030 | Leah Cowan | Should we abolish borders?

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

The border isn’t a line on the periphery of the country, says Leah Cowan, author of Border Nation. It is a fog that covers all of society and can descend upon you at any time if you’re an immigrant or racialized as “other.” It wasn’t always thus and it can be ended, she insists.

Show notes
00:43 Intro
02:06 What are borders for?
04:12 Borders, capitalism and racism
08:41 Did borders ever truly disappear?
10:15 The border isn't on the periphery, it's everywhere
13:07 Immigration enforcement is invisible to the rest of society
19:25 How the border breeds crime and violence
23:38 Do borders do any good?
24:43 Immigrants don't owe you a thing
29:11 The case for abolishing borders
34:20 "The pandemic is a portal"
36:14 Outro

Sources & credits
👀 The pandemic is a portal, by Arundhati Roy. The Financial Times. 2020. (free to read)

📚 Border Nation: A Story of Migration, by Leah Cowan. Pluto Press. 2021.

Music by Ofshane via Youtube’s audio library


Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:00] Hey, it's Isabelle and this is another episode of Borderline. As you know, this is a hundred percent independent media funded by its listeners and readers and members. And I would be super grateful if you would go to Borderlinepod.com, first sign up for the newsletter, it's entirely free to get every episode and stay in touch, but also consider a paid membership, which is what helps me continue to bring you Borderline every week.

[00:00:24] That's at join.borderlinepod.com. You'll get every episode two days early, as well as more content and there's a lot more coming this spring. So check it out and see if it is for you, and two people that did this past week are Nicole Stephens and Bérengère Parmly. Thank you and welcome. Now on with the episode.


[00:00:43] Leah Cowan: [00:00:43] There's all these different ways that borders are enacted within the country and I conceptualize it less as a fence around the periphery. and more as this kind of heavy fog, which lies across society.

[00:00:58] Isabelle Roughol: [00:01:08] Hi, I'm Isabelle and this is Borderline.

[00:01:12] Could we get rid of borders entirely? Not the geopolitical lines that distinguish one country from another or one culture from another, but what my guest today calls the border regime, the political and security apparatus that determines where and how one may live based on where and how one is born.

[00:01:30] Leah Cowan says yes. It's a pretty radical idea coming out of pretty radical politics, more radical I suspect than many people listening. And I know you're an open-minded bunch. Therefore it is always worth listening to and examining these ideas.

[00:01:44] Leah Cowan is the author of Border Nation: A Story of Migration, just out with Pluto Press. She works at Project 17, an advice center for migrant families with no recourse to public funds and is the former political editor of Gal-Dem. If you're not in the UK, it's a pretty big progressive online magazine here. Here is my conversation with Leah Cowan.

[00:02:06] What are borders for?

[00:02:06] To get us going, in broader strokes, what our borders for? What purpose do they serve?

[00:02:13] Leah Cowan: [00:02:13] Hmm. I mean, I think borders exist for a number of reasons. I mean, the kind of historical foundations of borders is that they exist as a kind of extension of the colonial project. So obviously Britain went out into the world and colonized and marauded 90% of countries in some way and brought all of that wealth back to the hub of the empire. And then borders exist as this barrier for people who are living in formerly colonized countries or countries where Britain has interfered in different ways and left very kind of difficult situations, borders exist to prevent people from whom wealth has been extracted from coming back to the hub of the empire and accessing that wealth.

[00:03:10] So they exist as a kind of barrier. That's the kind of underpinning, historical roots of borders. I think another facet is that they exist as a kind of profit, a profit-making enterprise. And I mean that, in the sense that you know, deportations have increased in the past couple of decades. And so to have the profits that are being made by the private companies who are outsourced to carry them, and we can see the same things happening with immigration detention centers. You have a lot of kind of private prisons in the US, there's also privatization happening here in the UK.

[00:03:46] And that kind of dovetails with the deportation of people who have served spent time in prison. So there's this massive web of outsourced, industry, which the border regime is very much tied up in, which creates a lot of money for those private companies. So those are the kinds of two working parts of the border and, and why I understand them to exist in the present day.

[00:04:12] Borders, capitalism and racism

Isabelle Roughol: [00:04:12] That's interesting. we're gonna address both of those. And starting with your first point, which is to link to, to colonialism, which I'll be honest is something I've found fascinating. Well, first that statistic, that 90% of the world influenced, conquered, touched in some way by, by the British empire, was a pretty stunning stat to me.

[00:04:33] I guess I hadn't really thought of borders as that link to colonialism. I guess it's more potent in the British example because of the history of the British But I guess that could apply to the US, to my country France certainly as well. Is there something then to the fact that borders seem to have risen in importance as empires were disappearing?

[00:05:06] Leah Cowan: [00:05:06] Yeah. I mean, I think, I mean, I'm trying not to focus too much on like the example of Britain. I mean, that is,

[00:05:12] Isabelle Roughol: [00:05:12] That's fair. That's the book

[00:05:15] Leah Cowan: [00:05:15] But yeah. I mean, for example, in Britain the 1905 Aliens Act is often pointed to as the kind of the beginning of immigration laws, which create the kind of which, which is the border kind of in action, right? And the 1905 Aliens Act primarily targeted poor Jewish people who are categorized as quote unquote aliens who were seeking protection from persecution. And before 1905 laws have been passed in countries that were colonized by Britain to stop people traveling from the colonies to the central hub of the empire.

[00:05:52] So there's this kind of through line from pre 1900 immigration laws and borders existing to kind of keep people at bay. And then we see kind of more of these immigration laws being applied on British soil. And I think it kind of tells us that obviously Britain's borders are a fiction ostensibly created to kind of shut out racialized people from the UK in order to protect the interests of capital and, moneymaking. And the, kind of broader idea underpinning this, which has maybe more of a kind of international application is this idea of racial capitalism, which is something that the theorist Cedric Robinson describes as the idea that capitalism is this economic system and it relies on the accumulation of wealth and that can only happen by producing and moving through relationships of, of severe inequality among human groups. So this is the kind of racist foundation for borders, I think, which hopefully the book draws out this idea that capitalism and racism are so kind of intrinsically linked. and the bordering project is both a project of, of kind of racism and classism at the same time.

[00:07:10] If we think about the people who can cross borders and who can't it kind of runs along lines of race and class, definitely in a very global sense.

[00:07:21] Isabelle Roughol: [00:07:21] Yeah, I was struck reading it just how different the experience of borders is depending on your national origins, your race and your socioeconomic status, from something that is synonym with holidays and, and discovery and adventure, and something that can be extremely violent.

[00:07:42] Leah Cowan: [00:07:42] Yeah, absolutely. And I think, if you look at the early pandemic to kind of take a very kind of topical example and how the virus spread it was. Through it really spiked in these international cities of business and commerce. It was Paris, London, New York, Milan, Northern Italian cities. And it was people you know, people with wealth and privilege continuing to cross borders, even in a state of global pandemic. And, and spreading, I mean, there's other kinds of factors at play for sure, but it's very interesting the way that the virus spiked in those cities, it wasn't you know, working class people in the global South flying around the world, spreading the virus, which kind of tells us something around the, the privilege of who can move even in a, in a time of crisis when moving is actually putting a lot of people's lives on the line.

[00:08:41] Did borders ever truly disappear?

Isabelle Roughol: [00:08:41] But it's something that has been now extremely limited. And in fact, borders are back very much so in a very strong way, as much as they had gone, I guess, again, they had gone for a particular set of the population if you think about free movement and visa free travel.

[00:09:02] Leah Cowan: [00:09:02] Yes. I mean, yes and no. I think that the idea that borders had gone even though we had this kind of EU free movement, there were still, and again, particularly focusing on Britain's role, you know... Operation Nexus was this kind of joint operation happening in the UK between the Met Police and the Border Force, which was about rounding up rough- sleeping, ostensibly rough-sleeping EEA people and deporting them to countries within the EU, even in a time of free movement, because there was this piece of guidance that had been kind of very quietly put out, which said that if you're rough sleeping, that's a breach of your treaty rights. And therefore your right to reside in the country, even if you're an EU national would be up for debate.

