Nothing Good is Built On a Grave
From Gaza to Mexico we have to value life itself
I do not want to begin with a litany of horror. So I won’t, I’ll start with a recent newsletter from Garrett Bucks. He named this piece, aptly, after the beautiful line from abolitionist geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore which reads, “Where life is precious, life is precious.” In writing about this sentiment Garrett says, “I don’t believe that I’m expendable. I don’t believe that my loved ones are expendable. And I don’t believe that you’re expendable.” And I needed to hear that this week. My desire for a society where life is precious, where our policies and systems and ways of being reflect and uphold the sanctity of life burns just as strong as ever, but the vast gulf between that world I hope to see and the world we live in feels larger than it has in some time. So I want to begin by saying that I don’t believe you’re expendable. I do not believe anyone is expendable. And I believe that must ground our politics now more than ever.
The distance between here and there can feel insurmountable. We see, in so many ways, every day, the callous disregard for life that underpins the current order of things, and we’re seeing even more alarming moves that could take us further in that direction. Most obviously we’re being implicitly, and sometimes explicitly told that Gazan lives don’t matter, that Palestinian lives don’t matter. The most overt and horrifying declarations often come from Israeli officials. I am almost loath to reprint the latest iteration of this sentiment. As a Jew who was repeatedly taught at great length about the horrors of the Holocaust an Israeli council head calling to “Flatten Gaza like Auschwitz” makes me recoil in such disgust and devastation, but we cannot look away from the terrifying words being uttered by these officials the U.S. refuses to condemn, and more importantly refuses to cut off financial and military support. Lest you think this isn’t happening at the highest levels as well, Netanyahu has said he wants to “thin” the population of Gaza “to a minimum” and members of the Knesset are proposing a plan that involves mass “voluntary migration” which is in fact involuntary ethnic cleansing.
Everyone in the United States must contend with the fact that our government functionally has no red lines when it comes to Israel’s behavior. After Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Netanyahu and others, and assured the world that the IDF would now take more care to not kill civilians, the Israeli army immediately resumed their attacks on hospitals and the bombing of supposed “safe zones.” Blinken, the Biden administration, and Congress have doled out no consequences for this nightmare.
Blinken then flew back to the U.S., where life is on the verge of becoming less precious. Joe Biden is moving right on immigration and reportedly considering changes including, “turning back migrants at the US-Mexico border without giving them the chance to seek asylum, expanding a fast-track deportation procedure to include more undocumented immigrants, and raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers.” At the same time Donald Trump is saying that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” even more overtly fascist and supremacist language than his usual arsenal. It appears all but certain that this country is about to become even more inhospitable to migrants, many of whom are fleeing countries destabilized by the United States.
This too is the violent devaluation of life. Turning away asylum seekers, forcing many back to countries where their lives are in immedaite danger or where long-term survival is untenable for innumerable other reasons, will kill countless people. There is also the increasing violence of the border itself. Last summer Texas installed buoys with saws between each one in the Rio Grande, a visual and visceral image of how immensely violent crossing into the United States is becoming.
Now Texas has passed a possibly unconstitutional law that would make entering the state illegally a state-level crime, and give Texas law enforcement the power to arrest immigrants. What Governor Greg Abbott and other anti-migrant chest beaters will never admit is that the flow of people will not stop. All of these measures will hurt thousands or millions, but they will not meaningfully stem the flow. Until the conditions people are fleeing are addressed, and the destabilization and exploitation of their homes is ended, the number of people attempting to cross the border will not decline. As Harsha Walia writes in Border and Rule, “While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is permanent.”
And this point about migrant workers is crucial. The architects of border violence do not actually want zero people to cross. They want precarious, unprotected workers who can be easily exploited. These very workers have helped power the agriculture industry, the economies of California and Texas and Florida, and the United States as a whole. When you see horrifying stories of child laborers found in poultry plants or slaughterhouses or construction projects, odds are they are migrant children, produced by our harmful approach to immigration rather than prevented by it. This is another result of rendering life unprecious. Children forced to migrate thousands of miles only to be exploited and used, chewed up and spit out. We, all of us, must reject going further in this direction that desecrates life and harms the most vulnerable among us. We must reject both the policies and systems that create such mass poverty and violence in Latin America, and reject the idea that we are unable to welcome those who flee these conditions.
If we look we can see how this vision is sold to us. We can see how we’re told that we, the deserving, will benefit from a world structured atop the suffering of others. War is being sold to us as an investment in American industry and American jobs. Attacks on immigrants are being sold the way they’re always sold; your job will be protected, your family will be protected, we just need to squash and keep out these undesirables. I have recently been haunted by the very epitome, the encapsulation of this way of thinking. An Israeli firm is already promoting seaside housing in Gaza.
Almost simultaneous with reports that the IDF is desecrating graveyards, turning them over, defiling the graves, and parking military vehicles over them, we see this report that beautiful new oceanfront properties are being proposed. Here a sheer disregard for life is paired with the idea that we can prosper and find happiness atop a pile of corpses. It is both immoral and utterly incorrect. A society actually built to prosper in the long term cannot be one that has no reverence for life. It must be one where life is precious.
In Gaza, Israel’s countless crimes are engendering a new generation of Palestinians, people across the region, and people around the globe who resent its disregard for life. In the U.S., our government’s support for the Netanyahu regime is leading millions to resent Biden, and endangering his reelection chances. The new border proposals put forth by the White House and supported by some Democrats, and many Republicans, are angering an already upset party base. The immorality of this approach is clear. There’s a reason we rejected Stephen Miller’s draconian and ghastly immigration policies. There’s a reason we protested and kicked Trump out in 2020. The repugnant idea that our prosperity and well-being can only be built upon the oppression of others evokes a deep revulsion in many of us. But it also, quite simply, doesn’t work. Real, lasting prosperity for all of us cannot be built on the exploitation of the vulnerable.
In the case of migrants from Latin America, the truth of this is clear. Exploited and vulnerable workers drive down wages for all of us. And that’s exactly why the bosses, the real capitalists, are embracing a fascistic push to reject asylum seekers and make the existence of migrant workers in the U.S. even more fraught and precarious. On the ideological level, moving right on immigration moves the entire Overton window right and enables, not prevents, the growth of overt fascism in this country. It says that the fundamental logic underpinning the white nationalist movement is correct. It says that we must exclude others to ensure our safety and prosperity. It legitimates a lie.
Our prosperity is not contingent on exclusion and the violent oppression of others. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s built on inclusion and on a shift that says, “I thrive when my neighbor is thriving. I do well when my coworkers do well. There is enough to go around and in lifting you up I lift myself up.” The right wants us isolated, atomized, scared of your neighbor and jealous of your coworker. That is how fascism rises and gains power. We must reject that logic, that emotional manipulation fueled by fear and illusions of scarcity. In its place we must create a world where life is sacred, where life is precious, where we build with each other instead of on top of one another. When my life is built upon your back it’s both wrong and cannot last. People forced to kneel will inevitably stand up, and in the meantime it will not be you and me that thrive in an exploitative system, it will be the few hoarders that gather the wealth gained from hurting and repressing those deemed to be outsiders, inferior, less worthy.
Our only path forward is together, valuing one another and valuing life. None of us are expendable, not because of some immutable fact of life, but when we make it so. And therefore we must decide to make it so and act on that decision again and again and again. We must build a world where life, all life, is precious. So let’s go forth and build.
Thank you for reading. If you’re able to become a supporting subscriber, it allows me to devote more time to writing for you. In gratitude - Josh