From Colombia to Palestine: Solidarity Knows No Borders

Politics Editor Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin explores the meaning of solidarity and asks six protestors at the London rally in solidarity with Palestine, "What does solidarity mean to you?"

PHOTOGRAPHY Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

What does solidarity look like? Perhaps an amalgamation of the 200 faces that surrounded an Immigration Detention van on Kenmure Street, Glasgow, on Thursday 13 May, until two Punjabi men were released back into the safety of their community. Or does it embody the beautiful relationship that blossomed between the LGBTQIA+ community and British miners in the 1980s, where Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants fundraised thousands for the National Union of Mineworkers during their year-long strike of 1984-1985, and miners’ labour groups endorsed and participated in pride marches at a time of rampant homophobia? Maybe solidarity looks like the activist network Palestine Action smearing blood-red paint down the factory walls of Elbit Systems UK, which supplies Israel with weapons to use against Palestinians – according to anti-arms group CAAT, Elbit supplied 85 percent of the drones used by Israel’s military in the 2014 bombardment of Gaza.

What does solidarity sound like? Does it sound like the song ‘Solidarity Forever’, a union anthem written by Ralph Chaplin? Or perhaps like calls of “the people united will never be defeated” at Kill The Bill protests in 25 UK cities over the past two months, attended by individuals from diverse backgrounds in support of Black and Brown people, GRT communities, queer people, and sex workers, who would be impacted by increased police powers, among other provisions. It also sounds like this performance of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in limbo” performed by the MaMa choir – an organisation that brings together migrants in crisis – to acknowledge the process of struggling through the UK’s asylum and immigration system.

Solidarity is not a noun but a verb – it is a continual doing word – it describes the actions we take to channel empathy and rage into action; to collaborate on imagining and creating a better and safer world for those who have been historically marginalised.

Solidarity is not equivalent to charity, nor is it transactional. Rather, as Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández said, “it is defined by the ways in which we understand and enact our responsibilities to, and our relationships with, one another.” Originating in the 1980s, when a coalition of Polish social groups formed an independent trade union called Solidarność, solidarity today is a recognition of the fact that when we stand alongside one another as equals – when we channel our collective power – we are stronger than ever. It is a prioritisation of community care, of mutual aid and growth; it is a sacrifice of self-interest and comfort for the sake of restorative justice and collective liberation. Solidarity is not a noun but a verb – it is a continual doing word – it describes the actions we take to channel empathy and rage into action; to collaborate on imagining and creating a better and safer world for those who have been historically marginalised.

Some days, solidarity takes on the shape of a letter written in support of an acquaintance’s asylum case; other days, we make a conscious decision not to shop at Boohoo or Amazon in protest of their exploitative labour practices. On Saturday 15 May, it looked like hundreds of thousands of people – of all ages, races, genders, and faiths – taking to the streets in 220 cities across the world in protest of human rights violations. It sounded like the chants of “SOS Colombia; Free Palestine” that soared through the pink and green smoke-filled streets of London; like the words of one speaker outside the Colombian Embassy, who said: “We can see that our oppressors are united against us, but today we too stand united against our oppressors.”

As protestors marched around the world, Israeli airstrikes collapsed Al Jala’s tower, the building that housed Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza, as well as a number of private homes, killing eight children and two women. This came on the sixth day of aerial bombardment of occupied Gaza by Israeli forces and resistance by Palestenian troops – over the course of this week, at least 139 Palestineans, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza according to health authorities; Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children. Earlier in the day, at least 15 members of two Palestinean families were killed, and 15 others wounded, by an Israeli air raid on the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza strip. In the early hours of the morning, these families lost 12 children and three women who had gathered to celebrate Eid, and their stability in a camp that has been their home, and home to many who came before them. According to Jewish Voice for Peace, a collective of jews and allies working for liberation and justice in Palestine, since the start of the Nakba in 1948, Zionists have violently prevented Palestinians from returning to their homes and now, “Palestinian refugees and their descendents number over 5.6 million, and are the largest and longest-standing population of displaced people in the world.” 

Standing in the rubble of the Al Jala, a 10-year-old Palestinean girl broke down, saying, “What do you expect me to do? Fix it? I’m only 10. I’m just a kid…I say to myself, why do we deserve this? What did we do?… It’s not fair.” On Saturday, protestors from Baghdad to Berlin called for an end to this “genocide” as they stood in solidarity with the Palestinean people.

The oppression of these communities today is rooted in the same violent structures that have oppressed many of our ancestors and elders throughout history – the heavy hands of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism.

In London, the march started outside the Colombian embassy and with a series of speeches from young Colombian organisers, who highlighted the police violence currently being inflicted on protesters in Bogotá and other cities across Colombia – according to Temblores, a local NGO that monitors police violence, at least 37 people have been killed during protests so far, with this number expected to rise as 89 people have been reported missing since protests began on 28 April. These demonstrations began in response to a tax reform, but have since continued in protest of poverty and inequality, humans’ rights abuses, and ongoing police brutality. One passionate orator also offered their support to Kashmir, where the Indian government eliminated the region’s semi-autonomous provisions in August 2019 and subjected the Muslim-majority state to increased military presence, draconian communication backouts and curfews, and violent murders of Kashmir rebels – India has only recently reinstated 4G mobile internet access in Kashmir after 550 days. Another acknowledged the suffering of indigenous communities in the Philippines and the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

These atrocities may span borders and oceans, but contain a common theme. The oppression of these communities today is rooted in the same violent structures that have oppressed many of our ancestors and elders throughout history – the heavy hands of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. A thirst for power rules the decisions and actions of the most powerful governments and military forces in the world; but the people are resisting, and they are resisting as one.

This collective movement organising and mobilising before our very eyes is decolonisation in action.

As we marched towards the Israeli embassy to the sounds of rousing clanging of pots and pans, and the crowd pumped their fists towards the sky with chants of “one heart; one arm” echoing around us, I asked six protestors what solidarity means to them.

Bel

“Solidarity, to me, is standing in the present, understanding what’s wrong and what’s right, and sticking with the right side of history.”

Jo

“Solidarity means, to me, recognising that all oppressed struggles are one. We can’t simply fight for one cause without recognising that we need to achieve equality across all countries and all peoples.”

Ayan

“We all have a responsibility to come out and fight for the people that have been oppressed, that are being oppressed, and to resist the settler colonialism that is taking place right now. This isn’t about religion; this is oppression in its purest form.”

Monica

“Solidarity is about having empathy for our brothers because we are all citizens of the planet.”

Cynthia

“Solidarity, to me, means showing up for the people and issues that you care about. I think, for the most part, social media activism is not really doing that much for people, and just posting about something or reposting a story doesn’t mean that you’re showing up properly for the cause.

So, I think being here today is a way to show people that you do care, and that you support them in the fight for their liberation.”

Jo Kaspar

“Solidarity is about showing up and understanding our privilege. It’s about standing with others and recognising that we can send a powerful message together.”

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Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin
Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Our Politics Editor, Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin (they/she) is an LGBTIQA+ community organiser and Trustee with the direct action group, Voices4 London, and on the Advisory Board for the social enterprise, Split Banana, who are helping redesign and deliver inclusive relationship and sex-ed.

Prishita’s words have been published in METAL, gal-dem, and Dazed, amongst others. They also recently featured in ‘Soul of a Movement’, a new documentary by British creative directors Carson McColl and Gareth Pugh that documents some of the British LGBTIQ+ activists, artists and allies carrying the revolutionary fire of the Stonewall Uprising today.

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