On Solidarity, In Solidarity



When thinking of solidarity, in particular when it comes to Black and Palestinian solidarities (but not exclusively), Sophia Azeb is always someone we want to hear from. Here is a small text we commission from her after these few months of demonstration of worldwide solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Azeb Funambulist
Protest in solidarity with Palestine in New York on May 13, 2021. / Photo by Luigi Morris.

“I walk a street where no one is walking. I remember that before, I had walked a street no one had walked. And I remember that someone who was not with me had said…”

Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness, 1987.

As I waited for a train to downtown Chicago this past May 16, an Arab man gazed wide-eyed at the dozens of people donning keffiyehs who surrounded him on the platform. He turned to ask me: “Do you know what this means?” and gestured toward my own red-and-white-checked keffiyeh, which had been my late grandfather’s, and which I resolvedly (secretly) determined to look after soon after he had passed. I informed the man that these people on the platform, like myself, were all going to raise our voices together for Gaza, for Palestine, and for Palestinian liberation. Somewhat in awe, he anxiously explained that he is Palestinian, but he had to get to work, and so he could not come with us. I assured him: “Don’t worry, my friend. We will go for you too.” His eyes welled up. Then he grinned.

As thousands of Chicagoans (and many of our suburban relatives) marched down State Street that same afternoon, two women in hijabs — either tourists or distant locals, who in either case had stumbled upon a massive demonstration by happenstance — were delighted, cheering us on. A third woman with them was comparatively stark in her silence and stillness, until I noticed she was quietly crying and shaking her head in wonder. She found herself there with us too.

I think a lot about these moments, these flutters of slow realization and recognition, common to any who has made the decision to congregate with others to issue the call and demand for justice: for Palestine, for Black lives, for Indigenous sovereignty, for the abolition of policing, prisons, imperial wars, and imperial borders. I think about how all people who endure the violence of these injustices can feel absolutely and totally alone and helpless in their pain, even when that pain (and the catastrophes we bear) are deliberately and collectively distributed among us, and sometimes by us. “Maybe our solidarity marches for Palestine, in Chicago and London and Amman and Khartoum and everywhere we are and everywhere we wish to be, won’t achieve any immediate relief, any tangible victories,” I think. That helplessness emerges as often from burnout as it does to inspire the initial drive to action. But with each grand, ebullient, tense, emotional meeting, we also open up the world a little for one another. We are able to prove to ourselves: we are not alone. We have come together here for you too.

Within the spectacle of the manif, the march, the protest, the rally: there are always new faces, new and giddy and moved and feeling impossibly small, lost within a sea of other people, some familiar and many more having been temporarily estranged, but who are once more present and intentional and deliberate in building relation again. The anonymity we feel upon wading into that sea quickly fades: each chant picked up and echoed, each jostle from the bodies of the people around you followed by a curt nod or quick smile of apology and recognition, an invitation to take up space in this project of taking back space from the State, the police, the settler. Our solidarity in these moments is brief and affective, often uneven and just as often insufficient, and yet still marks a step on the road towards a ceaseless practice of revolutionary commitment that Aimé Césaire mused must be always “enriched by all that is particular.” A solidarity of particulars, rather than sameness, is comprised of much more than these moments of and opportunities for mutual recognition in the thrum of a demonstration or a picket line or a barricade. Yet, still, these moments are not solely symbolic of the work required to forge the road ahead. Coming together, moving together, builds towards the currents that collide to swell the crashing waves of the overlapping and particular struggles that will result in our total and collective liberation. All of us, together: “none of us are free until all of us are,” as the saying (and I suppose, Emma Lazarus) goes.

In response to the Twitter hashtag, غرد_كأنها_حرة#, or the call to tweet as though Palestine is (and we are) free, Palestinians from every curve of this Earth set the scenes not only of their return, but also their ability to move. To pick an orange from a tree in Jaffa. To soak in the sea in Gaza. To watch the sunset in Haifa. To place our grandmothers’ keys in the locks of our homes in Lifta, Ramleh, Nablus, Akka, Safad. To take a train, a bus, a car, a ferry, from place to place, without checkpoints, without papers, without pause. To move from memory to living memory, breathing the lifeworlds we have inherited back into where they belong and where they will find their fellows once more and thrive from it.

These itineraries, assembled from future narratives and archives of the past, moved me too. With my students, I have always asked us to imagine decolonization as the promise of a future that colonized peoples are imagining together in the midst of anticolonial struggle. Decolonization is that phenomenon that Frantz Fanon positioned as “a program of complete disorder” that evolves with us, through us. Decolonization is movement, it keeps us in motion, it is collective and collaborative, and it is a horizon always in sight of our commitments to the liberation of one another, of all of us together. “The last shall be first and the first last.” Decolonial solidarity is a form of relation that takes shape through our shared movement. It is not the overlapping conditions and effects of catastrophe that will drive us to fully recognize one another, but instead our steadfast journey to end it. Solidarity is not made from analogy, though it may often begin that way. Solidarity endures from total commitment.

