In the snowy rain today, hundreds of people from all traditions and ethnic backgrounds marched through downtown Washington, D.C., from the Government Accountability Office past the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue to LaFayette Square near the White House.
Native people insisted that the United States government honor the treaties it has made with indigenous nations and that it “keep the oil in the soil.” Others assured watching government workers that, though they were complicit with the administration, the crowds weren’t present to harm them.
Al Jazeera estimates that thousands of people walked together today. The atmosphere reminded me of the People’s Climate March: clear, direct, Native-led, and a vivid instance of cross-community, multi-issue solidarity.
Audre Lorde’s statement about our not living “single-issue lives” has felt more and more true for me the last few years. It has been almost impossible to keep up with every single social conflict, imagine creative ways to respond to each, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour!
I think the 400,000 people at the People’s Climate March fizzled after that day because we allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by the scope of the issues and limited individual capacity to respond. Some of us also tried to become experts in every issue rather than masters of general concepts and specialists of a single research topic. And so we gave up or moved on.
Today’s march modeled a different way.
Each group brought its own concerns to the megaphone and day’s agenda. Non-Native walkers literally got out of Natives’ way when a drumming circle shifted direction. We hushed when speakers began to share. We expressed gratitude that each another was present, despite the weather and despite the government’s recent actions. I came to accept that Native people cannot “move on”: they are fighting for their lives and the lives of all our descendants.
The lesson: Find your lane. Stay in it. Get out of others’ way to support their progress, not to withdraw attention or external pressure that would help them.
In this moment, solidarity with others is absolutely essential. We are “in this together” but that doesn’t mean our experiences and strategies are identical or should be.
Solidarity means learning to be with others without being dominant over them; to move back where we have been dominant so that marginalized people can move ahead. It also means working with people without necessarily getting a press mention out of the effort.
And so it means quite a different quality of leadership than many single-demographic activists are used to. But “water is life” and the stakes are high enough that we have to re-imagine how solidarity works for any of our movements to have a shot at success.