What’s the Secret to Success for Nonviolent Movements? Try Solidarity.

Written by on December 16, 2019 in Activism, Conscious Living with 0 Comments

Lebanese demonstrators dance to music by DJs as a protest movement takes over the country. (Photo: Al Jazeera/Twitter)

By Rivera Sun | Common Dreams

There’s a secret to success for nonviolent movements for change: solidarity. Instead of “going it alone,” movements can amplify their message, leverage collective power, and build strength by seeking solidarity from aligned organizations and groups. Movements can also mobilize thousands of people into tangible, game-changing strategies by consciously designing solidarity actions to support their primary campaign.

Look at Oakland’s Solidarity Schools. During the 2019 Oakland Teachers Strike, a team of volunteers got involved in a much-needed solidarity action: delivering lunches to school children. In Oakland, California, 75 percent of the district’s 37,000 students relied on school lunch. Not wanting the kids to go hungry; the food bank, parents, teachers, and students worked together to organize and distribute lunches for the duration of the strike. This helped the teachers maintain their refusal to work without dividing the community over hunger issues. Solidarity efforts also included alternative schooling and child care. After several weeks, the teachers won their radical demands that ultimately benefited the entire community.

Solidarity strategies can increase the chance of success for your campaign by widening the impact of your actions. Recently in Nonviolence News, I reported on a story from Finland. Postal workers went on strike for two weeks, but their victory wasn’t won by the massive backlog of undelivered holiday packages. The clincher on their struggle occurred when the airline and transport industry workers held a solidarity (or sympathy) strike, grounding over three hundred planes and causing chaos in the capital. As the strike impacted businesses and people across the country, the head of the postal service came under fire for mishandling the postal workers’ strike. The workers won their demands, thanks to the solidarity of other transport workers.

Nonviolent struggle succeeds or fails by the rate of participation in actions that tangibly impact the ability of the power holders to conduct business-as-usual. In fact, studies show that any movement that successfully mobilizes 3.5 percent of the populace into acts of noncooperation (boycotts, strikes, walk-outs) and intervention (blockades, sit-ins, occupations) always wins their campaign. And, sometimes, success comes with even fewer people. So, scheming up those solidarity strategies makes a lot of sense for your movement.

Take Standing Rock, for example. Not everyone could leave their jobs and families, pitch a tent in freezing weather, and take a physical stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, in North Dakota. But all of us could support the legal fund, organize supply caravans, and (perhaps most importantly) take action against the 17-plus banks funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Across the country and around the world, the protests outside of bank branches gave those of us horrified by the scenes of police repression at Standing Rock a way to turn outraged into action. We held signs. We delivered petitions and confronted bank managers. We organized our friends and colleagues to move our money and close our accounts. This put powerful pressure on the banks, forcing some to pull out of the DAPL project. While the pipeline at Standing Rock moved forward, a cascade of other fossil fuel projects lost their funding both in the United States and around the world. Also, the efforts during the Standing Rock campaign gave a boost to other fossil fuel divestment campaigns, leading to a ripple effect of institutional divestment. With greater mobilization around the solidarity strategy of moving our money out of the banks, we might have been able to defeat that pipeline project entirely.

The successes of the early U.S. labor movement relied heavily on solidarity and their solidarity actions were breath-taking in scope and generosity. To use just one of the hundreds of examples, during the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Bill Haywood, and others organized massive support for the striking women. The solidarity efforts included relief committees, soup kitchens, food distribution stations, volunteer doctors, and weekly benefits for strikers. The list of demands was translated into over 50 languages for the multi-national immigrant workers. The most dramatic of solidarity actions were arranging for several hundred children of striking workers to go to supporters’ homes in New York City. This kept the children safe, housed, and fed while their mothers faced arrests, evictions, reduced income, and beatings for participating in the strike.

These tangible forms of solidarity can mean the difference between success and failure. Showing support for the cause with demonstrations can also boost morale and determination. Just this past week, cacerolazos (pots-and-pans banging protests) erupted in twelve Latin and South American countries, including Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. The united demonstration was organized to acknowledge the shared struggles of the people against widespread economic inequality, corrupt governments, and violence against Indigenous populations. Organizers even distributed a cacerolazo app – in case you weren’t by your kitchen, you could join in with a cellphone simulation.

Occasionally, solidarity actions up the ante on issues, and connect immediate crises to the underlying causes. In the wake of the massive Australian bushfires, citizens chose to do more than send blankets and meals to those who lost their homes. Rejecting the “sending thoughts and prayers” rhetoric of the politicians, Australians organized solidarity sit-downs to demand disaster relief and climate action. In this way, they went beyond simply calling for relief while ignoring the root cause: they connected the fires to global warming and the human-made climate crisis.

For movement organizers, thinking about solidarity strategies ahead of time can improve your organizing. Who are the people who can stand up for your cause? What allies can’t be arrested, but would love to help organize relief efforts for those who can? What sectors of society could engage in solidarity strikes or walk-outs to broaden your impact? Who can demonstrate to boost the morale of those taking direct action? What groups align with your cause and could have a direct impact on your power holders? What could those groups do to pressure them?

These are important questions for all of us to ask. Get creative with the answers. Solidarity comes in a million shapes and sizes, and it can be the secret to success.

Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion InsurrectionBillionaire Buddha, and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, and the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio. Rivera speaks, educates, and offers workshops on nonviolent struggle.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.

Tags: , , , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the articles on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use'...you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.
Send this to a friend