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When the Border is Everywhere: Resistance to Speed Cameras and Border Checkpoints in Arizona

• Infoshop News
By Phoenix Insurgent
Phoenix Class War Council

The last couple of years has seen two interesting convergences in Arizona politics. First, the constantly expanding control grid, consisting of cameras and other measures for the regulation of movement, has finally burst into the popular consciousness in the greater Phoenix area, thanks primarily to the spread of highway photo radar and both fixed and mobile roadside units (including red light cameras). These particular cameras, much more visible than the thousands of smaller cameras comprising the broader surveillance grid that has been set up largely under a similar public safety argument, are contracted out to private – sometimes foreign -- companies by the state and other government institutions, and represent a recurring and concrete intrusion into the lives of drivers.

The tickets issued by the cameras are generally viewed by the population as illegitimate, not leastwise because they are issued by faceless (private, corporate) machines. Secondarily, they are viewed as a sneaky tax by a greedy government intent on getting its hands in everybody's wallets. People receiving the tickets in the mail (the primary method of notification) routinely disregard them and, when process servers are sent out, they sometimes receive violent reactions from the served. As a result, the private firms running the cameras have sometimes resorted to subterfuge in order to deliver the summons, including a famous case in which a server dressed up like a UPS driver. Such sneaky tactics haven't won many friends, it goes without saying. In fact, some drivers have taken to wearing disguises. As reported in the Arizona Republic recently, one man has dodged more than 30 tickets by wearing a monkey mask while driving. Police identified him after staking out his house and following his car as he drove to work.

Monkey-masked driver eludes speed cameras.

In reaction to this expansion of state and corporate power, a resistance movement has risen up, consisting on one hand of above ground, organized, largely right libertarian and constitutionalist activists. These groups, primarily headed up by an organization called CameraFRAUD, have engaged in lobbying, street protests and a ballot initiative in order to stop the cameras. CameraFRAUD emerged from the Ron Paul milieu and represents for the most part the standard ideology of that tendency. In addition to the above ground movement, there have been countless illegal and quasi-legal attacks on the cameras themselves, ranging from vandalism to street theater to the murder of a camera technician. So far, for the most part, those who have attacked the cameras have gotten away with it.

Meanwhile, this has happened in the context of a massive reaction from the Arizona white working and middle class, primarily centered on defending their white privileges against what they have generally mis-diagnosed as an attack from poor and working class Mexicans and other immigrants. This has taken the form of everything from reactionary ballot initiatives to vigilantism and violence. The collapse of much of the middle class in Arizona, hidden for some time due to the proliferation of debt, migration and the housing boom, has become clear for all to see. It is obvious now to them that the capitalist class has sold them out to a large degree, in search for large returns on investments abroad and financial speculation to replace falling rates of profit at home.

So, I say that whites have “mis-diagnosed” the problem because even though there is some truth to the general allegation that cheap immigrant labor does in some instances impact the wages of other “legal” labor, the movements that have emerged to defend the class position of whites has foundered, as has been the case historically, on the borders of whiteness. That is, rather than pointing their rage upwards at the capitalists, politicians and bureaucrats that set different segments of the working class against each other, the white movement has seen fit instead to defend its whiteness and the accompanying privileges. In a real sense, a civil war rages within the working class in Arizona.

As a result of their limited class imagination, whites in Arizona have demanded a massive expansion in the border policing apparatus in the hopes that it will protect their class position, which has become increasingly tenuous in the last decade. As a result of this, checkpoints set up by the border patrol have moved north of la linea and into what are perceived by their white residents as white communities far from the border (up to 100 miles north in some cases). This has caused friction between white residents and the border patrol and has created the conditions for an emergence of an anti-checkpoint movement on the political right. Meanwhile, the encroachment and regular harassment doled out by the border patrol to border communities of color, such as the Tohono O'odham Nation, have generally passed without notice in white communities.

Still, the support for the anti-migrant round ups and police apparatus is not just reflected in terms of an expansion of the number of agents and checkpoints. Support for the technological class war on migrants and immigrants at the border has been strong and has included encouragement for the deployment of cameras and all manner of other Big Brother technics and machinery -- as long as they are pointed south. Such demands have even included the imposition of government controls and bureaucratic approval in order to work legally in the state. Workers now, when applying for jobs, must run their identities through a computerized database which effectively requires state permission for employment. Despite the notoriously libertarian bent of Arizona politics all these police state policies have received broad support, with the notable exception of the freeway cameras. 

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