We recognize that capitalism forces all natural relationships to become relationships between things, and makes people and the natural world a means to an end (wealth for a few) instead of lovely ends in themselves. We strive for the complete freedom of solidary with one another and the natural world and use direct action, mutual aid, cooperative structures and participation in mass movements to grow our capacity for solidarity.
“The polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together, and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be.”
— Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition.
Chad Kautzer received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stony Brook University, New York in 2008, after periods of study in Frankfurt, Germany. Before joining Lehigh’s faculty in 2016, he was Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Social Justice Minor at the University of Colorado Denver and a Visiting Research Scholar at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015/16. He is the author of Radical Philosophy: An Introduction (PDF version).
Practice ideas for growing into solidarity
Practice: When people ask us for help, we use direct action to assist. Direct action means that we take collective action to assist one another, our neighbors and the natural world without handing our power to a middle person (politicians, police, clergy, lawyers, etc.). We first seek to understand the problem and then come up with a concrete, winnable goal. We then plan an escalating series of direct actions to achieve the goal.
Here are some examples:
- A restaurant worker in our circle is cheated out of wages for overtime work. After talking with the worker, we decide that it is a winnable goal to obtain the overtime wages. We decide to collectively deliver a letter to the boss that clearly explains our demand and provides a deadline. If the deadline passes, we start a series of protests outside the restaurant during the height of business.
- A trans* woman high school student approaches the circle about being bullied. After talking with her, we decide that it is a winnable goal to end the bullying. We collectively decide to deliver a letter to the bully asking him to stop. If the bullying continues, we start a series of protests outside the bullies home and speak with his parents on the front lawn. In addition, we go with the transgender student to the school administration to obtain the assistance she needs and request to do a workshop at the school on queer lives.
- A landlord fails to complete needed repairs for a tenant. After talking to the tenant, we decide that it is a winnable goal to obtain the needed repairs. We decide to collectively deliver a letter to the owner that clearly explains our demand and provides a deadline. If the deadline passes, we start a series of protests outside the rental office during the height of business.
Build Your Own Solidarity Network by The Seattle Solidarity Network
Practice: All of the money donated and raised for Three Souls creates our mutual aid fund. Mutual aid is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources for mutual benefit. This money is available to assist people in need in our circle and beyond. Funds could be used to help a trans* person with gender reassignment surgery not covered by insurance or someone in need of a rental deposit.
Practice: Meetings are where the actual planning of our work happens. Meetings are also where we put direct democracy into practice. In this section, we’ll go over a few of the key practices we’ve developed in the course of three years of meetings.
We meet every week, and we really get stuff done during these meetings. When we first formed, we only met twice per month. The long gaps between regular meetings meant that most of the logistics and planning of our work had to get done separately in between these meetings, in small ad hoc planning sessions among the most active organizers. This made it hard for newer people to start participating in a meaningful way. It was also hard on our schedules. When we finally switched to meeting every week, splitting the meeting into smaller “breakout” sessions where needed, it seriously improved our ability to grow and do more work. Now, these regular meetings are the place where almost all of our actual planning gets done, and there’s rarely a need for separate planning sessions in between. The regular meetings now provide a space where any member who wants to step up can easily start participating, alongside more experienced folks, in the planning and execution of our work. Having this “permeability” within the group, where new people can easily volunteer for jobs and can get involved in real organizing very quickly, gives a huge boost to our ability to bring in and develop new organizers. Also our meetings are now much better attended, since they’re much more worth attending.
We assign clear responsibility for specific tasks. In a representative democracy, or in a staff-driven organization that has a Board of Directors, there is usually a fixed distinction between “legislative” and “executive” roles, in other words, between those who make the decisions and those who carry them out. In a direct, participatory democracy, this is not the case. Because we have no fixed “executive” who can be expected to carry out the decisions of the group, whenever we decide to do something, we then have to ask, “which of us will take responsibility for making sure this task gets done?” Otherwise, more often than not it won’t get done at all, and our democratic decisions will be meaningless. When we give someone responsibility for a specific task, this does not mean we’re giving them authority, in the sense of a coercive ability to order others around. They just have to ask nicely for help, and hope that others are willing to cooperate. If all else fails, they just have to do it themselves.
We create an agenda at the beginning of each meeting. Whoever is present at the beginning of a meeting has an opportunity to contribute agenda items. This process doesn’t take long, because the main items tend to be the same every week.
