Note: This is excerpted from the prepared text for my keynote speech at the Celebrate Labor Day event on Woodstock Square in 2016. While some references may be dated—this was before the 2016 election which threw us all into crisis and resistance mode—it remains relevant as we celebrate again today at the same place at 11 am. Come hear what I have to say today, along with a slew of more worthy speakers.
This Labor Day I want to commend to you the working class virtue of solidarity even if you have never considered yourself a worker.
First we need to consider what solidarity is not….
Solidarity is not sympathy. Sympathy is a passive emotion. It also implies a separation from the object of sympathy and can teeter on pity, which is just sympathy tinged with revulsion. Empathy might be closer to the meaning in that it implies a common understanding of the distress. But empathy is also passive. Solidarity demands action.
Solidarity is not charity. Charity implies a power and privilege differential. The more powerful and more privileged deign to give to the less fortunate who are expected to respond with appropriate gratitude and humility. Solidarity is mutual aid among equals.
Solidarity is not altruism. Altruism is supposedly selfless giving requiring sacrifice but expecting no reward—except perhaps praise for being saint-like. Solidarity recognizes the commonality of our conditions and expects to by right receive support as well as give it.
Solidarity is not family. Families—and by extension surrogate families like clans, nations, religions, races and others—are expected to support their members out of blood obligation. Solidarity demands respect for commonality with the other. Solidarity with the stranger dismantles walls and promotes peace instead of a mad scramble over scarce resources.
|Solidarity by Kathe Kollwitz, 1932.|
Solidarity is not utopian. Utopians conjure up sweet dreams of the perfect. Utopians may simply drift on in the opium cloud of that dream. More dangerously, some utopians construct rigid ideologies around their vision which eventually require the ruthless suppression of anything and anyone not in conformity to that ideology. Solidarity is rooted in the common realities we face together and is interested in addressing the roots of the problems as well as ameliorating the immediate effects.
Solidarity is not all warm and fuzzy. Warm and fuzzy denies oppression. Solidarity recognizes that there are those whose own narrow self-interest causes them to exploit, subjugate, and abuse others. And solidarity demands common action to defend against such depredations and—yes—boldly to ultimately defeat the oppressors.
Solidarity is a recognition of our place in humanity, an ethic, and an active response to our common interests.
Solidarity enlarges our communities, builds bridges of respect that can span differences. It does not demand lock-step conformity to some ideological purity to act together in mutual support. It requires listening, really listening and not just waiting our turn to deliver a lecture. When generations of feminists supported Hillary Clinton passionately it means not sneering that they are voting their vaginas, but understanding why and ultimately standing with them just as we hope that they will stand with us for the dismantlement of corporate power.
Solidarity requires humility and taking the risk of having our fragile identities challenged. We cannot give more than lip service to Black Lives Matter unless we understand and take ownership of the White privilege understanding it is not a moral flaw but a condition we are born to. By breaking down our defenses we can collaborate in our mutual liberation with respect and understanding.
Most of all, solidarity requires commitment and action. There are no sidelines, no room for mere cheerleaders. Each and every one of us is called to put our bodies and our lives on the line again and again in some meaningful ways. And we are buoyed by the knowledge that others are prepared to do the same for us.
Can we make a promise this Labor Day to commit to the working class virtue of solidarity? Can we face the challenges not just of the coming elections, but in defending women’s bodies and choice, dismantlement the new slavery of mass incarceration, and standing in the Spirit Camp of the Standing Rock Sioux as they defend all of our water? There is a lot to do. No individual can do it all. But we can all do something.