Rabindranath Tagore once said ‘humanity is composed of individuals, yet they have their connection of human relationship, which gives living solidarity to man’s world’. In the post-Thatcherite, neoliberal existence, words like ‘solidarity’ have drifted from the vernacular of the general public. But here, in our community, we are striving to at least preserve the notion of it.
We use the concept of solidarity – of unity and collectivism – to bring together individuals and strive to show, on a small scale, a practical sense of how we can all work together to make a whole living civil society where no one is left behind.
As a practical act of socialism, our aim was to open the first ‘no questions asked’ food bank in the area, to restore dignity and trust to those reaching out. We adopted the motto ‘If you need it, take it; if you can, donate it’ – two simple balancing acts working in tandem for the greater good. Very quickly, we had lots of volunteers helping to provide food, meals, and comfort to those in need. A civilised society stands shoulder to shoulder with all people during hard times – the simple act of solidarity, not charity. Collectivism works best when people recognise that there are times when all of us will need to lean on society for support, and times when we help society. This ebb and flow creates an organic, powerful and inclusive grassroots movement.
During the pandemic, we have fed over 10,000 people in our community, all the while promoting co-operation not competition, collectivism not individualism, social equality not inequality. We all had a shared purpose that built and subsequently strengthened our relationships with each other. Helping during a pandemic provided a common goal and a sense of belonging for all involved. It felt instinctual – doing what we could to support those who needed help and hope at a time of crisis.
Society is at its most civil when we embrace our shared experience and accept those of others that we can never share; champion our loves, laughs and joys, but acknowledge disadvantage, harm, and sorrow. Only when we concede that our individualist society is predicated on the inequality of existence can we begin to rectify it by challenging it as a collective.
I strongly believe that this notion will ultimately bring about catalysing change. Community-centred activism and socialism is what will lead us to a caring, compassionate world and, in some small way, allow us to experience Tagore’s human universe.
Jane Marshall – Community Activist