December 4, 2021

building solidarity amid fracture

a green bridge shrouded in fog
photo caption: view from a road on a metal bridge. where are we going? i don’t know. but it has to be better than here.

In 2016, after americans elected Donald Trump, a librarian in Wisconsin began to worry. Kristin Garvey ached for people whose lives would be harder under a Trump presidency. In a fit of inspiration, she made a sign recognizable to anyone who likes to roll their eyes in public. She adapted slogans from movements she remembered who would suffer under his leadership. In black sharpie on posterboard, she wrote:

in this house we believe
Black lives matter
women’s rights are human rights
no human is illegal
science is real
love is love
kindness is everything

The yard sign continues to (yard) signify good intentions a year into president Joe Biden’s term. The sign never felt genuine to me. It’s easy to put up a sign, but rarely does that effort extend to making a tangible difference for the people named on the sign. And somewhere out there, there is a similar sign in someone’s yard. This printed sign replaces “kindness is everything” with “diversity makes us stronger.” But the owners covered up one of the lines: no human is illegal.

one of those "in this house, we believe" signs
photo caption: one of those insufferable, “in this house, we believe” signs. someone has colored in a phrase they did not believe.

This person wants us to know what what they believe. Diversity might make us stronger, but some humans don’t belong. These are incompatible statements. It reminds me of the LGB movement. The conspicuous removal of the T is another attempt by anti-trans activists to fracture the queer community. People who are LGBTQIA+ have always existed together. We isolate ourselves or at our own peril. For people in power, isolation and fracture help maintain their power over us. This is true even for people in power within a marginalized group. Isolation and fracture can also happen at different levels of an organization. They don’t have to be intentional or set out to be malicious.

practices to create or maintain solidarity

There are many ways to set up an ‘us vs. them’ dynamic or make a specific group of people feel unwelcome. No matter what group we’re in, we do have the power to stop this.

Here are some things we can do to build connection and cooperation across our divides.

advocate for all of us

Support unionization efforts. Unions across the country are leading strikes in protest of poor working conditions. A lot of companies made record profits during the pandemic. They could not have done that without the labor of their employees. It’s not enough to donate to unions and other worker organizations. Talk with friends and colleagues about why we deserve better workplaces. And managers aren’t exempt from union efforts. True, we can’t vote or organize with workers. But we can encourage leadership to accept union demands. We can find out what’s important to our colleagues and fight for those things. Workers always deserve to be at the table speaking for themselves, but we can still add our voices to theirs.

Fight for pay equity. Share your salary information with your colleagues. Erika Chen at Community-Centric Fundraising wrote a great proposal for creating a system of fair and antiracist compensation. Share it with your HR department and advocate for true pay equity for all workers.

Demand your workplace set a goal to pay all employees a living wage. It’s not enough to compare your company’s salaries to similar jobs in your industry. The non-profit sector is notorious for underpaying its employees. It’s not enough to be competitive. All employees deserve a living wage that fits their area and keeps up with inflation.

Other collective actions. Start employee resource groups and imbue them with real power. Advocate for change and get buy-in from leadership. Make clear to your staff that their workplace must try to meet any accommodation needs they have.

practice bridging, inside and out

We live in a cynical and hyperpolarized world. How can we connect with people who have different values or beliefs? The Othering and Belonging Institute has a solution they call bridging. Bridging doesn’t mean sacrificing your values to find common ground. It doesn’t mean covering up your beliefs like spinach in a brownie. Instead, bridging invites to look within the polarization. What do you want? What does your opponent want? What do you have in common?

We also need to reach people who are almost like us, too. It’s hard moving people’s beliefs. I always try to go for the big challenges: the people who feel like my polar opposite. In fact, a person saw the photo above and wrote, “while I disagree with them on that point, I’d rather that someone agree with me on 6 out of the 7 points than someone who agrees on fewer. No two people are going to agree 100% of the time, nor should they.” This comment represents a trick I see a lot on issues ranging from abortion to politics. Yes, if we agree on 99 issues, that’s great. What if the one place we disagree is whether racism is okay, or genocide is forgivable? If that’s the case, I don’t think we really have that much in common after all.

I don’t need to go to an extreme to make my point. People who are almost like us are still worthy of us trying to reach them. We can’t dismiss our differences as irreconcilable. There’s no reason to close ourselves off to potential allies. We can bring real curiosity to all our conversations, not only the ones where we’re itching to fight.

ok now try kindness again

There’s a joke about the male feminist who never does the dishes. I need to live the values that I hold. I want a world where people feel like they belong. I want to feel connected to my community. I need to remember that though I may not like everyone, my progress is bound to them. There are some people who are so close to getting it. My husband reminded me of the person who asked, “why is the vaccine free but insulin and inhalers are not?” That person sees the same injustices I do. The difference is that I want them all to be free. We’re not so far apart that I shouldn’t try to reach you.

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture[dot]space

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