Through the lens of Ursula Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed,” two term EC representative Soleil reflects on CDSA’s greatest strength and greatest liability — our deep love for each other — and examines how solidarity forged in the unifying suffering of struggle offers us firmer ground to organize on.
It seems almost random, how Shevek finally ends up on such a big stage in the heart of Capital. Much of his time on Urras is spent seemingly stumbling through atrocities and alien interactions, bringing his vision of anarchism almost accidentally to a world hostile towards any solidarity between fellow workers. It is his nature to want to share, to want to help. He doesn’t want to turn away from his home, nor the people in this new world. So instead, he turns to them before a podium, beneath the whir of military helicopters.
Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is one of my most beloved books I’ve read so far in my life. And I know that part of that is because I would describe much of my organizing experience, as well as my day to day behavior, as stumbling around and into situations where I might be able to help make things suck a little less. However, it’s also in my top ten because of the gift this book gave me halfway through serving nearly two years on Chicago DSA’s EC. The gift is the same one Shevek gives the poor masses of A-Io. A speech:
“It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
At the time I had read Shevek’s speech, I wanted to believe dearly that this was true. Now, through many organizing highs and lows since joining DSA in 2018, I know it’s true. And I want to get into why I wish I’d known it sooner. And maybe, in sharing, I can extend my hand out to anyone who’d like it.
Hate When Forced
I don’t want to sound dramatic when I say this. I’m saying it because it’s what I’ve felt and seen from my vantage point. “Hate” is a growing sentiment directed at fellow members of our chapter as well as DSA — from the top down and the bottom up. I know I’m not the only one who’s seen it, right? Hate, to me, can look like disparaging a comrade and their working class experience for “cred.” Hate can look like categorizing comrades into boxes that make it easier to refuse to work with them, understand them, or empathize with them. Hate looks like denying our comrades space, grace, or dignity if it means losing ground on our own agenda.
I know what it looks like because I’ve felt it too. I’ve done it too! I have boxed people into categories that make it easier to brush them off. I have chosen to act in ways that steal the dignity of my comrades. I’ve watched comrades say and do things I know they shouldn’t have, and I didn’t try to stop them.
I also know, at least for me, why this happened. Love – just as Shevek points out – is often a catalyst for fear, mutating into fear-borne hate. There are people in this organization that I love. Not just in a sense of agape or beloved community. People that I have forged bonds and friendships with. People I’m afraid of seeing hurt or disappointed or scared. That’s true for everyone in DSA, otherwise our work would be monumentally more difficult. More simply too, everyone loves the work that they do. Everyone here loves their campaigns. Everyone loves some aspect of the shared vision we’re creating for the future. Why else would we be here if we weren’t?
Yet that love can make us act strangely. It can drive us to paranoia about our comrades and fellow travelers who may not be on the exact same page as us – or worse – may even disagree with us. It can make us lash out at any constructive criticism or take good faith feedback as a form of transgression. It’s an understandable reaction, and one that often mutates from low-trust ecosystems.
The Bond That Binds Us Is Beyond Choice
Struggle – or suffering – is constant, but it’s unifying. It’s one of the first and primary things we have in common with each other across race, age, gender, nationality, citizenship, and more. It’s the substrate through which any and all trust we build with each other is made. And the best part about struggle, to me, is that you don’t have to believe that for it to be true. It is a material, real fact that the boot is coming down on all of us. The ifs and buts don’t matter.
But those “ifs” and “buts” are compelling veils to hinder us from seeing this fact, and thus cutting us off from lending loving kindness and strength to our siblings. It’s easy to decide someone is an outsider to our pain. It’s easy to say someone is undeserving of that bond. That’s why words like “wrecker,” “ultra,” or “crank,” are cast out so widely they net practically anyone and everyone.
Our language in our organizing is crucial. In our exchanges with members of our organization, it’s a courtesy, a performance, and a symbol when we call each other “comrade” and sign off with “in solidarity” or “yours for the revolution” or the like. Performatively, we are trying to don a culture of socialism. We try to draw a conversational line between our organizational boundaries and other social and political circles. Courtesy-wise, it’s kind to share a greeting with people you’re building not only relationships with but a visionary world with. Above all, though, what these phrases symbolize (or could symbolize) is, in my view, a crucial beam in the foundation of what DSA is about.
As political theorist Jodi Dean points out:
“Etymologically, comrade derives from camera, the Latin word for room, chamber, and vault. The technical connotation of vault indexes a generic function, the structure that produces a particular space and holds it open. A chamber or room is a repeatable structure that takes its form by producing an inside separate from an outside and providing a supported cover for those underneath it. Sharing a room, sharing a space, generates a closeness, an intensity of feeling and expectation of solidarity that differentiates those on one side from those on the other. Comradeship is a political relation of supported cover.”
Supported cover. An expectation of solidarity. It makes me think about the monumental storm we’re weathering day in and day out. We’re being battered by the torrential rain of the climate crisis, the bruising blows of racial Capitalism, the poisonous spread of fascism. We see our siblings in struggle weathering that storm which beats down on us too, and we lend them our umbrella. We take off our jackets and cover them from the whipping cold of our cruel world. We reach out our hand and help each other trek the path to a better day.
We should, anyway. But I don’t know how often we do just yet.
All You Have is What You Are and What You Give
We expect solidarity from each other because we know that’s all we have. This world the Capitalists have created destroys us, and it will continue to destroy us, so long as we keep our hands at our sides and not open and extended out to our siblings in struggle. We cannot choose who meets us at the picket line. But we always get to choose how we support them. We cannot choose who greets us at the doors. But we always get to choose how we greet them. We cannot choose who was born struggling at our side. But we always get to choose how we treat them.
When I say comrade, to you dear reader, I mean it. And I’m begging you, comrade: as we enter another Chicago Winter and we face innumerable opportunities, challenges, traumas, and joys, let us slow down and move the veil from our view. Let us see each other as schemers and collaborators towards the same vision. Let us hold each other to account to the standards foundational to that vision. Let us work with the knowledge that we are fighting to build a world we all deserve to live in. Let us always keep our hands extended and open. We have to.