The pandemic should remind us that we increasingly live in two ever-less-equal worlds. Think of them as Planet A and Planet B. Right now, the one you generally wouldn't want to be living on is Planet B. There, in Latin America, the focus is on Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil and a pandemic that went wild (while wildly unattended by his government), before ravaging Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and much of the rest of Latin America. Across the globe in India, a Covid-19 disaster area of the first order is now preparing the way for similar disasters in neighboring countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and who knows where else (with Africa lurking in the wings, waiting for the worst). On Planet B, vaccines are few and far between, help often not available, oxygen like gold, and life truly hell.
On the other hand, in the wealthy world of Planet A (including authoritarian China, which has offered a remarkable example of how to shut down a pandemic), vaccines are in growing supply, hospitals (however pressed) still have oxygen available, and Covid-19 is, at least for now, generally receding. Consider this, as the Guardian reported recently, comparing the two planets: "Only 0.2% of the 700m vaccines distributed so far [have gone] to low-income countries." What else do you need to know about how our present world is organized?
Think of it, by the way, as a kind of upside-down miracle that Donald Trump, so endlessly eager to wall America off from Planet B, managed for the greater part of a year to turn this country into a version of present-day Brazil or India, a pandemic catastrophe zone.
Now, however, the state of the pandemic generally follows the map of unequal wealth and inequality of every other sort as well. The question is: Can the countries of Planet A truly wall themselves off from the viral variants developing on Planet B? And while we're at it, when will significant parts of this country stop treating the human migrants from that other planet, whom we've had such a hand in producing, as if they, too, were viral? In his piece today, TomDispatch regular and border aficionado Todd Miller, author of the new book Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, considers in a strikingly empathetic fashion just such a conundrum at our own southern border. Tom
A World of Bikes, Not Walls?
Demilitarizing the Border
By Todd Miller
From the mountaintops of southern Arizona, you can see a world without borders. I realized this just before I met Juan Carlos. I was about 20 miles from the border but well within the militarized zone that abuts it. I was, in fact, atop the Baboquivari mountain range, a place sacred to the Tohono O'odham, the Native American people who have inhabited this land for thousands of years. At that moment, however, I couldn't see a single Border Patrol agent or any sign of what, in these years, I've come to call the border-industrial complex. On the horizon were just sky and clouds and mountain ranges like so many distant waves. I couldn't tell where the United States ended or Mexico began, and it didn't matter.
I was reminded of astronaut Edgar Mitchell's reaction when he gazed back at the Earth from the moon: "It was [a] beautiful, harmonious, peaceful-looking planet, blue with white clouds, and one that gave you a deep sense" of home, of being, of identity. It is what I prefer to call instant global consciousness."
A couple hours after my own peaceful moment of global consciousness, Juan Carlos appeared at the side of a dirt road. I was by then driving in a desolate stretch of desert and he was waving his arms in distress. I halted the car and lowered the window. "Do you want some water?" I asked in Spanish, holding out a bottle, which he promptly chugged down.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" I asked.
"Can you give me a ride to the next town?"
At that moment, my vision of a borderless world evaporated. Even though I couldn't see them, I could feel the proximity of armed border agents in their green-striped trucks. Perhaps one of the high-tech surveillance towers in the area already had us in its scope. Maybe I had tripped a motion sensor and a Predator B drone was flying over the car. Unfortunately, I knew far too much about one of the most surveilled borders on this planet and how it's designed to create a potentially deadly crisis for people like Juan Carlos who cross it.
Although this particular incident happened a couple years ago, the U.S. border strategy still regularly forces such migrants into the deep and dangerous desert, as has been true for the last quarter-century.
The reason I so palpably felt the surveillance system all around me was because I knew that I was risking a prison sentence if I gave a ride to Juan Carlos, who told me he was from Guatemala. So, I hesitated. The natural impulse to help a fellow human being was almost instantly overridden by a law making it a felony to transport him and in any way further his presence in this country.
My hesitation both infuriated me and reminded me of how borders can be internalized. I had to think about what the Border Patrol would notice if they pulled me over, particularly that Juan Carlos only spoke Spanish and that he had brown skin. They would assume he was undocumented. Such racial profiling is encoded in the border-security paradigm.
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