Dear Isabel (Letter/7)
by Mark Chmiel
Friday 26 June 2015
Happy Friday, you’ve finished one week at the new job.
Page 8, top paragraph
I take back what I said yesterday about boycotting the word “solidarity.” That first sentence should be tweeted world-wide. Well expressed.
Page 8, paragraph 2
Solidarity is analogous to a committed relationship; sure, both are “rife with potential for violating the dignity of those [communities or significant others]” we yearn to “join” and honor.
How and when did you “join” specific Salvadoran communities when you lived there? Was there a rite of passage, was it official, informal, no big deal? Was it acknowledged by one particular person or a whole group?
Also, could you join those communities at a distance, say, when you were at grad school? I remember a Buddhist referring to her “floating transnational sangha.” Or were you objectively and subjectively already part of such communities WHILE YOU WERE IN GRAD SCHOOL?
Agnes Heller, a European philosopher had an essay on civic virtues I read back in the 1990s. Some short excerpts (she’s secular; it may be that—still— solidarity in Salvador has a faint (or full) religious tint to it):
There are two kinds— in-group and universal fellow-feeling.
Solidarity = “a readiness to translate the feeling of brotherliness and sisterliness into acts of support for those groups, movements or other collectivities which are intent on reducing the level of violence, domination or force in political and social institutions.”
“The virtue of solidarity thus defined, does not include unqualified support for the in-group (nor for that matter, any other group or movement); rather it excludes unqualified support.”
“Practicing the virtue of solidarity requires a gesture of active help. Whenever someone we are familiar with becomes the victim of domination, violence, force or injustice of any kind, we must lend our support to the cause of the victim with civic courage. Indeed, we must do even more: we have to stand by the victim with advice, and give the persecuted shelter against the persecutors in a gesture of solidarity. Those who fail to lend such support fall short of all that the virtue of solidarity implies. Solidarity is a virtue which pertain to the quality of life to the same extent as radical tolerance or civic courage are.”
Can you easily name (not for me, but for yourself) some times when you overstepped your bounds in the communities you are connected to by solidarity? Again, we fail in our committed relationships in countless ways both “subtle” and overt. That’s why, in Book of Mev, I mentioned in Part Two that people who wanted “to help out” at our home had to be willing to fuck up— a lot—if they wanted to be part of that scene (where, to quote you from earlier in the letter, “… because vulnerability is easier if every day feels like the last. — or like it’s a last for someone.”) Fucking up is ordinary, not to say we should be lackadaisical; in a situation like Salvador, with linguistic, cultural, and social differences, fucking up would be as frequent as the number of cigarettes the baddest-ass activist smokes in a day.
I received a hardback and paperback of Dear Layla in today’s mail. Saw on Amazon that the e-book is available.
Let’s be the solidarity we wish to see in the world.
Ann Manganaro, SL and colleagues; Guarjila Clinic; El Salvador; January 1993
photo by Mev Puleo