Everyone I know, more or less, is affected by this war. It covers my Facebook feed, my twitter page dances with explosions reported not by news channels but by people hearing them themselves, sometimes shaking their houses vigorously because the bombs land just a few houses away.
Peoples nerves are on edge, they are stressed – worried about family and friends, concerned about developing an analysis and an understanding of the events as they unfold, desiring to participate in some way in the popular demonstrations against the carnage. But at the same time, everyone is tired, everyone has midterms and papers.
In this context it was an emotional and overwhelmingly positive experience to participate in a solidarity march this last Sunday in Montreal. The crowd of three to five thousand was organized nominally by students for palestinian human rights, but in practice it was basically self-organized by the people who came. All through the march chants echoed, English chants, French chants, and many Arabic chants too. The protest was not dominated by any racial, gender, or age demographic – there were young white men, old arab women, jewish children, and every other combination you could think of.
The feeling of marching in a protest is of crucial importance. In relation to the feeling of learning about the carnage on the internet, singing chants in public gives a felt sense of solidarity. It’s empowering. And by that I mean it gives you the (hopefully true) feeling that action in common with others can change the current balance of power, that Gaza is not abandoned, that there is hope for a general will in this world to stand up against institutionalized injustice. To only focus on analysis and “getting it right” is to miss something important about solidarity work and political activism – solidarity is built socially through concrete collective actions and in part because of the effects those actions have on your body. Your body is not an individual, it needs social ties, and it gains strength from the feeling of acting in concert rather than alone.
The lesson is – don’t sit on your computer by yourself and try to understand the world. At best, you will understand it, but the physical effect of your analysis will be your own alienation and the feeling of disempowerment, as well as the actual disconnection of you from other people, reduction of social skills, drying up of ties, etc… Instead, go out, meet others, organize, do things in common. Do what you can do, and then you will feel less stressfully concerned about that which you can not do anything about.