Solidarity: Does the Body Bleed? Does It Tear or Tear Up?

by on Mar.18, 2011

The People's House

A week ago, I posted on the possibility of realizing the connectedness of widely scattered bodies and hinted at the existence of a larger body politic than the one we are accustomed to acknowledging ( Whereas bodies politic are often thought to be limited by national borders, provinces, districts, and voting bodies, I suggested that the slogan “We Are Wisconsin” is a key marker of the present state of solidarity as well as a potential opening to increase our awareness of solidarity beyond traditional borders. One of the most quoted recent examples of this in the social imagination comes from the report of an Egyptian ordering pizza for protesters in Wisconsin.

In this context, “We Are Wisconsin” means “We Are Egypt” means “We Are Tunisia” means “We Are Libya” means “We Are Yemen” means “We Are Bahrain.” The present state of affairs in all of these places are potentially relatable in sundry and subtle ways. We should add to the list: “We Are Michigan.” I predict that Michigan will rise from its ashes or fall further into domination by corporate heads based on the lived reality of this slogan. I put the slogans in quotes because we must realize that they are inactive until actually spoken, until we have changed posture in some way to accommodate their reality in actual life lived beyond the realm of internet likes and commentary. And it bothers me, really, that more Americans outside of Wisconsin have not yet expressed this reality with more than words, not yet with their bodies. The difference between Wisconsin or Egypt or Tunisia or Bahrain or Libya and Michigan, for example, is that the tweeters were in the streets, not sitting at home. But there is still time.

We Are Michigan. For myself, I write it without quotes. Not because I live in Michigan, but because I chose to stand on Wednesday with other protesters at the foot of the capitol building in Lansing on the eve of Governor Snyder’s signing into law the Emergency Financial Manager legislation that gives unprecedented powers to the Governor and to the potential city CEOs/dictators he will appoint. This party is just starting.

I also say with pride that We Are Union, not because I am in a union or have ever been in a union, but because yesterday I stood up with thousands of union members and will continue to support their cause against some forty bills introduced to the Michigan legislature that seek to limit their rights to collective bargaining. I have worked alongside them, have benefited from their labors, and respect their contributions to the society in which I live. Former union members who have lost their jobs to corporate outsourcing, downsizing, and the breaking of the housing bubble are among my students. My grandfather was a union member who lost his retirement during the union-busting years of the 1980s. Former classmates and friends are teachers in primary and secondary schools. If these are not my brothers and sisters, then they are at least the cousins I have grown up with.

For some that I have talked to (those who are not outright opposed), all of this standing and voicing and carrying on of slogans causes a scratching of the head which in turn brings the question, “How is this going to help?” My answer is another question: How can you not feel the necessity of the moment? Don’t you sense what is going on? Don’t you also feel compelled to stand? And what is it in your thinking that is keeping you from doing so? Especially if you stood up at a Tea Party rally in the past election cycle, how can you now sit down and tacitly approve when the state and national Constitutions you so vehemently defended are now being attacked by the very people you helped vote into power? How can you not sense the wounds being opened in the body politic? How can you not feel solidarity in this moment?

"Let them eat cake."

As much as programmatical and theoretical concerns matter, there is a primal sympathetic nerve center that must be awakened before solidarity can occur. It is the innate realization that the stuff of other people (indeed, the stuff of animals, birds, fish, and even plants and the earth itself) is the same stuff of which my own body consists. If any body I know of is hurting, then I hurt, too. At the very least, though you may approve of the appointment of Emergency Financial Managers for the cities of Detroit and Benton Harbor, how will you like it when this or another governor of Michigan appoints a corporate head to run your local community, disband your locally determined agreements, and remove from office your locally elected leaders? This is a legislative wound against us all and an overreaching of power that flies directly in the face of stated Tea Party aims.

It is no irony that a sense of solidarity is often portrayed as completely at odds with what is called fundamentalist thinking, and, in my opinion, a special brand of militant fundamentalist thinking lies behind or is used to justify much that the strengthening solidarity movement opposes.

A little generalization makes this clear. Solidarity brings to mind union and togetherness, cooperation and interrelationship, the organic nature of life as sprouting from common organic principles to be discovered and honored. At the same time, solidarity is born out of variety, its disparate parts. It is the coming together of unlike parties. If these parties were already together, there would be no need for solidarity. Solidarity is a quivering mass of energy coming together from all directions.

Multiplied Meanings

On the other hand, fundamentalism brings to mind definition, separation, formalism, stability, the absolute, a pencil sharpened to an infinite point, every tool carefully defined and excluded from all others, to be used when needed and otherwise remain silent. Unity does not result from extreme fundamentalism. Rather, extreme fundamentalism is a magnet that attracts iron shavings while repelling what are deemed polar opposites. Fundamentalism often fractures, slivers, and isolates. You must become an iron shaving to stick to it; no other metal will do. While I do not object to the rights of fundamentalists to their beliefs — every group has its defining characteristics and muzzling any one group muzzles all — I do object to militant fundamentalism that demands all others to either become iron shavings or take their place on the losing side.

