ear Robyn, Leanne, Sarah, and Andrea,

I am thrilled and humbled to be invited to celebrate the magnificent Rehearsals for Living, an abolition feminist, Black radical, and Indigenous decolonial masterclass. Through an intimate meditation on world building as relationality, this work truly is an antidote to despair.

I want to start by paying my respects to the many communities of resistance of Minneapolis, including the Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples. The first time I came to Minneapolis, I met with Indigenous organizers at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. I was invited a few years after the release of my first book, Undoing Border Imperialism, a movement-based book documenting anti-colonial and anti-capitalist migrant justice organizing in what we know as Canada. A coalition of groups who were building deeper alliances between Indigenous communities and newcomer migrant/refugee communities in Minneapolis had invited me. This was a powerful gathering that refused the presumed incommensurability of Indigenous and migrant struggles and to intentionally deepen political solidarities, motivated I would suggest by Robin D.G Kelley’s reminder for us that “Solidarity is not a market exchange. Our support and solidarity with people who are struggling for human dignity and justice should not depend on their knowing anything about us.”

I learned about the how the legacy of the American Indian Movement, birthed in Minneapolis in 1968, continues today through community patrols, families calling for justice for MMIWG2S, the longstanding efforts to strengthen the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act, resistance to Line 3 pipeline, and efforts to remove the statue to Columbus (which happened after my visit; in 2020, community members pulled down Columbus).

Much of this work of responding to and sustaining alternatives to settler colonial violence are abolitionist experiments. One of my first lessons in abolitionist organizing and enacting community safety was twenty years ago in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside when Indigenous women including Skundaal, Reta Blind, Philippa Ryan and Carol Martin would organize search teams for missing women because they knew that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the state’s inaction was an inherent part of the genocidal violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans, gender diverse, and two spirit people. State inaction and abandonment were understood as deliberate state violence and policing, as Leanne (p. 140) you write, “in all its formations” including the police, child welfare, hospitals, and social workers.

Every week, these grassroots Indigenous matriarchs would organize teams to search the parks, the highways, slumlord-run housing, doorways of abandoned buildings. They would guide us in where to put up posters, how to gently probe for information, when to follow a possible lead – all loving actions that embody the spirit of the oft repeated call and response in protests in protests today: “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe”. The next generation, such as Butterflies in Spirit, a dance group consisting of MMIWG2S family members, has continued this work. They are currently engaged in transnational work with families impacted by the state and paramilitary war on drugs in Mexico to share strategies and lessons on community self-organization and investigations into missing and disappeared people.

I also want to pay my respects to the family and loved ones of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the caring tending work of his aunt Angela Harrelson at the George Floyd Global Memorial and George Floyd Square. They wanted to, in their words, “curate spaces for all people to grieve, pay respect, and be a voice for justice. Volunteer neighbourhood caretakers tend to the offerings laid in memory of George Floyd and other Black lives lost in the community and across the nation. An estimated 5,000 offerings of street art, drawings by children, protest signs, rocks, letters, paintings, flowers, and meaningful gifts transform this intersection into a sacred site. People all over the world continue to build the memorial, and through Caretaking, we continue to preserve history, remember stories, and protest in this unprecedented way.”

In the long tradition of Black feminism, this beautiful ethic of collective caretaking is abolitionist feminism in practice. Black Visions Collective, a Black-led Queer and Trans-centering organization in Minneapolis working to defund and abolish the police and for an abundant Minneapolis with community-led safety, puts it as, “Abolition calls us to take responsibility for each other’s healing and repair when harm happens and support each other in getting our needs met on an everyday basis to prevent harm from happening in the first place.”

And I pay my respects to Youva Vang Lee, a Hmong mother whose 19-year-old son Fong Lee was killed by Minneapolis police, and the families of Isak Aden and Dolal Idd, two young Somali Muslim men killed by police. These families are just some of the many who continue to demand justice for their loved ones murdered by police. In 2018, Somali-American workers also took on Amazon to protest working conditions at one of the fulfillment centers with one of the country’s highest rates on injury. One of those leading the sustained walkouts during the pandemic was Hibaq Mohammed, who arrived here as a refugee from Somalia and began working in Amazon. In her words “We have the power to change policy. … Although the company gives us a lot of fear, we still have the courage to fight back and work for the change we want.” I think of Hibaq when I read Robyn’s words: “AntiBlack logics are not challenged by the presumed usefulness of Black people’s labour: our usefulness does not contradict our disposability. This is what it means to exist in the afterlife of the commodity.”

I am not a resident of Minneapolis, but I offer these respects as a humble gesture of trying to take seriously the practice of place-making wherever I visit, and of tending to Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s invocation of “freedom is a place” and abolition geographies as constant radical place-making (Gilmore, 2017: p. 227). I hope it also does some justice to thinking alongside the ways in which Leanne and Robyn discuss making freedom in forgotten places, with Leanne (p. 72) writing: “Forgotten places are not, after all, forgotten by all. And those in places forgotten –– abandoned –– by the state, people have their own visions for freedom, for their own multiple struggles to make life livable, to strive for a different and more collective way of organizing human life, and of distributing care.


I am writing the next part of the letter to you all in my head. I am in interrogation at the airport, waiting to cross the US-Canada border. All around me people sit grasping their hands, anxiously pacing, and trying to communicate with the border guards about what is happening only to be met with callous barks of “sit down.”

The airport and international transit zones are literally a no-man’s land, or as Dionne Brand (2006: p. 17) writes in Inventory:

“self righteous, let's say it, fascism,
how else to say, border,
and the militant consumption of everything,
the encampment of the airport, the eagerness
to be all the same, to mince biographies
to some exact phrases, some
exact and toxic genealogy.”

