Because We Are Friends
Because we're friends: Antirepression work in Germany and the Rote Hilfe
All these hands-on problems are a lot easier to tackle if people know and trust each other — and know, say, who of the local lawyers understand that in political lawsuits getting the defendant out isn't all there is to it. Therefore, they wouldn't be terribly well handled by a centralized organization. That's why most of the support work of the RH is done by the local chapters. Most major cities in Germany have one, and it's them people go if they're in trouble.
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Most of these local chapters also run the legal teams Ermittlungsausschuss in their cities. The RH thus is a bottom-up organization, but things like producing information material or working out policies happen in cooperation between the chapters, and money is managed centrally. We even have some paid staff for making sure the paperwork is done reliably. They're not involved with policy decisions, though.
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For that, there is a biannually elected council Bundesvorstand of roughly a dozen people meeting about every two months. Apart from handling day-to-day policy issues, a central press contact, and much more, the council in particular can override the local chapters' decisions on financial support — that, by the way, rarely happens, and when, it's almost always because the defendants made far-reaching statements to the authorities endangering other people or when they gave the courts the satisfaction of at least appearing to regret and condemn their actions.
Dealing with money centrally is a good idea because by pooling the money all the local chapters have, the financial fallout of larger events — think about Hamburg's G20 meeting, or perhaps a large Nazi gathering — doesn't ruin the organization.
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Incidentally, another advantage of organizing beyond the scale of a major city is that people living out in the country still have an organization that can help them when they are being prosecuted — and they are remember? That the RH exists might seem as a bit of a miracle in world in which leftist organizations typically split faster than they can grow.
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Indeed, the RH at least initially grew by local paralegal initiatives merging , which started in the seventies and went on all the way through the s — though by far most members today joined the RH as individuals, not by being merged in. The activists that dared start the RH as a state-wide organization back in the seventies had a famous model: The RHD back then was a huge affair sporting up to a million members, supporting tens of thousands of activists struggling against the rise of the Nazis and, of course, in the many other struggles of the day — it even operated children's homes for the offspring of activists sent to prison.
And although it was run essentially as a subsidiary of the KPD a fairly orthodox communist party that in the early ies organized about people , many less orthodox intellectuals like Thomas Mann, Kurt Tucholsky, or Albert Einstein supported the RHD. Once power passed to the Nazis, RHD activists and many of its lawyers ended up in concentration camps or were murdered right away.
Hence, the continuities are tenuous indeed between the original RHD and the RH forming from the motely leftists of the seventies. Motely the RH remains — the various chapters have somewhat different outlooks, have activists from wildly different movements and different generations, which becomes obvious when we, as an organization, try to make up our collective minds.
For instance, we currently have to come up with a common position on refusing identity checks, which was fairly successfully practiced by anti-coal activists recently. When trying to figure out a, well, wise stance on such questions, it does help to have in one organization both people involved with climate action and people who have bailed out young folks who forgot their papers on the way to the demo once too often.
Also, some chapters disappear because they fail to replace people leaving, but new chapters are formed as people realize a well-functioning anti-repression structure is important if you want an active and thriving left scene. But miraculously, the RH keeps helping progressive activists and, much to the chagrin of the German secret service, it keeps growing. I would not have built these unique, irreplaceable, redeeming gemstones friendships and this beautiful feeling of finally belonging somewhere.
I have seen families tearing themselves apart, couples breaking up, and friendships gone to waste.
Because there is this ever-growing tendency for people to stop fighting for what they once believed in when things get hard. But how can it get any better if its members decide to leave? Any good and worthwhile human relationship thrives to constantly improve. Being an EU member is like one of these human unions; it is and should be about improvement, it is and should be about sticking together and thriving to become better together.
In her essay, Rowling writes: So why bother building these ambitious alliances and communities? Because they protect and empower us, because they enable bigger and better achievements than we can manage alone. We should be proud of our enduring desire to join together, seeking better, safer, fairer lives, for ourselves and for millions of others. Because we really are stronger together. No one wins on their own.