May 13, 2015

“Solidarity Forever”: Pride (2014)

Pride BBC 2014
“Solidarity Forever”: Pride (2014)
Pride (2014) tells the true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign: in 1984, when Thatcher was in power and mining communities across the UK went on strike for a period of nearly a year, a group of gay and lesbian activists in London began to fundraise to support their efforts. After being rejected by unions and local groups that feared association with the gay and lesbian community, LGSM focused on supporting miners in South Wales, particularly the Dulais Valley. Pride focuses on the London group, but by the end of the miners’ strike there were eleven LGSM and Lesbians Against Pit Closures groups across the UK.

As the film shows, the LGSM campaign helped forge closer ties between labour rights groups and gay and lesbian activists, with historical ramifications. Pride ends at the 1985 Lesbian and Gay Pride day in London, when large numbers of miners and their families repaid the support shown to them by marching in favour of equal rights. These acts of mutual solidarity helped entrench lgbtq rights in the Labour party: three years later, a motion of support was passed at their National Conference largely due to a block yes vote from the National Union of Mineworkers.

Pride BBc 2014 Miners march in Gay and Lesbian Pride parade

The most moving moment of Pride to me comes when Dai Donovan, a miner from the Dulais Valley who (wrongly) believed he had never met a gay man or a lesbian before coming into contact with LGSM, gives a speech thanking the group for their support:
What I’d really like to say to you tonight is thank you. If you’re one of the people that’s put money in these buckets, if you’ve supported LGSM, then thank you, because what you’ve given us is more than money. It’s friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.
These are simple words, but to me they — and the story Pride tells as a whole — get to the heart of what solidarity is about. In the past few years I’ve seen its practice be examined and complicated, and understandably so. It’s possible and far too easy to make mistakes along the way. It doesn’t take much for attempts to help people whose experiences are different from our own to end up putting us in a position where we’re listened to while they continue to be ignored: that’s how systemic inequality works. It’s possible, too, to perpetuate harmful myths even if we have the very best of intentions, and to cause hurt when we genuinely meant to help. I understand this, and I believe in always being mindful of it. But I believe just as strongly in not letting the knowledge that we won’t always get it right paralyse us. I absolutely believe in the concept of solidarity itself, even if the practice can be improved. I believe in coming together when our help will make a difference: it’s essential, and it’s often all we have.

I called Dais’ speech above the most moving moment for me, but to be honest I cried through pretty much all of Pride. It was in part a matter of timing: I watched it the weekend after an election result that made me fear for everything that’s important to me. I spent last Thursday evening in tears, and then the whole of the next day in a terrified and shocked state. There’s a lot at stake for me over the next five years: as a woman; as an immigrant; as a low-income worker in an increasingly expensive city; as someone who works in, loves, and genuinely believes in public libraries. It’s no exaggeration to say that I don’t know how much of what I care about, how much of the life it took me so long to put together, will survive the political landscape ahead.

What got me through the day last Friday was refusing to be miserable and afraid in silence. There is, of course, a lot to this refusal, but I’ll get to that in time. I talked to kind colleagues at work who share my fears as public sector workers, and who understand my specific vulnerabilities as an immigrant. I shared my feelings on Twitter and received support from old friends, new friends, passing acquaintances and near strangers — all of whom made a real, tangible difference. I likewise offered my support to those whose fears are and aren’t the same as my own, those who have even more to lose and even less to fall back on. And as the hours passed, I realised that no matter what happens, I need to keep these ties in my life.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in making sense of the circumstances that allow people to take a stance against or for something, both in stories and in life. I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and exhaustion and hope. I don’t think bravery as an individual character trait accounts for much; instead I’ve come to believe that, as Dais put it, we draw strength from the knowledge that we’re not alone, that we have more friends than we imagined. Some of you might remember that I devoted a disproportionate amount of space in my discussion of Rita Williams-Garcia’s excellent Civil Rights era children’s novels to this very question: it was gnawing at me then and it’s still gnawing at me now. I believe in being compassionate when people decide they have too much to lose to be able to speak up, while at the same time creating circumstances that might allow them to make a different decision next time. I believe in valuing different forms of action and support rather than a single model. Solidarity and unity are crucial to this effort.