[00:09:53] So as much as we can conceive of living in this kind of liberal utopian world of crossing borders, there's always that, that pushback happening again, along the lines of race and class in particular which I think is, is a centuries old tactic really.

[00:10:15] The border isn't on the periphery, it's everywhere

Isabelle Roughol: [00:10:15] Hmm, that example of, of rough sleeping is a good illustration of a point that I think you make throughout the book in touches, which is that, and correct me if I'm wrong, it seems like borders aren't just something that you cross once, kind of on the edges of the country, which is how people picture borders. But in fact, if you're an immigrant, the border is something that you encounter every day.

[00:10:40] Leah Cowan: [00:10:40] Yeah. Yeah, completely. And there's this brilliant phrase from the no borders movement, which is an and I'm probably gonna like misquote it now: we didn't, we didn't cross the border, but the border crossed us. It's this sense of, yeah, it's not just about stepping over this kind of geopolitical line from one country into another. It's about, we only have to look at the Windrush scandal to know about people who've lived in this country for decades and decades, very much consider themselves to be British, call this country their own, and the border will continue to cross you.

[00:11:13] And we see that in the sense of the everyday borders, whether it's right to rent checks, when you're trying to rent a property. And there's now kind of legislation in the UK since 2014 and 2016, which means that you have to show your identity documents in order to do that, or your landlord can face a fine or jail time. Whether it's having to show documents in healthcare settings you, maybe you've just given birth and you're slapped with this like thousands of pounds bill and you're having your ID checked. Whether it's nationality data being collected in schools.

[00:11:48] There's all these different ways that borders are enacted within the country and I can kind of conceptualize it less as like a fence around the periphery. and more as this kind of heavy fog, which, which lies across society and can impact you at every turn if you're somebody who's subject to immigration control, or even just kind of racialized as somebody that is not within the kind of State's vision of, of what little Britain might look like.

[00:12:21] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:21] I just found an example of that last week, which selfishly struck me as a, as a European, because it was the first time that it was so in my face. It was a job ad from the Scottish government, and the job advertisement required applicants with EU citizenship to justify of their settled status before applying. So you're not even at the point of signing a work contract, but before applying and before settled status is even a requirement because that's before June. So yeah. That was one.

[00:12:58] Leah Cowan: [00:12:58] Yeah. I mean, it's, it's, it's all changing, isn't it? This, this kind of landscape of the settlement scheme, a brave new world.

[00:13:07] Sure.

[00:13:07] Immigration enforcement is invisible to the rest of society

Isabelle Roughol: [00:13:07] It is, it is indeed. And so the other thing that you pointed out earlier is borders as a profit-making enterprise, really. That's probably the chapter that is, that was most eye-opening for me because the whole, I mean, immigration enforcement, and immigration detention especially, is so completely invisible to us in society. And until you encounter it as an individual. It's even more invisible than prisons, it just seems like we don't know it's there.

[00:13:41] Leah Cowan: [00:13:41] Which is remarkable really considering that one of the kind of --Well, is it remarkable? It's not-- one of the stated reasons that the government has immigration detention is to kind of act as a deterrent for people who are, I don't remember the exact wording, but you know, seeking to frustrate immigration law or whatever.

[00:14:01] So immigration detention is supposed to be this kind of beacon warning people: if you come to this country and you don't have papers, then this is where you will end up. But then they're hidden in these kinds of shadowy business parks in the middle of nowhere, which then begs the question, you know: Is it a deterrent or is there another agenda at play here that's not being stated, which as you've said, as I argue the book, I think it is.

[00:14:29] These are largely run by private outsourced companies at a much... You know, if you wanted to make a very dehumanizing business case for why immigration detention shouldn't exist it's much more expensive to maintain these effectively category B high security prisons than it would be to enable people to kind of live in the community whilst they're sorting out their status or waiting for their asylum claim to be decided or whatever it is. So the kind of logic behind them doesn't really, doesn't really stack up. I think that's, that's part of the, the big red flag that suggests there's another agenda at play really.

[00:15:16] Isabelle Roughol: [00:15:16] Because who are the people who are kept there? It's not necessarily people who've sort of exhausted all their appeals and are awaiting departure.

[00:15:24] Leah Cowan: [00:15:24] I mean, anyone who's kind of subject to immigration control can be detained at any time and detained indefinitely. I think Britain is the only country in Europe that practices indefinite immigration detention. I mean, the places that people are most likely to be detained are if you're reporting. So if, as part of a condition on your leave, you have to go and sign on a reporting center maybe every week or two weeks or month or if you've just made an asylum claim or at a port or place of entry in the country that's also a place that people are likely to be detained, or on a raid. So often there are kind of immigration raids on shops and businesses and pre pandemic kind of transport hubs as well, where people would get picked up and put in detention. But yeah, it's any, anybody who's subject to immigration control can be detained at any time indefinitely.

[00:16:27] Isabelle Roughol: [00:16:27] And what are the conditions there?

[00:16:29] Leah Cowan: [00:16:29] They're pretty terrible. And they're terrible because of the fact that they are run by these private companies who are obviously trying to make profits on the money that they're given. So they're kind of these companies like Serco and G4S and Geo Group compete for these government tenders. And obviously the way to get the job is to offer the lowest price. and then if you want to take home a big profit if you're getting, I don't know, 120 pounds a day less, I've just plucked that figure at random for you know, to detain one person for a day. You want to spend as little as that money on that person's needs, whether it's their food or their healthcare, or their kind of legal access to legal support so that you can take home a bigger, a bigger wedge of that money and put it into the pockets of your shareholders.

[00:17:24] And that's very much what is routinely seen. I used to organize with a group called SOAS Detainee Support and we would work with people in immigration detention centers who were fighting for release or kind of wanted some support and wanted to have a chat while they were in there. It's a very lonely and isolating place. And people would complain of not complaining, just kind of raise the issue of the terrible food, whether it's chips three times a day and no vegetables and really kind of, yeah, not nutritious food at all. Really terrible health care people complaining of high blood pressure, nosebleeds, and just being given paracetamol. on the occasion, people were deemed unwell enough to have a doctor's appointment or a hospital appointment. They would have to attend it in handcuffs, which meant that lots of people didn't want to do that because obviously that's very humiliating and embarrassing. And so people would kind of hold off accessing health care, even if it was a really serious issue which is why you see incredibly high rates of self-harm and suicide and deaths in detention, kind of comparative to the non-detained population.

[00:18:37] It takes a real toll on people's mental health, to be detained somewhere and not know when you're going to be released. I think some people who had been in prisons and then had their prison sentence finished and then been transferred to an immigration detention center had said at least in prison, you've, you're given a date and you're kind of counting down the days to that day of when you're released. Whereas in detention, you're just kind of counting up this indefinite amount of days, not knowing how many how big this, this figure is going to get. so it takes a pretty serious toll, I think, on people's mental and emotional wellbeing to be in that indefinite incarcerated situation. Yeah.

[00:19:25] How the border breeds crime and violence

Isabelle Roughol: [00:19:25] Hmm. That kind of puts the lie to the idea that borders protect from crime and violence. It's more of a creator of violence. And crime too. I mean, you mention kind of how borders feed smugglers…

[00:19:43] Leah Cowan: [00:19:43] Hmm. Yeah. The whole idea of modern, the kind of contemporary framing of modern slavery, I think is very interesting very ideological. There's a really great book called something like the truth about modern slavery by Emily Kenway, which came out maybe just this month or last month, unpicks this whole notion of like the Conservative party in the UK really ran with this concept of the modern slavery.

[00:20:10] in 2015, they, they had the modern slavery act, which was this whole kind of concerted effort to crack down on these you know, gang masters and modern slavery rings.

[00:20:24] Isabelle Roughol: [00:20:24] There were ads all over the airport I remember.

[00:20:26] Leah Cowan: [00:20:26] Exactly. Yeah. This is what a modern slave looks like and here's how to spot the signs. But it's very interesting how, again, this really kind of dovetails with immigration control.

[00:20:40] It's very much about like firming up the border and stopping people crossing and stopping, stopping these smugglers getting in and stopping people being able to move rather than looking at the real kind of issue of what has become termed modern slavery, which is labor exploitation. People being you know, can maybe come into the country, maybe through a support from somebody else who's bringing them here. But then the job that they thought they were coming for, isn't what they thought it was. And rather than them being able to have recourse to workers’ rights and labor protections it becomes an issue of, of trafficking and smuggling rings, which you know, isn't really accurate for something to be trafficking.

[00:21:28] It has to meet a series of different criteria, which includes an intention to, to exploit and a kind of concealment of the reality of it and all of these different criteria that quite often on kind of applicable to a situation, which is, which is actually largely about labor exploitation.

[00:21:47] It's not about someone being like kidnapped from their bed and like putting it in the back of a van and driven over the border. That's very rarely the situation. it's more about people kind of coming to this country, seeking kind of economic seeking employment, or a different, a different way of making money and facing expectation when they get here.

[00:22:11] Primarily because if you're somebody who's undocumented your boss knows that they can, they can treat you in that way because they know that you're not going to be able to access the usual routes of, of recourse and protection that a documented worker can. So, yeah, in short, that's the site of harm in the situations I've described come about because of the border. The border creates the harm.

[00:22:37] If the border wasn't there or the border wasn't kind of upheld in this very rigid way that it is now, there'd be nothing for someone to be trafficked across, for example, or if when people came here and they were undocumented, they could still kind of report things to the police if they wanted to, or report things to different bodies that can assist them to trade unions, without fear of like being deported, then that would remove that site of harm.

[00:23:07] But the modern slavery act angle is very much about like firming up to the border and thinking that's going to stop people moving when people have moved since the dawn of time, that's always going to happen. You're just going to make it more dangerous.

[00:23:22] Isabelle Roughol: [00:23:22] That's something we discussed a couple of weeks ago with Zoe Gardner on the, on the podcast: the idea that this hostility towards immigrants doesn't stop immigration. It just makes them more vulnerable to all sorts of, of abuse.

[00:23:36] Leah Cowan: [00:23:36] absolutely. Yeah.

[00:23:38] Do borders do any good?

Isabelle Roughol: [00:23:38] Hmm. Hmm. Is there anything that a border is good for? I mean maybe, maybe you're not the person I should ask.

[00:23:44] but

[00:23:45] Leah Cowan: [00:23:45] That's a great question. I don't think anyone's ever asked me that. I mean I don't, I mean, border in the sense of like the border regime? No, I think it's, it's ultimately harmful, that it's ultimately exacerbating and kind of reliant upon inequalities. I mean, people can still demarcate this is this country, and this is the next, and people will always want to kind of group together and have perhaps national identities and national cultures. These are very kind of amorphous things that I don't think can be even like prescribed by borders anyway, but the border regime as it exists. I don't think has a function in a society that is premised upon things like care and compassion and justice which we might hope that's what we're kind of building towards perhaps.

[00:24:43] Immigrants don't owe you a thing

Isabelle Roughol: [00:24:43] There's another premise that you, that you unpack in another favorite chapter of mine. It's the notion of the good immigrant and that the immigrant kinda has to contribute. Shouldn't they? I mean, shouldn't we all? I guess we should all contribute to our community, but is there, is there an extra burden that should be placed on the immigrant to contribute to society?

[00:25:12] Leah Cowan: [00:25:12] Yeah. The word that you use there about community is, is definitely more what I'm interested in. I'm definitely interested in people's maybe not contribution, but the way that we build communities together and the way that we kind of look out for each other in the way that we can be more kind of caring and build communities that are based on, on harm reduction and everybody having what they need to be safe and stimulated and, and to, to live comfortable lives.

[00:25:42] in terms of contributing, I don't think for me, there is necessarily a kind of a different burden on somebody contributing, just because they've come from a different country. I think if we look at the broader picture, as we were talking about, right at the beginning of kind of why borders exist and how they came to exist as an extension of the colonial project, if anything people crossing borders and coming to this country, particularly from the global South have an entitlement actually to the wealth and the riches of this country, which come in different shapes and sizes not just like literal money, but access to opportunities, access to housing, access to health care access to green space, all of those things. And if anything, the people who have had that wealth extracted from them shouldn't have to contribute anything.

[00:26:37] They're just returning to like the scene of the crime almost. I don't know if that's maybe too radical a framing for whatever this day is Tuesday evening, but yeah, I definitely don't think there's any, there should be any particular onus on anyone to contribute more than anyone else? just because they've crossed the border to come here.

[00:27:02] Isabelle Roughol: [00:27:02] Hmm. So it's really that notion that immigration is really the reverse of the medal of colonialism and they go hand in hand.

[00:27:12] Leah Cowan: [00:27:12] Yeah. I mean, yeah. That's, that's my very simplistic framing, but yes, I think we can talk about borders or migration ahistorically. We have to understand like why migration happens and why particular routes of migration happen. If you, yeah, if you look at something again, like the Windrush scandal it wasn't just like a bunch of people being like, "Oh yeah, Britain, like that looks interesting. Maybe we'll just pop over there." Like the reason that people like my grandparents could come from Jamaica as technically you know, citizens even though they weren't treated as thus, is because of Britain's kind of long colonial history in, in Jamaica, right back from kind of slavery and how that then dovetails with more contemporary, like economic projects through kind of causing the country to rack up a lot of debt through the world bank and structural adjustment programs. There's a long history there, of, of Britain's involvement. so people are very much retracing, very well-worn steps to come to these islands. I think.

[00:28:22] Isabelle Roughol: [00:28:22] Hmm. Well, it's no surprise then within that framing that, that people would have a hard time grasping immigration because we're not really grasping that colonial history either.

[00:28:34] Leah Cowan: [00:28:34] Yeah. Yeah, I think so. And seeing it as, even as immigration like when my granddad came, he came as a, as a British citizen. He didn't come as a migrant. so

[00:28:49] Isabelle Roughol: [00:28:49] Right. He could have come from Yorkshire.

[00:28:51] Leah Cowan: [00:28:51] Yeah, exactly. So I think it's, maybe that's hard for people to kind of wrap their heads around as well.

[00:29:00] Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:00] Hmm. So I think it's, it's been made clear now in the last half hour or so that you are a border abolitionist?

[00:29:09] Leah Cowan: [00:29:09] Yes. hide that one very well.

[00:29:11] The case for abolishing borders

Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:11] No, no, that's, that is you know, quite a, quite a radical position that I think even a lot of people you know, who are regular listeners of this podcast and pretty globalist in their mindset, may not embrace, I think. How do you... I'm sure you, you hear it a lot that it's at best that it's a naive utopia and, or even that it's dangerous and not something that we should want. So how do you, how do you sell this idea of a borderless world to people who maybe aren't, whose politics aren't as radical as yours?

[00:29:45] Leah Cowan: [00:29:45] I think it's useful to remember that kind of borders aren't this... they haven't been here since the dawn of time they're a relatively new concept. and up until relatively recently last a hundred years or whatever, most of the world's borders, you could cross them without a passport.

[00:30:05] So the idea of abolishing borders isn't this fantasy idea where we're like, what would that even look like? Like how would it work? Like it's in recent history, that that was the case. People have been crossing borders for a long time and they will continue to cross, I think maybe a useful way of looking at it is that.

[00:30:25] A world without borders is very much rooted in ideas of fairness and social justice, rather than the structural inequality, which is how the world is commonly organized. so it'd be about looking at the fact that. There is enough resources in the planet for everybody to have what they need, but there are issues of distribution and certain countries having a lot of something and that not existing in another place. So actually a no borders position says if people can move around more freely, then there'll be more. and again, yes, I realized this veers into the, the language of kind of utopia, but more harmony, more people being able to have what they need, which means that you know, inequality is what leads to things, being certain actions, which are kind of criminalized. People not having access to resources, people not having access to housing and mental health care. These are the things that make people not be able to operate within the kind of laws of the land. ,

[00:31:29] So no borders is about, in the same way that prison abolition is not about necessarily depending on your tactics just throwing open the doors of the prison and being like, there we go, prison abolished it's about building the world that would make those things obsolete. So creating the structures, which means that borders don't exist. I would argue they currently don't need to exist, but if people are concerned about. You know, things like housing and access to healthcare, and always there going to be enough to go around.

