On Solidarity, Not Charity

Solidarity is created when people are able to discuss political realities and act according to collective values and political critiques. Cultures of solidarity recognizes that social change is the work of everyone – not just a few activists willing to devote time and money to address injustice and environmental crises. Solidarity implies that we see ourselves as a community who depend on each other – not just in good times but to address collective problems, including political problems. Showing solidarity requires taking the time to see how our actions – or our silences, affect those facing injustice.

Solidarity is not created through charity. Solidarity is working to make justice possible so charity is no longer needed. Charitable aid, for example, will never effectively address poverty in the Global South. Consider that in 2010 total external debt payments from Global South (private debt as well as public) were $583 billion. (Source: World Bank). Meanwhile, total aid from western (OECD) countries in 2010 was $128.5 billion (Source: OECD). Northern countries such as the UK are siphoning over $5 from the Global South for each pound we give as aid. The policies of the World Bank and the IMF are crippling the Global South.

If we care about poverty in the Global South, we can give to charities – or we can work in solidarity with activists in the south against the G8, the IMF and the World Bank. Clearly I believe the second is necessary and more effective. All of big charities fail to challenge the political forces that determine that the majority world will be exploited by those with political power. Charities are ultimately ineffectual in their attempt to address poverty as they never focus on the cause of poverty in the first place. Bono and Bob Geldof do charity not solidarity and we should not follow their example. By all means we should support humanitarian aid, but we must do this with the attitude that there is more work to be done in challenging the systems that create poverty.

Is there is enough solidarity in our communities to respond when we are also hit with austerity measures on the scale of assault on the people of Greece and Spain? People are preoccupied. Many evade political discussions. Can we afford not to at very least make space for discussions, then organise and actively resist austerity? Solidarity is built not with simply a concern for what is wrong, but the willingness to act. 

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