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A Tale of Two Evictions: Resisting Displacement at Standing Rock and Calais

Two mass displacements have taken place on hallowed ground.

In the past few days, two mass displacements have taken place on hallowed ground: one involved a community of Natives in Middle America, the other a community of migrants in France. In both cases, the earth they stood on had been ripped out from under them by a history of colonization and war. And in the end, both communities, one called “the Jungle,” the other called Standing Rock, were uprooted by a combination of capitalist greed and state oppression.

In Calais, French security forces rolled into a vast shanty town that has been forming on the French-UK border since the late 1990s. Here is where migrants from all over the world accumulated, desperately trying to smuggle themselves by vehicle into the UK. Their chances of making it safely to the other side (many have died trying) were slim, but the dream of crossing the border loomed like a sacred beacon over the sojourners, many of them youth who were seeking either to reunite with family in the UK, or to seek a new life after escaping war and economic devastation.

Calais was the waystation of hope that became a sad dead end for many. Here was where people created little shops and ad-hoc homes, cobbling together basic supplies from a steady stream of volunteer donations. Schools, eateries, community spaces, and even a migrant theater rose from the piles of detritus, giving the place a bit of color and dignity to help remind people that they weren’t just vagabonds — as the UK and French governments had come to see them — they were families, students, would-be citizens, even artists. And many faithfully attended a makeshift church or mosque every day, still praying, never giving up.

Finally, this week, the French authorities crushed the last breath of hope out of the Jungle as they began to raze the encampment and bus people out to deposit at other migrant shelters.

The move was primarily symbolic; it may take weeks or months to fully depopulate the community. But the anti-migrant public sentiment and social anxiety surrounding the camp, which had come to be seen as a blight on the country’s reputation, prompted the government to at least look like it was taking decisive action.

Unfortunately, they seem to have neglected the fact that an untold number of children remain on the territory, and are unaccounted for. Charity workers fear they may simply vanish. But the more immediate threat is that they may burn. Fires sprang up around the camp as security forces moved in, possibly as a last scorched-earth rebellion.

As far as the government was concerned, the thousands of evictees were just criminal squatters. To the residents of Calais, they were being removed from a home they never asked for, to be shipped off to another place that didn’t want them, either. Stuck in the middle are the children without a destination and without a home, who still don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight.

Heaven Crawley writes on the Verso blog:

we are shown images of young men loitering in groups or expressing their resistance. Queues of people waiting patiently to be processed do not make a good story—they don’t fit with ideas of the border as a place of lawlessness. Neither do stories of unaccompanied children being cattled by French police. Images of people refusing to leave and fires tearing through the site are far more consistent with the construction of the border necessary to keep out the violent Other….

The destruction of ‘The Jungle’ is, above all, a symbol of the reconstruction of the border, an assertion of control in the context of a political crisis that has gripped Europe for the last 18 months.

Calais Migrant Solidarity, a grassroots mutual aid network of migrants and volunteers, issued a final message of protest as the people were shunted into buses and carted away:

The controls and the arrests, based on racial profiling, are happening everywhere in the city. …Let’s get angry about the harassement and segregation of those who are guilty only of not being white or having “good” papers. Don’t let fascism ruin the lives of us all! Fight against their deport centers, their raids, and deportations!

So there is plenty of violence unfolding in Calais, but it is not coming from its residents. It has poisoned the soil and the air, it haunts them in the political ether.

The same poison is tainting the soil in North Dakota. As massive patrol forces crack down on a peaceful action, the same pattern of militarization, suppression and displacement is now forcing protesters off of the land they occupied in mobilizing against the planned Dakota Access PIpeline. The site of the pipeline represents just one of many violations of native treaty territories and environmental destrution by the fossil fuel industry. But now the site has become a catalyst for a national movement in recent weeks, as #NoDAPL demonstrations have become a manifestation of native resistance. Although the political battle over the build-out of the pipeline may come down to a permit dispute in federal courts, the psychic conflict is playing out in the hearts and minds of the masses of protesters who have gathered here in solidarity.

On Democracy Now!, Tara Houska echoed the sense of outrage raging across the violated Native land and the French border.

You know, claiming that people praying and drumming is somehow a riot is ludicrous. I’m interested to see how a prosecutor could even bring that and prove that in a court of law. I know that at one of the lockdowns that happened in the last week, there was only four people there. That doesn’t even meet the statutory requirement of their so-called riot, yet they still were all charged with inciting a riot. Four people doesn’t seem like a riot to me, nor does a group of Native Americans peacefully praying and smudging one another.

When people pushed to the margins rise up in self defense, they are beaten back. But the power of the right of free movement, and the parallel right to self-determination and personhood, directly counters the margins that protesters are told to respect. The boundaries of a construction zone, the borders of a hostile country, do not matter in the minds of the insurgents. They’ve already redrawn the borders in their hearts. In Calais, and on Standing Rock, the people have placed themselves at the center of their own story. They’ll determine how it begins and ends. And above all, they shall not be moved.

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