On Solidarity: Editorial

A group of protestors, with one carrying a sign that says 'We Are Better Than This.'

In our call out for this chapter we asked people to think about the nuances within solidarity, the opportunities for dissent. What might it mean to stand in solidarity, even alongside those with whom you disagree? How might we stand in alliance while also being attuned to difference? What place does solidarity have in the current political and ecological moment, and what forms of attention or dismantling does it require? How do we write through and with complicity, alliance, solidarity and their tensions?

We began writing this editorial on the day of a global Amazon workers’ strike, in which members of one of the globe’s largest corporations asked people to boycott Amazon’s services – which encompass trade in almost everything you can imagine, as well as streaming of digital TV, films and music – for 48 hours. “He does not care about us,” wrote one warehouse worker, about Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. “He just cares about using our bodies for profit. So we want him to feel what we feel.”

On the same day, Extinction Rebellion protests took place across the UK. Under the banner of a ‘Summer Uprising’ protesters held street parties and marches in Glasgow, Bristol and London, designed to paralyse normal activity, and force the UK government to act on a climate emergency. “Take a look in each others’ eyes,” said the activist Gail Bradbrook from a platform in Glasgow. “This is where the power lies.” Solidarity always begins with a body: your body. Your body representing other people’s. Their bodies, representing yours.

But bodies are never universal, and nor are the conditions for exchange. Solidarity has a particular and not always productive relation to social justice and working across difference. The critique of Extinction Rebellion (XR) raised by migrants and people of colour is a reminder of the limits, or exclusions, or potential factionalism in solidarity.  As the multiple authors of an open letter to XR point out, the group does not always acknowledge the racialised effects of colonial and capitalist violence, which caused and continue to perpetuate the climate emergency. Some of XR’s language and tactics in relation to the police demonstrate a lack of understanding of the ways in which Black people in particular experience institutionalised racism, as well as the precarious visibility of detainment. For every us, a them.

How, then, to find solidarity in a world of insoluble inequalities?

In their submission to this chapter, a collaboration with comic-book artist Ian Hornsby, Search Party are vigilantly attentive to the slipperiness of solidarity. Guarding just as vigilantly against the lure of despair, they search for new ways to express hope, hopefulness, togetherness.

In A Brief History of Violence, Caridad Svich writes a powerful hymn to the symbolism of solidarity as it echoes through the body. Mary Paterson imagines bodies crossing the same body of water, over and again, at different points in history. Alan Fielden creates a collage drawn from bodies of work on time, meaning and the longing for a connection, while A Lyre’s film sits unexpected texts side by side to re-suggest a body of resistance.

Ellen Wiles reminds us of the disempowerment of being disconnected from the body – staring at a screen instead of a person. Helen Savage writes of the working body – and with it; her texts are written during her unpaid lunch break. And Diana Damian Martin writes about the myths and meanings of cultural stereotypes, as they stretch through body memory, through language, dance across the tongue.

Sabrina Fuller gathers texts on solidarity that are so thick they are sometimes impossible to read. Maddy Costa takes the word march for a march, criss-crossing time and space. While Channing Tatum (the current name for the collaboration of Rohanne Udall and Paul Hughes) create a dance of echoing statements, touching at once absurdity and pride.

As ever, between the call-out for this chapter and its publication, we gathered as a body of collaborators for Something Other Live, to experience each other’s work aurally and physically, and collect donations for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Each of these works was presented live – Alan Fielden in duet with Jemima Yong, Maddy Costa with a quartet of metronomes, and Caridad Svich, who lives in the US, sharing the space with a recording made specially for the evening, also presented here. Tiffany Charrington’s text comes alive in performance, as she enacts a series of coincidences of the body – her poem is structured by accident, a hand-shuffling of hand-drawn cards. Chance encounters, and the gift of close attention: a solidarity of the passing moment, never to be repeated in quite the same way twice.

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