In Solidarity (and thank you, once again, for having me)

Hi, Feministe-ers. It’s been two weeks, and I haven’t written every day or written everything I’ve wanted to. I’ve written some things that have made you angry, and some things that have made you happy, and some things that I hope have made you think about something differently.

I wanted to write a post in response to Autumn’s piece about relationship violence, and I didn’t, and this isn’t going to be it. I think the things I pulled from that piece will be rolling around in my head for a while and I’ll eventually write something and I don’t know what shape it will have.

The last thought I want to leave you with, though, is something else. I wrote it in an email the other day and like so many things I didn’t even realize how true it was until I’d clicked “send” to a friend overseas and then looked at what I’d written.

I wrote:

The hardest thing I ever had to learn was that I couldn’t save people, I could only help a little. But I also realized that when I was trying to save people I wasn’t asking for anyone to help me.

I think so many of us in various social justice circles want to be superheroes. We want to save the world. We want to save people. We want to save those close to us and we want to save people on the other side of the planet.

I think this is destructive.

Recognizing, for me, that I couldn’t save someone, that there were limits to what I could do, helped me realize that I needed to ask for help sometimes too. That I needed people around me who all help a little. That I needed a community.

I think if we are going to save each other, if we are going to save the world we are going to need community. We need it on the small scale, those friends who we can turn to when we are hurting, whether they’re people hundreds of miles away at the end of an email or people just on the other side of the door. We need it on the large scale–we are going to need lots of people all helping a little to get the job done.

Those of you who know me or read me regularly may know that I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of solidarity. In an essay that I’ve probably quoted often enough to be slightly embarrassing, Chris Hayes wrote:

What the great social movements of our time have been able to accomplish is to find the sweet spot between the mundane and often blinkered solidarity of specific communities of interest, and the grandiose but vague notion of the solidarity of all humanity. From the labor battles of the ’30s, to the Gandhian independence struggle, to civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, the most uplifting and effective social movements have oriented themselves towards sublime solidarity while remaining grounded in the mundane but robust cohesion of a specific group with specific aims and specific demands. We may remember moments of moral progress for their dramatic or transcendent quality, but they were first and foremost political victories born of a refusal to pull apart. Such solidarity is the left’s proudest tradition, both here and abroad: the unity of purpose and determined fellowship among those battling an unjust order combined with a constant effort to stretch that fellowship to ever larger groups of citizens.

In a way, solidarity is the reverse of the superhero complex. It is the admission that we are not able to do things alone, that we need to stand together, that we need others.

I’ve been reading “Dear Sugar” from the Rumpus over the past few days, clicking back through columns I’ve read and ones that I’ve missed, reading people anonymously telling their worst fears and secrets and asking for help. Reading the answers coming anonymously from someone who believes so much in love.

Those stories are so painfully specific, and Sugar makes them even more so, sharing details of her own life, and yet the emotions are universal. Each story, each answer, each bit of advice, fits something that has happened to me or to someone I love.

So many of those people wrote to Sugar hoping that she could answer their question and somehow save them. But what she does isn’t any different than what good friends will do if you trust them and talk to them. She’s a better writer, and she’s unafraid to tell the grand truths. She talks about love and hurt and not about how we should shrug it off, whether it’s a rejection, a heartbreak, a devastating loss, or a petty jealousy.

None of these threads seem to connect, and yet for me they do. It’s about acknowledging that we are all flawed, that we are more similar than we are different, that our very specific pain has an echo in nearly everyone we know, and that it isn’t weak to ask for help. That we can support people while not trying to save them.

That, I think, is what I’d like to leave you with.

Thanks for having me, for all of your responses, even the ones that made me angry. Thanks for reading, and for thinking, and for getting involved. Thanks for support and questioning.

I don’t have a lot of answers to the big questions. Like I said the other day, I’m simply looking for a way for people to be better to one another, on a big and small level.

I’m closing with another quotation, this time from someone you might not expect.

[People] use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another.

-George Orwell, “Can Socialists Be Happy?” 1943

4 comments for “In Solidarity (and thank you, once again, for having me)

  1. Miracle
    August 21, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Love you, girlchick.

  2. August 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Thank you for your time here, Sarah! You’ve definitely made some great contributions.

    (Thanks also for linking to that piece from Hayes – he’s a favorite of mine and that is a really powerful essay. Bookmarked!)

  3. August 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I think we are broken by the system of power that separates us. I don’t think this lack of solidarity is an innate trait.

    But I do think that there is a great difference between grudging respect and real respect. Grudging respect is conditional, fragile, and flimsy. One backslide or offense and it goes right back to hatred and mistrust. Grudging respect is based on fear.

    Real respect, however, is built on love and mutual understanding. It’s very difficult to build and there is no model or textbook method of achieving it. This also falls under the subheading of “building community”.

  4. August 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this post.

    ‘I think so many of us in various social justice circles want to be superheroes. We want to save the world. We want to save people. We want to save those close to us and we want to save people on the other side of the planet.

    I think this is destructive.’

    I think you have hit the nail on the head with this. I first had this insight in a tiny way when I was 18 and as a result chose to not pursue medicine at that point in my life. I could just about sense that trying to save people could destroy me and the people I was trying to help. It has taken me the better part of fifteen years to come to a point where I am confident that I can practice the difference between being available for someone and trying to fix them. That I, too, should ask for help in a timely way and be open to the generosity of others. I hope that I am right.

    thank you for sharing your insight and the links.

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