Edson Cosmas: An Immigrant’s Victory against Deportation

Anatomy of a Victory for All Immigrants

Movement for Justice/BAMN won an important victory for all immigrants in stopping Edson Cosmas –a gay man from Tanzania – from being deported from Britain. This statement tells of how we won this victory, so that we can build the movement needed to defend all immigrants, expand our fight, win our demand of Amnesty Now, and put Britain and the United States on a new road: multicultural, united and full of dignity, respect and optimism.

Edson Won Because He Was Part of an Organization: MFJ/BAMN
No one else could have won his case because no other left group, asylum seeker organization, LGBT group, or prominent lawyer is able to utilize a political method that relies on both a real legal strategy and a perspective for mass organizing to win. And no one else believes that victory is possible by organizing and relying on the oppressed to win rather than making a moral appeal to the rich and powerful.

Shifting Public Opinion
Eddy’s case proves that if we can generalize the lessons of his case we can win more seemingly impossible cases, shift public opinion in a more anti-government pro-asylum seeker direction, and expose the insanity of trying to justify sealing off Britain’s borders and the irrationality of its domestic and foreign policies regarding the neo-colonial world.

From the start, despite all the difficulties Eddy had in being able to stand up for himself, he believed he could win because he was a member of MFJ, an organization that would work out how to secure victory for him. Eddy said this repeatedly. Membership in MFJ/BAMN meant that Eddy did not have to be an individual super-hero or groundbreaking plaintiff in a legal case or an experienced political leader, free from illusions in the legal system to win, he just needed to be a part of an organization that had a correct political method. Just having a network of people to talk to meant Eddy never felt isolated and could maintain his swagger.

No Illusions in the Law or the Courts

MFJ/BAMN does not have illusions in the law or believe that the courts apply the law in a neutral and consistent manner, applying legal standards fairly and rationally at all times. We understand that the law does not stand above or exist outside of the class struggle, but is a measure of political power and class relations at a particular moment and in a particular instance.

Not the Anarchists’ Attitude Towards the Law

What we mean in saying that we have no illusions in the sanctity of the law means something completely different from what the anarchists mean, when on some occasions, they use a similar formulation. The anarchists, because of their belief that the oppressed cannot win, are capable of simultaneously carrying out moral protests saying ‘screw the process’, while conversely maintaining incredible illusions in the law and their lawyers. Much of the time they act as though by simply exposing the inconsistencies of a prosecutor’s case to a judge they can win. Either way, the anarchists are never trying to figure out how to take control of a legal process and use it to further the aims of the oppressed, and in a case like Eddy’s, put the state on trial.

Putting the State on Trial: An Active and Concrete Approach to the Law

Saying we have no illusions in the law does not mean we ignore what the law is or allow ourselves to be intimidated by it. We are always fighting to expand legal protections for our side. Unlike any other civil rights leadership, we have a legal strategy, which we are always applying to the concretes of the case before us.

Continuing to Be a Leader in Detention

In Eddy’s case we knew he would have big challenges in presenting his case and so we adopted two strategies. First, find ways to get Eddy to act on his own behalf, and second, recruit the very best experts we could and politically motivate them to care about and act on his Eddy’s behalf.

Eddy leared how to fight to win in detention. He maintained his morale and helped peel away misconceptions of how to assess and win over judges and white people more generally. Eddy gained confidence in his ability to fight, because he was a part of fighting collectively and fighting to win by any means necessary.

The shear relentlessness of Eddy’s activism – trying a hunger strike, hurting himself, passing out MFJ literature and finally trying to organize other asylum seekers in detention, did a great deal to secure his release.

Eddy looked more and more like a person who could get passengers on a plane bound for Tanzania to stand with him, which, from the stand point of the British state, would be a big defeat, especially because MFJ/BAMN would tell the story of what Eddy did to the world.

We never gave up placing demands on Eddy, and his experiences with the authorities’ responses to his actions provided him with his own lessons in dealing with the British authorities.

