“Solidarity” is a word that gets a lot of attention these days, but what does it actually mean? This wisdom from several Seattle anarchists of color gives concrete examples of how to support our comrades.
How often do you see yet another story about the current administration doing something devastating? If we are not personally the targets of bans, threats, and loss of protection, we know someone who is. It is unfortunate that much of what we see now was set in motion long before Trump. It has been communities and individuals affected the most – Black/African, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Asian, Disabled, Womxn, Queer, Trans, Nonbinary, Poor/Working Class, Unsheltered, Anarchist, etc. people, who have been calling from the margins to tell everyone that this has been happening and has been harming us for centuries. Now is the time for all to heed that call.
This work may seem intimidating at first, and it is understandable: we are all up against real probability of harm and death to many individuals and communities that have so much historical pain and trauma, as well as current fears and exponentially heightened present danger. Those who don’t experience these oppressions also may worry about showing up imperfectly, but please know that it is far better to try and fail and learn and try again than to give up before you even begin. This work is the most important, and truly the simplest. This work is acting with compassion and in solidarity, and not just in words. Words matter, but actions solidify the words and produce the material assistance that actually promotes survival. And make no mistake: lives are on the line.
What does solidarity actually look like?
- Make sure your friends and family make it home safely–especially if they’re at risk of hate crimes or if they’re not straight, cisgender men. A quick text doesn’t cost much and means a lot. Walk people to their cars or bus stops, too.
- Share food with your people. Cook for everyone if you have the time/money/energy. If you go out to eat with someone on a tighter budget than you, pay for their meal. Bring snacks and water most places, and offer them to folks when they mention they haven’t eaten or are thirsty. Bring a meal to a chronically ill friend when food is hard for them to get/make. If you don’t have any chronically ill friends, check out Seattle’s abled-disabled support group!
- Do the dishes. Or the laundry, or the sweeping, or the cat litter. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and daily chores can feel like too much–solidarity can literally mean doing housework so our friends can spend their energy doing things we can’t help them with. Help set up before, and clean up after rad events so that the people who did the organizing can network and answer questions.
- Offer people rides if you have a car. Schedule things in places that are easy to get to by public transit, at times when transit is running. Notice who has to commute the longest and reconsider locations, taking disability into account.
- Offer your couch or spare room to a friend who has insecure housing, who is fighting with a housemate, or whose home address was just leaked to neonazis (see: doxxing). If you don’t know folks struggling with housing, some people use couch surfing to make it between temporary homes without having to sleep on the street. Sign up and help out a new friend!
- Educate yourself about various systems of oppression. You have the most control over your own self, and committing fewer micro & macro aggressions is always helpful!
Resources (not exhaustive!):
- Redistribute resources. Think about where your work, school, government, etc., invest and spend their money–can it be funneled into the community? Especially to folks most impacted by state violence and people struggling for survival? Without strings attached? What about material goods or services, can you get those to folks who need them?
- Emotional labor! Listen to somebody vent, remind people of their appointments or when to take their meds, send platonic love notes of encouragement and appreciation, etc.. Be aware that emotional labor is almost always disproportionately done by more marginalized folks for more privileged folks without compensation. Actively reverse that trend. Compensate others doing emotional labor for you with money, resources, favors, and/or expressions of genuine appreciation.
- Don’t center yourself when someone is upset by a power imbalance that you benefit from. This ‘white (male, cis, etc.) tears’ response keeps the power imbalance intact.
- If you are in a management position, pay your workers well above minimum wage. Fight for their benefits. Hire trans womxn of color with disabilities and criminal records. Tell your employees you have their backs with respect to -isms in the workplace, and then actually have their backs in material ways. Kick out customers who harass your people.
- Take risks. Lock yourself to a bulldozer to stop an oil pipeline from poisoning your comrades’ drinking water, call your boss out for being problematic, shout down a neonazi. Communicate with your people around support, because risks are risky.
- Practice consent culture. Ask before hugging or touching someone, every time. Make collaborative decisions on things as mundane as where to go for lunch–and make it clear that “no” is always an acceptable option. Practice maintaining your own boundaries. Support others when they assert their boundaries by respecting and appreciating those boundaries (no guilt-tripping).
- Cuddle and hug and kiss cheeks and give back rubs and high fives more; consensual physical contact is healing. Always ask before touching someone.
- Don’t call the cops. Police have a lengthy track record of hurting or killing people they are called to help, especially marginalized folks, and jails make our communities less safe. This means learning and practicing de-escalation and accountability for ourselves. Dig into this with your people: what does safety look like? When do we feel unsafe? How should we react in those situations? There are many resources out there for domestic violence survivors — API Chaya or the Northwest Network, for example.
- Talk about mental illnesses, bad days, places you’re tender. Our culture loves to encourage grandstanding, pretending like we’re perfect invincible beings who never need other people for anything. That’s bullshit, and is hella isolating. We need each other, and part of that is allowing people to see where that need is. There is immense strength in vulnerability.
