Trump’s Wall: eco-apartheid and the dismantling of the human spirit

“I know some of you are worried about the wall… Every problem we face is a fictitious wall that was created to divide us and separate.”

-Vandana Shiva, 2.11.19

Last week I saw the ecological activist, powerhouse Vandana Shiva speak. This past weekend I started reading her book Soil Not Oil. A few days ago Trump made his declaration of a national emergency over his border wall. When I saw her speak she shared the above wisdom, which was a resolved foresight that only comes from years of working with communities on the ground who contribute to climate change the least, but suffer from it the most. This wall is an example of how far off-base this country is from democracy. The U.S. has conflated democracy, imperialism, and late capitalism… driving itself to destruction faster than Tesla smashed its employees’ possibility for a union. Vandana Shiva is right, we do not have a true democracy, we have eco-imperialism:

Eco-imperialism is a complex dynamic. It includes control over the economies of the world through corporate globalization and transforms the resources and ecosystems of the world into feedstock for an industrialized globalized economy… Eco-imperialism also characterizes the control over the foreign policy and strategic security policy… And it refers to the attempt to engineer the planet.(Shiva, Soil Not Oil, p. 15)

Political walls disrupt and harm our social, cultural, and ecological environment. Unlike topographical natural barriers, political border walls are a violent separation of humanity and a form of eco-apartheid.

One aspect of eco-apartheid is the violent separation of humans from nature, which was exacerbated with the industrial revolution and the development of urban metropoles scattered across the globe. European countries and the U.S. have been extracting natural resources and labour en masse from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean for a several centuries, which has increased and intensified the disconnection between humans and nature. Eco-apartheid is a consequence of late capitalism prioritizing profits over everything else, especially our spiritual and inherent connection to nature.

We are part of an ecosystem. Indigenous populations have understood this for centuries and have lived peacefully alongside nature. Indigenous communities believe they are apart of nature and this understanding includes sustainable and safe responses to natural disasters. For example, the Ohlone people in Northern California have centuries old sacred practices of wildfire containment. The (spiritual) eco-apartheid initiated by colonialism and exacerbated by global capitalism and racism has led us to the state we are in now… one of environmental catastrophe that is dangerously close to detonation. Trump’s wall is not unique, like the West Bank wall separating Palestinians from their rightful homeland, it is apartheid… an extension of settler colonialism and ecological warfare.

Any form of apartheid, whether it’s eco-apartheid or racial apartheid is not sustainable. It will not last and it will not make human life better. If a wealthy few want to create a dystopian society where the planet is ridding itself of us through ecological disasters and extreme weather, like in the myriad post-apocalyptic movies Americans so often make and watch, they must know we are well on our way there now. Indigenous communities have been living in a dystopian world since European settlers came to this land, killed their people and made extinct several species of wildlife. Black communities have been living in a dystopian society since enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas for forced free labour. Asian and Latinx people have been living in a dystopian society since European colonizers extracted them to do the most dangerous and arduous cheap labour that built up our societies.

If we are going to create resilient futures — futures at all — we must breakdown power structures that have made us think we should control nature rather than bow to it. Indigenous people, poor people and communities of color have made futures where it would seem there was no possibility for them. We have survived even when they tried to destroy us or divide us. Like the planet we are constant and will continue no matter how much you try to fuck us up. This eco-crisis is not of our making, but if our lives are not supported than no one will survive. Trump’s wall will not protect us, it will do the opposite.

In the U.S. where corporations dictate policy and governments are treated like companies, rather than addressing root causes to serious social issues we are peddled what Shiva calls “consumer democracy.” Consumer democracy puts the onus of change on the individual, making one think that we can buy our way out of political and ecological turmoil and everything else. Rather than holding corporations or our government accountable for climate change, we are told to recycle and buy reusable water bottles — as if that will stop the Department of Interior from drilling off the coast of Alaska. While individual actions are important and necessary, especially in a country that consumes most of the world’s energy and resources, those actions will not suffice to create radical change, which is needed if we are to survive. As Shiva says: “Consumer democracy is the gasoline for the bulldozer of globalization… [it] is a pseudodemocracy associated with economic dictatorship; it desertifies the soil of real democracy. Authentic democracy, like plants, grows from the ground up” (p. 6).

Trump’s wall is a trophy of eco-apartheid and in direct opposition to democracy. Though the erosion of democracy started before this country was even a nation-state, when most of its inhabitants were killed by colonists or enslaved by them. We have to heal the human spirit that has been torn from the soil of this earth, from which we are all made. But, in order to heal the human spirit we have to halt eco-apartheid in its tracks and turn this company called the U.S. into a true democracy for all. We are all in this together, those who do not realize it will perish with the oil as the rest of us cultivate the soil.

It may seem there are not enough of us committed to creating resilient futures, to protecting our lives. As Rexx Life Raj said in his song Never Change: “Being a visionary is the loneliest feeling ’cause you living in the future.” Like the kids around the world joining Greta Thunberg, we will become more and more and more — until we are a critical mass. We will stand together so the wall cannot stand at all. Believe me when I say, the wall has already fallen even though it has not yet been built. Everyday we fight we are healing the human spirit, so continue to fight with me and let’s continue to heal.

Views are my own and do not represent the organization I work for.