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Solidarity Soccer

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Issue: 3 Section: Accounts Geography: USA, Quebec Vermont Topics: social movements, migration, solidarity

October 19, 2005

Solidarity Soccer

Activists decry presence of Minutemen, demand open border

by Shaughn McArthur


Montréal activists near the Québec-Vermont border. photo: Stefan Christoff
On the rainy Saturday afternoon of October 15, Montréal's Solidarity Across Borders visited a sleepy border town 150 km southeast of Montréal. Activists from Vermont and Québec converged for a game of "solidarity soccer" in symbolic defiance of a US border patrol militia known as the Minutemen.

Named after elite colonial militia units predating the American Revolution, the contemporary Minutemen are a group of American civilians -- an estimated two-thirds of whom carry handguns -- who this April began patrolling the US-Mexico border for "illegal aliens." They have since expanded their operations north, to the US-Canada border.

The historical Minutemen are known for their role in defeating British forces during the Revolutionary War, but according to USHistory.org, "Native-American uprisings... and potential for local insurrections, social unrest, and rioting" were key reasons for maintaining the hand-picked militia.

Today, the Minutemen are concerned about the "political, economic and social mayhem" they say would result from their nation "devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens."

"The Minutemen are basically Nazis, and we're here to show them they aren't welcome," said Henry Harris, standing under an umbrella on the US side of a granite pillar marking the border, with his daughter Louisiana on his shoulders.

Harris was one of about 50 protesters on the Vermont side of the Tomafobia River, in the town of Derby Line, where Minutemen have been operating since last week. A mere 50 metres away, in the granite quarrying community of Stanstead, Quebec, 25 protesters from Montreal chanted their support.

While most stayed safely on the Canadian side of customs, passing out flyers to motorists, a delegation of three crossed into the "no man's land" to meet their American counterparts.

A North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) member who asked to be idenfied as Benoit said that the simple acts of shaking hands, lighting their US comrades' cigarettes, and partaking in a brief soccer ball rally across the invisible border demonstrated its absurdity.

The game came to an end when an American trooper seized the ball, imprisoning it uncharged in the trunk of a US Border Patrol Canine Unit cruiser to cries of, "we just want to play football!" and "yeah for solidarity soccer!"

"Protests aren't common around here," said an amiable but anonymous Canadian Customs officer. "These guys pretty much broke the ice for that."

Benoit concurred. "We've already made an impact in this village, just by our presence." Within 45 minutes of marching, the group had covered downtown Stanstead, drawing residents to their doors and windows, curious to find out the cause of the uncharacteristic fuss.

"Communities on both sides [of the border] seemed supportive of the protesters," Benoit observed.

"There's an understanding here because this is a community traversing the border," said David Gow, who crosses the border many times every day. The line runs through his house, with one driveway on the American side and another on the Canadian. He said it is not uncommon to get checked ten times while going about a day's business, especially since 9/11.

"This Minutemen thing, this idea they're going to defend this border is absurd. Borders are an absurd concept themselves; the birds don't know about them, the deer know don't know them, but here we're clenching down while in Europe borders are opening up."

Nevertheless, Gow said he wouldn't take his views as far as some of the protestors: "If there were no borders George Bush would be running this place, so borders are good."

The protesters found the strongest show of solidarity in the shelter of Millie's Diner. "My name is Bashar Shbib. I'm an independent filmmaker, and I'm really glad you're here," announced the beaming proprietor, passing out steaming plates of food and cups of coffee at half price or on the house to tables of cold and hungry protestors.

Shbib understands borders better than most. "My last film was about borders." An ethnic Syrian and Concordia film school graduate, for eleven years Shbib lived and made films in Los Angeles, until in the aftermath of 9/11 he was forced for into hiding safety. "A Jewish family protected me," he said. "[Arabs] were getting killed and the press wasn't reporting it. Then, when I decided to come home [to Canada] I was strip-searched three times."

For all his support of the protesters, however, Shbib suggested the Minutemen were inviting their own fate. "The stronger a border becomes, the sooner it falls; so in that sense it's good to strengthen it."

"It's a scary thing to see citizens in the US enforcing state policy," said Stefan Cristoff of the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees. "There is a long tradition of oppression and vigilantes in the States, (but) the Minutemen are aware we were there, and that anywhere they go they face resistance."

So where were the Minutemen? While the group has been campaigning for recruits further south in Newport, Vermont, it seems their presence in Derby Line was limited to what one source referred to as "three old men camping out in Winnebagos."

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