The Gustavian Weekly

Solidarity: A Pathway from Service to Justice | The Gustavian Weekly

By Nicole Ektnitphong Opinion Columnist | April 24, 2015 | Opinion

Last month, I wrote a piece titled “Urgency Urgency: It’s All About the Intersectionality,” in which I called for slow, intentional time that is necessary for deep movement building.  This slow, intentional time is an important part of the process of healing, reflection and creates a foundation for the constant movement towards a just, fair and resilient world.

What does this look like in practice?  This week, I want to write about the principle and practice of solidarity.

Let me step back and explain this framework from which I write.  Gusties are really good at service.  Service is one of our core values and it is important.  It’s important enough that we have an office filled with incredible people, who are dedicated to service learning and servant leadership on this campus.  Service, in many ways, is the addressing of immediate needs on the ground in various communities.

I certainly identify with the importance of service because that was how I showed up in communities for the last half of my (pretty short) life.  For me, service and volunteer work were my first stepping stones to see and engage with the world.

In the last two years, I’ve personally begun to really question what I wanted my engagement with the world, to really look like.  Service experience after volunteer experience led me to question the deeper root of issues that I was seeing before me, like homelessness, lack of affordable housing, the achievement gap and our climate changing.  These sorts of issues do not just unfold overnight and the more questions I asked, the more I began to understand the history and context for my service work.  I asked myself, ‘This certainly can’t be it, right?’

Solidarity organizing means aligning our work with the voices of greatest impact meaning: communities of color, women, the Global South, queers and the working class.

This framework of questioning the deeper root of issues is a transition towards justice.  Gustavus holds justice as one of the core five values, and I believe that a justice framework is one that builds upon and goes beyond service.  When we engage in local volunteer opportunities we gain a glimpse at a need or many needs.  Collective justice is a way of understanding that all of these needs share common roots and in addressing these common roots is where the principle and practice of solidarity fits in.

Working for justice is working for long-term solutions and it takes deep reflection and processing of our own identities.  For example, I am a 21-year-old, heterosexual, able-bodied, Thai, Chinese, Laotian “American” woman, first generation college student with two immigrant parents.  I’m a soon to be college graduate who is from a low-income socioeconomic class.  What does all of this mean in the context of working for change?  It means I can understand my own impact from various deeply rooted issues in relation to others that may share similar identities as me.  I also begin to understand my privilege and access to power.  This continuous reflection and critical analysis also serves as the foundation for organizing for/in solidarity.

What do I mean by “organizing?”  I don’t mean taking the whole afternoon to put everything away in your closet, I mean the act of getting people together to 1) win real improvements in their lives, 2) build a sense of collective, shared power and 3) permanently alter power relations in a way where communities have more say in controlling their own lives.

Working for justice or organizing for justice is about impact.  Impact influences input, that is, those who are most deeply affected by racism, sexism, climate change, classism, homophobia and imperialism should have the greatest say in what the solutions are.

Solidarity organizing means aligning our work with the voices of greatest impact meaning: communities of color, women, the Global South, queers and the working class. Organizing in partnership with communities who are most impacted reminds us how important the work is and how we have so much to learn from these communities.  Working for justice means building power together in order to create large-scale change that will affect the root causes of needs that we see.

We live in a world of differences and working for collective power and justice is complex, but this cannot be an excuse.  Just because things are “hard” doesn’t mean they are not important.  Part of doing the work is questioning why it’s so “hard” or “tough.”  Working for justice is not a one time volunteer experience, it’s committing to the long haul because we need long-term solutions.  What is really stopping us from engaging in justice work?

-Nicole Ektnitphong