Time is of the essence. Some people like to use group meetings as opportunities for ranting at great length on various topics. If we allowed this, our meetings would run on forever and we wouldn’t get much done. To prevent it, when making the agenda we set a time limit for each item, and we ask someone to play the role of “time keeper” for the meeting. This allows us to manage the overall length of the meeting, and to make sure everything essential gets done.
We use strong meeting facilitation. In our experience, probably the most important factor in making a meeting work well is having a strong, competent facilitator. It’s the facilitator’s job to make sure that we’re moving through the agenda, that decisions are being made democratically, and that everyone who wants to participate has the opportunity to do so. This is a tricky skill, and it takes time, effort and practice to develop it. We’re always trying to help each other get better at it.
Here are some tips we’ve put together to give to new people who want to try facilitating a meeting:
- Listen for proposals in what people are saying. Try to steer the group towards making decisions and acting upon them, instead of talking in circles.
- Restate proposals to make sure everyone knows what’s being decided on. A few phrases you can use are: “What I’m hearing is…” and “We have a proposal to…”
- When in doubt, take a vote.
- Keep “stack”, i.e. a list of people who want to speak on a topic. Call on people in order. If it’s too much to keep track of, you can recruit a helper to keep stack for you.
- Don’t be afraid to cut people off if they are talking out of turn, over time, or interrupting other people.
- Don’t abuse your position as chair to give your opinion more weight / time / authority.
- Be neutral when you ask for votes, and use the same tone of voice for all options. As in: “All in favor.” “All opposed.” Rather than: “Does anyone want to vote against this?”
- Always have a time keeper and note taker.
- Add up the length of the agenda at the beginning of meeting so the group knows what they’re getting into. This may cause people to decide to spend less time on certain items.
- You can ask the time keeper to give you warnings (5 min, 3 min, 1 min).
- Ask meeting attendees’ permission to extend the time on an agenda item (possibly through a quick vote).
- Periodically check back in about the meeting’s remaining time, and when the meeting is projected to end.
- Need a break? Ask someone else to take over as chair.
- If your mouth gets dry, it’s a sign that you’re talking too much.
Practice: This book presents a particular model for decision-making called Formal Consensus. Formal Consensus has a clearly defined structure. It requires a commitment to active cooperation, disciplined speaking and listening, and respect for the contributions of every member. Likewise, every person has the responsibility to actively participate as a creative individual within the structure.
Practice: We work within mass movements in order to contribute towards their power, always working towards the development of an autonomous class consciousness, capacity, and solidarity. Participating in mass struggle builds the capacity to take direct action and shift power relations. It allows us to experience collective power through struggle.
Resources for exploring solidarity.
Hegemony describes how powerful interests and institutions don’t just rule society with coercion and violence, but also define society’s norms through a dominant culture. The multifaceted, intergenerational cultural process limits the terms of the debate to make ideas that challenge the status quo almost unthinkable. These resources from radical philosophy, queer theory, and solidarity organizing breakdown this hegemony and provide us with the ability to see clearly and organize strategically. They also provide the analysis to understand how capitalism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy limit our ability to live fully in our soul.
- The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions (pdf), Larry Mitchell, Ned Asta
- “Queer Dialectics/Feminist Interventions: Harry Hay & the Quest for a Revolutionary Politics,” Bettina Aptheker
- Anarchism, RFD Magazine, Fall 2019
- Direct Action / Stonewall 50, RFD Magazine, Summer 2019
- Radical Philosophy: An Introduction (PDF version), Chad Kautzer
- Marx’s Concept to the Alternative to Capitalism (PDF version), Peter Hudis
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
- The Human Condition (pdf), Hannah Arendt
- Queer: A Graphic History, Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele (An amazing introduction to queer theory)
- Anarchism & Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power, Jamie Heckert, Richard Cleminson (PDF Version)
- The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth, John Bellamy Foster
- Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, John Bellamy Foster
- Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times, Nick Montgomery and carla bergman (Online Version)
- Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, adrienne maree brown
- Conflict and Consensus: A Handbook for Formal Consensus Decision-Making (pdf)
- The Anti-Fascist Handbook, Mark Bray
- “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy (pdf),” Andrea Smith
- Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, C. B. Daring (Editor); J. Rogue (Editor); Deric Shannon (Editor); Abbey Volcano(Editor); Martha Ackelsberg (Foreword) (PDF Version)
- Build Your Own Solidarity Network, The Seattle Solidarity Network
- Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World (pdf), Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough