Solidarity--what is it


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I need to write a pamphlet description of the Solidarity Economy as well as finish a difficult article for the Fall issue of GEO. Both are chaleenging. The first because you have to make a complex idea sexy in everyday language. The second because I need to b every precise and cogent in registering a major criticism of research into collective action. So I thought I would ruminate out loud. Maybe somebody will hear and respond with something that will open a door or two.

What is ?solidarity?' A profound sense that I am part of something bigger than me, and that to make that happen is fulfilling in itself?

First, let's me make it down to earth. Then, let me play with it with some esoteric flair.

I use to live in Phoenix, AZ where I got a job evaluating people who had small infractions with the law and had to do community service as their punishment. I got to connect with a whole range of people from whores to upstanding citizens. My style was to talk to them and find out what was going on in their lives and how that related to their ?bad' behavior and what was ?appropriate' for them. One guy worked in a metal shop that serviced local people needing varying kinds of metal work. I asked this young man about his work and how it was important to him. He spoke rather eloquently about the camaraderie he had with the other workers. That perked my interest. Tell me more about the camaraderie.

"Well, I have hardly missed a day of work even though I have been sick a time or two, enough for it being okay to stay home."

"Yeah, well what made you go to work?"

"Because they were counting on me."

Matter of fact sincerity that simply blew me away. Not guilt. Not fear of the boss. His buddies were counting on him to come through as was everybody in the work group counting on each other. He didn't say or indicate anything close to concern about them disapproving. No, it was, may I risk being naïve, one for all and all for one.

Let's go to a more esoteric level. We all know that our species has created the art of using money to make money. But when we think this way we don't usually also think that caring can generate caring even among working class men, for whom the stereotype usually tolls an image of pretty macho male folks, etc. Love generating love. That is, loving with dignity and a strong heart. (Interesting that I have to add that qualifier. We are so prone to think in terms of someone disposed to love a lot as being a fool who get taken a lot by the knaves of the world.)  

How deep does the gut understanding go that if you lose, I lose? How much do we understand just from our innate humanness that I am a part of a whole and I need to be connected and contributing to something larger than me in order to be fulfilled? And may never be able to put it in words like that, but who could say, simply, "because they're counting on me."

What if the world economy ran on that principle, rather than "zero-sum" thinking? Maybe I should be a little less rhetorical: how much of it actually does operate off of that sense of connectedness and caring? How pervasive is solidarity? How far is its reach?  Does the media really distort that much?

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