We talk a lot here at Sister Cities about solidarity, emphasizing that sister city communities are working “in solidarity” with one another, but what does that mean? And even more important, what does it look like in practice?
I’m learning a lot from this group of university students from Wisconsin that are here on a 2 week delegation. The Madison sister city group was one of the original founders of the organization, and their sistering relationship has grown and amplified in the 20+ years since its formation. On the ground in Wisconsin, the group has taken the form of a leftist activist community formation base; that is to say, the group is involved in a variety of issues locally from environmental concerns to national social movements like Occupy. They use the relationship with Arcatao, their sister community in El Salvador, to compare notes and share support on these issues. When metallic mining in El Salvador began to become an issue several years ago, one of their leading organizers in the Wisconsin anti-mining campaign immediately flew down to El Salvador to get involved in their fight. The idea is that we are all involved in our own fights, luchas that are based on geography, timing, and culture. But they are all part of a larger struggle to protect the environment and to give a voice to the pueblo, because in the end, we are all part of the same pueblo.
So the foundation of solidarity is communication – how else can we know what is happening with our brothers and sisters around the world? But the world is huge, and no human is capable of knowing what is going on in all its disperse corners. That is why sistering relationships exist, because although we as humans don’t have the capacity to fit the hold world in our consciousness, we are undoubtably made to be relational. Maybe I can’t totally understand the big social and political systems of globalization and capitalism, but I can understand when a friend is suffering, and I can live in solidarity with their struggle.
That’s the idea here in Guajoyo, and one that perhaps needs some development, not just in Guajoyo, but in all the regions. In the national CRIPDES gathering on Tuesday of this week they talked a lot about focusing more on the solidarity part of sistering relationships. It is much easier to send money or wait for a community to ask for something specific, but that’s not the whole idea. Communities should be communicating with one another and sharing life experiences. They should be visiting one another, and on the US side we should remember that it was never meant to be a one-way relationship. We have much to learn from these communities, especially when it comes to organization and active participation in government and culture. What are our struggles in the United States? How do they relate to the struggles in El Salvador? Just one example is the food crisis whereby chemicals and genetic modification and pesticides create food that’s not actually healthy for us, but it’s so cheap to eat it has infiltrated everything. That’s a problem that is as urgent for us in the States as in El Salvador, and there are things that people of both countries can and should be doing to fight it.
I write this largely for the sister city in Austin, to begin thinking about what solidarity looks like for this group. But I also write this for the rest of you, and hope you might leave this post asking yourself who your brothers and sisters are, and what does solidarity look like with them? Are you able to let go of the idea of ‘fixing’ things and just be with them, sharing their struggles? Just a thing to think about…