I can’t speak for miners and I can’t speak for lgbtq activists; but I engage with stories partially to make sense of and learn to navigate my own life, and this was my takeaway from Pride: support is everything. Solidarity is as essential as oxygen. I found it early on in my life when it comes to gender thanks to the wonderful communities I’ve come across online, but now it needs to happen for the other sides of who I am, both locally and globally. I am, I say again, a woman and an immigrant and a public sector worker without much of a safety net. There are challenges associated with each of these things, which interact in some ways but are unique in others. I need to speak up about them, and to listen when others speak about how the years to come will make their lives harder. I need to hold their hands and allow them to hold mine.

Back in 2011 I made a bad decision that I hope I’ll be able to write about someday. I’m not at a point where I can do so just yet, but I do want to take note of how its absurdity is starting to hit me, and how it took an uphill climb over a period of many years for me to get to this point. I particularly want to acknowledge that this bad, fear-fuelled decision was the result of a sense of absolute isolation that was as much political as it was personal. It was the result of toxic ideology getting inside my head at a moment of vulnerability. The things I would never believe about others, I started to believe about myself. Just as harmfully, I started to believe that even those I love and who love me back would believe them about me, because how could they not? I can’t go back to that, not ever. My life has become better, infinitely better, because of networks of solidarity and support and hope. This is how we dismantle isolation. This is how we challenge the narratives that make us question our very right to exist. It’s a life project and a political project.

Pride is about how such networks come to be established, and it was an absolute inspiration at this point in time. I’m grateful that this hidden pocket of history was revealed to me. We desperately need more of this.

15 comments:

  1. Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in making sense of the circumstances that allow people to take a stance against or for something, both in stories and in life. I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and exhaustion and hope. I don’t think bravery as an individual character trait accounts for much; instead I’ve come to believe that, as Dais put it, we draw strength from the knowledge that we’re not alone, that we have more friends than we imagined.

    Exactly. I'm an immigrant and a woman like you (although not working in exactly the same sector), and also found the UK election results extremely dispiriting and frightening. Thank you for reminding me that we are not isolated, and that we are stronger together.

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    1. You're most welcome, and thank you also for the kind and supportive tweets the day after the election <3

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  2. Oh I cried throughout this movie too. When I am feeling glum, or actually just sometimes because I feel like it, I go to YouTube and watch the video of them all singing "Bread and Roses." (I'm going to watch that right now in fact.)

    Anyway, girl, my heart is always with you. I say prayers for sanity to prevail. You write so beautifully about what this movie meant to you in this time. A zillion hugs.

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    1. That's the best idea ever. And thank you <3 *ALL the hugs*

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  3. Oh! I've had this movie on my radar, but now I know when I can watch it--when I'm feeling more than usually exhausted by another day of fighting for what I think is right with little or no support. I have been going through the days like the manic pixie dream girl says in Elizabethtown, trying to "make them wonder why I'm still smiling," but there comes a day, one or two decades later, when you can't keep that up if nothing has changed.
    Sometimes it seems like it would be worth it to throw your support behind a cause that already has a little bit of support.
    People who see the need for change are rarely rewarded in their own lifetimes.

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    1. I think you're right, and it's so hard sometimes not to become demoralised. Stories like Pride help, though.

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  4. This film sounds amazing, thank you for bringing it to my attention.
    The UK election scared me too, even though I don't live there any more. Actually, I find the political situation around most of Europe quite frightening at the moment. I hope we get our acts together and dig ourselves out of the hole we're in. Otherwise I don't know what's going to happen, but I fear it won't be good.
    So great that we have some films and books to remind us that things can be different and that solidarity can prevail.

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    1. I hope so too. I really do. I spoke about the UK because it's where I'm living now, but things in my country of birth aren't any better, and haven't been for years.

      And yes, absolutely. Stories make a world of difference.

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  5. What an interesting and unique and important story. I will have to check it out.

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    1. Yes, please do! It seems to have flown under the radar, but it's such a great story.

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  6. My life has become better, infinitely better, because of networks of solidarity and support and hope. This is how we dismantle isolation. This is how we challenge the narratives that make us question our very right to exist. It’s a life project and a political project.

    Yes, this, a thousand percent. Community and solidarity is so important and often feels so difficult to construct, but once built… it's the engine of progress.

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    1. The engine of progress - absolutely. Lately I've been thinking about this all the time.

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  7. And posts like this one show why you are so awesome.

    Lots of hugs, and hope that the ominous result of the election doesn't end up being so. I refuse to believe terror is going to be the main force driving Europe in years to come.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.