During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Joe Scarborough and many of his guests referred to various Democratic Senators’ “I am Spartacus” moments. It was clear they meant a chance to stand up and be the hero. They pictured a moment where the spotlight shone solely on the “star politician” seizing that moment to ask something impressive. It shows how liberals totally fail to understand the point of that scene in the movie and the book it was based on.
The point was to protect the real Spartacus from Roman vengeance and humiliation. “I am Spartacus” was not a declaration of heroic victory but a willing to share the bloody price of defeat in the place of another. It’s not about individual heroism. It’s about solidarity. If everyone claims to be Spartacus then Rome is denied the proof of their triumph over the true Spartacus. It’s about standing together in crisis.
So what is solidarity anyway?
My online dictionary says that solidarity is “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” It also says something about a labor union in Poland. While related, we’re going with the definition I quoted above. That’s pretty much exactly how I mean it. It’s the single most important word on the left right now. It’s more important than “resistance,” “impeachment” or even “2020.”
We live in a world that makes it very easy to feel lonely. Whether it’s work, travel, or taking care of the necessities of subsistence much of our life is reduced to temporary and transactional relationships. I work in an industry where my personal role is literally to make the person on the other end of the phone so happy with me they forget about their problems. I experience transactional relationships on a constant basis at work. I sit at a desk and tend to be isolated from everyone but those transactional relationships while doing my job. It’s a very lonely feeling and it makes me feel like a machine; not a person. I’ve had anxiety disorders in the past and I experience depression periodically now.
Does that sound familiar to you? Will you take it personally if I take a stab in the dark that you feel this way at least some of the time? Our jobs are designed to make our lives about nothing but work for a set period of time each day. They pay just enough for us to meet our basic needs but we can never escape the worry that an extra $400 will derail our entire lives. Our loved ones (or ourselves) have spent time in the hospital and we are struggling to pay those medical bils. It grinds us down. We feel like we are alone in a constant struggle against meaninglessness.
This leads to anxiety and depression like I have experienced. It leads to suicide when we feel as if we have failed. We are trapped in a mechanized life that supports our own subsistence and those of a family we see less often and argue with more because of life’s stress and conflict. We feel isolated. No one understands us. We are alone with our pain.
Solidarity is knowing someone understands. Someone knows that our interests are one with theirs and they will fight for us. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re not alone anymore. It’s the comfort of reaching out to offer someone else help and receiving help in return. We are stronger when we aren’t alone. If we support each other we all have a better chance of emerging from life’s struggles victorious.
So now you’re looking at me and asking, “Don’t you usually write about politics? Aren’t you just talking about a group hug?”
No. I’m not.
President Trump’s government shutdown ended because the air traffic controllers didn’t come into work. The flight attendants soon made noises that they supported the air traffice controllers and wouldn’t come into work either. I know you heard a lot about the political prowess of Nancy Pelosi (and it’s fair to acknowledge that solidarity would not have had the chance to win the day if she had not remained firm throughout) but it really comes down to the flight attendants supporting the air traffic controllers.
In another important recent example of labor solidarity, the LA Teachers’ Union when they won their strike because the LA County Firefighters’ union threatened to strike in support of the teachers. That broke the bosses’ backs. So solidarity isn’t just a comfort. It’s also a weapon. We’re all stronger when we stand together against an authority that wants to crush our diverse individuality. We help each other to be ourselves instead of who the system wants us to be by standing together in solidarity.
The stakeholders who control daily life in our society understand this. That’s why they isolate us at work. It’s why they take away our public spaces to isolate us at home or in our booths at restaurants. It’s why they demonize immigrants and glorify military adventures abroad. All these things keep us apart and prevent us from achieving solidarity. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s how the system is designed to work for the stakeholders.
It’s also why conservative Democrats make politics about the identities of many of these marginalized groups. By keeping the black, white and Latinx members of the working class fighting at cross purposes on cultural and social issues they sustain the status quo that empowers the stakeholders over us. The scandals that divide us are often designed to fit into the cultural wedges. So are the issues that our politicians run on. Dividing people is good for the status quo.
We overcome this by understanding what solidarity means. The interests of white feminists can’t sacrifice the interests of black feminists or LGBTQ feminists. The interests of black and Latinx people can’t be sacrificed for one another. The interests of the working class are the interests of all the working class. Solidarity is the weapon the landlord and the boss can’t overcome. When the firefighters stood with the teachers, when the flight attendants stood with the air traffic controllers, the good guys won.
That’s the point. We’re all Spartacus.
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