[00:32:04] Actually, yes, there is a crisis in housing and there is a crisis in the NHS, but it's not because of migration actually way more people could come here and things would be fine if those things weren't kind of being chronically underfunded by the government that we currently have.

[00:32:21] So it's about kind of practically looking at the fact that open borders or no borders is very doable. What are the things that we need to create and put in place in our society so that everybody can have what they need.

[00:32:35] Isabelle Roughol: [00:32:35] Does that mean that some people should agree to have less so that everyone can have enough.

[00:32:44] Leah Cowan: [00:32:44] When we talk about the idea of less, I mean, it's not going to be your average working-class person, having like their salary cut by 50%. Like there's a certain kind of strata of incredibly wealthy people in the world. You know, there are, there are billionaires, billionaires don't need to exist. Like once you have enough money to keep yourself safe and comfortable and have a roof over your head and have your food and recreation and leisure, like you don't need billions of pounds or dollars of wealth to exist in this, in this world comfortably. So we're not talking about your everyday person having to take a massive hit.

[00:33:19] We're talking about the massive chasm of inequality between the very rich and people who are living on $5 a day, $1 a day, which is 10% of people in the world living on $2 a day or less, we're saying let's even out that massive inequality chasm so that every everybody can have what would be by pretty much everybody's standard and incredibly comfortable life. We just wouldn't have like billionaires and then people living on the poverty line. We would have everybody kind of comfortably being in the middle. And, and yeah, this very much moves towards kind of socialist principles of universal, basic income. And yeah, making sure that if you start earning a billion pounds, you actually have to kind of give that back out to society rather than keeping it for yourself.

[00:34:09] Isabelle Roughol: [00:34:09] Hmm. The challenge being that the people who have that money are the people who hold the reins.

[00:34:17] Leah Cowan: [00:34:17] Yes. Very much.

[00:34:20] "The pandemic is a portal"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:34:20] Is it, is it an opportunity for, for reinvention for, for something maybe? Are you hopeful?

[00:34:31] Leah Cowan: [00:34:31] I think, I think we have to be. I think that's the, the, the joy of abolition is that it's premised upon this, this vision, which again isn't this fantasy like pie in the sky idea. It's a vision that's being enacted in the here and now. Like people are already crossing borders. People are already living in a kind of borderless fashion.

[00:34:50] So abolition is, is very much a kind of creative, visionary, kind of political approach. I think there's this really great talk that Arundhati Roy did. And I think it's called The Pandemic Is a Portal, or maybe that was just the phrase from it that I remembered a lot. and she was talking about, yeah, the pandemic is this opportunity to, to move through the portal and think very seriously about what baggage are we going to leave behind and what are we going to bring through that portal with us?

[00:35:20] and it's an opportunity in the work that I'm doing, we're kind of saying to the government, this is the way that. Immigration controls and restrictions are impacting families. in the pandemic, can you kind of change these things? Can you expand this category of people who can access these different benefits and then using that as a leap pod to extend that beyond the pandemic?

[00:35:45] It's not just going to be a temporary grace period where people can get free school meals or whatever, we're kind of building it for the long haul. So I think it is an opportunity to, to rethink and retrain focus on what's needed for, for the world that we want to build together.

[00:36:03] Isabelle Roughol: [00:36:03] Excellent. That is a better note to end on. Thank you so much your time and your passion for this.

[00:36:12] Leah Cowan: [00:36:12] Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

[00:36:14] Isabelle Roughol: [00:36:16] A big thank you to Leah Cowan. Her book, Border Nation: A Story of Migration, is a short and super effective primer on everything immigration and borders in the UK and beyond. It's published by Pluto Press.

[00:36:28] You'll find links in the show notes as well as to Arundhati Roy's piece, The Pandemic is a Portal, which Leah referenced. And as always a full transcript at Borderlinepod.com where you can also sign up for the newsletter and become a member, which would absolutely make my day.

[00:36:43] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. I'll talk to you next week.

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Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.