Today, xenophobic media depictions of migrants/refugees as “swarms” and the accompanying rhetoric of “migrant crisis” are pretexts to shore up border enforcement. The production and social organization of difference is at the heart of border-craft, especially in this time of growing fascism. Borders function to maintain asymmetric relations of wealth accrued from colonial impoverishment and racial capitalism, ensuring mobility for some and mass immobility and containment for most — essentially, a divided working class and system of global apartheid determining who can live where and under what conditions. Meanwhile, mass migration is actually a displacement crisis created by the enduring legacies of capitalism, wars, and, increasingly, from climate displacement.

The crisis is not of the border but due to the border. The border has become a dystopic testing ground everywhere, constituting a five-hundred-billion-dollar border security and virtual walling industry. Israeli-made drones in the Mediterranean, facial recognition technology at and beyond U.S. land and maritime border crossings, automated surveillance cameras in refugee camps across Europe, AI in immigration decision-making processes in Canada, intrusive biometric systems piloted in Australia, and the global buildup of data infrastructure all serve to constrict, contain, and criminalize migrant/refugee mobility.  

Most of my time at airports has been outside the airport, at actions to protest deportations and the violent expulsions of people. At the Vancouver International Airport in 2008, over two thousand mostly Punjabi Sikh elders completely surrounded Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers to prevent the deportation of paralyzed Dalit refugee Laibar Singh. For hours, the airport was completely shut down with taxi cab drivers and truck drivers blockading all the highways into the airport. Concentric circles of aunties and elders surrounded Singh in a protective circle, pushing CBSA out, until Singh was finally freed and returned in a medical taxi to a Sikh gurudwara where he sought sanctuary. I think of Gwendolyn Brooks: “We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.”

At the Vancouver airport is also where Mexican migrant and hotel worker, Lucía Vega Jiménez, strangled herself while detained by CBSA. She was initially detained by transit police for failure to pay a fare – everywhere we witness the enclosure of the commons – and turned over to CBSA’s Enforcement and Intelligence Division. In the basement of the Vancouver airport, in the immigration detention dungeon, she strangled herself. CBSA buried the news of Lucía’s death for over a month. It was only when other detainees contacted Karla Lottini, a Mexican refugee and member of No One Is Illegal, that Lucia’s death in CBSA custody became public. Community mobilizing over many months fought and won an inquest into her death, fought and won the termination of the transit authority’s memorandum of understanding with CBSA, and fought and won the closure of the detention cells in the Vancouver airport. Lucía y Karla presente!

Borders unevenly distribute resources, land, access to public services, and life expectancy. Meanwhile, this airport is at most an inconvenience for those with Western passports, or the handpicked immigrant diaspora, or the rich investor class, or tourists Columbus-ing around the world. As I am escorted between interrogation rooms, I hear an airline boarding announcement. They are extending a welcome to military personnel and passengers in first class to board. Have any of them ever heard about Lucía and Laibar, I wonder?

How many of us (who are non-Black, non-Indigenous, from dominant castes and classes with certain passports) take our own mobility and access for granted, while balking at the necessity of no borders for the world’s majority? What will an airport look like in a borderless world, I wonder?

Robyn (p. 171) reminds us, “Every attempt to build something else, fashion new forms of global belonging outside of the terrors of capital and empire, was assassinated by Western imperialism, and in many instances, with the support of the national bourgeoisie… And so, nation-state thinking threatens, always, to stunt our imaginative and speculative capacities.”  

It is this stunting of our imaginative and speculative capacities that allows bordered logics to persist even in the grammar of social movements. And so, Robyn, Leanne, Sarah, and Andrea: thank you for the intricate and urgent maps of place making, home making, and world making beyond the limited vocabularies of liberalism and the nation-state that your works gift us.

If violences and death-making institutions are constituted through each other, then liberation and life-making institutions are also constituted through each other. Robyn and Leanne, thank you for gifting us with a compass of resistance in this book that weaves freedom struggles past and present, that teaches us solidarity as a verb and practice, and reminds us that social movements are re-organizing lives and worlds in rehearsal every day. Your work and writing honours and respects the ancestors, and I close by thanking you, Robyn and Leanne, for being our future ancestors in the now.


Brand D (2006) Inventory. Toronto: McClelland Stewart.
Brooks G (1970) “Paul Robeson”. Available here (accessed 28 December 2023).
Freedom is a Place. Available here (accessed 28 December 2023).
Kelley RDG, Amariglio J, Wilson L ( 2018)  “Solidarity is Not A Market Exchange: An RM interview with Robin D.G. Kelley. Part 1 Rethinking Marxism 30:4, 568-598, and Part 2 Rethinking Marxism 31:2, 152-172. Available here (accessed 28 December 2023).
Maynard R, Simpson, LB (2022) Rehearsals for Living. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
Walia, H (2013) Undoing Border Imperialism. Chico, CA: AK Press.
Wilson Gilmore, R (2022) Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation. New York: Verso Books.
Wilson Gilmore, R (2017) “Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence”. In: GT Johnson GT, Lubin A, eds. Futures of Black Radicalism New York: Verso, pp 225-241.

Harsha Walia is a Punjabi Sikh writer and organizer based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territories. She has been a grassroots organizer in migrant justice, anti-capitalist, feminist, and anti-colonial movements for the past two decades, including through collectives and coalitions such as No One Is Illegal, Defenders of the Land, and Anti-Capitalist Convergence. Her day gig is in an anti-violence service provider organization supporting survivors of gender-based violence. She is the award-winning author of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (2021) and Undoing Border Imperialism (2013), and co-author of Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration as well as Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.