There’s been a lot of talk lately about immigration and separating families. And rightly so, because what is happening both in the US and all across the world, with detentions, deportations, draconian border regimes and so on, is nothing short of a disgrace. It is a sort of collective moral collapse with even many of those espousing the values of solidarity starting to point fingers at others while supporting policies of closed borders and state violence against immigrants, working class people, activists and dissidents. Trump and his likes, on the other hand, have become a sort of symbol of the unabashed straight out racist, sexist and elitist politics that are at the forefront of all of this.
But that being said, there is a risk here of missing the broader point. Because this is not really about the Trumps of this world. Obama not only oversaw and expanded a deadly drone war, was in office while black people were being persecuted and killed to an extent that caused the rise of Black Lives Matter, but also, importantly, massively expanded the institutions and agencies designated for persecuting “illegal” immigrants – the very infrastructure Trump is now building upon.
Realizing that this is not simply about Trump is important, because that leads to realizing that the solution cannot simply be replacing him. Obama, Hillary, and even a Bernie Sanders, they are all beholden to the same power dynamics and pressures of the institutions. And the same “inertia” that sometimes has overturned Trumps outrageous policies, would overturn those of a very radical “left”-leaning president. The bottom line here is the following: Politicians are not the cause of social change, but the reflection of it. They are to social change what a thermometer is to heat. Sure heat affects us, but it would be futile to try to change it by manipulating the thermometer – at best we’d just be fooling ourselves.
Change does not happen when the “right” people are voted into office – it happens when social movements force change upon those in power, by themselves becoming the change they want to see. It happens through riots, strikes, agitation, assemblies, organizing, blockades, occupations, insurrections, and through a thousand other grassroots-oriented forms of direct action that undermine the power of political and economic elites while multiplying and building their own. This is the only way real change, change that promises more than just a brief pause or a band-aid solution, can be achieved.
It therefore infinitely saddens me when people bemoan separation of children from their parents, but still say that “we” need these borders, controls and detention centers. This is not true. The borders and the institutions protecting them (and which they in turn protect) do not serve us or make us safe. On the contrary, they are part of the problem, part of a system of nation states and global capitalism that most of the time also is the very cause of the unnatural disasters that generate refugees in the first place.
There are of course those that immediately say that abolishing borders altogether is unrealistic, and instead put forward piecemeal reform as the “practical” way to go about the issue. Yes, we can’t just abolish borders and keep everything else the same, because they are an inseparable part of a larger, tightly interdependent system. But that does not mean that the goal of abolishing them, and a practice towards that end, are in themselves unrealistic. Compared to trying to affect radical change through a system that is practically immune (and often openly hostile) to such change, directly attacking the problem at the grassroots is both more effective short term and promising long term.
While reforms can be part of that, they can never be seen as the thrust of such change. They are rather, if anything, a by-product of people’s struggles for freedom and equality. These struggles have to be based on grassroots social movements, or will just wind up getting recuperated into the very institutions they seek to abolish. So, for instance,
Where we see borders, we undermine them and help people cross. Where we see ICE or police repression, we create sanctuaries, mutual aid networks, and make the oppressors as miserable as we can through occupations, blockades and protests, and with an eye to abolishing these institutions and replacing them with our own ways of dealing with social problems, ways that are actually human-centered, not tailored for preserving the power of small elites.
Where we are being exploited at work, we organize not only to get decent wages, but to get rid of the dictatorial notion that bosses and private ownership of the resources we need to survive are concepts any more legitimate than feudalism.
Where we fight landlords that live off of our need for a home, and the gentrification of our societies, we organize not only for affordable housing, but to eventually put into practice the notion that these are *our* homes and societies, and any claims on them that landlords or big land owners put forward are as archaic as those of their medieval namesakes.
All these grassroots movements, linked together, form the bigger picture and the road map that I’m thinking of when I say “abolish ICE”, “abolish borders” and so on. I really think we can and should do it, but I think that we can only get there through this type of broad, diverse and direct action based social movements. To me, this is a more practical and inspiring starting point, than trying to persuade others (and ourselves) that if we only elect the right rulers, or convince enough of them to “do good” through reasoning, things will get better. Nothing about this system indicates that such a thing is even possible, because this system didn’t emerge to bring about equality, but to preserve and expand already existing power of a small minority.
That’s why I think it is important not to focus just on what the current US administration is doing, but on the system that led to this as a whole.