Wednesday 8 September 2010

In Praise Of Solidarity

So I've noticed that whilst this is supposed to be both a 'personal and political blog', there's been rather more of the latter for a while now. It's therefore time for a little leisurely personal contemplation and a chance to say thanks to a number of friends.

Yesterday, a sizeable number of Londoners were busy arguing that, in the words of a pompous Evening Standard editorial, tube workers should willingly abandon to their plight the 5% of their colleagues facing job losses because "a re-organisation is inevitable, especially in these cash-strapped times" (see some of the comments in yesterday's posting for more in the same vein). Times are hard, so the advice is: screw everyone else and look out for yourselves. The candidates on Sky's Labour leadership debate on Sunday may have vied with each other to lay claim to the word 'socialist' but one of its most basic tenets - the concept of solidarity - currently seems in short supply at a point when huge cuts threaten to further loosen the ties that bind people to one another.

The importance of mutual aid and comradeship is something I've touched upon before and also came to mind yesterday for entirely different and personal reasons. Regular readers of this blog will know that on 2 March, I was in a traumatic accident that involved a head-on collision between my bicycle and a car in Whitechapel after a Climate Camp meeting. For six months I've been in considerable and almost constant pain - which would have been impossible to bear without the support of my family, friends and even people I don't really know that well. The nature of that support has never, as far as I can tell, been just a question of simple altruism, but more an inability to passively stand by and do nothing when small acts of friendship and generosity can make such a big difference. Friends have given up their time and spent their money automatically, not out of any sense of self-interest but out of something more like solidarity. Having never really relied on anyone before now, it has all been rather humbling.

The list seems endless. When I came out of hospital, people brought round enough food to fill my freezer (including a neighbour I hardly know). When I've needed to go back for tests and further surgery, friends have arranged transport or taken time off work to come with me. When I've been unable to go out, there have been supportive phone calls and e-mails and twice in six months, when I've struggled with simple domestic tasks at home, one of the centre cleaners at work has taken my keys and insisted on hoovering and dusting my flat. When I bemoaned the time it will take to start cycling again and how much I missed the exhilarating buzz of riding for miles, a rather fancy exercise bike appeared one evening on my doorstep (apparently so many are bought but never used that they can be picked up cheaply!) And on Sunday at the Wanstead Flats community picnic, I mentioned in passing that lugging a rucksack to work every day was exhausting with a serious shoulder injury - and yesterday, a black bin liner turned up at the community centre reception where I work. Inside was a backpack with wheels on it. I have to admit that I was choked by the kindness of this sudden and unexpected gesture.

Every one of these efforts involved somebody taking the time to go out of their way to act, with nothing in return but my thanks. I know I'm lucky to have incredibly cool friends, but the basic motivation is the same as the one that drives London Underground workers to choose give up a day's pay for the sake of a tiny percentage of their colleagues and then face abuse for doing so. It's what the Puerto Rican feminist writer Aurora Levins Morales called the "the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity" that comes from sitting by and doing nothing. That, at its heart, is what solidarity is all about.

So seriously, thank you, everyone. Hopefully you'll all recognise the acts of solidarity that I've described and have made such an enormous impact and if I haven't said it loudly enough to friends and comrades already, well l am saying so again now.

And don't worry, normal service will resume tomorrow (or even later today, depending on what comes up) with the usual politically opinionated commentary. I just had to get this down in writing.

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