Intro­du­cing Soli­da­ri­ty City: Act One

The past four years have been par­ti­cu­lar­ly tes­ting for Euro­pean demo­cra­cy. When the Arab Spring star­ted, it was dif­fi­cult for many to under­stand the many ways how revo­lu­ti­ons and strug­gles that hap­pen­ed else­whe­re would affect our own coun­tries, our own cities, and our own lives. As dic­ta­tor­ships were torn down across the Midd­le East, the poli­ti­cal walls and bor­ders that kept peop­le from moving free­ly were torn down with them.

The EU had been com­pli­cit with the­se dic­ta­tor­ships and had even sup­por­ted them as a means to pre­vent migra­ti­on. Their fall forced Euro­pe to act befo­re the sud­den “ope­ning” of bor­ders that allo­wed mil­li­ons to move.

At the same time, the years 2013 and 2014 mar­ked a new begin­ning for refu­gee and migrant strug­gles in Ger­ma­ny as they final­ly beca­me much more visi­ble. The march to Brussels, the occupa­ti­ons of Ora­ni­en­platz and Ohlau­er – all of the­se were events in an ope­ning act of strugg­le for an open demo­cra­cy, for a plu­ra­list demo­cra­cy, for ano­t­her demo­cra­cy that ack­now­led­ges peop­le as active agents. This ope­ning act was one of gre­at claims: “No Bor­der, No Nati­ons,” “Hou­sing for All,” “Free­dom of Move­ment.”

Peop­le were mobi­li­zed. In Sum­mer and Autumn of 2015, mil­li­ons mar­ched. Many peop­le, who were not pre­vious­ly poli­ti­cal­ly orga­ni­zed star­ted wel­co­me initia­ti­ves or sim­ply show­ed up at train sta­ti­ons, shel­ters, and public pla­ces to offer food or help to refu­gees.

Howe­ver, poli­ti­cal­ly, litt­le chan­ged. In Ger­ma­ny, despi­te our gre­at num­bers, the deman­ds of refu­gees and sup­por­ters were met with the most mini­mal of reforms while depor­ta­ti­on pro­ces­ses were stream­li­ned and peop­le were forced to expe­ri­ence soci­al death as they wai­ted in the bureau­cra­tic lim­bo of Kafka’s night­ma­res. The kinds of night­ma­res that spell soci­al death as peop­le are forced to wait for appro­val to see doc­tors, wait for appro­val to have decent hou­sing, wait for appro­val to earn a means to live – despi­te the fact that the wars, the pover­ty, and the ter­ror that forced them to flee was bey­ond their con­trol.

Soli­da­ri­ty City Ber­lin was born slow­ly towards the end of 2015 as win­ter loo­med. We ack­now­led­ged the fact that the initi­al cycle of strugg­le could not bring about the chan­ges necessa­ry to allow peop­le to live decent­ly and as equals. We deci­ded to move for­ward at the local level, whe­re we have the best chan­ce to direct­ly inter­vene and deve­lop pres­su­re.

Soli­da­ri­ty City Ber­lin is a dif­fe­rent visi­on of ano­t­her tomor­row, of ano­t­her demo­cra­cy, today. We are neigh­bors and co-workers; refu­gees and undo­cu­men­ted peop­le; Chris­ti­an, Jewish, and Mus­lim; men, women, and ever­yo­ne else – we’re ever­y­day Ber­li­ners and we love the city for its peop­le and the hope that its peop­le pro­mi­se. In a world that seems to be com­ing undo­ne, we’ve come toge­ther, to co-defi­ne a city pre­mi­sed on demo­cra­cy, on the demos, on its peop­les – all of them.

If our socie­ty is defi­ned by demo­cra­cy, and demo­cra­cy is defi­ned by ever­y­day people’s abi­li­ty to come toge­ther and make deci­si­ons, then we deci­ded to come toge­ther – all of us – to find out how to make this work. We didn’t wait for the government, deci­ding ins­te­ad to act toge­ther, now.

The way the city cur­r­ent­ly func­tions denies and restricts access to deci­si­on-making, and we deve­lop a prac­tice of par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry demo­cra­cy that expands the capa­ci­ties of per­sons to make deci­si­ons. Our lives are lar­ge­ly defi­ned by rela­ti­ons­hips that put most peop­le in posi­ti­ons of very litt­le power, for­cing them to live rea­li­ties not of their making. If we want to take the idea of demo­cra­cy serious­ly, then that means ever­yo­ne should be able to inter­vene in the con­struc­tion of a com­mon socie­ty, a com­mon Ber­lin, a Ber­lin for all – a Ber­lin built on soli­da­ri­ty.