Published on March 29th, 2020 | by Candace Simpson
Pitfalls to Avoid While Building International Solidarity
In August 2014, I (and the rest of the world) witnessed the Ferguson Uprisings happen in real time. Night by night, I watched from my living room on my phone. I scrolled through the #ferguson hashtag and watched riot cops, tear gas, rubber bullets, and an empowered hyper-militarized police force. One tweet changed my life and my view forever.
A Palestinian protestor shared tips on how to treat the effects of tear gas. The secret ingredient? Maalox. Others realized that protesters in Palestine and Ferguson were both being tear-gassed with inhumane products from the same factory. If there were ever evidence that we are fighting the same monster, this was it. On a very practical and concrete level, both Ferguson and Palestine were targeted by the same weapons. The BDS movement has existed for years, but it took an encounter like this one for me to locate my place in that struggle.
Watching this interaction in real-time convicted me. It reminded me that there are strategies for resisting the Powers that work no matter where you are. The Powers are more like an omnipresent three-headed monster than anything else; they do not have one single headquarters—they have offices everywhere. It has several tentacles—racism, misogyny, capitalist exploitation, transphobia, queer antagonism, xenophobia and more. And it’s so big that its arms might be here in the States while its fangs pierce down in Palestine. Its claws strangle in Brazil, and its scales shed in Brooklyn. To imagine that any one community of oppressed peoples exists in a vacuum, or that anyone has a monopoly on suffering, is to play into the very system designed to dissolve powerful international solidarity movements. So, here are some pitfalls to avoid while building international solidarity.
- Assuming you have it the worst and, therefore, you alone should be heard.
Even though I am Black, I am also a U.S. American. I have been raised to believe the world revolves around me, for better and for worse. U.S. exceptionalism even eats at our movements for freedom and justice. And while my heritage as a descendant of enslaved Africans does matter, it does not matter more than the enslavement that happened in the Caribbean, Brazil, Colombia, or anywhere else. Black people across the Diaspora are oppressed. Sadly, certain movements, like the curiously situated ADOS, position Black U.S. American people as somehow more deserving of reparations. Of course, we experience white supremacist violence in different ways depending on our unique identity, but having grown up in a neighborhood like Flatbush, I am clear that white supremacy hates all us Afro-descended folks, regardless of which flag we wave.
- Making everything a joke.
When President Trump carried out a war crime by assassinating Qassem Soleimani, we were all confused. I didn’t know this man until he was dead. Of course, the killing of this official made pundits wonder if this was the beginning of a third World War. I even saw an article that mapped out all the possible fallout shelters in New York City. People were scared. And when people get scared, they find ways to cope. One way that Black people cope is through humor, and the jokes flew on Twitter.
Sadly, however, people began to make jokes that were tasteless. Instead of throwing a joke upwards toward the Powers of War, people started making Islamophobic and xenophobic jokes. When called to task, these same jokesters said, “Well that’s how Black people cope with trauma.” Others rightly retorted, “but it’s not your trauma to joke about.” Worst of all, a conversation about Black and Iranian solidarity was squashed before it could even begin.
Some things just are not funny. It is one thing to joke about your own trauma; it is another to joke about someone else’s. Everything we post online is visible to the very people enduring danger. While we sit in relative safety with relatively open internet, there are people whose very lives become the stuff of memes.
- Visit with the purpose of educating yourself, not as a “helper.”
The year 2019 was the Year of Return in Ghana. This campaign extended a “Welcome Home” to all children of the African Diaspora. The initiative was not without its own shortcomings. Still, so many schools, churches, cultural groups, and educational travel communities took the opportunity to visit. While visiting—especially in groups—helps many to focus on the task of seeing something new, it is important to discern which groups have a clearly stated ethic about the consequences of foreign visitors.
So many articles have been written about voluntourism because there is a real need for folks to practice humility when “visiting someone else’s house.” If you plan to visit somewhere else, be sure to check your own intentions. Don’t take pictures of someone else’s kid just so you can post it on the ‘gram. That’s someone’s whole child. They are not nameless props to boost your social capital. Likewise, be mindful of posting all vulnerable people. It is likely not a good idea to post pictures (or even geo-tag) your work at shelters for women escaping intimate partner violence. Take the time to reflect and journal for yourself. Allow this experience to fortify you as a comrade in the international struggle.
Solidarity makes resistance possible. The Powers want for us to be divided and to see each other as enemies. Learning from and empathizing with people across the globe can make a world of a difference. For real.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth.