Before The Social Justice Warriors, There Were The Netroots

A Racefail Memoir

From Sajia Sultana

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In my twenties I was fascinated by blogging and the net-roots, all those wonderful left liberal blogs of the early 2000s – Pandagon, Alas a Blog, 3 Quarks Daily, Feministing, Obsidian Wings, Digby, Making Light.

I learned of Making Light through one of Neil Gaiman’s posts on fanfiction. Teresa Nielsen Hayden had written a lovely post on Mary Sue fanfiction and pro fiction. I started commenting there many years ago, although I was always more of a lurker. I started my own livejournal blog, and became friends with Bellatrys, londonkds, oyceter, and spiralsheep.

I never forgot the conversation Making Light had after the 2004 election on gay marriage, how conciliatory they were to conservative members of that community. A stark contrast to how they handled Racefail after the 2008 election.

I’m not sure if the pandagon archives are still there. I think Alas A Blog still exists. I remember Barry Deutsch’s comic about a Jewish girl who was a dragon-slayer. I remember Matthew Yglesias, although I had a very scratchy knowledge of economics. I remember A Tiny Revolution and Michael Berube. My god, all these white leftists and liberals hi-fiving themselves over how superior they were to the religious right and wondering why there wasn’t a big tent coalition on the internet.

The net roots were obsessed with popular culture. The Buffy debates alone took up yards of screentime. I didn’t have a TV then, although I passively and incoherently absorbed everything I read on the internet. This is why I get infuriated when people accuse the social justice warriors of trivializing social justice concerns, because the netroots had not modeled good behaviour, to put it mildly.

Before Racefail, the biggest netroots dustup I observed was with Amanda Marcotte’s plagiarization of Brownfemipower’s work around WOC reproductive rights. The signs had been there, all along. Amanda Marcotte had defended Paris Hilton as a powerful woman enjoying her money as she choosed while dismissing Beyonce as a non-feminist.She was an obsessive anti-theist and was an apologist for harmful hipster elitism. She made much mileage out of her heartbreaking tale of rape and a pregnancy scare that took place afterwards. Which is one thing to defend reproductive rights and abuse survivors, and another to defend a rapist like Hugo Schwyzer.

I wonder how much the anger of the white netroots against the social justice warriors had to do with the fear of aging.

Racefail happened in January 2009. My entry into Racefail happened by way of a blogger who referred to Deepa D.’s essay, “I didn’t dream of dragons.” This was a magnificent essay taking down everything that was Eurocentric about the western high fantasy tradition. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s livejournals were on my friendslist, and I gaped in horror as they doubled down on racist denial. Will Shetterly started on his rampage of stalking women of color feminists and their white feminist allies. The Nielsen Haydens and Shetterly probably thought they were doing liberal damage control, but it still looks like liberal racist libel and slander of my friends Spiralsheep and Willow, and the ones that I don’t know about, from where I stand.

What made their behaviour even more unforgivable was the fact that Making Light had built its reputation as a bastion of moderacy and approachment between (white) leftists and liberals and centre-rightists. Dave Luckett had posted opposition to gay marriage after the 2004 elections, and instead of being booted out the Making Light regulars reached out and used reason on him, and succeeded. Yet when Spiralsheep and Willow had made completely reasonable attacks on white Eurocentrism in science fiction and fantasy, suddenly they were being divisive and spouting “identity politics nonsense.” Maybe if they had a couple of fiction manuscripts that could have been published at Tor.com they would have been treated better.

I loved the community building that happened post-Racefail. There was the famous POC unicorn sci-fi call-in, where POC fans of science fiction and fantasy proclaimed their love for the genre, and brilliant posts by Deepa D, yeloson, delux vivens, skywardprodigal, and many more. People of color who loved pop culture but had issues with representation realized that they were no longer alone. Racefail was the shot that was heard around the world. It may have been just a Livejournal spat, but it quickly snowballed into massive WOC and QTIPOC online organizing on a global scale.

Now one can argue that I should never have placed trust in the white left to begin with, but hey, I’m a Bangladeshi liberal by birth, breeding, and choice, not an angry black woman with justifiable skepticism of white intentions starting in the womb. And the trauma, added to the already toxic brew of body image dysphoria, bipolar disorder, paranoia, social isolation and first world poverty, made me highly suspicious and angry with my white friends in the Vancouver punk scene. What made things substantially worse was that I felt unable to talk to anyone about my severe emotional pain over seeing white leftists whom I had greatly admired doing incredibly shitty things, misrepresenting the people they had sworn to defend the western right from, and lying their asses off. I mean, Racefail was just a Livejournal dust-up, what was there to be angry about?

What made me even angrier about Racefail was that the Nielsen Haydens were Christian leftists. They talk the talk about mercy, but everybody knows that it’s way easier to forgive the people who hurt you than to forgive the people you hurt. They have never forgiven Spiralsheep and Willow for having been the targets of their abuse. And the Nielsen Haydens’ Christian hypocrisy got enabled like hell by their atheist friends and supporters in the sff community.

At this point the discerning reader will ask, “But Sajia, you hate cultural appropriation rhetoric, why aren’t you more sympathetic to the NHs?” While it’s true that cultural appropriation rhetoric has gotten out of hand, there were legitimate concerns at the heart of anti-appropriation ideology. And it did act as a seed for a massive amount of online community building. And it’s hypocritical for the white left to smear POC pop culture activists when they committed just as shitty behavior not just in the netroots blogs, but earlier on Usenet and the western alternative press. And even if Spiralsheep and Willow had been completely 100 percent wrong, that’s no excuse for the asshole behavior of the NHs and the stalking and abusive behavior of Will Shetterly.

I was pissed off at Teresa Nielsen Hayden dismissing our community building as “bullshit identity politics”, especially because Tor’s reinvention as a bastion of pluralism would not have been possible without that community building. As a bellydancer and yogini I’ve been hurt by POC in-fighting and aggression and policing of white femininity, while the Nielsen Haydens seem to have only revitalized their brand through Racefail.

I was trapped in a digital world, knowing it was unhealthy of me to be spending so much time on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, addicted to communal anger. Part of it is that because I am an empath, I over-identified with the pain and anger of the people whose blogs I was reading, and was unable to create, let alone maintain, good boundaries with my internet friends. Physical movement would prove to be my salvation, but it was years before I could forgive myself for being a Muslimah who liked yoga and a Bangladeshi who loved bellydance.

Part of it was social justice discourse’s “ooh shiny” problem. One person would write something full of heartrending emotion and brilliant insight, the blogosphere would go nuts over them, dropping all common sense and boundaries, until the next blog post full of scintillating wit and heartache came along.

But I made some good friends there. Delux vivens always thought highly of me, and at one point said she would have liked to visit South Asia with me as a traveling companion. It was through her that I met hotcoffeems, a mixed race Sufi revert who loved to bellydance, and who was my inspiration for studying Sufism in Vancouver.

I’d written a post on Boobquake that got a lot of mileage on the internet, and through the links delux vivens had posted I had discovered the LJ blog of hotcoffeemississipi. She was a wonderful writer with a wicked sense of humor. She’d studied ballet as a child and gave me a lot of harsh but necessary advice about the problems with trying to study multiple dance forms at the same time. She’d had terrible problems with her abusive ex-husband but finally managed to get some kind of stability in her life.

She had been stalked and harassed by an internet mob accusing her of ethnicity fraud. She was accused of being a white girl playing dress up with hijab and pretending to have black ancestry in her lineage. She had to change her journal name, but that wasn’t enough and she stopped blogging altogether. I was traumatized, realizing that some of the ideas I had in my head were the same ideas used by the bullies to justify their mistreatment of hotcoffeems. I just didn’t like the scapegoating of white feminine expression by social justice discourse, the obsessive cataloging of privilege, the minute dissection of cultural expression in the pursuit of some obscure purity.

There’s something fucked up about people opposing racial categories as a way of policing human behavior and then using those same racial categories to control access to culture.
I hated the Nielsen Haydens for smearing the online POC community I fell in love with and desperately wanted to be a part of. And then I ended up hating that online POC community for smearing the white bellydancers whose art I loved.

I don’t like being asked to give up things that make me happy. I don’t like people whose main occupation in life is policing other people’s pleasure; whether that pleasure be of religion, art, sexuality, movement practices or community.

I blame the Nielsen Haydens for corrupting our POC media fandom community with the lure of book contracts in a bad economy. I am angry with the POC media fandom community for attacking and even slut-shaming white bellydancers and female yoga practitioners WHO NEVER HURT THEM PERSONALLY while accepting a few pennies from white scumbags in the science fiction fandom hierarchy who had a history of hurting POC fans. No, it’s not restitution if the white people in question continue to lie about Racefail.

And the irony is, in the time of the netroots I really wanted to write for Tor.com. But even if I had a bunch of short stories or a novel ready I’ll be double damned if I lend legitimacy to people who won’t apologize for their shitty behaviour and continue to justify their shitty behaviour towards impoverished POC fans who don’t have a manuscript with which to bargain on their end.


Sajia Sultana

a1299267168_16Sajia Sultana’s song and spoken word can be found at sajiasultana.bandcamp.com and YouTube.com/sajiasultana.


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Meet Me At The Crossroads

Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and inter-connectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.

From Emma Kathryn

Something is coming.

I am an obeah woman. I have seen and heard things that frighten me, but that’s okay. When you grow up poor and on a council estate you learn from a young age that you have to face or fight those things that scare you.

I don’t write about my own personal experiences very often; never, in fact. But today, dear readers, I shall share with you a vision I had whilst in trance. I think it was meant to be shared with others, others like you, others who would take up the fight, others who want change.

And it’s obvious, isn’t it, that change is going to come? It has to, the world cannot possibly go on as it is.

Something is coming. I can feel it. Can you?

Mudslides, wild fires, earthquakes, pollution, climate change, politics, racism, sexism, capitalism, human rights, the list of problems we face is huge. These things have been around for years and years and years, but this feeling I have has only been simmering for weeks and months.

Something is coming, but I don’t know what.

I work with plants, and poisonous plants are a passion of mine. There’s something so beautifully alluring about those delicate blooms that have the power to kill. They have a duality, these plants, to harm and to heal. They have secrets to tell and it is the job of the obeah woman, of the witch, to hear those secrets, and if necessary, to act upon them.

Of all the witches plants, the Datura is my favourite, the one to which I feel the most connected, the deepest affinity. Such a beauty! It produces trumpet-shaped creamy white flowers. Their fragrance truly is divine. When the flowers die, they leave seed pods,  which grow into huge spiny covered balls that burst open, spilling their seed. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but it is with the seed that I make flying ointment.

This ointment is psychoactive and is used to induce trance, for soul flight and hedge crossing, call it what you will. I make it and use it often enough to know what I’m doing, which makes the experience I’m about to relate all the more surprising.

After preparing in my usual way, I laid down on my bed and immediately entered a trance state. It never happens so fast.

It was like being in two worlds. I was in my bedroom, but somewhere else as well, where it was dark, just utter blackness.

But in my room as well.

I was freezing cold, and got beneath the covers, and curled up trying to warm myself. It didn’t help. It was like being outside in midwinter, naked.

There was nothing for it but to move forward, into the darkness. I didn’t want to, not at first. You see, that’s the thing about all of this, it’s fucking scary! It would have been oh so easy to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom and wash off the rest of the ointment, and part of me wanted to. It would have ended things right there and then. I would have gone downstairs and had a coffee had I wanted to severe the link I had made, to end the trance.

I did want to do those things, I can’t lie. But I just couldn’t. I knew I would regret it if I did, and not in any mystical sense, but purely because I don’t like to give in. It’s that same thing, the same grit that makes me get into the ring, that makes me fight. There’s always that what if. And besides, whatever is coming would continue to do so whether I chose to ignore it or not.

So I pushed forward, and the cold got worse. It came in waves, each one colder than the next, and with each pulse it became harder to go on, until at last I couldn’t. Turns out I didn’t have to.

A figure was kneeling down, as if brought to his knees by pain or grief. The figure had no features, wore no clothes. Was like nothing of this earth, of this reality. It emitted a glowing, swirling blue light that moved like mist. This man shaped blue mist was screaming, his hands held to his head, only his screams were silent. His screams were the pulses of cold. This close it was excruciating.

When I thought I couldn’t take anymore, a voice whispered in my ear, a familiar voice, one I have grown to love. She took my hand and I felt warm. As I turned away, the trance ended, and I was simply Emma again.

I slept that night and didn’t dream.When I awoke the next morning, I felt anxious and frustrated. What did it mean? I’ll be fucked if I know. I felt restless, like I needed to do something, but I had no idea what. That feeling lasted weeks. I still feel it now.

Something is coming. This I know, if only because it is inevitable. Perhaps it will be an accumulation of civil unrest, a financial crash, or perhaps nature will finally fight back against the pest she has spawned. Maybe it’ll be all of those things combined, a societal meltdown brought on by extreme climate change. Perhaps none of those things.

I do think this year will bring significant change, though for the better or worse, well, it’s too early to say.

Perhaps I know nothing at all.

All I know, or feel to be true though, is that we must make our actions count. No matter how small. Part of that for me includes my connection to this site, to the writers and the readers and all that we may hope for, everything we aim to achieve.

I know we must stand up for the oppressed whenever we can, in whatever way we can. I know that we must do more to live in a way that doesn’t kill the earth. I know we need to look out for those we care for, and sometimes even those we may not even like very much (but that shit is dependant, we ain’t no walkovers either!). I know there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of it dirty.

I also know that when the shit hits the fan, I’ll be glad to have allies like G&R, its writers and readers.

Since having that trance, and this is the first time I have told anyone, other than my sisters, I just cannot get away from the idea of forming networks with like-minded folk, people I can rely on and trust and who can expect the same from me. It is the wide variety of skills, of the learning from one another that excites me about this. The possibility of taking for ourselves our own futures.

I am a fighter, always have been. I love to fight, and when the challenge is huge, the victory even sweeter. We will have to fight for what we want, for the state is stacked against us. Many will want to stick their heads in the sand, and do so already, blissfully ignorant of the challenges we face, kept quiet with their iPhones and the glamour of technology. The screen is king in today’s world.

Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and interconnectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.

Something is coming and we will be ready. I’ll meet you at the crossroads.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


The pre-sale for Circling The Star ends 14 February.

Solidarity Networks

This guide is also available as a print-yourself booklet (Solidarity-Networks-print) and is free to copy, share, and modify in either form.

Men brandishing assault rifles surround a building full of Black people. Groups of white men wearing biker’s jackets bearing racist emblems roam the streets and make ‘visits’ to Mosques looking for signs of religious extremism. A right-wing media figure shows up to a protest, his pockets full of ammo rounds, and aims a gun at unarmed women and children. Refugees from economic collapse and brutal wars flood across borders, risking drowning or getting smashed by trains and trucks to sneak through tunnels or over oceans.

None of these events take place in an imaginary future. This is our present world, one where all the illusions of peace, prosperity, and “civilization” are melting away. And this has always been the existence of the poor, of People of Color, First Nations, and occupied peoples in ‘the West’ and the rest of the worldthe rest of us are only now beginning to notice.

And it can get much worse. Probably will, especially after the results of a recent election. We’re watching an empire crumble, and it’s not going down without a fight. But before you despair, let me tell you what else has been happening.

Groups of people are smuggling fleeing refugees across bordersfor free. Some show up when gangs of white supremacists gather in city centers and fight them off. Thousands of people are gathering on sacred land to help indigenous people fight off government-approved explosive pipelines. People are risking imprisonment and death to fight police, the military, corporate security, and fascists to defend others. They’re stockpiling birth control, teaching self-defense, and working to keep other people safe.

There are many names for these sorts of groups. They transcend race and nationality, religion and family and community. They often also transcend class, and rarely fit squarely into usual political categories of left or right. And they seem to arise organically, always from the ground-up.

They’re called Solidarity Networks, and they are crucial to our survival. They’re also crucial for building a new world from the ruins of Capitalism and Empire.
whats-a-titleYou’re probably already familiar with Solidarity Networks, though you might not realize it. Actually, you already have the beginnings of one, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

During the 1800’s in the United States of America, abolitionists, former slaves, First Nations people, and sympathetic allies maintained safe houses and transportation for Blacks attempting to flee slavery into British/Canadian territory. This was The Underground Railroad. They did so without a specific hierarchy, and not only without help from the government, but in direct opposition to it. It was illegal to shelter fugitive slaves, even in so-called ‘free states.’ Another such network arose in Europe during the rise of the Nazi party and up to the end of World War II. Individuals and groups from many backgrounds and political persuasions sheltered, hid, and helped transport Jews out of Germany and Europe.

But helping fugitives is only one role of a solidarity network. In many cities in the United States, groups have been organized around helping immigrants and low-income folks (especially people of color) get wages from cheating employers or deposits back from deadbeat landlords. Similarly non-hierarchical, their members aren’t just ‘activists’: in fact, many involved are people who’ve been helped by former actions.

One strong and effective example is the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol):

Regardless of the specific purposes of any Solidarity Network, they share the following traits:

They are intentional

While there are countless instances of people coming together to help others in need, a solidarity network isn’t just a spontaneous action. Though they often arise organically, they are held together by shared principles and commitments and require organization.

They are distributed, rather than authoritarian

Solidarity networks have leaders and organizers, but the key to them is plurality. No one person is ever in charge of the network or the actions, but rather a group of people or, ideally, everyone involved. Not only does this prevent abuse, but it ensures that the network has more participation and can survive if something happens to core people.

They do not rely on government or the law

Solidarity networks are never part of the government. In fact, they often arise in opposition to the government, or to fill a need that the government cannot fill (or has caused). For instance, both the Underground Railroad and the many people helping to hide Jews during World War II were engaged in illegal activities. Others, such as SeaSol, use direct action to get justice where the laws have so many loopholes that official channels (such as the courts) always fail the poor.

They are political, but do not demand political conformity

The Underground Railroad was heavily supported by abolitionists, many who were early socialists. However, just as many were not socialists. You did not have to be a socialist or abolitionist to help, nor did you need to conform to any religious belief. Likewise, Socialists, Anarchists, Conservatives, and Liberals all worked together to get Jews out of Germany. While some political groups are much more likely to participate (and others likely to oppose the group), commitment to the cause is what is required, not identification with a party or political theory.

They make the most vulnerable their priority

Solidarity networks don’t help the oppressed as part of their work, that is their work. This makes them radically different from many other groups (like charities, churches, or unions) who come together for other purposes but include justice. Solidarity networks start with injustice and center all their other activities around it.

whats-a-titleAs mentioned above, a solidarity network is different from other groups. It’s important to keep these distinctions in mind.

They are not communities

Community is a word used so often it doesn’t really mean anything. We use it to describe both neighborhoods and identity-groupslike Pagan or LGBT ‘communities’as well as nebulous associations like the Online Gaming or Activist ‘Community.’ In all cases, community denotes a shared characteristic (living in the same neighborhood, playing online games) but not much else.

Solidarity networks are not based around identity, and do not rely on shared characteristics as a unifying principle.

They are not institutions

This distinction is pretty important. Charities, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, or other groups certainly do good work. Their downside is that they are top-heavy, slow, inefficient, and often rely on large groups of people donating money rather than time. Though a solidarity network might pool resources or ask for donations, direct action is more important.

They are not political parties

Though every single member of a solidarity network might be politically engaged and be active in political parties, the network is not a party. Political parties seek to gain power through the electoral process, rather than direct action. This always leads to compromise of their founding goals and direct-action work.

They are not advocacy groups

A solidarity network doesn’t try to ‘raise awareness’ about the plight of the oppressed: it does something about it. While advocacy is often part of the work of a solidarity network, attempts to raise awareness are specifically used to bring more people within the network and to support their actions. Activism and advocacy are part of the actions, but not the actions themselves.

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No two networks are identical, nor should they be. But they do share several core principles, regardless of their differences.

Direct Action

Solidarity Networks do not rely on the electoral, legal, or political process to enact change. The people who hid Jews in their apartments in Berlin understood the political process wouldn’t help them, just as the former slaves and abolitionists who hid and transported fugitive Blacks did not wait to win court battles or get the right people in office.

Direct action means action. It means doing something tangible to help others, rather than giving passive and indirect support. It isn’t a Facebook like or a twitter re-tweet; it isn’t holding a sign or writing to your senator. None of those ‘actions’ directly affect the situation of the oppressed. Likewise, Direct action is direct. It does not rely on the powerful, on representatives or officials or leaders.

We have become very accustomed to passive support: calling 911 when someone is in distress, giving money to large organizations like The Red Cross or Amnesty International. We cannot always directly help those in need, but when we can, we must. And because we’ve become so passive, we will need to relearn what we are actually capable of.

Mutual Aid

Mutual aid is a principle very much forgotten in capitalist countries, and it’s one we need to remember immediately.

Mutual aid is based on the idea that every person within a solidarity network is as valuable as every other, and each much be supported equally. This is seen best in the following two statements.

“An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Every act of violence, oppression, and harm that affects an individual also affects the group. As in anarcho-syndicalism, solidarity networks make a commitment to support each person and to come together in their defense.

This is best seen in solidarity networks like SeaSol. Sometimes, those who became involved at the beginning to help others find themselves in the same situations as those they’ve helped. An activist might find themselves losing their job for unfair reasons and suddenly find people they helped helping them.

This principle is essential to the coherence of the group. Unlike communities formed around identity, everyone within a solidarity network commits to the well-being of everyone else. They are all allies, all accomplices, supporting each other whenever needed. Many oppressors isolate and target individuals: a group is always much stronger.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Solidarity networks also recognize that each person has different abilities, wealth, privilege, vulnerabilities, and needs. Therefore, though they treat each person as important as every other person, they acknowledge some can give more while some will need more.

This is best seen in the networks who supported fugitive Jews and Blacks. Escaped slaves had no property, often could not read or write, and often had nothing to offer. Similarly, fleeing Jews had few resources, no access to more, and often didn’t speak the language of their hosts outside Germany. In these cases, to expect the Jews or Blacks to carry their own weight or pay for rent or for food would have been more than unfair.

That doesn’t mean they were unable to give back. Many escaped slaves returned to help others along the Underground Railroad routes, many Jews helped watch the children of their hosts or offered financial help in return. But since a solidarity network prioritizes the most vulnerable, it will acknowledge that those they help probably cannot help back during their greatest needs.

whats-a-titleBefore we look at how we can build solidarity networks, we need to have an honest talk about risk.

We’re not used to taking risks. In fact, if there’s anything Liberal Democracy has been very good at is assuring us that it’s always better to be safe, comfortable, and secure. Risk is for the foolish people, or for gamblers or stock market investors, not for everyday folk.

That’s never been true for everyone. Life has never been safe, though if you’re white, able-bodied, straight, or otherwise privileged, you probably aren’t accustomed to the idea that helping someone might throw you in jail or lead to your death.

Get over it. Now.

There’s a massive chorus of Black, trans, queer, poor, disabled, First Nations, immigrant, and many other people who know that the safety and security promised by capitalism and democracy has always been a lie. It’s never been safe for them—even if they toe the line, even if they obey all the laws, even if they pay their rent on time and never drive above the speed limit.

Right now, it’s mostly just whites who still cling to this illusion. Worse, the refusal of whites to take risks on behalf of others is one of the reasons why oppression has continued for so long.

As Liberal Democracy collapses around us, whites are the only ones who really will have a choice to avoid risk. Stay silent, and you might be safe. Keep your head down, and you might not be targeted. Don’t question oppression, and you might get to keep your jobs, your homes, and your normal life.

You might get to keep going as you did, while immigrants are rounded up and deported, more Blacks are murdered, vulnerable people die from lack of healthcare and medicine, trans people are beaten or kill themselves, First Nations people lose even more land and face down military-grade police forces… all for the chance that you might feel safe.

Do you really want that?

You don’t, because you’re still reading.

whats-a-titleReady? Good.

Every solidarity network is going to be different, and it’d be useless for us to give you a prescription for what you should do. Besides, it’s time to give up our hope that leaders know any better than us and can get us out of this mess. You are the leader you’ve been waiting for.

Though we can’t give you a prescription, we can outline a framework. Tinker with it at will, play with it, use your imagination. This is broad enough that you can adapt it any way you need to, but specific enough that you’ll hopefully understand what’s needed.

1. Start with your friends

We wrote earlier that you already have the beginnings of a solidarity network. They’re called friends, and they’re awesome.

Think about your closest friends. If you needed something right now, they’d be there for you, right? And if they needed something, you’d be there for them. Also, you don’t expect them to do the very same things that you do. They need different things, and can do different things.

Mutual aid and solidarity are not abstract principles. They’re the foundation of friendship, and you’re already really good at it. In fact, solidarity networks are radical friendships.

Also, you don’t agree with everything your friends think, believe, or do. Maybe they vote differently, have different views on capitalism or religion or politics. But that doesn’t stop your friendship, because friendship isn’t based on those things. Neither are solidarity networks.

Think of a friend of yours who is as worried as you are about the way things are, hopefully someone who lives near you. Then, talk to them about what they need right now. They’re probably pretty upset after this election if they live in America, they could probably use a kind ear.

Ask them if they’d be willing to do something together to change stuff. Show them this essay if that helps. And then, together, talk about what you need from each other, what you can give to each other, and what you might be able to do together.

This may be an awkward conversation at first. Many people are not used to thinking of friendship this way. We take our friendships for granted, get lost in passivity of internet communication and the weight of the world’s sorrows. But if you want to build something better, this will be your first step.

Don’t worry, though. This is the easy part. They’re your friends, after all.

2. Think about bodily and emotional needs

(DON’T SKIP THIS STEP!)

Another thing capitalism’s been good at is distracting us from our bodies and emotions. We are often in our heads, thinking huge thoughts, worrying, fretting, plotting. So it’s no surprise that so many people right now have been asking some very scary questions for the first time about how they’ll survive all the chaos and violence as empire crumbles.

Ask the following questions of yourself first:

  • What do you need to survive? Where does your food come from, your medicine, your shelter? How secure is all of that? What might happen if the way of getting that is disrupted?
  • What do you need to feel safe? How many of the comforts in your life are only things that get you through the misery of your job? How much do you rely on police and the government for your bodily protection? What happens if that goes away?
  • How do you deal with fear? Do you tend to shut down when crises happen, or do you put off emotions until the crisis is over? How do you manage panic, anxiety, depression, and despair? Do you rely on external sources (medications, entertainment, your friends and family) to get you through bad stuff, and what happens if they are not available in a crisis?
  • What resources do you have? Do you have savings? A home, a car, other things that you might need if things get awful? Are you currently reliant on government income or benefits? What happens if those are taken away from you? Do you have any skills that don’t pay the bills but could directly benefit someone in need?
  • How do you care for yourself? Do you sometimes overextend your energy and resources? Are you good at communicating to people who support you when you need their help? Do you have trouble setting boundaries with people whom you support?

Once you’ve asked these questions of yourself, ask them of others. You don’t necessarily need to directly ask them–you probably already know most of your friends’ answers anyway. But to build a solidarity network, you need to understand not just your own abilities and needs, but those of others.

Thinking about your own situation and the precarious things that keep you safe will equip you to really understand the needs of others when they express them.

3. Extend out from your friends, and especially to people in need or danger

Solidarity networks are not communities. Communities are based on shared traits, while solidarity networks intentionally include oppressed people. Not only do they intentionally include them, they are built with them specifically in mind.

Here’s the part where risk begins to come in. When you offer your support to someone in danger, you take on their danger. You share risk. Most friendships aren’t based in unequal circumstances, but solidarity networks must be.

You don’t need to go out looking for oppressed people. They are all around you.

You are probably quite vulnerable yourself. Be careful of the white liberal tendency to ‘adopt’ tokenized oppressed people. That comes from living insulated lives, and only makes oppression worse.

Right now, you know someone who needs you. Maybe you know them only from work or the bar or your neighborhood. They might be the illegal immigrant who cleans your office or washes dishes at the restaurant where you work. They might be your Black neighbor, or the Muslim clerk at the convenience store where you buy your cigarettes. They might be the friend you haven’t heard from in years, who you know suffers from deep depression, or your co-worker who just started transitioning gender.

Ask them what you can do to support them. Dare an awkward conversation, and risk the possibility that they might rebuff you or be facing problems so big you might be overwhelmed. Your network can’t help anyone if it doesn’t risk reaching out.

4. Use Your Privilege

You need to understand your privilege. That privilege might save someone’s life.

If you’re white, you should already know about your white privilege. If you don’t, it’s past time for you to learn. Most whites can walk by cops without getting shot, can walk into stores without getting followed. That’s why many liberal whites don’t take Black accounts of police oppression seriously–they don’t experience it, and so have no reference point. Besides, they benefit from it.

To build solidarity networks, you need to give that benefit to someone else. You can’t change the color of your skin, but you can acknowledge that your white skin can be used to protect the life of a person targeted because of theirs.

  • If you’re white, you can get away with stuff your immigrant or Black friend can’t.
  • If you’re male, you’re safer at night than your female friends.
  • If you are healthy and have no medical problems, you can do things your disabled friends cannot.
  • Straight and cisgendered? Your body can be used to protect your gay and trans friends.

This will also help you dismantle your privilege. Really listen to the needs of those around you, recognize their vulnerabilities, and use your lack of them to help them. Use your white skin to protect a Black person from a cop, your male body to protect a woman from sexual assault, your able body to gather resources and do work a disabled person cannot.

“From each according to their ability…” doesn’t just refer to money or skill. Your privilege gives you access to things other people don’t get. Use it to get it for them.

5. Grow, spread, seed

Keep going. The more of you there are, the more you can do. The more you succeed, the more other people will be inspired to do the same thing. And the more experienced you get at this, the more you’ll be able to teach others.

There are some things to consider here, though.

Secrecy

If you’re doing very risky illegal actions such as hiding immigrants or dissidents, you need what’s called a ‘security culture.’ Every person involved in your network must commit to keeping your activities secret, must think beforehand what they will say if they are arrested, and must honestly consider how ‘an injury to one’ will apply if they’re being tortured in prison.

If your group gets large and relies on lots of people who are more ‘allies’ than participants, consider the security culture of the Underground Railroad. People who ran safehouses rarely knew the location of many more of them, guides didn’t always know each other, and slaves who were smuggled out didn’t always even know the names of people who were helping them.

Such secrecy protected the entire network, and also helped get more people involved. If a fugitive slave was caught, no matter how much they were tortured, they could not reveal who was ‘behind’ the Underground Railroad. The same for any guide or host of a safe house. The entire network could survive because no one person knew all the secrets.

Beware of Authority

Your network is going to have organizers. More than likely, you’ll be one of them if you started it. But there’s a fine balance between being an organizer and being a central authority, and you must avoid the latter at all costs. This isn’t just a matter of principle, though there are plenty of principled reasons to avoid top-down networks. It’s a matter of survival for the entire group.

Police, military, mercenaries, and others will target the apparent leaders of a group. Being part of hierarchical, authoritarian groups themselves, they know how much chaos the loss of their own leaders would be. And if you have that kind of leader, the entire network can die when they are targeted.

As many people within the group as possible should share in the organizing role. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be an organizer, only that there needs to be several people able to fulfill the role at a moment’s notice. Too much all on the shoulders of one organizer will crush that person anyway, leading to burnout, bitterness, and even the end of the network.

Prioritize Everyone’s NeedsIncluding Yours

You can’t save drowning people when you’re drowning.

Every activist can tell you this, every organizer has a story. You’ll be trying to help others, dedicating all your time and energy and resources, and then suddenly…you’re done. You can’t lift a finger, you can’t be bothered to care. If it’s bad enough, you actually start to resent or even hate the people you’ve been trying to help.

There are many reasons this happens, and it’s a huge risk if you’re one of the organizers of the network. If you have more ‘ability’ to begin with, you may forget your needs, especially if you’re trying to keep up a strong mood of hope against a world of despair. When others are looking to you for help, it’s really easy to ignore your own needs, especially if others aren’t in a place to meet them.

The point of a solidarity network is that everyone is supported. Make sure you are too, whether that’s setting stronger boundaries with people whose needs are too overwhelming for you at the moment or taking time away from organizing, especially before you start to shut down.

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We’ve provided a very broad framework for solidarity networks, and used some specific examples to explain them. So you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. Are you capable of doing grand actions? Could you ever hope to be as courageous as others?

The examples provided were large for a reason. You are capable of all of that. You can save other people’s lives, you can organize against bullies and the rich. And you may eventually have to.

But you don’t have to start big. Here’s a short list of places you might start.

  • Medication networks: Many women, trans people, and medically-compromised folks may face a crisis over access to medications, birth control, and other necessary drugs. Do you have good health insurance? Don’t need birth control but can get it? Access to pain, anxiety, or hormonal drugs that others might need? Build a network around this.
  • Emotional care networks: Many, many minorities are terrified for their safety right now. Many are dealing with trauma and anxiety from what is happening and are feeling very isolated. Especially if you are worried but not yet directly affected by these crises, you can offer your emotional labor to them.
  • Skill, tool, and resource share networks: These are very common already. You know how to do things that others don’t, skills that may be life-saving to others. Most people don’t know how to sew, to cook food from scratch, to garden—skills once basic to humanity but long forgotten by many. Self-defense is another one very essential, especially for women, trans people, and people of color. Even something as common as owning a car means you have access to something many people don’t have and might need. Building transport networks for people in dangerous areas can save lives.
  • Protection networks: Never underestimate the value of being physically present for someone in danger. Are you an intimidating-looking male? Imagine if you and four others all show up to stand in front of a Black or immigrant-owned shop that’s being targeted by racists. You don’t have to be armed (though it might be a good idea); physical presence alone can often stop attacks.

There are countless other ways of doing this, and your network might evolve as you continue. A group dedicated to teaching people how to cook might also be an emotional care network, or later commit to drive immigrant women home from their night-cleaning jobs.

Whatever you commit to, the most important thing to do is start now. And as you do, know that others are doing the exact same thing. Some of those networks will connect to others, some will be official, others clandestine.

Several of us at Gods&Radicals are building them right now.

And one final note. We mentioned at the beginning that solidarity networks are a key to building the world we want. This is how we can prove to others and to ourselves that we don’t need authority, we don’t need corporations, we don’t need government and police.

Not only are we standing up to violence and oppression, we’re building a new world, one that we know is possible, because we’re from there.

Resist Beautifully!

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Gods&Radicals

grGods&Radicals is a non-profit Pagan Anti-Capitalist publisher, founded by Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth.  We publish print and online works, and are dedicated to creating a new world from the ruins of the old.

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