How solidarity works
We have more power when we act together than when we act alone. Solidarity is the way we protect each other in our struggles, share the consequences and mitigate the suffering we encounter when confronting oppressive power. The purpose of solidarity is to build our movement, and to embody our mutual care and concern for justice.
Solidarity works best when we respect each other's differing needs and life circumstances, understand that there are many ways of being in solidarity, and coordinate our responses. It does not work when we attempt to coerce, shame or inflict guilt upon each other, even subtly.
Through solidarity, we can pressure the system to treat us fairly and justly, to protect the physical safety and health of jailed protesters, to treat arrested protesters equally, to prevent individuals from being singled out, to improve jail conditions, to resist harsh or unequal punishment or sentences that would constrict our future freedom. Solidarity puts pressure on the system by raising the social and political costs of its oppressive acts, raising the economic costs of holding us in jail or bringing us to trial, and by interfering with the smooth running of the system. Solidarity can be extremely effective, but it is always exercised at a cost. Before deciding on a solidarity strategy, we need to know what our intentions and goals are for any given action.
For any form of solidarity to work, supporters are vital. Their job is to bring to bear political pressure on the authorities: calling, writing letters, sending emails, holding vigils at the jail, contacting the media, and organizing others to do all of the same. Released prisoners can be in solidarity with those still in jail by participating in outside support. Support should be organized ahead of time for all actions.
Solidarity negotiations are most often carried out by the legal team, who need to understand the protesters strategy, be willing to furnish information and help with communications, and to understand that a solidarity strategy may be very different from a usual legal strategy. Solidarity choices need to be made by the activists, not by the lawyers. The legal team does not make decisions for the protesters, but serves as their messenger and mouthpiece.
Protesters need to understand that legal teams for actions are made up of volunteers who do not have unlimited resources. If solidarity continues for a long time, if it moves into court or cases go to trial, additional legal support will be necessary and so will fundraising to pay for it.
There are many ways to exercise solidarity, and many choices to make along the way. The key choice that needs to be discussed before the action is:
Stay in jail or not
In-jail solidarity uses our strength of numbers to raise the political and economic costs of the system. It cost the authorities both economically and politically to keep large numbers of people locked up after an action, especially if we can mobilize outside pressure. Large numbers of people in jail can give us lots of leverage with the system. But stay-in-jail strategies are very costly to us, as well. In situations where jail conditions are extremely hazardous to the very life and safety o f protesters, we want to get people out of jail as quickly as possible and mobilize pressure in other ways. In an extended action, or when the authorities use preemptive arrests to undercut our numbers, we may want to get people back on the street quickly. When legal consequences of an action are likely to be minor, an in-jail strategy may not be worth the cost. And people may also have individual reasons for getting out of jail as fast as they can: family responsibilities, medical conditions that put them at risk in a jail situation, work responsibilities, etc.
Stay-in-jail strategies work best with larger numbers, but they do not require unanimity to work. We want to encourage people to do actions whether or not they can stay in jail afterwards. Solidarity is no longer effective movement building if the costs of an action become so high that only the extremely heroic or the chronically unemployed can do actions. When people feel judged or coerced into solidarity stands, they often react against the whole idea and may be reluctant to do future actions. When people feel supported in their choices, they will often make great personal sacrifices to support the group. If we're trying to keep people out on the street for an extended action, we might want to take opportunities to get quickly released from custody. If we have people to protect: individuals who might be singled out, internationals who face immigration issues, etc., we might employ a strategy that involves staying in jail. Or if we are asked to make unacceptable compromises in order to be released, for example, posting high bail or accepting conditions that might prevent us from doing future actions, we ma y need to use in-jail solidarity.
A stay-in-jail solidarity strategy needs some coordination before the action, so that people are prepared and know what choices to make under the stressful conditions of arrest.
How to Stay in Jail:
Refuse to sign out
In mass actions, authorities are often willing to release most people if they sign a promise to appear for a court date, or if they post a reasonable bail. The authorities may also ask people to sign statements saying they will not return to a certain action or area. To stay in jail, refuse to sign or to post bail. Bail is one of the ways the poor are kept incarcerated and people with money get released. Some activists refuse to post bail as part of their moral or political stand. For others, the choice may depend upon the situation.
Refuse to give names: Authorities are generally reluctant to free prisoners without knowing who we are. For this tactic to be effective, protesters should not carry identification to the action. For this reason, it needs to be coordinated ahead of time. This tactic also greatly interferes with the smooth running of the jail system, and is a tactic generally hated by the authorities. It can be a powerful bargaining point in solidarity negotiations. However, it's a bargaining point we most often concede in the end. Protesters should not hold the illusion that they will be able to go through the entire system and be released without giving names. Occasionally this happens, but generally not. Supporters should hold the I.D. of those arrested and be prepared to bring it to jail or court, if necessary. For some activists, giving their name is a matter of pride and principle, a n integral part of their understanding of nonviolence, and of being willing t o stand behind their actions.
Protesters who need medication may not be able to employ this tactic, as generally to receive meds you need a name and a prescription.
Refuse to cooperate with other aspects of processing: not furnishing information, fingerprints, etc. Refuse to voluntarily go to or cooperate with court appearances or to enter pleas.
Resistance in jail
In jail, many forms of resistance can be employed to protect other protestors from being isolated, singled out, or physically hurt, to pressur e the authorities to provide physical necessities, medical care, interpreters , phone calls, access to lawyers, etc. They range from refusing to move voluntarily or cooperate with jail procedures, singing, going limp, physically protecting individuals ('puppy piling'), refusing to answer questions or to speak, fasting, etc. Resistance can be stressful and dangerous, and it's wise to choose your battles and conserve energy for issues that are truly important.
A liaison to the guards is often helpful in jail, as they will feel more comfortable negotiating with one person. However, that role should rotate often so that individuals aren't targeted as leaders. To organize in jail, keep a neutral profile and avoid confronting the guards. Guards fear riots, and are always on the lookout for potential instigators. They will often single out aggressive individuals. Whatever your views are on violence and nonviolence, fighting the guards inside jail will simply get you isolated, hurt, and possibly result in extra charges. Fasting can be a powerful strategic tool, but it will rapidly cloud your judgment and make decision-making extremely difficult. It's most effective when there is outside support and media attention. Consider appointing a 'designated eater' to help care for and monitor the health of fasters.
Resistance inside jail can also be creative. We can use the time to share skills, teach each other organizing tools, hold political discussions, plan the next action. We can also at times share songs, rituals, poems, jokes, stories, and many forms of mutual support and healing. And of course, to hold meetings to decide upon our strategy. But don't meet all the time: endless meetings can be exhausting and counterproductive. Remember that jail cells and phones are monitored. Jail is not the place to regale your fellow protesters with tales of your fifty-three previous arrests. If people are withholding names, try to avoid discussing details that could identify you. Support people should know ahead of time what jail name you will use, so they can be prepared to receive collect calls from 'Muffie'.
There are many demands that we might make through solidarity, but generally they involve pressure for equal and fair treatment in jail and in sentencing, for dropped or reduced charges or for a plea bargain we can accept that will not be a deterrent to future actions. The legal system operates like a giant game in which deals are made every day for people's lives. Most people caught in the system do not have the leverage and resources we do. As we negotiate our demands, we will have many choices to make, and we should bear in mind that we may not be able to achieve all of our demands. Pressure for equal treatment or sentencing is most effective when people have all done roughly the same thing.
In most legal systems, there is a big divide between acts considered as freedom of expression and acts of property destruction or aggression. Often the authorities falsely accuse people of violent acts, or charge a victim of their violence with assault o n an officer. When they do not have a solid case, they can often be pressure d to drop or reduce charges. But if they actually have evidence against an individual, they may be unwilling to reduce charges regardless of the strength of our solidarity. If police have been injured or seriously lost face in an action, they may close ranks in their own form of solidarity and become adamantly intent on punishing somebody.
Court and plea solidarity
When we do not choose to use a stay-in-jail strategy, or when we agree to move our solidarity out of jail and into the courts, there are still man y strategies we can use, but the details are more conditioned by the specific legal procedures of each province, state or country. The principles remain the same: strength in numbers, respect for individual choices, coordination not coercion, raising the system's cost, and bringing to bear outside pressure. When individuals are singled out in spite of all our efforts, our solidarity can move to support for them as they face trial, in the form of fundraising, political pressure, courtroom vigils, etc.
Solidarity with other prisoners
The authorities often try to intimidate us by threatening to throw us in with regular prisoners. They may paint fearful and racist pictures of just how bad those other prisoners can be. Most often, however, other prisoners are supportive or at least neutral toward protesters who behave with respect toward them. The criminal justice system in both Canada and the U.S. is more criminal than just, and serves as one of the prime ways poor people, people of color and oppressed groups are kept disenfranchised and disempowered. When we enter into this system as a group of protesters, we hold a privileged level of personal and political power. When we exercise that power, we need to keep in mind the impact of our presence on prisoners who do not have our resources. A jail experience can teach us more in a short time about the true workings of oppression than years of study. We have an obligation to use that knowledge, and our rage, to work for true justice for all prisoners.
"Solidarity: A Rough Guide" by Starhawk http://www.stopftaa.org/activist/act_solidarity.html]
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