Why solidarity matters

We often hear the word solidarity, but what is it, and why does it matter when it comes to environmental justice campaigning? Read below to find out more.

18 Oct 2023

What's solidarity?

There’s a lot to consider when we think about it, but essentially solidarity means acting together to achieve a common goal. In the environmental justice movement, that means supporting the struggles of other environmental activists around the world and looking for the common cause in our campaigns.

It also means supporting social justice struggles regardless of whether they have a clear environmental angle. That’s because acting in solidarity involves understanding that the challenges we face are systemic and interlinked.

Solidarity can take many forms. We act in solidarity by attending other groups' demonstrations, pressuring our decision makers or sending solidarity messages. But why exactly is solidarity important for our movement?

Solidarity makes us strong

When we act in solidarity with another group, it can be a huge energy boost for them. Ever been to a protest and had a motorist beep as they pass by? That’s solidarity you’re experiencing, and it’s universal.

Campaigning can often feel like we’re battling away by ourselves, but when others show solidarity with us, we get a sense of how much support there is out there. It shows us there’s a way to keep building the movement we’re part of and that we can win.

Our own groups fighting fracking felt this same boost when messages of support came in from around the world. But we also boost our groups by acting in solidarity, even before our allies are aware of and motivated by our action. This is because it reminds us that we’re part of that much larger movement, a global one, made up of millions of people fighting for justice.

Solidarity saves lives

One critical aspect of solidarity action is responding quickly to calls for help. Environmental campaigning isn't an even playing field around the world. For many it can be deadly.

Particular moments of political upheaval and even corporate impunity overseas can often put people’s human rights and lives at risk. Whenever this is the case, we take solidarity action together by shining spotlights on governments and corporations to keep each other safe and ensure perpetrators can't act with impunity. Signing declarations, sending letters to embassies and using social media are examples of good ways to do this.

As environmental justice activists we often do this without thinking, but it’s nice to know it’s also a strategy that works. On 2 separate occasions in 2021, Ugandan activists campaigning against Total and partnered to Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth France) were arrested without charge. International outcry supported by Friends of the Earth helped secure their quick release.

The same thing happened again in December 2022 – activists returning from a workshop with Friends of the Earth Mozambique were arrested without charge but then quickly released due to coordinated international action from Friends of the Earth. And in 2016 we worked together to secure the safe passage of Gustavo Castro Soto after he witnessed the murder of Berta Cáceres. As attacks against environmental activists and Human Rights Defenders increase around the world, so does the strength of our response.

A global movement

These are all examples of international solidarity action. Here’s one reason that’s important: the climate and ecological emergencies are global ones that'll ultimately require a global movement to stop. That means a movement with common goals and a broad common understanding that’s ready to step in and act where governments won’t. Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest grassroots environmental federation, is a pretty good example of this.

Acting in solidarity is a powerful way to build and develop this global movement, and also to remind decision makers that it’s out there and it’s not something to be ignored. Remember that coalitions are a challenge to those with power in society. When we come together to act, we realise our individual fights have the same root causes, and the solution lies in this common action. Solidarity helps us put those pieces together.

Solidarity also gives us the opportunity to learn from one another and from the movement. Whether it’s in the UK or the Global South, injustice is everywhere and has the same driver in the wealthy and powerful. With millions of people around the world finding creative ways to fight back, there’s lots to learn.

Solidarity gives us a direct line into new tactics and approaches that might work for our groups. It can also give us an insight into broader trends in the movement that we can incorporate or draw upon so we can do our part to keep building the global movement we need.

Solidarity from the UK

It’s essential that we in the UK remember that the impacts of the climate crisis aren't felt equally. Those impacts are experienced first and foremost by communities in the Global South who bear no historic responsibility for the emergency. As well as climate impacts, these communities often experience first-hand the devastating effects of how the fossil fuel industry extracts oil and gas.

As a global power, with a terrible colonial history and a capital city that’s home to much of the industry, it’s never hard to find a UK link to these projects. We can use these links to support the frontline fights against extractive projects and help stop the fossil fuel industry at its source. Our groups have done this before – like when we came together to take action on Mozambique gas funding.

In fact there’s good evidence for the argument that supporting frontline fights around the world are a direct means of saving the planet. 80% of the world’s remaining biodiverse rich areas exist on indigenous lands and are maintained and defended by indigenous peoples, and indigenous resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure in the US and Canada has stopped or stalled the equivalent of one-quarter of both countries' total annual emissions. Facts like these make a compelling case for how vital it is to support this work from the UK.

Take part

From time to time we receive calls for solidarity action from our sister organisations and share these with our local action groups. By taking action with us, groups help maximise the impact we have, often in urgent scenarios. So if you’re a member of a group, sign up to receive international solidarity calls. As well as boosting solidarity action that makes a crucial difference, it's an immediate way to stand with our allies as an active part of the Friends of the Earth International network.

We’re also working to challenge the power of the drivers behind environmental and human rights abuses through our Planet over Profit campaign.