In Solidarity

by zunguzungu

In more updates from the Berkeley English department listserv, the fact that one of the department’s more activist Marxists signs her emails with “In Solidarity” has produced a counter-reaction, the sign off “In liquid” and “In fluidity.” I didn’t even understand it as a sneer the first time I read it; only after the second such sign-off did it suddenly made sense that they found something worth mocking or critiquing in the idea of celebrating solidarity. I haven’t signed any emails that way, but it made me think a little about what “solidarity” is.

What solidarity is not is blind, unthinking obedience, and though not a few Stalinists have used it this way, my fellow English department people’s rejection of the idea sings to me much more like a kind of unthinking liberal phobia against any form of collectivity, the feeling that anyone saying any variation on “We’re all in this together” is not to be trusted. But I think there’s a useful concept in there to be salvaged, and much as we Americans despise the idea of having anything in common with people we’re different from, I think that it means exactly that: the sense of unity across difference. The good version of the word, if I may, is something like “pamoja” in swahili, which I was reminded a moment ago (by Louder than Swahili) has a locative meaning (indicating location). In other words, while “umoja” means “unity,” “pamoja” means something significantly different; since it’s formed by the “pa-” prefix added to the word for “one” (“mmoja”), it adds up to a very specific form of the word “together,” the idea that we are not necessarily one, but are together in the sense of being in the same place. And that seems like the right way to define solidarity: we are not the same, nor should we be. But, since we share the same location, we should think with each other in mind.

And for bonus ZZ content on the subject of solidarity, it seems that the University of Vienna protested against police brutality in Berkeley, the very day that said police brutality was ocurring. They were already into day 32 of their own occupation of university buildings, of course, but courtesy of the great Paul K I give you Der Standard, reporting on “day 32” of the Vienna:

In Kalifornien hatte die Besetzung der University of California in Berkeley negative Folgen: Hunderte Studenten hatten am Freitag ein Gebäude der Uni besetzt, weil die Studiengebühren ab Jänner um ein Drittel erhöht werden sollen. Die Polizei schritt ein und nahm drei Demonstranten fest. Aus Solidarität gingen die Wiener demonstireren. Vor der Amerikanischen Botschaft in Wien hielten sie Samstagabend eine Spontandemo ab.

[In California the occupation of the University of California-Berkeley had negative consequences: on Friday hundreds of students occupied a university building because student fees are to be raised by a third this January. The police intervened and arrested the demonstrators. Out of solidarity the Viennese went to demonstrate; Saturday evening they held a “Spontandemo” (which I suppose is a spontaneous demonstration) in front of the American embassy in Vienna.  (And there’s crappy webcam video here of some of it, the action ocurring around 45:00 in; the slogan is “Occupy the universities, clear out the Nazis.”)]

I’m also informed by zunguzungu’s germany desk that our ambassador (William E. Eacho, III, surely a real prince) had questioned the Austrian protests a few weeks ago, and that the protesters are all about transnational solidarity, apparently, with sites at our university and free education with this kind of platform:

Make a change now! Unbearable conditions in the educational system have forced us students to mobilize! The Bologna Process in Europe has lead a economization of education and universities are turned into educational institutions for private corporations. We have squatted the main building and are resisting! We call for following movements, solidarity campaigns and resistance by all European universities!

We claim:

-enough money for each university place

-free access to education

-all real democratization of the universities

-self-determined learning and living instead of pressure to perform

-no restrictions to master degrees

-independent teaching and research

-stop precarious working conditions

-no restricted extra curricula

-stop neoliberalism!

And now you know as much as I know about that. Thanks Paul!