'Politics'
Solidarity and changing the world
7th June 2020
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Solidarity with all oppressed people and with everyone involved in the struggle to realise a better world.

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I have a lot of emotions in me, as I write this. I expect lots of us do at the moment – the virus situation; the latest wave of racial justice struggles, the black lives matter protests; the ecological apocalypse which is already underway; and the general political inequality and injustices which continue in our society, exacerbated by the virus situation and which seems inevitable to only get worse in the near-future of “recovery”.

It crystallised into the starting solidarity… sentence. That’s what it ended up in to me: there is so much that we need to change, and what choice do we have but to change it.

I thought about tweeting it, but it felt somewhat empty and performative. Or at least, like it would or could be perceived by many to be. And also, the doubt of, does this mere expression add anything? We don’t need people expressing things on social media, we need people working to change things. ‘Solidarity’ can be a mere expression, a sentiment. But it should be so much more than this: it is a call to action, to act against injustices and oppression and to change the world to rid of them.

Solidarity is an action, it’s a thing we do, not just a thing we show.

Being in this position I write from is a privilege. For many people, in their life they have little choice but to fight for their own freedom and existence. There are many different oppressions and injustices, which affect different people differently. Black people and people of colour are oppressed by white supremacy, women, non-binary and trans folx are oppressed by patriarchy, all but the richest slimeballs are oppressed by a capitalist economic system, and more.

I am writing this for people like me – who, on the whole, do not have to struggle for their freedom. For us, it is a choice, something we have to actually do and will ourselves to do, actively get involved in political struggle instead of it be part of our existence.

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Liberalism and neoliberalism has fucked us up. These are the current incarnations of this idea that you should just look out for yourself, or at least that going beyond that is virtuous charity. Freedom and justice are conceptualised as individual things, with society as a mere collection of individuals. This is a lie: we are all interconnected. When our community is stronger, we are stronger for it. So, part of our political action must be this effort to weave our collective bonds.

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What should we – those of us not directly affected by this particular struggle – do to help? This has been a question many people have asked recently, and I thought I would share my thoughts on.

Expressions of things, tweets or whatever, or things in actual conversations with people, might be a good start. They are important for forming and expressing our identity, and to begin to changing people’s minds, challenging and redistributing cultural power, and building community.

Educating yourself is important too, because we need to understand problems to change them. We also, crucially, need to understand how to make political change in order to effectively do it. I’ll return to this again below.

Donating to causes that need it, organisations and groups and even individuals who need money as part of the political struggle, and simple individual need. This is also important. We should be asking ourselves whether we can give more. Not just one-off chuck a fiver or more their way while it’s a sexy news topic, but recurring donations. How much of your money do you need, and how much can you give to those who need it?

These three things though, most commonly seen as ways to support, are limited. They are within this neoliberal, individualistic worldview, constrained by it. Expressing emotions because I have an opinion, learning to educate yourself, and giving money to something. Donations can be a sort of commodity-exchange, in which we buy virtue or morality through our donations. Psychologically, at least in this worldview, this has been shown out by research, people donate and feel like they have done ‘enough’ good and then don’t do more good because of it. Make sure donations aren’t about you, they are because somebody or something else needs your money more than you do, and it is just that they get that money. I don’t know where to draw the line, obviously, but the point stands regardless.

I am not saying these things should not be done. They are still good things to do, it is good to give money away and educate ourselves and express our views. I am pointing out that they are neoliberal-capitalist to point out the limitations of our thinking. They are also woefully inadequate: this is all we do, we will fail.

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Beyond this, we need to put our time and energy into making political change and realising a better world. It is not enough to live a nice life in your bubble, have some virtue and give some money away. That is not enough. So many people are suffering and dying, and that needs changing.

So, how do we do that? Here some thoughts and a bit of political education, while not being a full Map Of Power In Our Society and Theory Of Change.

The liberal, and neoliberal, model of change has two ways of making change. The first is that ‘make change in yourself’ thing, in which we purify our own little bubble of existence, both our own mind and actions and the immediacy around us. This ties in to aspects of cancel culture. Of course, we should be changing ourselves – again, I’m not against it, it just isn’t enough.

The second is a top-down model of politics and political change. In the liberal political worldview, people individually express their range of opinions which are aggregated through voting and representation and then the majority wins. Therefore, we must persuade a few people, and appeal to those in power to do the right thing.

