Changing the Neoliberal World Through Solidarity

In 1988 legendary pop singer Michael Jackson in his song Man in the Mirror sang the lyrics “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer, If you want to make the world a better place. Take a look at yourself, and then make a change” (Jackson,1988). These lyrics are the essence of what Mahatma Gandhi believed when he said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ” (Gandhi, 1913). Both Jackson and Gandhi share similar sentiments about changing the world. The two men articulate that in order for the world to change it takes individuals to evaluate themselves and first change themselves so that they can ultimately change the world. 

Now, these sentiments put a lot of pressure on the individual. And, one might think I am just one person how am I supposed to change the world that is impossible, and many people would probably agree with this person that this idea of change seems impossible. However, Jackson’s thought from 1988 is not an unusual idea for the time as his song is a product of neoliberalism. An abstract definition of neoliberalism can be found in Dean Spade’s chapter from Normal life: administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law titled Trans Law and Political on A Neoliberal Landscape. Spade defines neoliberalism as it “allows space for critical insight into the range of practices producing effects at the register of law, policy, economy, identity,  organization, and affect” (Spade, 2001, p. 49). This definition by Spade is rather abstract. So concretely , neoliberalism can be thought of a framework through the tenants of increasing privatization, eliminating social welfare state programs, the belief in free trade and a free market, fewer government regulations, and the promotion of individualism as a way to achieve upward mobility. In theory, neoliberalism seems like it would be an optimal system to live under because it promotes the individual and therefore individuals would perceive that they have more freedom. 

While neoliberalism is nice in theory it cannot be used to change the world. In a world that already has so many differences amongst its people, it is hard to change the world through individuals because people are already divided. However, throughout the world, there are people being oppressed, marginalized, disenfranchised, and attacked. With this recognition, there appears to be a common struggle throughout the world. And, what if people were able to rally behind this common struggle? Could the people that are struggling come together for one common goal to change the world? Well, this is what Angela Davis and Audre Lorde call upon people to do around the world. Both Davis and Lorde essentially believe that in order for people to change the world there must be solidarity. And once there is solidarity there must be a recognition that The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, there needs to be The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, and Learning from the 60s needs to take place. 

Solidarity at its root can be simply defined as the state of being united through a shared or common interest, a shared or common identity, or a shared or common goal. Angela Davis, an American political activist, scholar,  and philosopher understands solidarity as she was a political prisoner in the early 1970s. While Davis was locked up unlawfully the rest of the world came together in solidarity to demand Davis to be released. So, solidarity for Davis is something personal because realistically it saved her. Davis believes that solidarity can create transformative change in the world. Davis in her chapter Transnational Solidarities from her book Freedom is a Constant Struggle includes a speech that she gave in 2015 at a university in Istanbul, Turkey. In this speech, she first talks about the struggle that has existed throughout history in Turkey, and then she begins to speak to the Black American struggle. It is through this comparison she creates solidarity. With this solidarity, Davis writes “ Our histories never unfold in isolation. We cannot truly tell what we consider to be our own histories without knowing other stories. And often we discover that those other stories are actually our own stories” (Davis, 2016, p. 135). Here Davis is conceptualizing the idea that people’s history all across the world share a common story and that we are connected with one another. 

It is through and with this connection that we have transnational solidarity.  Davis writes with transnational solidarity “We have to examine various dimensions of our lives — from social relations, political contexts — but also our interior lives” ( Davis, 2016, P. 142).  Davis tells us that solidarity starts with us but we have to look beyond ourselves to have solidarity. Even though Davis believes solidarity can change the world she doesn’t exactly tell us how to use solidarity. For that, we look to Audre Lorde to guide us.

The first lesson that Lorde gives us is that The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. This lesson comes from a speech at “The Personal and the Political Panel,” Second Sex Conference, New York, September 29, 1979.  This work is almost a charge or a chapter from the Art of War on how to change the world. This is to say that “For the Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change”(Lorde, 1984, p. 112). Therefore, in order to create real change, we must use our own tools of interdependency and difference. Lorde says that “ Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.” (Lorde, 1979). For Lorde, interdependency is a sense of agency through a connection of women, but this connection can also be shared and felt between other minority groups.  

While there is a connection through interdependency Lorde recognizes that there are differences between people but she also believes that these differences can be used as a tool for change. Lorde says “ Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark a dialectic” (Lorde, 1984, 111).  This difference can also create a sense of community.  This is to say that  “Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist” (Lorde, 1984, p. 112).  These communities are communities of solidarity. And, it is in  these communities of solidarity that true change can happen.

The second lesson that Lorde gives us is what she calls The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action. Once there are the communities of solidarity established there needs to be the naming of the common problem, issue, and goal. The way that we name these things is through language. The power of language cannot be underestimated because if we can not use language to name things then we cannot act to change.  Therefore we can not afford to be silent. In fact Lorde says, “ My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you”. (Lorde, 1984, p.41). So it becomes imperative that we use language to create change.  Moreover, “ For those of who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is share and spread also those words are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding” (Lorde, 1984, p. 43).  Language serves three functions first it names things as truths, two it helps people to communicate messages, and three it creates understanding. Once we begin to use language to name things, to communicate messages, and to create understanding then we must enact change. In order to enact change, Lorde tells us to look back at the 1960s. 

The third lesson that Lorde gives us is Learning from the 60s. Why would we look to the 1960s doesn’t it seem to be dated? Well, in the 1960s is the last time we saw a real transformative change to take place. There are three lessons that we should take with us to make a change. First, “ We must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those which we have been forced to take into ourselves” (Lorde, 1984, p. 135). Meaning we have to fight against the oppressive systems, but we have to also challenge the ideologies that we have been conditioned to believe in that are used to oppress us.  

Second, we must not fight about the solution because “ When we disagreed with one another about the solution to a particular problem, we were often too far more vicious to each other than to the originators of our common problem” (Lorde, 1984, p. 136). Therefore, we must not fight with each other because it only divides us further. In turn, we must come together to compromise in order to find a common solution for a common problem. 

And, third, this process of change does not happen overnight. In fact, “ Our persistence in examining the tensions within diversity encourages growth toward our common goal. So often we either ignore the past or romanticize it, render the reason for unity useless or mythic. We forget that the necessary ingredient needed to make the past work for the future is our energy in the present, metabolizing one into the other. Continuity does not happen automatically, nor is it a passive process” (Lorde, 1984, p. 136). This is to say that we must not get tired because change is a journey. So it is crucial that we do not convince ourselves that change is easy because if we do this change will never happen. If we take these three lessons from Lorde and the 1960s with us and act we can start to create a change.

Moving forward, if we want to create the change we must first get rid of neoliberal thinking and realize that individuals do not create change. But rather solidarity does. We must follow what Angela Davis lays out as solidarity. Then we must find interdependency between each other to dismantle the system. But in order to do this, we must use language to name the issue or goal, to communicate messages, and to create understanding. And, finally, we must learn from the 1960s to fight the systems and ideologies that oppress us, to not fight with each other, and realize that creating change is a journey. And, if we do all these things then we can attempt to create real change.

Davis, A. (2016). Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the foundations of a. S.l.: HAYMARKET BOOKS.

Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.
Spade, D. (2015). Normal life: administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.



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