Colonizing and globalizing powers have exercised confused conundrums of sovereignty in the last 500 years of modern Enlightenment whiteness. While masquerading as nations that honor Westphalian sovereignty, their imperial desires and distended capitalist markets have seized land in other countries. They have forced the migrations of Indigenous people into carceral reservations or into a globally dispersed condition of slavery. Within national boundaries they have created unequal forms of domestic sovereignty through discrimination or apartheid. At their borders, they have used power differentials to exclude and exploit. They claim a right to globally circulate labor and goods, but when asked to welcome migrations of those facing harm elsewhere, they revert to a simple bounded nation with patriotic rights to xenophobic purity. Banding together, nations also square off in superpower empires like those of the Cold War that tilted the playing fields to handicap Non-Aligned countries. And these modern nations have also sometimes waged wars because of premodern beliefs or primitive urges for conquest and dominance.
These overlapping and contradictory sovereignties only occasionally resolve as a set of nations and simultaneously come into focus as an archipelago of areas under siege in many different ways. There are the free zone areas of exemption in which powerful corporations enjoy unobstructed opportunities to profit by extracting cheap labor from around the world. And then there are their counterparts in concentration camps, refugee camps, or Indigenous reservations. The remainders of South African apartheid and the Jim Crow laws in the American south, occupied Palestine, Ukraine under Russian military bombardment, also join countless areas ghettoized for any number of reasons.
But to counter the forces of colonizing, slavery, and genocide that are oscillating between sovereignties, their victims in these local pockets of hostility also require exceptional forms of sovereignty with local and remote powers.
Frequently the targeted group finds ways to strengthen themselves from within. Consider just a few examples. Blacks in the southern United States banded together in freedom colonies of nearby farms for safety, and from the end of the Civil War until today, Black leaders and organizations have promoted various cooperative forms for organizing land, commerce, and community as a means of survival. Palestinian activists invoke sumud or communal awareness. After the recent Russian invasion, cities in Ukraine have devised cooperative networks using various flexible institutions as nodes for distributing everything from food to mental health care.
And these internal forms of cooperation and mutualism also aspire to global forms of sovereignty to match those of oppressive powers. From the end of the nineteenth century forward, the advocacies of W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, and a series of five international Pan-African conferences from 1900 to 1945 called for a special transnational sovereignty for Blacks for whom slavery had already created a forced global diaspora. Black Nationalism associated with the Nation of Islam or the Revolutionary Action Movement explored the state within the state, the separatist state, and “community nationalism.” In the late 1960s, the Republic of New Afrika even called for a separate contiguous nation made from seceding southern states. Solidarity among the civil rights, Pan-African, and Tricontinental movements mixed transnational sovereignties and circulated activists all around the world. Similarly, a Palestinian diaspora has been fighting for a highly situated and shrinking territory in the Middle East even as it occupies and activates activist networks around the world. And, via Zoom, the fight within Ukraine is broadcast from intimate interiors in the war zone to other groups around the world providing support of all kinds. Whatever constraints on the local condition, the broader network can never be completely shut down.
There is then a local commons—shared territories or situated socioeconomic or sociopolitical conditions within which to band together—as well as what sociologist Mimi Sheller has called a “mobility commons”—a shared network of circulation that can extend from the local to global scale. That network can provide what political scientist Margaret E. Keck and human rights advocate Kathryn Sikkink call a “boomerang effect” or a way of gaining leverage to apply pressure from multiple political entities. A local archipelago together with a mobility commons that is able to elude the surrounding local hostility present capacities for another kind of solidarity or special sovereignty.
To match the forces of colonizing, capitalizing, and globalizing there is a discontinuous commons—with sovereignties that are situated and locally threatened while simultaneously mobilized and atomized within other media.
Drowning out the national anthems, this polyphonic solidarity has a message that cannot be reduced to a single place or allegiance but is rather strengthened by being atomized, mobile, and diverse.
This transnational activism that has long circulated through literature, popular music, clothes, graphic posters, journalism, and demonstrations of dissent might now even go a step further. Augmenting these special forms of sovereignty are sovereignties associated with indigeneity. The term has recently been used to galvanize in countless situations around the world where settler colonial invasions displaced Indigenous people. It has been invoked to describe the Palestinian situation in part because it triggers additional governance protocols while joining forces with multiple struggles. It reverberates with the global networks of the Zapatistas who have provided another model of atomized sovereignty. But also, accounting for the Black diaspora of slavery or migrants of other conflicts, Saidiya Hartman has suggested that indigeneity can also be about “a certain kind of inhabitation of the land or relation to Earth.” Indigeneity might be made, not in relation to a “political claim.” You can be Indigenous wherever you are with “no natal claims” because, like the slaves who traveled with seeds in their hair, you have a relationship to the land that does not regard it as a possession.