The solidarities we build and enact are not inevitable. To assume any political coherence among the colonized reflects a desire for stasis of our political thought and liberatory action. We are not static, unmoving. We are in motion. Our commitments to one another (within and beyond the movement for Palestinian liberation) may reveal many more fissures than similarities. These commitments should reveal more fissures than similarities. These impasses are generative. If we move within and explore the contours of these impasses, we more effectively counter and complicate the stagnancy of sameness as constructing the bonds between us: that hollow impulse of analogy.

Black and Palestinian and Black Palestinian solidarity efforts, for instance, are living and evolving and recurring practices of freedom making. They are perpetually in motion, not yet fully realized, and insist on the right of refusal to be fully recognizable. Mutual recognition within Black and Palestinian and Black Palestinian solidarity work refuses to be intelligible by way of a photograph or a story featuring racial distinction and shared endurance of violence as evidence of its reality: this is the discourse of analogy, and it is violence too. The limits of analogy are not solely interpersonal, not only intracommunal, nor wholly structural: the limits are in the very language we speak, in the very ways we have deputized ourselves to articulate and render legible our Palestinianness.

How we think of ourselves as Palestinians, in the effort to analogize our own movement for liberation, has sometimes come at the cost of recognizing our multiplicity and the unevenness of the stakes of the worldmaking emancipatory projects occurring simultaneously, in other spaces and in other ways.

How we think of ourselves as Palestinians, in the effort to analogize our own movement for liberation, has sometimes come at the cost of recognizing our multiplicity and the unevenness of the stakes of the worldmaking emancipatory projects occurring simultaneously, in other spaces and in other ways. The systems of power we seek to dismantle are capillary, not arterial. So too are we and our methods of undoing them.

An essential task in our striving for solidarity must then take place within the impasses among Palestinians ourselves; a broadening sense of how we are Palestinian, a commitment to renewing our own bonds without flattening our particularities, and a devotion to moving in many directions at once.

Bseiso Funambulist
An example of tweets envisioning a future free Palestine under the hashtag غرد_كأنها_حرة# including one from Funambulist contributor Jehan Bseiso (June 2021).

And so in our resistances, past and present and future, movement functions as both a beacon of and as the site(s) of struggle. The Great March of Return began on Land Day, March 30, 2018, and was intended to proceed weekly until Nakba Day, on May 15. But Gazans could not stop moving toward the artificial boundary that kept them from their homes and their relations. The edifice of the siege and the occupation must be demolished. The movement continued on for 18 months, and Palestinians from Haifa to Bethlehem and Ramallah moved with them. Only a few weeks ago, hundreds of Palestinians from occupied 1948 territories disembarked their cars and buses, having been blocked by Israeli authorities, determined to walk their way into Jerusalem in spite of the State. To spite the State!

Are these solidarity marches too? Even when we (Palestinians) come together for ourselves (Palestinians) upon our own land (Palestine)? I think so. For the movement to combat the forced expulsion of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, and all that has followed, has firmly demonstrated that a central aspect of our resistance is both a burden and a gift: the demand to continuously recommit ourselves to ourselves. The demand to find a way of moving toward liberation together, without fear of needing to take a few steps back.

We must always move in solidarity with ourselves too. It had not left us, our commitments to one another, as Palestinians, but it had been, and continues to be, an ongoing struggle to maintain those commitments in the face of the myriad geographic and structural fractures imposed upon us, within us. The occupation does not only dispossess us of our homes, our land, our olive trees and orange groves, but also our own ability to see and to recognize one another, within Palestine and across the diaspora. We are weighed down with the burden of naming ourselves each and every day: that burden is a gift too. The cohesion of our struggle is not new, as the tendrils of the General Strike of 1936 snaking across time to the Palestinian general strike of this year reminds us, but the shadow of complacency, of helplessness, of feeling so utterly alone (alone together, alone apart) continuously looms.

The cohesion of our struggle is not new, as the tendrils of the General Strike of 1936 snaking across time to the Palestinian general strike of this year reminds us, but the shadow of complacency, of helplessness, of feeling so utterly alone (alone together, alone apart) continuously looms.

I wrote once in the pages of The Funambulist that “we are, after all, always in the process of becoming Palestinians.” The question for me then was “who will we be when we are free?” We have, in these tender flutters and breaths and moments of recognition, the profound assurance of our own futurity and freedom, and of our future selves too. The pauses and the breaks within and between these moments in which we reflect one another do not constitute distortions, but reorientations. In the mirror of the march in the square in the city in the land along the sea, these reorientations provoke within us alternative ways of recognizing one another, and other paths and bridges across which to move. The mirror reflects not that we share an image, but that we reflect and capture and transmit light. In that fragmenting light, we see one another, move with one another: not alone, but together. We have come together here for you too. ■