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Standing (there) in Solidarity

By November 3, 2016 One Comment

by Kate Kooyman (with lots of help from Shannon Jammal-Hollemans and Kelsey Herbert)

In the span of just one day, more than one million people used Facebook to “check in,” claiming that they were at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and participating in the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This was a strategy of standing in solidarity – a way to support the protestors and hopefully protect them from those whose rumored cyber-monitoring was intended to undermine the effectiveness of the protests.

It seems that standing in solidarity is a desire many of us feel, especially in an age when our awareness of justice issues around the world has increased with the connectedness of the internet; we also can (rightly) criticize the reality that “slacktivism” serves to help curate an image of political involvement, but too often doesn’t translate into real change for systems so broken and so harmful.
So what would it look like to stand in solidarity both online and in our real lives?

1. Listen – Yesterday I spent the day with a group of pastors who serve neighborhoods in Chicago which have been traumatized by gun violence. Part of our task was to develop a clear definition of the problem, and to also clearly define the solution. My impulse would have been to name policy as the solution – more restrictive gun laws, perhaps. “We’ve got a lot of gun laws in Chicago already,” one of those pastors explained. The solution, according to them, was economic opportunity. Jobs give hope.

Listening to these pastors, experts on their own community, helped me better understand the issue, and now I see it differently. Standing in solidarity looks like listening before offering solutions.

2. Hand over the mic – The facilitator of our group’s workshop mentioned the importance of being aware of, and strategic about, your own identity. There are times when, as a white pastor, it is definitely important that my body is in the room at the press conference, the prayer vigil, the protest march. But it’s also important to have a plan for the moment when a microphone is put in front of me – to point to another person who can speak for herself, for her own community, for her own issue.

Sometimes standing in solidarity looks like just that: standing there. And being quiet so someone else can speak.

3. Talk to your people – Silence isn’t always solidarity, though. There are times when perspectives need to be articulated and opinions challenged – and those challenges can come most effectively from within a community rather than from outside it. When DeAndre Levy, an NFL football player, wrote an essay about the need for men to speak up about sexual assault and disrespect of women, he said things that a woman couldn’t say as effectively to an audience that uniquely needed to hear it.

Sometimes solidarity looks like owning the circles of influence that you’re embedded in, and ensuring that the message of justice you believe is being heard among those who are listening when you speak.

When Ruth stood next to Naomi, proclaiming, “Where you go, I will go,” she was standing in solidarity. When Jesus asked the men gathered around the woman caught in adultery and challenged them with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” he was standing in solidarity. When Esther articulated the needs of the Israelites at her own personal risk, she was standing in solidarity.

Standing in solidarity is more than a Facebook post, it is a way of life for those of us who follow Christ, who by his very incarnation came in solidarity with human kind.

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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