Rather than aligning with a monolithic myth, this Indigenous knowledge is at once particular and of the larger earth. Anna Tsing notes that indigeneity is associated with “Rhetorics of sovereignty; narratives of pluriethnic autonomy; [and] environmental stewardship.” And while there are only contradictory definitions of indigeneity, she notes that “In contrast to Enlightenment universals, international indigenous politics opens a global politics in which inconsistency and contradiction become our greatest assets. [...] Still, indigenous victories depend on mismatching universal rights and local cultural legacies, expert science and place-based knowledge, social justice, and communal precedence.” This inconsistency aligns with the “patchiness” with which Tsing and others retool conceptions of anthropology.
If the global tends toward the universal, the planetary tends toward the mutual, the patchy, and the partial—the discontinuous world that cannot be parsed with an elementary particle or organized around a single ideology.
Maybe framings of a discontinuous commons together with these broad framings of indigeneity begin to model something instrumental to a planetary solidarity that reaches beyond international solidarity. Global is often used in relation to modern, totalizing organizations that address governance beyond nations. Dreams of a new world order as a singular platform with an anointed ideological language are often treated as essential to solidarity. But, countering the White/ modern/Enlightenment mind reproduced in that conception—the mind that longs for singular evils and singular solutions—planetary solidarity might involve shared goals that address extremely particular and situated responses.
The victims of whiteness and stupidity have, in crafting their own survival, modeled a counter logic to the last 500 years that offers modes of survival for many. A shift to planetary solidarity meets an obvious practical opportunity to generate nonnational political actions combating climate change. It welcomes a diaspora—a distribution of particular knowledge as well as an exchange across oceans and continents. It reverses the expectations associated with familiar forms of sovereignty. It tracks forms of lethality different from those of war. It is the global deployment of manpower, science, and logistics in a not-war that may be not about invasion but rather strategic migrations and temporary exchanges that recruit intelligence for survival.
Planetary solidarity fights for another kind of land that is not owned or bounded. That land is over fifty miles thick and filled with atmospheres and solids. It floods and catches fire, and its atmospheres move in swirling fronts that do not respond to demarcations of property or national sovereignty. They seep and fill nongeometric contours volumetrically. They creep up from behind. They cannot be enclosed. Far from magical or sentimental, an empirical, scientific, and political position treats the land as part of an interplay with remote effects that can be worked on with multiple agents from multiple positions within the diaspora.
But even more fundamentally expanded, this patchy and polyphonic voice assumes another part of speech from nominative habits of the dominant modern mind. Noun becomes verb. Politics cannot be fully named. It is not so much declared but rather enacted. Ideological manifestoes do not organize lockstep behaviors. There is no longing for the one and only—the singular evil and the singular solution. The commons is not a single thing that is shared. There is no balanced homeostasis.
Ideological manifestoes do not organize lockstep behaviors. There is no longing for the one and only—the singular evil and the singular solution. The commons is not a single thing that is shared. There is no balanced homeostasis. Maybe it is more like the instrumentality of multiple differences—the relative potentials and possibilities for combinations that exist when different needs find each other. Differences create imbalance and interdependence within groups. Politics is not about the one declaration, but about the dispositions within groups—the proliferation of human-nonhuman and organic-inorganic mixtures that are interactive and alive.
This incompleteness and interdependence reflects multiple ecologies, but it may also strengthen political activism as dissensus. To match a spectrum of evils there is a spectrum of regenerative possibilities for being human that does not automatically reify the familiar humanities. One solution does not replace another—an approach that remains trapped in the modern Enlightenment mind. It might be stronger, for instance, not to replace capital with another singular system, but to overwhelm it with multiple modes of exchange. But the single solution or redemptive ideology also makes things too easy for political superbugs who survive by scrambling ideologies and harvesting loyalties from violent binaries. Not softening but rather strengthening resolve and defiance, an activist stance might not feed the superbug's violent binaries but rather keep it starved and disoriented with many moving targets. It is dissent that chooses to consider the interplay of many dilemmas together, from social to environmental. This dispositional register, this dissent in another part of speech, finds planetary solidarity in difference and dissensus.