To pull or haul strongly and all together, as upon a rope, without the assistance of mechanical appliances.

- Definition of ROUSE, Encyclo Online Encyclopedia

We are powerful when we act together: that is the insight behind solidarity, the third element of inspiration. Like many of the eight elements, this seems obvious: people can achieve things working together which they cannot achieve on their own. Big deal. But the trick – the art - as a leader is to enable people to feel their solidarity at times when it is not readily apparent.

Often, people – even people who are members of large groups with shared interests – do not experience a sense of solidarity. Small differences can obscure deep similarities and prevent the pursuit of common purposes. Internal divisions can come to seem insurmountable, as what divides us expands to fill our whole vision, blinding us to what we might achieve working together. And, as we fragment ourselves into smaller and smaller identity groups, our capacity to act in solidarity with each other diminishes.

Inspiring people to act, therefore, requires that you activate a sense of solidarity, helping people see themselves as part of the same cause, invested in each-other’s success, strong aside their comrades: hauling strongly, and all together. We must encourage those we seek to inspire to feel that we are in solidarity with them, and to experience their solidarity with each other. We must help people recognize we are all members of what Harvard Professor and activist Marshall Ganz calls an “Us”.

You can achieve this by stressing shared values, surfacing common experiences, and celebrating collective success. Ralph Chaplin’s famous union anthem Solidarity Forever addresses all these points:

Stress Shared Values

All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone. / We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone. / It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own. / While the union makes us strong.

When we are surrounded by people who share our values collective action comes to seem much more plausible – the simple fact of agreement is empowering. Most groups you wish to rouse to action will have deep wells of  shared values you can tap to begin to create a sense of solidarity. In Chaplin’s anthem he draws on the egalitarian values of union members to remind them of the world they are working toward: a world in which wealth is shared equitably and no one is enslaved. Chaplin could assume his audience agreed with the notion that the world ”is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own”, and by drawing on that shared value he he reminds the audience of their shared commitment and builds their sense of “Us-ness”.

When speaking with an audience always be aware of the core values which bring them together. Much of the time you will be able to discover real values held in common because people gather together for a reason. Find ou why they’re there, often you’ll be led to shared values. Then, make it clear how you share those values (this is part of what Ganz calls your “Story of Self”), and surface those values to remind the audience themselves that they are surrounded by others who also share them (the “Story of Us”).

Surface Common Experience

It is we who wash dishes, scrub the floors and clean the dirt, / Feed the kids and send them off to school – and then we go to work, / Where we work for half men’s wages for a boss who likes to flirt. / But the union makes us strong!

Common experience is one of the strongest sources of solidarity: when we’ve worked aside someone – particularly under duress – we tend to feel powerfully connected with them, and care about them more. This is the basis of all “team-building” exercises: common trials bring people together, and organizing opportunities for people to work alongside each other should be a central concern for anyone who wishes to build a strong team. When there’s no time to generate new common experiences, though, you can appeal to past ones, as in this verse (added by feminists to Chaplin’s anthem in the 1970s): “It is we who wash dishes, scrub the floors and clean the dirt, / Feed the kids and send them off to school – and then we go to work”. The verse draws forth the experiences which would be common to many women of the time to rekindle the sense of solidarity those experiences could have engendered when first endured, and to remind them of their commonality.

Celebrate Collective Success

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade, / Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid, / Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made, / But the union makes us strong.

While defeat can be a powerful spur to action, often the most empowering experiences of solidarity are moments when we experience success together, feeling palpably what our collective might can achieve. In the anthem Chaplin points back to the accomplishments the union workers have already made to give them a sense of what – if they work together – they might achieve in the future: “It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade; / Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid”. By reminding listeners of a past success – what we, together, achieved – it’s possible to create a powerful sense of togetherness which will bring an “Us” into being.


When attempting to inspire others to act, engendering a sense of solidarity is critical – and often overlooked. We tend to feel that our similarities are obvious, that they “go without saying”, and that we should therefore get on to speaking of other things. This is a mistake: a sense of shared power is based on a sense of shared values, experiences, and collective success, and that’s why solidarity is an essential element of inspiration.

Further Reading

Marshall Ganz, What is Public Narrative, the sections on “Story of Self” and “Story of Us”

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