Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Lebanese demonstrators dance to music by DJs as a protest movement takes over the country. (Photo: Al Jazeera/Twitter)

What's the Secret to Success for Nonviolent Movements? Try Solidarity.

Instead of "going it alone," movements can amplify their message, leverage collective power, and build strength by seeking solidarity from aligned organizations and groups.

Rivera Sun

 by Waging Nonviolence

There’s a secret to success for nonviolent movements for change: solidarity. Instead of “going it alone,” movements can amplify their message, leverage collective power, and build strength by seeking solidarity from aligned organizations and groups. Movements can also mobilize thousands of people into tangible, game-changing strategies by consciously designing solidarity actions to support their primary campaign.

Look at Oakland’s Solidarity Schools. During the 2019 Oakland Teachers Strike, a team of volunteers got involved in a much-needed solidarity action: delivering lunches to school children. In Oakland, California, 75 percent of the district’s 37,000 students relied on school lunch. Not wanting the kids to go hungry; the food bank, parents, teachers, and students worked together to organize and distribute lunches for the duration of the strike. This helped the teachers maintain their refusal to work without dividing the community over hunger issues. Solidarity efforts also included alternative schooling and child care. After several weeks, the teachers won their radical demands that ultimately benefited the entire community.

Solidarity strategies can increase the chance of success for your campaign by widening the impact of your actions. Recently in Nonviolence News, I reported on a story from Finland. Postal workers went on strike for two weeks, but their victory wasn’t won by the massive backlog of undelivered holiday packages. The clincher on their struggle occurred when the airline and transport industry workers held a solidarity (or sympathy) strike, grounding over three hundred planes and causing chaos in the capital. As the strike impacted businesses and people across the country, the head of the postal service came under fire for mishandling the postal workers’ strike. The workers won their demands, thanks to the solidarity of other transport workers.

Nonviolent struggle succeeds or fails by the rate of participation in actions that tangibly impact the ability of the power holders to conduct business-as-usual. In fact, studies show that any movement that successfully mobilizes 3.5 percent of the populace into acts of noncooperation (boycotts, strikes, walk-outs) and intervention (blockades, sit-ins, occupations) always wins their campaign. And, sometimes, success comes with even fewer people. So, scheming up those solidarity strategies makes a lot of sense for your movement.

Take Standing Rock, for example. Not everyone could leave their jobs and families, pitch a tent in freezing weather, and take a physical stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, in North Dakota. But all of us could support the legal fund, organize supply caravans, and (perhaps most importantly) take action against the 17-plus banks funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Across the country and around the world, the protests outside of bank branches gave those of us horrified by the scenes of police repression at Standing Rock a way to turn outrage into action. We held signs. We delivered petitions and confronted bank managers. We organized our friends and colleagues to move our money and close our accounts. This put powerful pressure on the banks, forcing some to pull out of the DAPL project. While the pipeline at Standing Rock moved forward, a cascade of other fossil fuel projects lost their funding both in the United States and around the world. Also, the efforts during the Standing Rock campaign gave a boost to other fossil fuel divestment campaigns, leading to a ripple effect of institutional divestment. With greater mobilization around the solidarity strategy of moving our money out of the banks, we might have been able to defeat that pipeline project entirely.

The successes of the early U.S. labor movement relied heavily on solidarity and their solidarity actions were breath-taking in scope and generosity. To use just one of hundreds of examples, during the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Bill Haywood and others organized massive support for the striking women. The solidarity efforts included relief committees, soup kitchens, food distribution stations, volunteer doctors, and weekly benefits for strikers. The list of demands was translated into over 50 languages for the multi-national immigrant workers. The most dramatic of solidarity actions was arranging for several hundred children of striking workers to go to supporters’ homes in New York City. This kept the children safe, housed, and fed while their mothers faced arrests, evictions, reduced income, and beatings for participating in the strike.

These tangible forms of solidarity can mean the difference between success and failure. Showing support for the cause with demonstrations can also boost morale and determination. Just this past week, cacerolazos (pots-and-pans banging protests) erupted in twelve Latin and South American countries, including Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. The united demonstration was organized to acknowledge the shared struggles of the people against widespread economic inequality, corrupt governments, and violence against Indigenous populations. Organizers even distributed a cacerolazo app – in case you weren’t by your kitchen, you could join in with a cellphone simulation.

Occasionally, solidarity actions up the ante on issues, and connect immediate crises to the underlying causes. In the wake of the massive Australian bushfires, citizens chose to do more than send blankets and meals to those who lost their homes. Rejecting the “sending thoughts and prayers” rhetoric of the politicians, Australians organized solidarity sit-downs to demand disaster relief and climate action. In this way, they went beyond simply calling for relief while ignoring the root cause: they connected the fires to global warming, and the human-made climate crisis.

For movement organizers, thinking about solidarity strategies ahead of time can improve your organizing. Who are the people who can stand up for your cause? What allies can’t be arrested, but would love to help organize relief efforts for those who can? What sectors of society could engage in solidarity strikes or walk-outs to broaden your impact? Who can demonstrate to boost the morale of those taking direct action? What groups align with your cause and could have a direct impact on your power holders? What could those groups do to pressure them?

These are important questions for all of us to ask. Get creative with the answers. Solidarity comes in a million shapes and sizes, and it can be the secret to success.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo