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Home / Journal / ‘The Lost Art of Organising Solidarity’

Alvaro Oleart draws on research to make the case for building a ‘movement of movements’. 1

Intersectional Palestine solidarity protest taking place in Berlin, 2018. The sign in Arabic says, ‘Jews for the Right of Return of Palestinians.’ © Hossam el-Hamalawy/Flickr.

In 2024, the time is ripe for more structural movement building, cohering fragments and transforming them into a broader transnational and decolonial political project. For instance, the ongoing transnational Palestine Solidarity movement has been able to not only shift the dominant public narrative on Israel, but also connect its anti-colonial struggle to other issues. As argued by Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future Sweden (2023), “there is no climate justice without human rights”. However, the Palestine Solidarity movement has also shown the limits of organising transnationally without permanent movement structures that articulate a ‘movement of movements’ (Cox and Nilsen, 2007) capable of structurally connecting different but related struggles. 

For this reason, it is an urgent task to build convivial spaces for movement infrastructure, where learning and unlearning processes are fostered and where different movements can connect to one another. Only by creating and encouraging these spaces can different movements with different political cultures get to know each other and ultimately construct a joint political culture in which different movements fit. Given the important power imbalances within movements, as economically powerful organisations tend to dominate them, it is necessary to think of ways in which these spaces can be democratised. There is a temptation from bigger organisations to operate on their own and only occasionally join other groups in a coalition that campaigns for a specific demand. The project-based understanding of cooperation structurally entrenches the position of power of bigger organisations, and also fuels distrust between them and grassroots organisations and activists. In the long term, focusing uniquely on project-based cooperation may actually harm movement solidarity because it emphasises the perceived ‘self-interest’ of organisations, as opposed to the articulation of a movement that may have short term concrete goals, but also a broader shared collective vision. If environmental organisations only cooperate on explicitly environmentally-related campaigns, it will nourish an instrumental conception of cooperation. Hence, tactical coalition-building in specific campaigns ought to be combined with broader discussions that encourage solidarity and movement-building – hence why Thunberg and Fridays for Future Sweden’s explicit support for Palestine is an encouraging and important sign. 

Prefigurative politics and transnational linkages

These prefigurative movement spaces need to be supported and treated with care—there are far too many activist organisers that have suffered from burnouts related to the difficulties of managing and coordinating a wide range of organisations2. Evidently, different organisations have different priorities (workers’ rights for trade unions, women’s rights for feminist organisations, the environment for environmentalists, elections for political parties…), yet there is no contradiction between them, and they would politically enhance each other by mutually and intersectionally supporting one another in solidarity. Furthermore, they would be able to introduce these priorities in spaces that might otherwise not consider them as a priority. There is no magic formula for the successful articulation of a ‘movement of movements’. In fact, a managerial approach to configure coalitions would operate against the spirit of such endeavour. But it is important to acknowledge that, in spite of the differences that organisations may have, we are part of a common journey in the struggle for democracy. Without such permanent movement structures, different movements are likely to operate in parallel instead of joining forces to strengthen each other. 

The process of bringing together actors from different political and national spaces into a common movement requires the acknowledgement of mutual interdependencies. In turn, acknowledging them requires socially skilled actors that work precisely on building those bridges and convince a heterogeneous group of actors that they have common ground. The articulation of a ‘movement of movements’ is not an automatic process that mirrors global neoliberalism, but rather the outcome of practices of solidarity and activist organising. A transnational and intersectional field of action does not exist beforehand; it is constructed through the action of socially skilled organisations that make links between different political spheres and are able to construct a common political diagnosis that leads them to act together. It is not self-evident why a diverse group of actors ought to operate within the same political umbrella; it requires a process of meaning-making that encourages these actors to work together. Crucially, the singularity of the diverse actors is not eliminated by becoming part of a broader political project or movement. Much to the contrary, the singularity is enhanced by connecting it with other causes. When feminist organisations create links with environmental or migrants’ rights organisations, the gender dimension is reinforced in those spaces, thus enhancing its singularity within a larger and heterogeneous movement. Similarly, when Spanish trade unions connect with trade unions in Chile, the international dimension is strengthened. This organising vision closely aligns with Hardt and Negri’s (2004: 211) understanding of the ‘multitude’ : 

In political organization as in narration, there is a constant dialogue among diverse, singular subjects, a polyphonic composition of them, and a general enrichment of each through this common constitution. The multitude in movement is a kind of narration that produces new subjectivities and new languages. 

