Many people don’t refer to Konbit Solèy Leve as a movement – they refer to it as a philosophy. Konbit Solèy Leve is defined by layers of principles – and anyone who upholds those principles is considered a member of Konbit Solèy Leve.
At the root of the movement is of course the idea of Konbit – which is participation, solidarity, and reciprocity. The principle is that the problems of one neighborhood are the problems of every neighborhood - that it’s not enough to participate in your own community’s development, but you need to have solidarity with others. And that solidarity becomes manifest in the idea of reciprocity – in taking concrete actions to help another because that person can and will one day help you in your moment of need. The principles of Konbit create an economy of mutual assistance that doesn’t depend on money – it uses this reciprocity as currency. Spending an afternoon volunteering to paint the streets of Brooklyn means that people in Brooklyn will spend an afternoon helping to dig your neighborhood out if a canal floods. After so many exchanges, everyone forgets who helped who first, and it becomes a social norm to respond to a call for support from a neighbor.
And that builds the idea of action being the defining quality of a member of Konbit Solèy Leve. There are no formal membership requirements to be a part of Solèy Leve – anyone engaged in positive community change is a member. And anyone can be a member – including young men who are involved in Cite Soleil’s armed gangs. They were allowed to participate in the movement, but not as chiefs or gangsters – just as residents who cared about their communities, which some of them actually do. They were given no special treatment or deference, and were not allowed to bring guns or violence into anything related to the movement. But one of the core principles of the movement is non-exclusivity – no one can be banned or kicked out. As long as you show up on Saturday afternoon, leave your politics and guns outside, and act to change your community for the better – you are Konbit Solèy Leve.
Konbit Solèy Leve doesn’t keep anyone out, but it doesn’t let any politics in. Konbit Solèy Leve is strictly non-aligned with any political party or movement. Painstaking efforts are made to ensure that any Konbit Solèy Leve activity cannot be mistaken for a political rally. Anyone currently running for political office or a representative of a party is disqualified from the Cite Soleil Peace Prize and is asked to keep a low profile during events.
And in order to maintain this neutrality, Konbit Solèy Leve has to be careful about where it gets its resources. It is a principle to work with local resources first – use fan screens to clean out canals, use battery acid from a local factory instead of paint, collect small contributions from members before asking for outside help. The principle is that every neighborhood has resources, and those have to be built on and strengthened first. And if outside help is needed, it should be gotten from friends who agree to be are willing to go along with community priorities and respect community wishes (whether or not the community will accept a logo or media or even visits). This builds on an element of local self-determination: communities are allowed to identify their own priorities, whether that be street cleaning or having a block party or building an Eiffel Tower or starting a youth sports league. If there is local consensus around an initiative, no outsider is allowed to judge whether it’s inappropriate or ok.
Another core element of Konbit Solèy Leve is the construction of a new Solèyan identity. This identity is based on the following elements: 1) that while we can have pride in our neighborhoods, we need to also cultivate an identity as a Solèyan to overcome barriers between the blocks, 2) fight the internalization of stigma by recognizing the positive and remarkable in fellow Solèyans and in ourselves, and 3) present a different image of Cite Soleil to the outside world to constantly challenge the stereotypes they hold about Soleyans. This means promoting Soleyan artists, dancers, students, athletes – anyone who gets out beyond the boundaries of Cite Soleil and can educate others about what being from Cite Soleil means. And it means staying away from a single story – being careful around media and disaster tourists who want to dominate the narrative and paint Solèyans as poor, violent, ignorant people who need to be either saved or imprisoned.
And one of the big parts of cultivating that identity is getting over the internal block divisions. This means sharing opportunities and resources between different neighborhoods, as well as sharing the burden of work. It means trying to ensure each block is represented at every activity. It means encouraging inter-dependence and exchange – which gets back to the central principle of the movement: Konbit.