Intrusions on solidarity work

For the past year, I have been having conversations in the predominantly White, middle class, progressive faith community where I worship, about making choices so that our actions would match up with our “all for equality” attitudes.

Many times I have said things to my fellow worshipers like…

“In order to show up for justice work, we’ll need to let go of some of the daily pleasures we’ve gotten used to.”


“We may have to skip being out in the garden, or going to the theater, or not hang out so much among ourselves, which is where we’re the most comfortable.”


“We may have to ‘inconvenience’ ourselves in order to go to events that are hosted by poor and working class communities and communities of color. That’s how we will learn what’s impacting them and how they want us to join them in the struggle.”

For years before these conversations, I had been putting into practice the idea of carving out time from my schedule to show up at legislative rallies, trainings on community organizing, and fundraisers for groups working to raise the minimum wage. These were choices that I was making, willingly and out of my own preferences.

But soon I would come face-to-face with my more deeply internalized value of protecting my individuality, autonomy, and schedule.

In 2013, Minnesota’s legislature had passed marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the first of those marriages would take place at 12:01 a.m. on August 1st. After Jeanne and I had worked tirelessly for 18 months as part of a statewide grassroots movement that ultimately led to the new legislation, Jeanne was eager for the two of us to witness the marriages of many same-sex couples who now could express their love for one another publicly. For Jeanne, solidarity through struggle and joining in celebration afterward is in her bones; it’s been foundational to her class upbringing.

But me…? The year earlier, I had committed myself to a handful of responsibilities during a 5-day religious gathering in Iowa, five hours away. My owning class bones were knit over the years with a fierce individualism. I dug in my heels: I wasn’t going to give up my plans; Jeanne could celebrate without me.

That did not go over well! I was in tears over being asked to give up time with a community I loved, coupled with having been heavily conditioned to follow through on commitments I had made. At the same time, now that the hard slog for marriage equality was behind us, Jeanne was stung by my unwillingness to stand with her during the celebration. It simply felt wrong to her to be there by herself.

I let the pain continue to speak to me. I began to understand at a deeper level that at its core, solidarity work not only is an imposition to America’s culture of individualism, it’s a way to interrupt that individualism—especially the individualism of the middle and owning classes.

At a personal level, during that Minnesota summer of equality, I began to understand that in our relationship, solidarity for Jeanne was more than just being in the struggle together: it was coming out the other side and being there for each other to blow the horn and throw the confetti. It was family, it was tribe.

For middle class and owning class folks who say we care about justice, solidarity work can start off looking like an intrusion to our own personal pursuits. But asserting our class privilege to choose when it’s convenient to us to engage in solidarity is still in the end about privilege. It isn’t where the real solidarity work lies. The way to be in true solidarity is to give up that individualism, to view ourselves as part of a larger whole, deeply connected to one another… as Family.

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