Building on the work of Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, I have conceptualised this political imaginary as the ‘decolonial multitude’ (Oleart, 2023) in order to further emphasise the decolonial component of connecting movements across borders. These movements realise that, in order to bring about new ideas into the public sphere and push for political change, it is also necessary to innovate in their political practices. A crucial source of inspiration in this sense can be drawn from the relationship between the United States civil rights movement and anti-colonial struggles. As argued by Erin Pineda (2022: 29-30), “the anticolonial frame was not a theoretical construct devised and imposed entirely by movement leaders from above, but a live context that connected the domestic grassroots to related fields of action across a world constructed through this action”.

Transnational linkages and horizons have long existed, and it is only by connecting those struggles that a meaningful democratic transformation can take place. Such a perspective allows us to break the naturalisation of the nation-state as the ‘natural’ space of democracy and enhance the transformational potential of movements. To be sure, this is not the task of one organisation alone. The challenge is to support local and national organisations as mass organisations to counter the decades-long trend of hollowing out of trade unions and political parties (Mair, 2013), while at the same time constructing a space of permanent dialogue and coordination between movements across borders. This process does not entail erasing the differences between actors and movements, but requires a commitment to engage in relational thinking and withstand the tensions that might exist and arise. Furthermore, it entails reflecting on problematic aspects of movement organising, as they often reproduce the very logics they are contesting. “The Lost Art of Organising Solidarity”3 requires movement organisers to tackle the structural inequalities that exist not only in society in general, but also within movements. Whose voices and agency do movements prioritise? A real commitment to contest colonial, patriarchal and capitalist material structures requires movements to articulate coherent internal practices with their broader political goals.  

Black Lives Matter protest in Berlin, 2017. The Generation ADEFRA placard in the middle says: Black feminists say NO to racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, no to Trumpism and no to fascism. Generation ADEFRA is is a Berlin-based cultural and political organization for Black women and other women of color. © Montecruz Foto/Flickr

The singularity of… diverse actors is not eliminated by becoming part of a broader political project or movement.”

Intersectionality and the challenges to construct decolonial movement dynamics

There is still a long road for movements to connect struggles in a way in which they are inextricably linked to each other. For instance, some trade unions have difficulties to integrate a decolonial or feminist angle to their struggle for workers’ rights, as they could conceive racism or sexism as a source of ‘distraction’ from their ‘core business’. This is a classic case of ‘class reductionism’, prioritising ‘class’, conceived narrowly as the exploitation of labour, over other forms of oppression  such as those based on gender or race. However, “a correct understanding of the relationships among capitalism, racism, and sexism only further highlights how central the struggle against each is to the struggle against any of the others” (Wills, 2018: 232). The very notion of ‘class’ is inextricably linked to all forms of oppression, rather than uniquely denoting a division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—a division that nonetheless remains relevant. This example illustrates how some activists – particularly racialised women – have the sense that we ought to fight the system, yet at the same time are continuously confronted with obstacles within ‘progressive’ organisations and movements. This also emphasises that within movements we often reproduce the systems of oppression in which we have been socialised and that we are fighting to change. In this way, the specificities of certain struggles are not fully recognised and addressed. This tends to situate white activists in a position of privilege at the expense of activists that are attempting to conceive different struggles as inherently related to one another. 

“Within movements we often reproduce the systems of oppression in which we have been socialised and that we are fighting to change.”

A non-reductionist conception of ‘class’ requires movements to find ways of articulating different struggles as inherently intertwined. This entails the prioritisation of knowledges and voices from the Global Souths, as international solidarity is a necessary condition for the articulation of open and inclusive spaces. In doing so, movements mutually enhance each other’s capacities, constructing a multitude-like political imaginary that is more powerful than if struggles are conceived as operating separate to one another. Such intersectional perspective has been primarily driven by Black feminists, who coined the term ‘intersectionality’ (Crenshaw, 1989). As Audre Lorde (2007: 138) put it, “there is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”. Similarly, Angela Davis has consistently argued that feminist and decolonial activist movements should focus on the intersections across movements, conceiving different political struggles as part of a wider struggle: 

Black feminism emerged as a theoretical and practical effort demonstrating that race, gender, and class are inseparable in the social worlds we inhabit. At the time of its emergence, Black women were frequently asked to choose whether the Black movement or the women’s movement was most important. The response was that this was the wrong question. The more appropriate question was how to understand the intersections and interconnections between the two movements. We are still faced with the challenge of understanding the complex ways race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, and ability are intertwined—but also how we move beyond these categories to understand the interrelationships of ideas and processes that seem to be separate and unrelated. (Davis, 2016: 3–4)

Thus, building a more supportive, decolonial, feminist, egalitarian and democratic society requires developing social and political movement structures in which there are counter-powers and a constant agonistic internal debate that not only ‘allows’ criticism, but also encourages it. Solidarity is not spontaneous, but is built through dynamics and democratic structures that facilitate spaces for dissensus. Navigating difficult political tensions requires building internal dynamics within movements that foster solidarity and camaraderie rather than competition and individualism. As the historian E. P. Thompson (1963: 194) argued in the context of early nineteenth-century England, “the working class made itself as much as it was made”. Similarly, a decolonial multitude-like movement ought to articulate itself as much as it is constructed by our current globalised capitalist, patriarchal and postcolonial society. 

“Solidarity is not spontaneous, but is built through dynamics and democratic structures that facilitate spaces for dissensus.”


Cox, L., & Nilsen, A. G. (2007). Social movements research and the ‘movement of movements’: Studying resistance to neoliberal globalisation. Sociology Compass, 1(2), 424–442. 

Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167. 

Davis, A. Y. (2016). Freedom is a constant struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the foundations of a movement. Haymarket Books. 

Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2004). Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire. Penguin. 

Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Crossing Press.

Mair, P. (2013). Ruling the void: The hollowing of Western democracy. Verso books.

Oleart, A. (2023). Democracy Without Politics in EU Citizen Participation: From European Demoi to Decolonial Multitude. Palgrave. 

Pineda, E. (2022). Beyond (and before) the transnational turn: Recovering civil disobedience as decolonizing praxis. Democratic Theory, 9(2), 11–36.

Thompson, E. P. (1963). The making of the English working class . Victor Gollancz.

Thunberg, G. and Fridays for Future Sweden (2023). We won’t stop speaking out about Gaza’s suffering – there is no climate justice without human rights. The Guardian, 5 December 2023. Available: (Accessed 7 February 2024) 

Wills, V. (2018). What could it mean to say, “Capitalism causes sexism and racism?” Philosophical Topics, 46(2), 229–246.

Alvaro Oleart is a FNRS postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science and the Institute for European Studies of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He is the author of “Framing TTIP in the European  Public  Spheres: Towards  an  Empowering  Dissensus  for  EU  integration” (Palgrave, 2021) and “Democracy Without Politics in EU Citizen Participation: From European Demoi to Decolonial Multitude” (Palgrave, 2023).

1 The article is based on an excerpt from Chapter 7 of the book Democracy Without Politics in EU Citizen Participation: From European Demoi to Decolonial Multitude (Oleart, 2023).

2 Mental health struggles are particularly salient in activist communities. The motivation of activists is primarily oriented towards social and political change, and in most cases much of the work is, at best, poorly paid (in most cases it is not paid at all). Considering the economic precariousness, the difficulties to bring together a wide range of organisations and individuals, and internal conflicts that often arise, organisers whose responsibility is to coordinate activists are particularly prone to burnouts. Sustaining activist mobilisation requires a lot of emotional labour, but it is usually not well redistributed (with a heavy gender component) and tends to fall on a small group of organisers. Processes such as check-ins are now common and facilitate empathy, but solidarity and empathy is also fostered through structures—sharing funding and resources between organisations to facilitate the engagement in long-term movement solidarity would be a positive step forward. 

3 This phrase was used by European Alternatives in its organising of the Transnational Workers’ Organizing Summit in November 2022.

Black Lives Matter protest in Berlin, 2017. The Generation ADEFRA placard in the middle says: Black feminists say NO to racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, no to Trumpism and no to fascism. Generation ADEFRA is is a Berlin-based cultural and political organization for Black women and other women of color. © Montecruz Foto/Flickr