It perhaps IS an irony that both solidarity and fundamentalism are hard to argue with, the proverbial unstoppable force meets the immovable object when fully activated and thrown head to head. That is maybe a good description of the present state of affairs, and a topic for another post. What is important here is to realize that fundamentalism relies on ideology for its organization and sense of unity while true solidarity relies on the recognition of interrelationship as a foundation for unity, that what affects you affects me even if it doesn’t have an immediately visible real-world effect on me. In this way, solidarity becomes more fundamental — that is, basic to life — than fundamentalism could ever be with its tabulations and careful compartmentalizations.

If the body is hurting, I am hurting. This flies in the face of the present militant fundamentalist emphasis on individual success and responsibility, an emphasis that claims the success of the CEO is all his own and not at all attributable to those who labor. The saying “No man is an island” carries a false value among extreme fundamentalists. Given the ideological constraints of militant fundamentalist thinking, it is hard to remain a rugged individual and yet give a cup of cold water to a person in need (considered a Biblical mandate) who does not share the same ideology.

This cup of cold water is a deceptive symbol in that it is easily dismissed in an America where people do not typically die of thirst because of a lack of readily available water. “Well of course I would give a cup of cold water, but I don’t see anyone dying of thirst.” This is a convenient aversion of the mind’s eye. The actual meaning of the cup of cold water is that which one has materially with them, stored up as in a well, that one has the capacity to give, that the other requires in order to keep living. This sounds much like the corporate world that saw record profits in last year’s third quarter but has yet to start hiring in earnest ( As a society, we once decided to give from our wells to those who had thirst, but those wells are now covered and padlocked, charged admission, pay to play, reserved for themselves by unelected corporate masters and their elected buddies. The bulk of us are to be Lazaruses, picking scraps that fall from the table, and be happy about it.

Cup of cold water giving becomes more difficult when the other is perceived to have grievously gone against the accepted ideology, which is then interpreted as a source for what’s wrong in the world. There is a crucial difference in meaning between the decision to give as a body politic and the decision to relegate all giving to “charity” by those who have managed to oil the gears of society for their own benefit at the expense of others. When giving in the militant fundamentalist context does occur, is it done to help or to convert? If to convert, then it is I-gave-to-you, you-owe-me — a pathological inversion of the Christian’s call to shed light, from giving without expectation of return to giving to receive, like the gravity well of a black hole, a perversion of compassion and love, which can be defined as unity made real by the passing of what is necessary for life from one to the other.

Against this I pose solidarity, which stands not only on the basis of theory or ideology but on the sense of interrelationship and the realization that all ultimately stand or fall together — a realization that militant fundamentalism explicitly rejects in its absolute notion of individual salvation. Whereas solidarity is born of the body and its capacity to sense the pain of others, cold theory and ideology can easily attack and overwhelm it. This is maybe why many cannot sense what is happening and instead make denials despite the facts.

How Long Can We Stand Like This?

So I ask: This body, does it bleed? Does it tear when others are torn? Does it tear up, does it cry, when others are hurt? If it does not, it will think it strange to attend a rally supporting a cause that does not apparently and directly have an effect on said individual. Instead, the illusion of ideology will settle in and keep all sitting on their hands.

Meanings multiply in any crowd of people. In this movement of solidarity, there will not be any one message, not any single ideological construct, nor should there be. To attempt to constrain all parties to one message is a move toward fundamentalism and the potential breakdown of true solidarity, which is an overwhelming sense of interrelationship despite what divides us. It is to fall back into the dualities presented to us by the two major parties of American politics (by which they BOTH have sold out working people) rather than to demand that all politicians serve the interests of the people.

This presents a thorny political question as the apparent need for consensus to effect political change moves us readily toward fundamentalism. There is real danger here that the Democratic party leadership will attempt to use present circumstances only to achieve an electoral victory like that achieved by the Republicans thanks to the Tea Party, and that they will then squander that victory in service to the same moneyed interests that have so blatantly exposed themselves thus far in 2011. The question of what can unify the scattered thoughts of those who feel themselves in solidarity without breaking the bond of that solidarity and subjecting all to the slavery of the same old tyranny is clearly an important one.

That more needs to be worked out on the theory of the present movement is obvious, but for those still scratching their heads, if you feel it but don’t yet understand it, I suggest that ignoring the confusion of too much thinking and obeying the impulse to stand up is the first step to understanding. Some understandings only come with experience, with the attempt, with action.

If you voted Democratic in the last election and feel the temptation to say “I told you so,” I would suggest you hold back — the present movement can just as easily be subsumed by the same sources of corporate greed and wrongful concentrations of power. Even if you identify yourself with the Tea Party, you nevertheless ought to feel outrage at what is occurring. You’ve clearly been duped, and that ought to sting. Blood is pooring from the side of this body politic and you are a part of it. So lend your voice, whatever that voice wants to say. Let meanings multiply but solidarity unify. Join in with your own. Get involved in your local community and in politics at every level. Let’s do it for real this time.

We Are Michigan.

Take Care: Not every window an opening...

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