The President’s official campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again,” but the heart of that campaign and now his White House is “build a wall,” a physical wall. However, we must recognize the other walls that are constructed by words and actions. In addition to the White House planning to construct a physical wall along the southern border of the United States, it also advocates for walls such as Muslim walls, Mexican Judge walls, “the Blacks” walls, refugee walls, sanctuary city walls, healthcare walls, and affordable housing walls. Me versus them, separate and unequal approaches to national leadership are public service malpractice.
The self-aggrandizing monument that the White House promises is not yet under construction, but brick by brick, layer by layer, unlimited, unfiltered, untethered rants, tweets and uninformed actions from the White House are creating dangerous walls. When the White House prevents Muslim refugees from entering the United States, proposes sending the “feds” to Chicago, or equates inner cities with being Black in America, walls are built. When we hear rants about supporting torture, lies about the size of an inauguration crowd, and bragging about sexual assault, walls are built. Words aren’t just empty vessels, but rather a power that can separate or bring together, give life or kill, build walls or bridges.
History shows what happens when international figures build walls based on their belief in the inferiority or inhumanness of large groups of people. For example, Hitler built walls. Ismail Enver built walls. Ante Pavelic built walls. Josip Broz Tito built walls. The walls that they built caused the deaths of millions, families were ripped apart and the horrors committed had lasting impacts. The actions and words of this White House are reminiscent of a long line of wall builders. It would be a travesty if the words and early actions of the White House lead to the types of deaths that the world has seen before. It’s not worth the cost to be this type of boss.
Neither White House supporters nor resisters are shielded from walls. Historically, people have never been shielded from actions or words from people who hold power. Discord, distrust, hate and fear are cultivated through words and careless acts, particularly if the leaders of the country are the culprits. Some supporters of the White House distrust, hate, and even fear those who are disparaged. Some resisters of the White House distrust, hate, and even fear for their lives based on the words and actions of those in power. Shared feelings reside on opposite sides of the walls, but what differs is the values, virtues, and vision of how the world should operate and how people should be treated.
Throughout history, people on the side of walls opposite of those in power have found ways to deconstruct the walls of bigotry, injustice, and hatred. The Abolitionist Movement, Women’s Suffrage Movement, Anti-apartheid Movement, Satyagraha Movement, Civil Rights Movement and Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement are a few of history’s wall dismantling efforts. These movements refused to find comfort in cruelty, resisted maltreatment of the marginalized, and worked to get those in power to recognize the humanity of all people. All of these movements took time but eventually fractured unjust systems. There is hope in reflection and these movements remind us that deconstruction requires work, sacrifice, time and commitment.
As progress is made to dismantle walls, there will be an equal and opposite reaction by those in power to build even higher walls. For this reason, the work of wall dismantling is perpetual. Each generation has faced walls and each generation of resisters has worked to dismantle them. Yes, the White House will continue building, but people who believe in justice, love and basic human dignity shouldn’t shy from using legal tools, writing tools, oratory tools, direct action tools, boycott tools, storytelling tools, coalition building tools, ally tools, political tools, and organizing tools to break down these walls.