“WE NEED A NEW KIND OF SOLIDARITY”

If we are going to make social justice work in this 21st century, we will need a new kind of solidarity. To understand differences between the old and the new, it’s helpful to review and understand the kinds of solidarity that we are already familiar with. The best known—and most utilized—is the solidarity that emanates from social and political protest against specific kinds of injustice and violence. Certainly, the somber gatherings after the Paris carnage in November were a form of social protest that expressed solidarity of the French people against the extreme violence that they had just witnessed. In the USA, Black Lives Matter groups have been courageously organizing peaceful marches to express strong demands for recognition of the racial injustice which continues to endure in the USA, and the necessity for fast, critical, and substantive change.

This kind of social and political solidarity has been most useful when the existing injustice is obvious to anyone that cares to look, and the solution, if not immediately obvious, is still relatively simple to ascertain and implement. In these circumstances, protests carried forth using this type of social and political solidarity have an excellent track record of success. We need only look at workers rights in the 1930s and 1940s, civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, removal of corrupt government officials within numerous nations since the 1970s, and the uncounted smaller social movements that have expanded greater social justice to often abused and forgotten minority groups.

The driving force, at least when these social movements arrive at the overt protest stage, is a kind of solidarity that derives its protest energy from defiance and anger against demonstrated injustice. There is, however, a problem—this type of protest energy cannot be sustained over long periods of time. If these types of protests do not achieve their objectives within a relatively quick timeframe, they revert into a ‘resistance’ type of effort that is meant to hold on to the relative successes gained during the overt protest stage, and move forward quietly and incrementally on the unfulfilled objectives. The resistance group is however, much smaller, and therefore often weaker, than the larger protest group.[1]

There is also a second type of political and social solidarity that has recently become emblematic of our increasingly hyper-competitive, individualized, and technology driven world. Lilie Chouliaraki, discussing “solidarity in the age of post-humanitarianism” argues that only when the subject of solidarity is discussed as problem of communication, “that is, as a moral claim seeking to reconcile market, politics, and the media, that we can better understand how the spectacle of suffering is subtly but surely turning the West into a specific kind of public actor—the ironic spectator of vulnerable others”.[2] Through her analysis, Chouliaraki makes us aware of how solidarity has moved from a collective endeavor that focuses on the necessity to assist the vulnerable and those who suffer from injustice, to an individualized lifestyle choice which “shift towards a focus on ‘us’ rather than the other”. As a result, the author argues that these types of strategies “reflects and reproduces a specific neoliberal conception of humanitarianism that replaces conviction with consumerism”.[3]

The first type of solidarity that features defiance and anger in the face of injustice will always be useful. But it is limited to simple rather than complex manifestations of social injustice. The failures of both the relatively recent Wall Street protests and the Egyptian Spring manifestations amply attest to this lack of more complex capacity.

As to the ‘ironic spectator’ type of solidarity, it never even gets to the protest stage.   Instead, we are inundated with pleas for funding encased in brief descriptions of a worthy cause: redwood trees are being destroyed, send us money; Obamacare is being repealed, send us money; Syrian refugees need your help, send us money; the seas are rising due to climate change, send us money. In other words, the endless commoditization of everything.

However, there is a third type of solidarity that effectively responds to the question of “what is social justice?”, and supports it as well. While rarely recognized, it is exactly what is needed if real peace and justice are to blossom, take root, and expand in the beginning of our contentious 21st century. It is the solidarity that is created from collective social energy and inclusion, while relying on collective altruistic acts. The first type of solidarity demands our presence to say ‘No’ to an injustice. The second type of solidarity asks for our money to fund already defined programs—many of them excellent. But it is only this new and rarely recognized third type of solidarity that asks us to sit together, think together, act altruistically together, connect and feel together so that we can re-imagine and re-image our world for greater peace and justice.

The 21st century demands new and better solutions to the critical and complex problems that we now face. While collective anger and defiance can make necessary short-term reforms, they will not sustain the necessary processes for the longer-term, more profound strategic and institutional changes which are necessary. Instead, a collective solidarity based on collective acts of altruism that create social energy, critical thought, and connection among us, is demanded. And we have to do this collectively, in as diverse and heterogeneous groups that we can manage to put together, so that the responses that we decide upon resonate with our deepest and best values—otherwise it is just one more individualized opinion that can easily be dismissed no matter its potential. But the solidarity that brings together critical thought, deeply held value and emotion, and sustaining altruistic action can make the difference.

This Social Blog will return the first week of January, 2016. In the meantime, look around and notice that to really stay with an activity demands that we experience that glow, that exuberance—in effect that happiness—that connection to others and caring about others create. And then reflect that this type of social interaction creates a social type of power that is insufficiently tapped but remains a huge potential. See you next year.


 

[1] See Donnelly-Roark (2015) Social Justice and Deep Participation, chapters 1 and 6.

[2] Lilie Chouliaraki (2013) The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism, Polity Press, UK, p.2,

[3] Ibid, p.2 and pp.178-180