“We are here because you were there”
Immigration: theme for this issue
Historically humans have often behaved like a migratory species, abandoning familiar geographies and moving onto new territories when we needed to improve our living conditions. The migratory movements of human history have been motivated by precarious socio-economic conditions, catastrophic natural circumstances, depletion of natural resources, forced mobilization, as in the case of slavery, war, or just plain curiosity for the unknown.
The current administration has lost all sense of historical perspective regarding today’s migratory movements. In this regard it is similar to past governments, including the Obama administration, which has the questionable record of deporting over 2.4 million people—the largest number of deportations in American history. President Trump cynically ascribes some nefarious and ill-conceived characteristics to immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, and has put restrictions on five countries where Muslim religious practices predominate.
How to explain the current migratory movement on a planet in which pretty much all its spaces have been explored, its territories mapped and claimed by private property, while national states use their military to fortify their borders? How can migrations continue to happen in a world where electronic surveillance, visas, travel bans, and other regulations make transnational movement increasingly difficult?
The best answer was probably provided by London based, Sri Lankan novelist and political writer A. Sivanandan, who in the early 1980s coined the phrase “We Are Here Because You Were There.” The phrase unveils the close links and consequences that exist between political and economic actions, including wars and other military interventions conducted by the industrialized Western nations, that have resulted in the current wave of refugees. Although our government distinguishes between economic and political refugees when deciding whether to grant asylum (economic refugees are not candidates for asylum in the US), both are, in a broad structural sense, a consequence of neo-liberal policies.
The current backlash against immigrants makes clear that we as society have lost the ability to recognize our own humanity in the adverse conditions of others. We have forgotten the ephemeral nature of our delusion that we are ‘owners’ of a given territorial space on the planet; and have opted instead for tactics that propagate fear in the name of security and national greatness.
All of the articles on immigration in this issue document the impact of current immigration policies and the strategies communities are developing to respond to them. They were selected and edited by Anne Fischel working with members of Strengthening Sanctuary, Olympia’s immigrants rights group. As Anne makes clear, “this is an extraordinary time in which we are being challenged to name, analyze and resist government policies that represent an assault not only on our immigrant neighbors but on everything we value in American life. While this assault has historical roots, it takes an especially harsh form today. My thanks to Works in Progress for providing us with this opportunity to share our work.” —EQ
Theme for November: The public sector and the common good
A few years ago, Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as society.” With that, she captured an element of a new narrative designed to reduce our expectations and heighten our sense of alienation. That narrative erodes an earlier way of thinking about who we are and how we operate in the world. That narrative is intended to serve as the basis for the politics of privatization. Asserting that “there is no such thing as society” subverts our belief that by acting together we can advance our shared interest, and even benefit as individuals.
Until recently, we believed as a country in the value of free public schools and libraries; in municipal water, sewer and garbage service provided by municipalities; in public parks and national forests; in the administration of justice undistorted by the profit motive—and the same for roads, police and even electricity in some places.
For November, we’re hoping for stories about the public sector and how it affects our community and our lives. Let us hear from you, readers and writers.
Theme for December: Religion and politics. Sessions of Congress open with a prayer (why not the national anthem—it’s mandatory for football players!)? Businesses are now permitted to have religious scruples that permit them to refuse to sell to certain individuals. The poor people’s campaign, sanctuary offers, programs for the poor and homeless all derive support from organized religion. There are people freaking out about Sharia Law, and what about Mosaic Law, or Bible law? December is a good month to think about these things!