8 thoughts on “Solidarity: What Is It?

  1. Nice post Becky! I really like this story- it is very symbolic of the struggle of simple gospel living within a complex society, where it often feels that no matter what choice we make we are still probably oppressing someone… how do live responsibly and act as good stewards when we’re so interconnected?

  2. This was a great reflection on solidarity. I often feel baffled about how to actually live in solidarity. . .and I know many people who feel similarly.

  3. I’m sure your friend’s choice is nothing but well-intentioned, but speaking as someone who researches the health care industry at work, ARRRRGH. While forgoing regular doctor’s visits may not be a big deal for a healthy person in their twenties, if your friend got in a car accident or underwent some other kind of catastrophic event, he’d undergo care at a hospital and likely be billed at a higher rate than that charged to insurers. (In most states that don’t have laws forbidding it, patients without insurance get charged a certain “sticker price” and insurers negotiate lower prices, with the result that uninsured patients’ bills are higher for the same procedures.) This bill would first be charged to your friend, possibly forcing him into bankruptcy, which would certainly hamper his ability to continue doing good works down the road. If he documented his inability to pay, the hospital would then write the care off as bad debt and (in most states that don’t forbid the practice) report it as charity care on their tax forms. So he’d be sending a nonprofit with a societal charge to provide care for the needy further into debt and allowing them to claim as charity some care that he could have had paid for in the first place. From my admittedly esoteric perspective, this seems like a bad use of resources. The idea of taking one’s insurance to a clinic, though, seems like a great way to approach this disparity.

    Your larger point about who we claim to stand in solidarity with and why is very well taken.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. As a member of a Catholic Worker (CW) community, I wanted to respond to some of your points. I do not want to refute what you’ve written, but I do want to explain better my understanding of CW thoughts, motivations, and what the word solidarity means to me.
    The Catholic Worker vision is one in which we seek to let go of any privilege we have, so that we may be in better, honest, and more personal relationships with the people with whom we share our lives, specifically the poorest of the poor in our country, homeless women and children. In most ways, we cannot divest ourselves of our privilege, for example, I can’t change my white skin color. And while I grew up in a situation similar to the background you describe, my family never had to wonder where we were going to spend the night, where our next meal was coming from, or what to would do if I asked them, yet again, for another favor. I have never had to fight harder for everything because of my race.
    It’s very important to us as Catholic Workers to honestly acknowledge these privileges that granted us access to loans, private educations, transportation, etc. It’s also important for us to distinguish between voluntary poverty to which we of privilege are called, and involuntary poverty, which we believe no one should have to live and suffer.
    Over the past seventeen years I’ve sat at dinner at the Catholic Worker with many guests, attempting different “experiments in truth” at living the Gospel. I have done this as a person both with and without my own car. I have done this as a person who has health insurance, and who has decided to forgo health insurance. I have done this as a person who has exploited my privilege by having credit card and a student loan, and as one who has declined these things. I can tell you that the most connection and truth happens when I am living as closely to voluntary poverty as I can. It is not because our guests feel so much support from my choices, but because I know, in a minuscule way, a little of their reality.
    Like you, the opportunities in my life (along with hard work, but more privilege) have allowed me to pursue a higher education -I am a Nurse Practitioner–I work in a city clinic like the one you describe. The particular choice to not have health insurance (again, it’s just one of many avenues of seeking personalism and voluntary poverty) has broader implications for me both as a Catholic Worker and as a Nurse Practitioner. The health care system in this country is certainly unjust; the poor are left behind while insurance companies’ profits skyrocket. As much as we can, Catholic Workers strive to withdraw support for unjust systems, work for justice, and build new systems (for example, there are several CW clinics in the U.S.). The Catholic Worker co-founder, Dorothy Day, talked about this philosophy:
    “The only way we have to show our love for God is by the love we have for our [sister and] brother. ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.’ Love of [the other] means voluntary poverty, stripping one’s self, putting off the old man, denying one’s self, etc. It also means non-participation in those comforts and luxuries which have been manufactured by the exploitation of others. While our [others] suffer, we must compassionate them, suffer with them. While our [sisters and] brothers suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts. These resolutions, no matter how hard they are to live up to, no matter how often we fall and have to begin over again, are part of the vision…”
    While having insurance and paying a clinic (such as the one I work in) may save the U.S. government a little money, this is not our goal (to save money for the biggest of oppressive systems). Also, this strategy does little to improve my relationship with the poor. Our goal is to strengthen our understanding of, and relationship with, the poor, and to work to change to systems that keep them poor. “Solidarity” for us means personalist relationships with the poorest of the poor. We try to do this by being willing to suffer (and believe me, not having health insurance does not make me feel good or righteous about my life – it is stressful, inconvenient, and a little scary,) by changing our lifestyles, and by trying to exploit our privilege as little as possible. It’s just too easy for we who benefit from this Empire, we who are educated, and who have class and race privilege, to sit back in comfort (relative to the rest of the world,) playing it safe. And the end, for us, does not justify unjust means
    I appreciate your thoughts, and am sorry your friend’s decisions were difficult for you. I always enjoy expounding on Catholic Worker philosophy, and would welcome you to spend time at the Catholic Worker, which is the best way to understand why we do what we do. We do not think that we have the truth, but rather, we are trying to live in a way that best leads us toward the women and children we live with, and in a way that leads us more closely to love.

    PS- I have a few other suggestions to add to your book suggestion. Dorothy Day’s Selected Writings is a powerful read, and our friends at the Des Moines Catholic Worker have recently spearheaded an effort for health care justice: http://www.desmoinescatholicworker.org/healthcare.html

  5. @ songbuddhacw –Thanks for your insights and resource recommendations. From a perspective of not participating in unjust structures, the decision to forgo health insurance makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the witness of the Catholic Worker, on our blog and in real life! Thanks for joining us.

  6. Fascinating! Especially reading “both sides of the story” if you will. Becky, I wondered if you could talk more about how this felt patronizing. I often thought in the past that I would not marry until marriage was open to all. But then I wondered too, about giving up a right others would love to have. Would they think it was a shame I didnt take atvantage of it? Would it do what I was hoping-standing in solidarity?

    I think this boils down to something we encounter so often but don’t reflect on enough-my choices help form me most of all.The value may not be in solidarity for the other person’s sake but my own formation and illumination. In that way, those I am trying to stand in solidarity with actually give to me what I could not have learned on my own. We naturally seek out environments that we either consciously or subconsiously know will fill our own needs. This is not to say people don’t do altruistic things. Its a both/and for me. What or who we are drawn to ultimately gives us what we are in need of too. I dont know if this is making sense. I’m a rambler, but it makes sense in my head!

  7. Lauren,

    Good questions! I wanted to let you know that our Roundtable…(the publication the St. Louis Catholic Workers put out), put out a great response to address some of those questions that were very helpful for me. http://karenhousecw.org/2006Homosexuality.htm It might be helpful.

    Also the Des Moines Catholic Worker made a wonderful statement about repenting heterosexism. Here is the link here: http://www.desmoinescatholicworker.org/repentingheterosexism.html

    love,
    Colleen

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