Applied solidarity – some personal reflections

Phil Almond

Any hope of making our work, employment, communities and societies better places rests entirely on solidarity between people.

I am a social scientist, and broadly speaking of the left, but had probably never given what the word “solidarity” actually means that much thought. However, recent experiences, which among other things have led to the formulation of CERCnet, have led me to think about this rather a lot. So, here is what I think applied solidarity is, in practice, and what it is not.

a) It is very easy to say “solidarity”, particularly (in English-speaking countries) for those on the left. But too often we talk about solidarity for the relatively distant, about macro-politics, even as something of an abstract notion. A solidarity, in other words, for those who one cannot reasonably be expected to make genuine sacrifices for. I do view this as necessary. It is not, however, sufficient.

b) If you look around you, who is in need of actual acts of solidarity, now? What are you prepared to actually do, beyond feeling bad about bad things that are happening? Can you help? Is this at some possible cost (of any kind) to yourself? Are you willing to pay the price of the acts of solidarity that you think are right? If not, it is important to be honest with yourself about it. None of us are secular saints. We all, at some point or other, decide, consciously or otherwise, that the “right thing” would involve some form of sacrifice that we are not prepared to make. Most people probably also have “means/ends” dilemmas. People generally understand this. The important thing, I think, is not to “over-promise”, to be wary of slogans, and to think on an emotionally intelligent level about what you are prepared to do.

c) Emotional and practical solidarity at an individual level tends to be neglected in discussions on the left. This is unfortunate. When bad stuff happens to people, a lot of us worry about what to say to those people. Or if indeed to say anything. This is a serious mistake. If someone is suffering from what a previous post on this site refers to as the “symbolic violence” of the powerful, and you empathise with them in some way, if you want to display practical solidarity, the most basic thing is to contact them. Now it is possible that they do not want to talk to you at the moment, that they have other people to talk to, that they will not want to reply to your message. All that is up to them. Of course, if you are able and prepared to do something practical, then that is great. But even if you can’t, support starts with checking whether people are ok or not.

I am far from perfect on these points myself. The important thing is not our individual starting points here, but that we are prepared to learn. Equally, of course, the development of a solidarity adequate to the challenges of contemporary power structures involves many other elements not touched upon here. Nonetheless, the cause of those subjected to ‘symbolic violence’ would, though, in my view, be much advanced by well-meaning people becoming more aware of their potential for practical and emotional solidarity.

This post is written in a personal capacity.

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