Soundbites and slogans at The Wall
My high school Honors English teacher, Ms. Nancy Roach, was an intimidating presence. But what she seemed to lack in “warm fuzziness” she more than made up for by her unbridled passion for language. She savored well written sentences like a food critic savoring an excellent recipe. Even more so, she had a love of words- beautiful words- words that had nuanced meanings and rolled off the tongue like a foreign language.
Introducing us to new vocabulary every week, she would sound out the words and then read a sentence from which the meaning could be inferred. It has been fifty plus years since I have sat devouring new words in her classroom, and yet I still remember even the context sentences like this:
The coonskin cap was an anomaly in the Senate cloakroom.
Years later, as an English teacher myself trying to pass on that same passion for language, I remember commenting towards the end of my career, that at the rate we were going, our written language would be back to pictures and grunts in no time. Sadly, I fear we are closer than ever.
We have become a culture of soundbites and slogans.
Here’s the thing about sound bites and slogans. They fit easily into a tweet on X, or a post on Instagram, or a 20 second video on TikTok, or on one of the other numerous social media apps currently available.
Here’s the other thing about sound bites and slogans. They require no thinking, and they require no context. They can be easily passed on without investigation. They fit nicely on a scroll at the bottom of a TV screen, and many can be crammed into a speech without any connection to reality.
And never has this been more true than in sound bites and slogans directed at The Wall.
“Finish the wall and keep out the criminals,” has been a theme of a constant thumping on campaign trails and in the halls of Congress. Bumper stickers, memes, signs on street corners all carrying some version of this story.
But I have been wondering these days how many people who have strong opinions about The Wall have actually ever been there? How many have driven the bordering roads that run up and down hills and arroyos in the desert sun? How many have studied the cost to human life, the environment, and our own long held but often rarely practiced spiritual beliefs? Having spent even just one day traveling along this wall, my overall reaction, using some words I learned from Ms. Nancy Roach, is simply this:
The Wall is an abomination, and it is epitome of lunacy and hypocrisy.
The Wall, at a cost of billions of dollars, can never be finished. To do so would require it continue on to sovereign land of the Tohono O’Odom nation, which is not allowed. The Wall, at a cost of billions of dollars, is already in a state of disrepair, causing sections to be dismantled and repaired at added cost of millions per year. The Wall, at a cost of billions, cannot be completed because to do so interferes with the natural paths of water and animals, which is an environmental disaster.
And the Wall will never keep out people hungering for hope and for freedom in a land that promises both for all who seek asylum, but fails to deliver.
If you were to actually travel along The Wall on any given day, you might find vigilantes who travel from in and out of state because of the soundbites and slogans they digest from media sources. Because they are “law abiding citizens” they destroy water stations and they harass migrants, often passing on information gained to other “patriots” who then harass the sponsors.
And if you were to travel along The Wall, you might find armed members of conspiracy groups basically hunting for migrants in the desert to turn them over for deportation, which they believe is their legal obligation as “law abiding citizens” because of the information they get from, you know, soundbites and slogans.
You know what else you might find? On some days, you may find a small group of teens who have been traveling for fifteen days, the last three without food, like our pastor did on one of his humanitarian aid runs. And in the middle of that group, you might find, as he did, a three or four year old little girl who the group found wandering in the desert alone and adopted to keep her safe and alive.
And you might find yourself imagining, as I do every day now, how long that little girl walked by herself, and how long she might have stood in observance of whatever happened to her parents in that unforgiving desert. A toddler in the desert. Frightened. Lost. Confused.
You know what else you might find? Someone like the Samaritan next to me who regularly hikes the desert not far from us outside Tumacacori. He goes there because it is a level area migrants encounter after crossing two mountain ranges. He and others with him hope to find travelers in need of aid. Often they do, and are able to give food and water. Other times, he has found dead bodies lying exposed in the desert sun.
None of these stories of The Wall fit in a soundbite or a slogan. But they happen around us every hour of every day while men and women in “hallowed halls” throw around terms like “invaders” and “rapists” and “drug dealers” and create policies that do nothing more than stoke the flames of violence and prejudice.
So, with apologies to Ms Nancy Roach, I can offer this slogan of my own.
If you want to know what inhumanity and insanity look like, visit The Wall.
I may never visit it again, but the images are seared into my mind.
And I cannot close my eyes now without thinking of a little girl wandering in the desert and the bodies left lying under a scorching desert sun.
There is no soundbite to convey that inhumanity.