Letter to the Editor

August 5, 2019

alba_logoTo the Editors:

I was privileged to attend the ALBA event at the Museum of the City of New York with a friend whose cousin died fighting with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. It was a moving experience.

ALB volunteers and their stateside supporters were driven by a passion for a better world. They were grounded in an understanding of the structural oppressions of the existing order and the need to confront fascism with an alternate vision of class equality and anti-racism. They understood that the first enemy of fascism is the left, and that an unapologetic left is the only force capable of defeating it.

So I had expected a bold and defiant celebration that reflected and honored the political values of those brave antifascist volunteers. What I witnessed was a depoliticized NGO that stayed well within the “responsible” mainstream. The apolitical “human rights” discourse that I heard has become common as an all-purpose rationale for any initiative that leaves the status quo intact—it politely sidesteps a principled frontal attack on oppression, exploitation and racism—the political forms of capitalism that give rise to fascism.

For the past 20 years, through administrations both Republican and Democratic, the United States has been building the machinery for the savage white ethnostate now emerging. The three million deportations under Obama were politely hidden; now cruelty is openly celebrated. The army has been asked to prepare camps for hundreds of thousands of human beings. Is an appropriate response to this crisis the deployment of volunteer lawyers and social workers? The head of the organization you honored thinks that what we need is more “discussion” so we “understand each other better.” 5,000 lives have been lost in the deserts on the border since 2010 – would better understanding have prevented this crime? The Abraham Lincoln volunteers knew better than that—they knew that humanity requires us to pick a side and put our bodies on the line to resist savagery.

Outcomes in New York City now show that even with counsel, fully fifty percent of asylum applicants will lose their cases and face deportation. These migrants may well have been facing starvation, but economic violence does not entitle them to asylum. Why should we uncritically accept the narrative of the worthy asylum-seeker? Our vision should be a world where borders are as open for the free movement of human beings as they are for the free movement of capital.

Lawyers and social workers are the apolitical bourgeois “human rights” faux-solution to every problem—they make us feel good while leaving a violent system intact. Why not honor an activist group like No More Deaths, whose members are going to jail for saving lives in the Arizona deserts—all lives. There are myriad other organizations where immigrants themselves are asserting their agency and refusing the status of passive victims. Your remarks acknowledged the fascist threat worldwide – but the organization that bears the name of antifascist fighters now chooses to sit this one out—and remain balanced, moderate, not too strident or controversial. However, history has taught us that you do not fight fascism from the safety of the center.

In 1939 Germany, with the storm clouds gathering, Max Horkheimer said “whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.” We can redeem the sacrifice of those young men murdered in Spain if we are courageous in our truth-telling today.

In solidarity,

Beth Oram (New York City)

The Editors Respond:

This thoughtful critique of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism merits further consideration about the role of education in ameliorating injustice. No doubt there are various activist groups that deserve support for challenging the abuse of migrant people but in the face of the
massive detention of refugees and asylum seekers, the Immigration Justice Campaign offers, as best they can, immediate assistance to desperate people.
The Editors