No one other than Movement for Justice/BAMN would utilize our tactics to win. We respected Eddy enough to fight with him to act on his own behalf because we understood we could not substitute ourselves or a lawyer for him, and we knew the only way to get him to act effectively was to deepen his political understanding and commitment through organizing while in detention.

Understanding the Contradictions of Abuse

We prepared a great case based on the truth, which showed how Eddy’s incapacity to testify for himself actually proved through the use of circumstantial evidence that he was gay, had been tortured and would face death if he returned.

Again only MFJ would have constructed a defense around the inevitable difficulty someone who has been abused has in standing up to authority. Anyone else would have just tried endlessly to get Eddy to reform who he was, which stood no chance of success in the limited time.

Exposing the Dishonesty and Irrationality of the Law

Eddy’s lawyer understood the problem that asylum seekers have defending themselves, but never saw a way to overcome it, leaving Eddy’s case a seeming hopeless endeavor.

We, in contrast, saw Eddy’s case as a way to make an appeal to the British people to understand how abuse distorts a person’s capacity to act in line with their own interests. We put the court on trial for its cynicism and won.

Even the best paid or most prominent lawyer would not have conceived of the case MFJ put together because none of them reject the fundamental premise of the law that some deportations to neo-colonial countries are “safe” to carry out. They do not want to expose the dishonesty and irrationality of the law.

The Conditions in Tanzania

We had to expose through our court case the truth about Tanzania, what torture/abuse really is in the life of someone like Eddy, and how preposterous it is to expect anyone to talk frankly and bluntly to authorities not just about their sexuality but what they have had to endure to survive.

We could use what we did in Eddy’s case to win thousands of other cases because the plain truth is death, hardship, political instability, living in starvation conditions etc. is the fate of any one who is deported to a neo-colonial country.

We won through utilizing mass action, but not in some crude and/or limited way. We held three demonstrations for Eddy, but just holding demonstrations isn’t enough; we showed Eddy – a person who most people in Britain and the U.S. could easily identify with and/or want to protect precisely because he was imperfect and vulnerable and clearly could not win if left standing alone.

Eddy made his case a cause within the detention center.

Organizing the oppressed, rather than appealing to the rich and powerful

Most campaigning groups, like Amnesty International, only create international campaigns for people who are obvious leaders, incredible minds, and almost always seeking release from a nation that’s in conflict with, or seen as the enemy of one or all of the imperialist countries. They too believe that doing campaigns utilizing the tactics we used are needed to win – organizing pickets, mass petitioning, pressuring other governments to get involved, putting out press releases etc.

However, a group like Amnesty International is always addressing their appeals to the rich and powerful, specifically to the liberal or pro-democratic wing of the ruling class that believes that bourgeois democracy is the best shell for capitalist production.

MFJ/BAMN, in contrast, organized the oppressed to support Eddy, because that was the only way we could generate the level of mass support and action needed to get Britain to violate its deal with one of its allies – Tanzania – and act on the implicit criticism of the government and acknowledge the limitations on freedom in that nation.

Our approach won because Eddy’s case became a touchstone of the British government’s capacity to consistently apply its own principles to Eddy’s case.

Because Eddy is so accessible and real, his case could be taken up with real passion by high school students, gay activists and the friends and family members of immigrants the world over.

People in  the MFJ’s U.S. sister organization – BAMN – wouldn’t let a meeting end without a report on Eddy. People took independent initiatives.

In MFJ/BAMN we understand that racism and anti-gay bigotry are contradictory and so we are able to get practicing Muslims, Catholics etc. to do much more than just sign a petition to free an Eddy.

Never Give in. Never Be Silenced!

Finally MFJ/BAMN is a group of people that will not quit. All immigration agencies rely on silent compliance to succeed. Do not give them silence!

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About The Author

BAMN is a mass, democratic, integrated, national organization dedicated to building a new mass civil rights movement to defend affirmative action,integration, and the other gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and to advance the struggle for equality in American society by any means necessary.

1 Comment

  1. paul canning October 25, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    There were many people including myself who helped Eddy. It is extremely disappointing that you do not even mention us.