Lots of petitions, many of which are along the lines of ‘X many people think this, therefore change it’, and many ‘email an MP’ campaigns, are in line with this. The latter often get under my skin, partly because of my job, partly because they are often something of a waste of time. I am not saying petitions and ‘email your MP’ campaigns are pointless: just that if you are using them as a way to realise change, you need to map it out to make sure it actually does that. For one, many of them should often be targetted differently to different political parties… When done well, they can be effective, but many are not done well.

Neither of these ways of making change are pointless. Changing ourselves is a key part of our political work, as we shed the toxic aspects of our culture we have absorbed and take on better values and norms. Top-down change can be a way of making change, if you have a good strategy and know where the power lies and how to affect it.

But it will never be enough; simply voting the right people in will never realise a just world. Appeals to those in charge to ‘do the right thing’ will generally fail, because things are unjust for a reason, because there are people who benefit and power keeping things that way. This underlying power is what needs challenging.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is: how is power distributed in society and how can we change that. Perhaps it’s a bit reductionist to reduce all injustices to power, and it needs a broad understanding of power, but I think it works pretty well. Technology won’t save us, nor will sudden moral realisations from on high. Only by challenging and redistributing power will we realise a better world. The Civil Rights Act, Votes for Women, independence struggles, these core ‘liberal’ values came because people who were disenfranchised rioted and fought for some political power.

Protest can certainly be effective, but they can also be ineffective. Simply showing up in numbers can fall into the same idea that ‘if enough people expressed it, oh if only those in power knew how many cared, maybe they would realise’. Lots of protests, static demonstrations or A-to-B marches have little wider effect. I am not against protests, but they need to be build into a strategy based on sound political understanding. They can force disruption and force change, or build a cultural narrative that is too politically costly to oppose. But protesting will only over ever be a segment of making change, whether it’s so-called ‘peaceful’ protest, non-violent rioting and looting, or a violent political struggle. The Arab Spring brought down many governments, but it did not generally or automatically create more just societies.

Political power. If politics is about relations between people, political power is about influencing those. Who has control over other lives? Who is listened to, whose opinions matter and have influence? There was a great study done by some American political scientists that showed that only the opinions and preferences of wealthy or influential elites and interests groups mattered, and the rest did not. So we must be thinking about how can we redistribute political power, and how can we build power to challenge it, instead of simply persuading people to have a different opinion.

Cultural power. Cultural values and narratives have so much power. White supremacy is fundamentally a cultural value, as is much of patriarchy and other systems of oppression. Instead of simply educating ourselves, we have to then change others’ minds, both through people we know and through the nebulous, collective cultural power, of shared stories and norms and values, challenge bad things and educate people on good things. Simply ‘calling people out’ and opposing things does some, but we also have to transform and bring people with us, even when those people believe horrible things and we should not have to do that work. Much of the work done over the last decades to make racism and sexism ‘politically incorrect’, as its opponents would call it, just put it underground and resulted in the backlash we have seen over the last ten years.

Economic power. Often missed, but wealth and economic influence is key. Liberalism relegates all of this to the ‘private sphere’, but it is all political. If people are struggling to feed themselves, building political power is more challenging. Huge corporations and small businesses have huge amounts of power over their employees, from how they spend their time (effectively forced to spend it doing things for someone else’s benefit, in exchange for some financial reward for themselves) to their health and wellbeing, through to how our society functions. These economic powers have huge political influence too. Traditional liberalism cares only about the power of the government, of the state, yet corporate power is just as much of a problem. We must redistribute income and wealth, we must change our economic and social system, and we must challenge corporate power.

These different types of power are not distinct. They are all interwoven. But, they do give different lenses to see things with.

Change must happen at all levels of society. Not simply individual change and top-down change, but bottom-up change. We must transform ourselves, our friends and family, our local communities, the places we work, the society we live in and our political systems.

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This is, obviously, a lot of political work. We must also continue to build and weave a political movement, movements, an ecology of people and groups and campaigns working to these things. We must love each other and support each other and care for each other, especially for those who are oppressed and face injustice, but for all of us involved. This doesn’t work individually, it can only be collective, and we have to create the sorts of communities we want to realise in the world as part of realising them in the world.