- Be with someone through a mental health crisis. Much of the time, just giving them your caring attention is significant. You don’t have to fix them or their problems — don’t try to solve it in the moment. Just being with them without freaking out, without trying to make their symptoms stop, is meaningful. Consent is especially important here, so try to talk about if/when they want various types of support, like calling someone, before you do it. Know what support you need to be able to be there for them effectively. People in crisis can act in ways that make you feel uncomfortable because they are violating social norms about how to act, so it is crucial to be checking in with yourself and keeping track of the difference between the discomfort of “this is not a ‘usual’ social interaction but nobody is being harmed in any way,” (e.g. if the person is rocking back and forth, screaming, talking to themselves, trembling, hyperventilating, crying, etc.), and discomfort that means “this situation is now unsafe for me; I need to leave or find more support.”
- Check in with folks when they’re not in crisis. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “For real, how are you really doing?”
- Push for accessibility. Not just accessibility in name, but looking at all the little things that will make it so that certain folks can’t participate, from monetary barriers to lack of childcare to missing ASL interpretation. So often, this takes real investment of time, energy, and resources. But if we are all in this together, we have to act like it.
- Organize! Many issues cannot be fixed by a single person, so gather folks who care and dig into what can be done to change things. Direct action can look so many different ways, but the most effective strategies are often more direct confrontation than purely symbolic action.
- Value, encourage, and support your own and others’ healing. Know that healing looks different for each person, and that there is a long history of Western medicine harming various communities — again, consent is key; don’t push people to do things they don’t want to do. Offering options and talking about your own experiences with different types of healing allows people to make their own informed decisions.
- Go through insurance/tax/application/legal paperwork with someone. Be their advocate, talk through stuff with them, figure out how to game the system together. Research the closest psychiatrist covered by their insurance, or what lawyers will work pro bono on immigration cases, or how to get Medicare to cover top surgery.
- Buddy up to do things you’ve been putting off or hate doing — writing a paper, filling out job applications, paying bills… these can all be friend dates!
- Set some time aside to reflect on what your heart and gut tell you about what is really important, how you fit into the various complicated networks of this world, or who needs some extra loving kindness today. Perhaps this is part of prayer or meditation.
- Donate to and share those crowdfunding campaigns. Be especially mindful that privilege and ‘respectability’ often create drastically different outcomes for these campaigns, and act to balance that.
- Many folks are getting daily messages they they’re not welcome, or worse. Show some love publicly, whether it’s a sign in your window, chalk on a sidewalk, or social media posts.
- Speak up when an incident happens. Or, if you freeze in the moment or hear about it afterwards, do not ignore it. Acknowledge what happened, listen to what the person who experienced it feels and wants, and do what they ask for (e.g., if a friend is sexually assaulted and they ask you not to confront the aggressor, don’t). “What do you need right now?” is a good question, though the answer may be “I don’t know.” Ask at several different ‘right now’s. “It’s not your fault,” and, “I believe you,” are also useful.
- Teach others, especially folks who are in places where you have been, before you knew better. We have been taught white supremacy, cis-hetero-patriarchy, classism, ableism, etc. from birth. We must also learn to undo them, and all of us can use all the help we can get. It is not the duty of those who experience oppression to always be the teachers of how to fix it.
- Practice asking for what you need. Dismantle the ableist shame associated with not being ‘independent,’ because nobody is actually independent. Practice both saying and hearing “yes,” and “no,” without guilt or resentment (easier said than done).
- Engage with legislation and legislators. Be careful that you don’t spend all your energy here and forget about the real actual people surviving real actual hardships. But sign petitions, call the congress people, show up at the hearings if you can. Follow news sources run by marginalized folks to make sure that you’re never advocating for something that isn’t supported by those it intends to ‘help’.
- Get comfortable messing up, and fixing your messes. We all screw up. The question is what happens next. Practice taking down your defenses, acknowledging your mistakes, and figuring out how to repair the harm done — and maybe how to change the whole situation so that it won’t happen again.
Western obsession with rugged individualism, patriarchy, and capitalism have invisible-ized our connections to one another and devalued caring labor both monetarily and morally. But we can (re)learn how to take care of each other. Learning takes practice, and it often feels strange or awkward at first. But there are lives at stake, so the awkwardness must be bumbled through. We must keep showing up.
Of course no one person can do all of this at once — again, it is Western individualism that tells us we must each be able to take on every problem, burning us out and often discouraging us from even trying. Hope lies in collective access, in community building, in mutual aid and interdependence, in trusting that we don’t need to solve everything on our own.
Together, in solidarity, we can survive this.
The above knowledge comes from anarchist people of color who have been in Seattle their entire lives and continue to live and work here. The authors of this article choose not to be credited as they feel placing names, seeking recognition or celebrity in activism is a toxic hold-over from capitalist ideals of marketing.
Featured image: Alex Garland