities behind.

-One objection often made against border camps is that they don't relate to the local population, even cause damage to the local networks and also migrants themselves, rather than supporting them. What were your experiences in this respect?

-We where so worried not to damage the local network that we became a little paranoid, we think. People of this network were participating in the organization of the camp but with all the media and political pressure about violence they decided to don't join us and that was something the camp really missed. The media didn't help a lot to show the border camp as an open place for the local population, but that is not something new. We think that it was mainly our responsibility and it has a connection with what we were talking about identities: the activist scene usually finds it difficult find a common code to communicate with what Marcos calls žthe civil societyÓ. We complain about the media (even local media) but when the media came to film the positive part of the camp some people almost beat them. Some people can joke about that and repeat till death žthe press is satanÓ, but we think that it is an expression of a ghetto culture that is a problem for the political development of our movement. The result of this was that the communication with the local population was small, except for the cultural performances that took place in the main square of the town every night. We saw a lot of local people there, and at the end of the week they could understand our proposal. Every day we printed a paper with the news of the camp and inviting the local people to join us and we distributed it all over the town. Even with that effort we couldn't break the distance between the žcivil societyÓ and us in the way we wanted. We have to keep on working on this topic.

-How do you see the political process opposing racism and the European border regime, as it happens in Spain right now?

Taking migration as a real political problem is somehow new in Spain.You can find a lot of associations (specially NGO's) which have been working on this subject for a long time, but always from a caritative or strictly assistancial perspective. They usually try to avoid any kind of social or political conflict with the authorities, especially because of their strong economic dependence of the authorities (the government or big political parties).
A part for few exceptions, the situation has changed after what happened in žEl EjidoÓ(February 2000). That was the first time when the society (also the left) realized the inhuman conditions and the brutal exploitation that the migrants suffer. It was also the first time when the migrants themselves got organized and expressed their political capacity.

After that, various small groups from the autonomous scene, and small unions started to work on a grassroots level with the migrants communities and also expressed an opposition to the Fortress Europe. These small groups were essential in the fights of migrants not only for the support to the migrants self-organization process. They also built a political space that didn't exist before: clearly with a different perspective from the assistentialist perspective, this political space expressed in a radical way an opposition to global capitalism and its geopolitical configuration, protest against the border regime, against deportations and fight for the freedom of the people to decide where to live or work.
The situation now is that these groups are really young and still have to find their way.
In the border camp we have seen groups deciding to continue the work after the fight of the enclosures. The question is how? There are good possibilities about coordination and work together against deportations and detention centres. We are also trying to build a network with groups from Andalucia (region from the south of Spain) that works on a grassroots level with migrants. We think that from that connection and also with the precarious workers we can develop very strong and interesting ways to fight global capitalism.
You can find anti-racist and anti-borders groups in different places (Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Almeria, etc) who are working on a local level. The question is how to develop a good coordination. The border camp was the first step.

-Border camps have been organized all over Europe since 1998,and Tarifa was linked to camps in Poland, Slovenia and Frankfurt this year. What do you think about the potentials (and limitations) of this European networking?

Spinoza once said žwe'll never know what a body canÓ and that's what we think about the potential of international networking. We think that the potential is unlimited. Developing a good network on a European level is essential, especially to consolidate a political space with clear proposals in a European level respecting of course the multiplicity. We think that the work of the European companer@s to consolidate the žno borderÓ network is great, we have learned a lot from them and we expect to participate much more from now on.
With all the respect we think that this network should consolidate the communication between the different groups with projects much more concrete and not so ambitious (coordinate a good filing project, common infrastructure to edit materials, organizing small trips to learn from different experiences, coordinate the found problem, etc) but we know it's not such an easy thing to do and we sent a big hug to the people who are working on that. We could see a good example of this networking with the European companeros who came to Tarifa; it was great to have them.

The main limitation of this obsession for the big global coordinations is the poor political expression that we find in a local level. We consider the grassroots work in our local territory essential for a good cordination. A lot of networks you can see are working mainly supported by individuals (these global activist that you see everywhere) and there are some problems to do the step towards a collective approach.
To give an example: Such a big thing as happened in Genova was a success also for the networks but mainly because behind these networks you have the social centers and the cobas working on a grassroots level in Italy.
We think that one of the biggest problems that the movement is facing is the lack of strong grassroots projects even much more than a lack of coordination, but of course both are necessary.

-How was your experience with European participation during the border camp itself?

We didn't expected lots of European people especially because from the beginning we talked much more about politics and discussions than actions.
The people who came were great and it was very important that Spanish companeros can sit and discuss with people from different places to see the problem from a global perspective, to learn about others experiences but also to fight that loneliness that we feel sometimes, especially in the bad moments. To give an example a lot of people from Malaga who were not very decided about fighting deportation, just listening the companeros from Germany gave to them such an energy that now they are anxious about starting with new projects.
It's also interesting to see the different political cultures from every place even when sometimes you need some aspirins after the discussions.
But the most important thing was that even when we didn't know each other the atmosphere of respect and cooperation was amazing. Anyway we think that it would be good to understand that there's no one model of border camp or at least we think that as a wrong thing. We felt sometimes that the people associate in a very strong way the border camp with lot of spectacular actions and if this doesn't happen they feel like betrayed. We are talking about border camp as a tool, a tool that has to fit into the different political situation of every place. Some European companeros didn't know or didn't understand the political situation in Spain; this situation asked us to put much more energy in the political construction than in the actions. We propose a multiplicity of models what it means that there is not ONE model and every border camp should be a new political experimentation.

-Camping Vs mass protest-Do you see a connection between the anti-globalization protest this summer in Gothemburg, Barcelona, Genoa and the bordercamps, especially the one in Tarifa?

Yes, we would say that these are different parts of the same fight.
Let's think it more as complementary things. Anyway, we think that the dialectic relation with Capital structures is something that we have to keep in tactical terms, not strategical.
The strategy has to be asymetrical. We need to build our own spaces, žsmooth spacesÓ using a deleuzian term. We need to develop a countre-pouvoir, something that is not the opposite of the capital, but something new, different. We need to build our political machines in our own terms and not in the terms of capital.
Tactically, sometimes we turn this countre-pouvoir into a doble-pouvoir, we go to stretched places like Genova or Gothenburg and we transform these production machines into war machines. But that is something that we have to keep in a tactical perspective and be very careful of not falling into a dialectical term with the capitalist power structures.
We think that the struggle we have to fight depends on our own capacity to develop our political machines, and the mass protests are just a tactical tool of this development. To check how these machines are working and to increase their political production, to develop their potential, we don't need to go always to the capital places, we need to find our own, and maybe the bordercamps are a much better places to improve these machines.