In Solidarity: Falling off My High Horse to Embrace My Identity

I have always been suspicious of solidarity.  Solidarity always felt fake.  It always felt a little bit like privileged people assuaging guilt or boredom by taking on a shared label with their oppressed brethren.  It felt like the fallback position for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t join in opposing oppression unless they could feel themselves oppressed. In fact, whenever I was caught up in a web of solidarity, be it the ubiquitous street nod to a fellow wheelchair user or a passing Jewish greeting to a complete stranger on the Upper West Side, I always felt like a bit of an impostor.

I could nod, but as a privileged Ivy League lawyer, did I really understand the realities faced by most people with disabilities?

I know the proper call and response for every occasion in the Jewish year, and I wear a yarmulke, but as a public school kid growing up in a reform family, I never felt the mismatch with secular society that some who grew up observant struggle with.  Growing up in New England, even the anti-Semitism reported by my friends in other parts of the country was foreign to me, living, as I did,  in a region which has adopted a lot of Jewish culture as its own.

I could be, and was, sympathetic to the struggles.  I even wrote blog posts expressing gratitude for my luck at not struggling as they did, and I have worked as an advocate, especially in disability circles.  But, in my heart, it was often their struggle.  However guilty it might make me feel, I felt no right to claim that I was fighting for me.  This made the solidarity feel fake.

In recent months I have begun to realize that this was a comfortable arrogance.  More than anything, it was a delusion about my own situation.

Just this week, a Jewish couple was attacked on the Upper East Side of New York.  Over the last few years, I walked through that neighborhood many times a week with not a care in the world.

Further, as I find in the precarious world of self-employment and receiving services from Medicaid for the first time since passing the bar almost 10 years ago, I find myself falling into the half remembered shuffle of a welfare beneficiary, my life subject to the arcane and irrational requirements of the government programs on which I depend for my medical care and my personal care.  Today, I misread a letter that appeared to indicate a significant reduction in my personal care services, and I experienced a gut twisting surge of nauseated panic as I frantically tried to resolve the truth while living nightmare scenarios of how I would deal with the reduced care, since my current system is barely sufficient to meet my needs.  Thank God I had just misread the letter.

And so I come face to face with a bitter reality.  As long as I live in a world where people with disabilities either often cannot live independently at all, or at best can do so under programs with complicated and limiting rules, I am not guaranteed to live independently.  As long as I live in a world where people are attacked simply for being Jews, I am at risk, whether I live in Boston, New York, or Vienna.  The struggle of my brethren is my struggle not because of empathy, or even shared identity, but because as long as they are at risk, I am at risk.

I had been living high and mighty for a while, a New York Jew with a fancy lawyer job, paying for all my own personal care.  I may get there again.  But until all of my brethren have reached the security that I enjoy, I am not safe.

This, then, is what I have learned.  I must fight for the rights of all like me.  Further, it is imperative on me not because it is right, though surely it is, nor because I feel for others, though surely I do, but because we are all in it together.  Next time I get the nod, I will return it with full acceptance of our shared destiny, our shared struggle.  We will join together, in solidarity.

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