I recently read an article by American journalist, Chris Hedges, which proposed that “societies are held together by a web of social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective and engaged in a project larger than the self.” https://riseuptimes.org/2018/12/30/american-anomie-by-chris-hedges/
This simple idea reminded me of the many times friends and family have asked me to describe my “volunteer work” with the refugees in Greece or the Caravan in Mexico. I never have a good answer. I say the people I met were kind and grateful in spite of their physical and emotional challenges. I say they were running from persecution created by the neo-liberal world order and forever wars, that some of them played cards on a blanket under a tree.
But these things do not really describe what has been most important about my time with the refugees in Greece and Mexico.
To begin with, I don’t think of what I did as “volunteer work.” I think of it as enriching experiences with people I now feel are a part of my bigger family. This feeling, I think, is related to “solidarity.” Unlike the western ethic called “noblesse oblige” — which assumes and justifies a divide between rich and poor — solidarity recognizes that we are all in this together. This, I think, is what Hedges refers to as “being part of a collective.”
The collectives of Greece and Mexico include the people who came together to deal with an immediate, evolving crisis as a community, not expecting any individual recognition or reward. In Greece, I met struggling Greeks who provided encouragement and life-saving sustenance to refugees of war arriving on to the beaches of Lesvos in plastic rafts. In Southern Mexico, I worked with Mexicans who couldn’t afford to take days off of work — but did — to make sandwiches for Honduran refugees.
As Hedges might predict, the Greeks spoke of how the refugees connected them to their own refugee grandparents, and the impossibility of ignoring a person who arrives cold and hungry at your door. The Mexicans explained how they understood the pain and fear of their Honduran neighbors and how we are all the same in the eyes of god.
The acts of the refugees and those who supported them are acts of resistance, whether or not anyone has described them that way. They are gestures of love. Intentionally or not, they defy the world of corporate pillaging and the efforts of the elite to dehumanize humans and convince us that our worth is measured in dollars instead of love and kindness.
Chris Hedges says that “Resistance is not only about battling the forces of darkness. It is about becoming a whole and complete human being. It is about overcoming estrangement. It is about the capacity to love. It is about honoring the sacred. It is about dignity. It is about sacrifice. It is about courage. It is about being free.” https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-cost-of-resistance/
Being out in the world with people who have little and yet support those who have less gives me a sense of being part of something very big. It is both profoundly human and profoundly metaphysical. It’s about being free.