By Todd Miller. City Lights Books, 2021. 180 pages. $14.95/paperback or eBook.
Todd Miller has spent much of his adult life as a journalist and writer, wrestling with the human sufferings and injustices exposed at the increasingly militarized U.S.-Mexico border, where he has lived for many years, and at national borders around the world: those that keep people in, but especially those that keep poor and marginalized people out. In his book Build Bridges, Not Walls (this phrase is taken from Pope Francis), Miller unfolds not only the human costs of borders, the deaths and deprivations there, but also a vision of a world in which border walls come down and people are free to live and work where and with whom they choose.
Miller introduces his work in these words:
I look at the ways that divisions have been imposed, permitted, and accepted over decades, regardless of who is the U.S. president. But I also examine the natural inclination of human beings to be empathic with one another . . . and how such inclinations contrast with the borders that . . . perpetuate chronic forms of racial and economic injustice.
Miller welcomes us on a journey and to “a call for abolitionist resistance [to borders] through kindness . . . to create something beautiful, something human, from the broken pieces.”
While Miller’s book is based on firsthand reporting from his many encounters with border-crossers, immigration officials who prevent them, and humanitarian groups who rescue them, it is also rooted in a deep and broad spirituality of love: the kind of love of people and earth that will eventually heal the wounds of human separation. Jesus is invoked, as are the Franciscans, the Zapatistas, the Tohono O’odham people of Arizona, and numerous other healers. He quotes Rumi, the Muslim mystic poet: “[your] task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Miller concludes Build Bridges, Not Walls with a radiant vision of a world beyond our increasingly obsolete and dysfunctional nation-states, a world in which our humanity and creativity unite us into ever-evolving forms of human and natural communities on earth. In the words of Subcomandante Marcos of the present-day Zapatista Indigenous movement in Mexico:
In our dreams we have seen another world, an honest world, a world decidedly more fair than the one in which we now live. We saw that in this world there was no need for armies; peace, justice, and liberty were so common that no one talked about them as far-off concepts, but as things such as bread, birds, air, water, like book and voice.
Ken Jacobsen has lived and served in Quaker schools and communities for many years, along with his wife, Katharine. Since her passing in 2017, he carries on this work from their poustinia, a retreat house for sojourners, at their lakeside home in Wisconsin. Ken is a member of Stillwater Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative).