Well, here’s an update on what we’ve been up to over the last couple of months.First, Transition. we held 2 meetings at JB Spray Squat (formally Squat Lobster)to introduce ourselves (each time providing food).We showerd a film ‘Cap and Share’on the second time and agreed that we would return for a social and bring some plants from the Garden Club to give away for donations.At the last Transition meeting we agreed to team up from time to time with another inner city transition to share ideas.We also discussed stall arrangements for the Green Fesival coming up, visiting local community gardens next month and meeting to discuss with a TransitionNottingham group member what we think we are about & how we see Forest Fields Transition developing into 2030.
Now for the Forest Fields Garden Club. We’ve met up every tuesday afternoon 2-5pm to garden. Afterwards having a meal and a chat.We,ve had 2 workshops on Container gardening and Edible flowers.10 and 16 people (respectively) turned up who were largly local.We have been adopted by a few local kids who are a handful-been excluded from school and love testing the boundaries!.Some people at the Sumac have talked about wanting to ban them but we’re not keen.We’re going to contact another city community garden for some ideas on how we can work with them best This week we had a break in to our tool shed but nothing was taken.
Talk again soon,
Report of the Community Action Gathering 2010
Sat 27th March 2010 @ SUMAC Centre, Nottingham
A total of 31 members and reps from the following organisations participated: Pleasley Hill Peoples Network (Mansfield), Hackney Solidarity Network (Hackney, E.London), Hackney Independent (Hackney, E.London), Blackbird Leys Community Centre (Oxford), Hereford Solidarity League (Hereford), Cambridge Class War (Cambridge), Cambridge Unemployed Workers Union (Cambridge), Nottingham Indymedia (Nottingham), Rainbow (Nottingham), Sumac Centre (Nottingham), Veggies (Nottingham), Anarchist Federation (Nottingham), Sparrow’s Nest (Nottingham), Transition Forest Fields (Forest Fields, Nottingham), Seeds for Change (Oxford), Peace House (Coventry), Hackney Unemployed Workers Group (Hackney, E. London), London Coalition Against Poverty (London), Industrial Workers of the World (Nottingham), Industrial Workers of the World (London), Anarchist Federation (Sheffield), Sheffield Social Centre (Sheffield), South London Anti-Fascist Group (S. London), xxx (Newcastle), Government of the Dead (Brockley, S. London), Election Meltdown (London), Haringey Solidarity Group (Haringey, N. London), Lewisham Community Action (Lewisham, S. London)
The stated aims of the Gathering (and the Community Action network generally) were, generally… to be more effective and be able to make a real difference in our communities.
- share information, local experiences and views about some of the key issues affecting our communities
- establish better links and communication channels among radical, community-orientated local groups and individuals
- promote collective and non-hierarchical, open and horizontal forms of organisation
- promote anti-authoritarian, anti-state, anti-capitalist and pro-community, pro-working class grass-roots politics – that is, the interests of people rather than of governments and corporations!
There were local reports from all groups and areas present. There were also a number of workshops discussing a variety of key issues and strategies including campaigning around local services and facilities, housing, neighbourhoods, regeneration, sustainability, social centres, working with residents groups, and how to set up new groups and be more effective.
The following decisions were taken:
- The Gathering and Network agreed to broadly support the development of grass-roots community and solidarity organisation and networking everywhere.
- The network will be known as the Community Action Network.
- The set of principles guiding the list and network were re-affirmed and will be publicised to all the relevant supportive papers/media.
- Everybody present was to be added to the Community Action mailing list. All those on it are encouraged to communicate through the ist so that it is a useful tool.
- A specific list / group will be set up regarding housing issues, and ideas will be fed into the main CA list.
- There will be a Community Action Network meeting at the anarchist book fair in October in London, plus a Community Action 2011 Gathering in one year’s time.
BRIEF REPORTS FROM EACH GROUP PRESENT
Hereford Solidarity League To be effective the local anti-fascist group decided it needed to provide alternative. Developed into community group. Main focus is regular newsletter, Hereford Heckler now up to 13th issue. Since 2.5 years, talking about defending local swimming pools, and schools from facing closure. 3,000 copies per issue, delivered door-to-door. Free. Housing: finding empty properties, then publish addresses: 2,500 empty houses locally. Providing squatting advice. Threat of major development going to be biggest in Hereford ever – new shopping centre just outside city centre. Campaign to stop it. Its been reformist – HSL trying to push it to be more radical, democratic.
Pleasley Hill, Mansfield Started a couple of years ago – community of 150 – 200 terraced houses, all earmarked for demolition, to be replaced by affluent housing. Campaigning around threat of massive scale gentrification led by ‘Mansfield Independent Party’.
Sheffield No single group. Local paper, 500 in circulation. Started an unemployed workers group, but it collapsed. Attempt to set up social centre. Started off squatting, but now looking to rent or buy. Railway station – wanted to install ticket barriers, but good anti-barrier campaign started, though now there is human barrier. There’s also a campaign for cheaper buses. Successful Anti-Tesco campaign – ongoing due to Tesco making re-application.
Coventry Coventry Peace House – Housing coop with community space attached. Work with local refugee groups and migrants. Also involved in setting up No Borders group – running film nights and discussions – lots of support from refugee community but difficult to get local people involved. Have a Community Action Group – since 1 year. Generally one person from the co-op makes it along to the meetings – garden project to help out elderly and disabled people. Sense that there isn’t much of a radical agenda – something that they’d like to see more of. Bike Project – make bikes available. There’s a Muslim Resource Centre next to Coventry Peace House – they have good links.
Hackney Independent / Solidarity Network, East London Set up in late 1990s – came out of anti fascist action. Local base in one ward, mainly council housing estates. Strategy included door to door asking people what their local issues were, doing advice surgeries, then aiming to replace the local Councillors. In 2002, stood for election and within 50 votes of getting elected. Then…didn’t know what to do – failed to change from being activists to organisers. We were manically talking to people, but the strategy failed to get people doing stuff locally on a regular basis. Out of that – we set up Hackney Solidarity Network now produce 5000 free copies of the Hackney Heckler. A tiny clique of the Labour Party run everything in Hackney – radical/campaigning/community groups need to work together. Film nights once a month with Reel News, speakers and debate.
Newcastle No Borders group. Festival with radical roots. Defend Welfare group, just started a couple of months ago. Star & Shadow cinema – closest thing to social centre. Trying to be more accessible to local community.
Cambridge Unemployed Workers Union – build solidarity with people out of work, and try to set up some community structure that can directly affect those people most vulnerable. Stop Welfare Abolition – trying to reach to harder-to reach people. UWU has done actions against ‘Action for Employment’ over unsuitable work for local people.
Cambridge Green Tec – DIY sustainable energy for festivals, community, carnival – building bike generators and wind generators, doing workshops for schools and adults. Class War Cambridgeshire – trying to spread working class politics in Cambridge and surrounding towns. Trying to create network and community network – bring together struggles in community and the workplace. Been producing a newspaper, ‘Fen Tiger’, to address issues that affect local community, including schemes for unemployment, housing, antifascism and critiquing Govt. ‘multiculturalism’. Strawberry Fair annual free festival (going 27years) has been cancelled this year due to police objections – local people and CWC are saying it will still go ahead.
General review: Long history of solid community struggle. Solid anti-poll tax campaign 20 years ago. Since then involved in many networks, like Groundswell claimants action in the 1990s. Quite successful activist coalition called NASA (in ‘90s). Now – campaign against swimming pool closure Council threatening to close big one in city centre. A few of us involved in local refugee forums – local No Borders groups. Since 80s there’s been activist centres – the Rainbow Centre was in town, and was more like shop front. Then – conscious attempt to bring it to the community.
Sumac Centre: Is now a main base. Includes DIY community print, resource centre, bookshop, meeting space, socials, food… Its not the whole of what’s going on, but is important centre for community action in Notts. Small projects happen from here. Campaign to save local post offices based in Sumac. Benefits to being involved with both community groups and national radical and anarchist networks.
‘Rainbow’ land action: There’s also an initiative to start more eco-communities / land squatting on disused brownfield land in the town – want to introduce community land act.
Notts Indymedia: Focus on local issues expose and criticise Councillors. Looking at producing a printed version, taking it door to door in the community.
St. Anns: Another inner city area, not as radical as Forest Fields. Have set up the Sparrows Nest library for learning about libertarian and anarchist ideas and history. Try to focus on mutual aid. When we learnt English Defence League was coming to Notts, there was a meeting set up in St. Anns to coordinate anti-EDL issues.
Veggies Catering Campaign: Based at Sumac they grew out of Anti-McDonalds campaign. Veggies had contracts to do food for local schools. 2 weeks ago catered for midwives conference. Taking food out to local groups is great way of getting the message into non-usual suspects. By having ‘donation’ instead of prices, it challenges assumptions and breaks down barriers. Re-launching their directory of 7,000 group contacts – trying to link hunt sab, tree planting, community centres, radical groups etc into strong network of community groups.
Squatting project in Lace Mill: workshops, meeting space. Growing interest in project.
Forest Fields gardening project: Largely Asian area – how to get broad community to get involved? Through plant giveaways etc, created links with local women. Transition Forest Fields: Film nights to discuss Peak Oil and Climate Change concerns over Snareton market in Nottingham which is being slowly reduced.
Notts AnarchaFeminist group: Nascent
London Coalition Against Poverty 4 years old. London-wide network, with strong activity in Hackney and some other areas. Started with people in temporary accommodation. Developed into broader housing campaign. Linked to Govt. attempt to abolish welfare. Links with Communities of Resistance – trying to oppose expanding prison capacity, which doesn’t make communities safer. 5 months ago invited groups with connection to prisons for a general event which gave birth to ‘Many Reasons’ campaign. Hackney Unemployed Workers Group meet in local café - opposing welfare abolition threats (including attending national conferences). Do occupations of job centres when there are problems have now been asked by managers not to go there – should they negotiate? Also the homeless network – each group (homeless and claimants) have started supporting each other’s demos. In beginning set up a Workers Solidarity Group, trying to do work with migrant workers – but, problems to keep energy going, and people from there joined the Cleaners Defence Committee which is very active supporting London’s cleaners.
Haringey Solidarity Group, North London Came out of anti-poll tax campaign 20 years ago. 150 people on mailing list, do monthly updates and mailout of local groups’ info. Newsletter ‘Totally Indypendent’ 3 or 4 times a year for last 20 years, now up to 2nd or 3rd reincarnation. 4,000 each issue. Have recently set up housing and claimants’ action groups. Have co-ordinated 2 annual Haringey Independence Day events stalls, discussions, films, practical workshops, kids stuff, food etc for around 300 people from 25-30 local community groups. Involved with Haringey Independent Cinema which has been going 3 years, putting on political films (plus speakers/discussion) that local people are interested in around 40-100 attend regularly. It works to some extent, but difficult to translate into wider active involvement. HSG supported nearby Visteon Car Parts factory occupation by helping co-ordinate an active and influential Support Group developing local, UK and international solidarity for the workers. Some HSG members are involved with their local Residents Associations and the Haringey Federation of Residents Associations which aims for an RA in every street, estate and neighbourhood throughout Haringey (169 RAs so far). Same with Friends groups for every park in Haringey (30 so far) linked up through the Haringey Friends of Parks Forum – now linking up London-wide and nationally to promote the needs of green spaces. HSH members also involved with Sustainable Haringey – a broad network of locally-based transition groups and working groups on sustainable transport, food, homes etc involving around 1,000 supporters. In the last 5 years a genuinely independent and active residents movement has grown throughout the borough. 20 attended a useful ‘internal’ HSG strategy day recently to plan priorities for next 3 years. HSG is not an explicitly anarchist group, but most people involved would self-identify as anarchists.
South London South London Anti-Fascist Group, came out of trades union council. Building networks of local residents, trade unionists and faith groups against the BNP. Also aiming, after the election, to build community, and develop autonomous political groups. South London Solidarity Group currently inactive. Transition Town Peckham – campaigning for the council to get better insulation for local residents & tenants associations/council housing. Involved with the Cleaners Defence Committee. More info on blog – tmponline.org
Community Action Lewisham, South London A new group/network – a key focus will be on housing issues. BNP is standing a local mayoral candidate – campaign against this. Food Not Bombs group just started. South East London Coalition Against Poverty just started. Good local school campaign – parents occupied Lewisham Bridge School and saved it from demolition. Potential social space in south london.
Radical London: 2 years ago a Radical London network was set up to link up and promote locally-based libertarian/anarchist groups active in their communities all over London. There are now around 8 or 9 groups including Action East End, Whitechapel Anarchist Group, Community Action Lewisham, Walthamstow Anarchist Group, Croydon Solidarity Group, South London Solidarity Group, Haringey Solidarity Group, Islington Radical Action, Hackney Independent / Solidarity Network, and Camden Anarchists.
London Carnival of Death planned for May Day – www.meltdown.uk.net
London Rising Tide Tar Sands fortnight of action, 1st to 15th April, to get BP to pull out of massively destructive Canadian oil extraction project.
Seeds for Change A resource for promoting better ways of organising and taking action. Thinking about linking up more with local groups.
Blackbird Leys Estate – the estate is faced with a huge redevelopment and regeneration programme. Raises questions about how local residents negotiate with council, and do something themselves about the plans.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty/ Edinburgh Claimants [Report sent by email and circulated]. We evolved out of the Claimants Union/ Unemployed Workers Centre in Edinburgh in the 80’s and 90’s and have been continuously active since then. Our activities range from advising and supporting people with all the problems associated with poverty and dealing with state and commercial bureaucracies to organising, and lending support to, public campaigns- most recently on Council Tax debt enforcement, the role of employment agencies in the benefits system and the council workers pay cuts dispute. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty was launched a couple of years ago in order to get back to a more campaigning approach after a number of years during which we had got a bit bogged down with running our weekly advice/support sessions, which can be very demanding of volunteers time and tends to dissipate a wider political outlook. The purpose ECAP is to focus tactics such as speedily organised mini demos at premises of troublesome employers, debt collectors, benefits agencies, politicians etc or larger demos with press statements etc- in other words getting out on the streets and making some noise. These tactics are driven both by individual cases, where we’re not getting results through normal channels, or by general campaigns such as the aggressive debt collection techniques of the Council. ECAP’s intention is also to get more people involved, e.g. folk we help out at the weekly shift and to link up with other groups both locally and nationally.
We have retained the name “Edinburgh Claimants” for the weekly casework as the name is familiar to a lot of people and to the benefits agencies, council, debt collectors etc, and it also means we can wheel out the heavy guns of ECAP if we encounter unreasonable behaviour from the authorities. Our weekly sessions are held at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh(ACE), which we share with quite a few different organisations and it’s great to have premises available with phone, internet, filing space etc. We have produced our own leaflets on a number of different subjects and now have most of these online. Over the past year or so we have managed to run several training sessions on various aspects of the benefits system.
Because we are online we have frequently had calls from across the UK asking for support in different areas. Unfortunately we are usually unable to give local contacts. Obviously there is also a need for specific campaigns to go national in order to achieve serious results. There seems to have been a surge of interest in our type of activity lately and we’re very pleased about the prospect of developing a national network of contacts.
SOME KEY ISSUES
(From workshop discussions – Session 1)
A. Fighting for the local services and facilities we need; Our neighbourhoods – improving our streets, our local environment and community spirit; Creating sustainable communities
A summary (from report back): Long term sustainability / fighting for local groups / “fake” community groups involving police, council etc and how to deal with them / defending existing services vs setting up alternative aid / question of who creates the options / deciding on what we want / question of how to sustain community groups: e g issue in some towns of of temporary student involvement and how to deal with continuity / question of how to provide for people and the community / role of alternative events: eg community conference, street party / difference between ‘activist’ and ‘organiser’ / critique of multiculturalism / funding & how acceptance of funding from external forces relates to independence of a group / problem of engagement & involvement: why don’t people engage with problems? “If we have independent, continuous, linked groups we can set the agenda from a position of strength.”
Discussion notes: Participants present from: Nottingham, Haringey, Coventry, Sheffield, Cambridge, Vauxhall.
Defending services vs Creating alternatives Some of the services that were identified to be of local concern by those participating in the session: healthcare (GP and hospital closures), transport (bus fare rises), swimming pools (closures), parks and green spaces (non-existing, or being threatened). Our politics is not only about getting local councils to pay up (or seeking ‘nationalisation’ for all services like the leftist parties do), whilst at the same time we know that we cannot sustain facilities especially things like swimming pools or healthcare independently of councils at present. We are about showing people that we do not need the state, but it’s not just about putting forward alternative lifestyles, it’s about stressing independence and promoting ‘mutual aid’. We recognise that people setting up alternatives and engaging in independent mutual aid doesn’t get the profile it deserves. If we do provide alternatives they need to be good ones and sustainable ones.
How to avoid police and council stranglehold? The problem of ‘fake’ community groups was raised e.g. Neighbourhood Watch. Problematic groups like these could include politicians, council, police, business and religious interests. Fake groups may set up ‘voting schemes’ to channel decisions – but who creates the options in the first place? This needs to be challenged. Regional or local ‘Commissioners’ make decisions about what is needed in our communities. How do they decide what we need? We need to set the agenda. Taking funding e.g. for a garden project, could lead to co-option (or the funder/council taking all the credit and weakening independence). Even with skill-sharing/time-banks/LETs schemes, external funding can be useful. How to avoid the pitfalls?
How to get more local people involved and to stay involved? We talked about campaigns that had attempted to involve more local people. Issues were as follows: We need to understand better what attracts or puts people off particular initiatives and venues. Engaging the ‘white’ working class. Setting up meetings that no-one comes to. Why? Migrants. Differences of understanding concerning gender roles and food. The problem of ‘hospitality’ e,g, providing food or (night) shelter does not readily result in participation. People may be dependent/vulnerable and find it difficult to act themselves. Continuity. We need community groups to last. But we can’t be 100% active all the time and people may also need periods of time out for various reasons e.g. health. Students may be around only for certain times of year (not in holidays), or are not around after the course finishes. Linking up groups is important. It helps sustain them. Sabotage. Some people do try and ruin community initiatives for various reasons. How to avoid this? Holding alternative events like street parties and cultural events foster community spirit.
Other issues? Activist spaces vs. ‘neutral’ spaces? Acting locally (but also thinking globally/cosmically!). ‘Organiser’ or ‘activist’? – not everyone understands what this means yet, but there is the idea to take our experiences as activists to the next level, helping independent community groups to flourish and link up. Where is the critique of multiculturalism coming from (raised earlier in the morning)?
A thought to take forward to the strategy sessions: “If we have independent, continuous, linked groups then we can set the agenda from a position of strength.”
B. Decent and affordable housing for all; Regeneration, gentrification and planning
Discussion notes: Councils refuse housing, provide poor temporary housing. Councils build homes but not for the people who need it. ‘Affordable” housing still excludes people who can’t affordhousing. Building standards are different. Apparently only 400 people sleeping on the streets in England according to the government. Now looking to get people out of temporary accomadation into non-existant council housing. Telling people their temporary accommodation is to become their permanent.So where’s housing for the homeless? Councils that are keen for development but don’t care what – just agree to anything, not necessarily benefiting the community. Council need to build council housing not just “affordable” housing. Problems with building housing, people don’t want to loose their green spaces. Infrustructure has to be installed. Councils fail to do this, end up with ghost towns.
Postitive Action: Painting peoples temporary housing? No – as just letting the council get away with it. Squatting? People move down the housing list. Action groups. Housing people anyway, involving the media, we’ve provided people with housing just like that, mocking the council. Individuals have to be willing to take responsibility, time etc. Not necessarily suitable for homeless working class people with families jobs etc. Council housing waiting lists 3 years ++? Oxford average: 20years!! People who become homeless through eviction (private landlords selling up etc) have to live with families, friends, sheds!?
Lewisham council estate is now a co-op. Owed by 500 families? People who live there are better at running their own. Agreeing their own rents, collectively problem solving. Setting up co-ops, say blocks of 100, tower blocks/street by street. Instead of knocking things down, get everyone together to refurbish it instead of replacing it with shopping centres etc. Are people willing to take responsibility? Councils corrupt it but there are organisations to help. It’s difficult but over time people can become more confident to take control. It’s possible to inspire people and help people. London: building 3,000 homes all for athletes, 2012 olympics. Not for local homeless. 1,500 will be ‘affordable’, 1,500 will be below local market rate, which will already be high due to gentrification of the area. Still people can’t afford! None will be rentable – only through private landlords. Rent caps. Campaigning for cheaper rents. Flat rents, slowly can campaign to lower them.
Spread word about squatting. 24th October – Alternative Housing Conference. Local resident associations, squatting, alternative housing solutions etc. Huge problem is also rehousing refugees. 5,000 homeless in Hereford. 2500 empty properties council are doing nothing with. Expecting a large number of new housing from the government – 16,000, substantial increase in people in Hereford. £46 000 average salary to own a house in Hereford! Doesn’t make sense to buy these new houses. Won’t solve homeless problems. Need to campaign for our version of a “home”, not housing to buy up and sell off at high prices. There are plenty of empty spaces that we can make homes out of, that big businesses aren’t interested in. How to go about campaigning to redevelop these properties? Resident associations, same people, same problems. Not moving forward. Union of the Unsuitably Housed? Important to make sure people have some sort of choice where they want to live. Not just giving people homes, dumping them somewhere else. Important to assist and inform with peoples problems not dictate to people what there problems are. Info shop 56a has squatting info. HOW TO APPEAL TO PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT ALREADY POLITICISED? Break it down squatting is not just a lifestyle, it can be an ordinary thing. Provide people with information, reliable contacts, landlords can be quite happy just having people in housing to protect the property. Squatting is isn’t permanent. Though it is publicity.
Long term solution is to overthrow councils. Intermediate solution, need to put pressure on the councils to create social housing. Electing people who believe in social housing and continuously pressurise them. Councils have offered co-ops space to build housing. Expand housing co-ops. Cooperative Development Society specialises in starting up housing co-ops. Can get money back from government for building social housing? You can gain loans and assistance from co-ops.
‘Gatekeeping’ is when Councils put up barriers to make it difficult for homeless people to access their rights to housing this is something we can focus on and fight. Government turning people away to reduce the statistics. Making it very hard for people to apply for housing lists. Assist them in direct action. Councils saying you can’t even get on the list!? Building up communication. Leafletting homeless. Producing a nationalised resource, with info, housing advice, squatting contacts. Standardised literature advice for people. Leaflets not neccessarily good as people get turned off by them. WON’T BEGIN HELPING PEOPLE UNLESS YOU ARE TALKING TO THEM and helping them, going with them to the offices. Leaflets to hand people after a conversation. Contacts.
Need a sub-group for housing issues linked to the Community Action Network. Emails were exchanged.
C. Free ranging discussion
A summary (from report back): Difference between finding out vs telling people what they should be concerned with: eg door-to-door surveys. Need to move away from discussions about “rubbish”. Need to avoid ‘parachuting’ into areas. Need to engage with people with reactionary politics: reactionary politics needs to be taken seriously. Need to solve problems regardless of what ideological prejudices are in place.
Discussion notes: 9 people present. The IWCA have carried out door-to-door surveys to find out what the issues are in the community where they are working. The flipside of this, it was argued, was that we needed to empower people. It is our responsibility to have a plan. We could present people with a calendar of upcoming events to demonstrate this. We need to find a way to engage people. One approach is to find the middle ground- issues people are concerned about. It was suggested that there had been an attempt to launch IWCA in Nottingham. Surveys had shown people were concerned about dog fouling. After organising to clear this up, the organisation had done nothing further in the city. There is a need to maintain momentum.
Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) have based their strategy around producing propaganda and supporting things going on in the area. It was noted that experienced campaigners could offer new campaigns printing/access to other resources we know about. (HSG did this in the Visteon workers struggle). It is possible to inject a libertarian slant. At a local festival which a HSG member was involved in organising it had been collectively agreed that the police not be allowed in so as not to put off local young people. A radical group can also be a haven from lots of community meetings about rubbish!
In a sense, London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) started from the opposite approach to the above. They began with a problem – specifically the treatment of homeless people, and went from there. Work around job centres grew logically from their work around homelessness. Nottingham is not short of issues which people are campaigning about (leisure centre closures, council cuts, community centres being closed etc), but these aren’t linked up. Thames Valley Climate Action have 2 issues: Didcott and London Oxford Airport. They are keen not to be cliquey and inclusive. There are reports that the anti-open cast camp at Mainshill successfully linked up with the local community by listening. Some issues you chose, some you find out by listening, others are obvious in some areas (e.g. knife and gun crime where several people at one campaigner’s old school had been killed).
In Haringey residents organised themselves against BNP. HSG helped leaflet one ward against BNP 3 times. Need to avoid “parachuting” activists into communities other than their own. There are also issues (e.g. domestic violence) which remain behind closed doors as well as headline issues. It is important to deal with where people are. As in the relationship of a parent and child there’s no point pretending people have different political opinions to the ones they hold. Where people express racist opinions it is better to deal with their issues. LCAP helped one person find a home. He had previously said it was “niggers’ fault” he couldn’t get homed.
There are issues about how you organise. HSG found one person able to translate leaflets into Turkish. During a protest a HSG member encouraged others to block a road. They were inspired to follow them. A small issue can be an entry point. LCAP have built links with trades unions,despite the confrontational relationship between job centre staff and the unemployed. They have come to meetings and given useful advice about the system. LCAP went to support the recent PCS jobcentre workers strike.
Some recommended books: Anton Pannekoek: Workers Councils; Heidi Swarts: Organising Urban America; Handbook for Non-Violent Campaigns by War Resisters International.
(From workshop discussions – Session 2)
D. Community centres and social centres; How to set up local groups; Communication techniques and strategies
A summary (from report back): Three issues: 1. How to set up a community group: having a single issue that people are passionate about is often initial impetus; issue of continuity needs to be considered; issue of small groups, responsibilities, tasks and skills sharing 2. How to get local community engaged: important to show solidarity with local campaigns 3. How to publicise work in the community: important to be aware of who you are speaking to and how you are presenting yourself – e g be careful about using political labels, emphasise practical action; helpful to have a variety of literature available to distribute; internet should be used carefully and emails be drafted with care; separate mailing lists should be maintained; phone calls may be more effective; social centres as an important place for people to get together and to discuss actions
Discussion notes: 1. How to set up a group Groups often set up around a single issue e.g. Hereford Solidarity League set up around anti-fascism. This will often galvanise people and develop into other activities. Need for continuity in group, stable membership – finding the right people: those interested in taking action, not just talking! Small groups often have great benefits, they can achieve a lot if they have a sound focus. Voting becomes irrelevant in a non-hierarchal structure; consensus decision-making is most practical approach to avoid alienating people, factionalism etc. Examples of consensus working with very large groups- e.g. Climate Camp. Yet non-hierarchal structure can lead to organisational problems. This should be addressed through clear identification of tasks and rotating of jobs to be done between all members; responsibilities agreed on at meetings and minutes circulated afterwards to confirm. This is then followed up at next meeting.
2. How to engage with your community Small group collectively decides on another issue of local concern. Importance of showing solidarity with local campaigns e.g. resistance to closure of a local school. Example of campaign against CCTV camera installation in Forest Fields: activist engagement did make residents re-assess their opinion. Often one dedicated person is at the centre of a campaign; this makes the campaign vulnerable – training, skill shares and rotation of tasks should be used to counteract this tendency.
3. How to publicise/ communicate Important to be aware of target audience when producing publicity material. Issues to consider: level of literacy, level of English, use of jargon. Whitechapel Anarchist Group have managed to produce very clear and effective literature. Avoid over-using labels such as ‘anarchism’: get back to basics and explain what your principles are through giving clear examples e.g. Haringey Solidarity Group leaflets. Limit the amount of information on each piece of literature. Have a selection of literature e.g. basic A5 flyer, more in-depth A4 leaflet, free newspaper. Internet presence is necessary but shouldn’t be relied on as only means to engage people. Buddy up people in your group who don’t have internet so they get a call from someone with internet about any announcements. Phone trees give more human contact and more effective response. There is the option to ‘turn down the volume’ on email traffic e.g. getting one weekly digest instead of daily emails. Two separate email lists in groups are useful one for ‘internal’ planning/discussion and wider one for announcements about events. Facebook events should not be relied on as a gauge of attendance. Sign-up sheet tried out online but not very effective either. Internet seems to have less effectiveness in terms of response and turn-out at events. Phone works better or best of all…word of mouth. Importance of meeting people face-to-face, discussing ideas over a pint eg at a social centre!
E. How to interact with Councils and residents groups?
Discussion notes: Now local councils are often seen as the enemy rather than simply central government, less personal link than in the past. But people feel dependent on councils, and provide many useful services to people, reference point etc. Therefore any black and white ‘councils are evil’ type statements will not gain popular support among many people. Be careful about not seeming too ‘anti’ and not ‘pro’ anything.’ Big difference between discontent with the local council and wanting to elect different councilors, to seeing the need for self-governance.
Need to eventually be working on replacing Councils with self-government, so although do need to currently interact with councils as they have power and resources, 90% of time should be spent on working together with other grass-roots community groups.
Councils constantly pushing their own idea of community – often business-targeted. Political parties will use community groups as canvassing tools. How do we manage to convey the alternative message? Self-evaluate – are activities just about engaging people or about creating the sort of society people want as well? Important to link up different tenants and residents groups in areas, creates more autonomy. Most truly accountable community groups will want to lobby councils to ‘do their job’. This can be a tactical use of contact when an issue demands it, but set up as independent first. Difficulties of internal politics between different community groups. Culture of different groups communicating important. Go in with positive messages, ‘We need a new Park’ rather than ‘We don’t wan’t a new development.’ Once there’s strong culture of autonomous community groups established then very difficult for council to ignore or break this down.
If there are conflicts people sometimes ask for a ‘neutral outsider’ ie someone from the council to mediate between groups and get them to co-operate. After mid-1980s anti-police ‘riot’ on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, residents campaigned for everyone working on the estate to be people who lived on the estate rather than ‘neutral’ outsiders. This created a feeling of ownership and helped regenerate the estate. Accepting funding can create tensions within groups even if independent of the council. If people feel that money has been squandered, jobs for friends etc then it paves the way for large independent professional organisations coming in. If there is a very strong residents association etc then these other groups cannot come in and say that they speak for the people.
How open to be about anarchist politics? If you have no clear motivation it can make people suspicious. The word ‘anarchist’ can put people off. But such politics can be put over in a common sense way – ‘I’m in favour of people speaking for themselves’, ‘I’m in favour of people controlling their own lives, neighbourhoods, workplaces’ etc. Local reputation is important – being part of the community, reliable, committed. Individuals can still do very valuable work short term as part of a reliable and respected long-term organisation.
Relationship between grass-roots community groups and explicitly anarchist groups? Community groups are often people working together for their own interest, whereas the activity of many radical or anarchist groups is often supporting or in solidarity with other people. Difference between activist and community space: for instance security issues with having community police in an activist space. Also the need to restrict participation of religious, party political groups etc. When you are out as a delegate of a community group then it is the views of that group that you need to represent – not your personal political views. If you really cannot reconcile something with your views then you can withdraw but this should be a real last resort or you will isolate yourself from all community groups.
F. Free ranging discussion
A summary (from report back): People looked at what worked and what did not work for them in the past. Some bigger issues: clientelism (seeing people as ‘clients’ to be helped or serviced) / local vs global issues / capitalism and how it destroys society / importance to recreate society as a platform for resistance / importance of talking to people, listening to what they are saying / importance of urgency… Three concrete proposals 1. organising people’s assemblies 2. setting up residents associations and federations nationwide 3. setting up solidarity groups in all different areas 4. changing the name of the Community Action Network to Solidarity Action Network.
Discussion notes: Preamble – need more sense of urgency/crisis/political meltdown: ‘we are more powerful than we and they think’ etc. But need a plan! Group decided to go round with ‘what works and what doesn’t’.
Cambridge: People have nowhere to go for free so started series of social centre projects .. successful but haven’t lasted. Evictions/police etc but also lack of numbers to support the spaces. Hackney: Use of surveys good… gets you talking and starting to understand people – failed to get people involved, acted as ‘activists’ not ‘organisers’ (google and read Mark Rudd on this) Haringey: Don’t set goals too high and burn out – film nights very successful in numbers but not sure if re HSG a success. (Some discussion about what it means for campaigns to succeed and that things happen on many different levels e.g. A CPZ campaign failed but a successful residents group came from it). 3 issues of newsletter a year, but again not sure how to count as success or not- not bringing anyone in but maybe Haringey better prepared for ‘the crisis’ than other places without this. Nottingham: Need to build up presence and campaigns.. need to live in an area and have people get to know you.. importance of just talking with people, ‘loyalty’, always constantly engaging, experiment. What doesn’t work? Lots of words on paper! Issue of whether we ‘represent’ or get people involved… problems of activists clique. People getting distracted by ‘big issues’ and running off- need momentum with local campaigns. Mansfield:Children!! Great way to engage with community… parties, film shows, bonfires etc. Newsletter and group works, but working with council is difficult!! London Coalition Against Poverty: What works: leaflets, café, collective solidarity and don’t start with assumption of individual casework / clientelism. What didn’t work: road showof events around London (lots of work no results) – talking doesn’t work, getting involved does.
Ideas for plenary 1) issue of representation versus collective activity… but sometimes we do need to give help / expertise and give confidence 2) how DO we change the world??? Local issues or global issues?? And/or balance of both 3) if we accept as a movement a shift to a local strategy will mean a fundamental change to the @/political scene 4) Idea of peoples assemblies as concrete idea to come out of Climate Action Network 5) continuity [not sure what I meant here] by providing cultural /social / events and services that are not available 6) proposal for CAN that we push residents groups / federations 7) proposal for CAN that we push setting up solidarity groups/networks etc everywhere and national federation of these 8) the State and neo-liberalism are out to destroy society/community so we must recreate community / society (eg pubs and clubs) as in Colin Ward’s book Anarchy in Action. NOT proposing @anarchist ghetto society but us intervening to create inclusive progressive communities – what the state does we must understand and respond in the opposite 9) Hackney Unemployed Workers Group occupationsand actions inspired confidence 10) childcare at meetings 11) table with coffee 12) groups try/use survey technique 13) national and local political groups and federations give strength / backbone / resources to enable this work 14) BUT we must have urgency!!
SOME OF THE CONCLUDING COMMENTS
Is it possible to come out of this Gathering with something more concrete and ambitious, especially in light of the fact that people are very disillusioned generally and the BNP is becoming more and more popular? …. You cannot build your castle on sand: we need local groups as a base to have power and to confront the forces against us – today was a step towards that. …. Three crises for our rulers: 1. Crisis of money – need to answer that with self help 2. Crisis of politics – need to answer that by replacing the existing democracy with our own participative democracy and by having strong local grassroots organisations that co-operate and work together 3. Crisis of climate – answer?
We want solidarity type groups in every area and a lot of places that are not represented today have groups with locally-based activities. This conference should happen soon again, not just in five years time – something more regular is needed. …. If we develop something good, we will need some kind of statement about what our politics is – otherwise authoritarian left can take it over. [People were then referred to the previously agreed statement of the Gathering and network]. …. For any of this to make sense, it needs to be class-based. …. We should set up a network with the aim of setting up local libertarian groups and networks everywhere in the UK and make sure we give people tools to facilitate this process. Possibly there is a need for a sub group.
DECISIONS TAKEN BY THE GATHERING
1. Everybody present will be added to the Community Action mailing list. (Almost all weren’t yet on it).
2. The set of principles guiding the list and network were re-affirmed.
3. A specific list / group will be set up regarding housing issues, and ideas will be fed into the main CA list.
4. We broadly support the development of grass-roots community and solidarity organisation and networking everywhere.
5. We will be known as the Community Action Network.
6. We will make an effort to communicate through the e-mail list so that it is a useful tool.
7. We will hold a CAN meeting at the anarchist book fair in October in London (London people will take on the organising – ideas through the e-mail list). Plus a Community Action 2011 Gathering in one year’s time (possibly in Cambridge).
8. We will publicise our statement to all the relevant supportive papers/media.
SOME ANNOUNCEMENTS & FORTHCOMING EVENTS
• Veggies are starting up a directory of radical groups that can be used for contacts and networks http://www.veggies.org.uk • Sat 10 Apr ‘Defending the Welfare State and Public Services’ demonstration, London http://www.10410demo.co.uk • Sat 17 Apr ‘No to Welfare Abolition’ the national planning meeting, Manchester http://hackneyunemployedworkers.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/no-to-welfare-abolition-the-national-planning-meeting/ • Sat 01 May International Workers Day, May Day Carnival and People’s Assemblies http://meltdown.uk.net/election + email list, Facebook group etc • Sat 22 May Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair http://www.bookfair.org.uk • Sat 05 Jun Strawberry Fayre Fight Back! Cambridgeshire – http://cambridgeanarchists.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/strawberry-fayre-fight-back/ + Facebook etc
• Sat 23 Oct London Anarchist Bookfair http://www.anarchistbookfair.org (currently non-functioning)
• Veggies events webpage http://www.veggies.org.uk/event.php?ref=1682
• Sun 24 Oct London Housing conference
Community Action Gathering
Saturday March 27th 2010
11am – 5pm
Sumac Centre, Nottingham
245 Gladstone Street, Nottingham NG7 6HX
STANDING UP FOR OUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND OUR INTERESTS
- how best to organise and take action?
To all radical, community-orientated local groups and individuals throughout the country…..
We are inviting you to a UK-wide Community Action gathering in Nottingham on Saturday 27th March. The aim of the event is to share information and experiences, and exchange our views as local activists. Obviously, there’s only so much that we can do at one event. But we hope to work out how to promote the concept of community action effectively, to establish better links and communication channels among local groups, and encourage new ones to flourish all over the UK. That way we will be more effective and be able to make a real difference in our communities.
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- Which issues should be our main priorities?
- How do immediate practical concerns link to the need for fundamental social change?
- What is our relationship with local residents’ groups and broad-based campaigns?
- Are we having the effect we’d like?
This event aims, through workshop discussions, to:
· share information, local experiences and views about some of the key issues affecting our communities
· establish better links and communication channels among radical, community-orientated local groups and individuals
· promote collective and non-hierarchical, open and horizontal forms of organisation
· promote anti-authoritarian, anti-state, anti-capitalist and pro-community, pro-working class grass-roots politics – that is, the interests of people rather than of governments and corporations!
The full Agenda and workshop themes are set out below. An informal social event is also being planned for the Saturday evening at the Sumac Centre (which in any case has a bar).
Please fill in the questionnaire below so we know roughly how many people to expect. You are invited to add the following details:
· Would you like to help introduce one of the planned discussions (see the list of workshops below)?
· Do you need us to arrange accommodation?
· Can you make a donation towards the costs?
best wishes and solidarity
- some members of the Community Action elist
CAG 2010 c/o James
Note: Feel free to join the list! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CommunityActionList When doing so please let us know your name and where you live.
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Please fill in and return to CAG 2010 c/o James email@example.com
Yes, I / we hope to attend ……..
Name of group [if applicable] ………………………………………
We expect around …….. of us to attend.
We’ll need accommodation: Friday ……. Saturday ….. [number]
We’d like to help kick off the discussion on [workshop theme] …………………………….
Contact: Name ……………………………..
Tel ………………………….. Email …………………………………………
Donation ££ ___ (just bring along to the gathering)
11am Arrival / refreshments. Discussions about the agenda.
12 noon Introduction to the event. Brief introduction and very brief reports from each group present.
1pm First workshops/discussions session [See list below]
2.15pm Break for refreshments
2..45pm Brief plenary
3pm Second workshops/discussions session [See list below]
4.15pm Report backs from discussions. Plenary on how activists can work together better to support our communities and local struggles… How do we promote the concept of community action, and develop and expand our network?
5pm End and clear up
Evening Informal social
Note: if requested, we might be able to organise an ‘overflow’ discussion on Sunday 28th, around midday…
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COMMUNITY ACTION – WORKSHOP DISCUSSIONS
FIRST SESSION – issues
1. Fighting for the local services and facilities we need
2. Our neighbourhoods – improving our streets, our local environment and community spirit
3. Decent and affordable housing for all
4. Regeneration, gentrification and planning
5. Local workplace struggles and issues
SECOND SESSION – strategies
6. Community centres and social centres
7. Interaction with residents and existing residents’ groups
8. Councils – how should we relate to them?
9. How to set up local groups
10. Communication techniques and strategies (newsletters, mailing lists, leaflets etc)
For all discussions
- what are our long term aims and what can we do in the here and now to work towards them?
- What are the existing struggles, campaigns and grass-roots groups which show the way forward?
1. Fighting for the local services and facilities we needHow do we put pressure on those controlling community resources and services to get the improvements we need – education, healthcare, leisure facilities, parks, playcentres, community centres, council services etc? Should our communities take them over? If so, how? What is the role for user groups? Can people set up their own services?
2. Our neighbourhoods – improving our streets, our local environment and community spirit
What kind of neighbourhoods do we want? How do we get safer, greener and friendlier streets? How do we get rid of ugly and oppressive features (billboards, speeding traffic, mobile phone masts, too much concrete etc)? How can we build up community spirit and neighbourliness, and ‘take ownership’ of our areas?
3. Decent and affordable housing for all
How can we ensure decent housing for all. Can homelessness be countered by occupations of empty homes and buildings? How can council house residents defend public and ‘social’ housing against privatisation and gentrification, and fight for more control over their homes? How can private tenants and mortgage-payers stand up to landlords and money-lending institutions etc. What are the pros and cons of housing co-ops?
4. Regeneration, gentrification and planning
Can regeneration and ‘urban development’ benefit our communities? If so, how can people ensure their real needs are addressed? Is regeneration often a cover for gentrification and undermining working class areas and facilities (threatening established housing, green spaces, pubs, community centres, small shopping parades etc) – if so what can be done about it? How are communities resisting private developers and unwanted mega-projects?
5. Local workplace struggles and issues
How do workers and workplaces link into community issues and struggles? How can communities directly link up with and support local workers, and vice-versa (eg. community boycotts and industrial action etc)? Should we work with trade unions or encourage independent workplace self-organisation?
6. Community centres and social centres
What kind of meeting places do local communities need? What are the pros and cons of existing community centres? Where else can people get together (clubs, pubs, cafes, parks, playgroups, church halls etc)? How can radical, self-organised social centres really make a difference in local areas?
7. Interaction with residents and existing residents’ groups
How can activists communicate better with our neighbours and our local communities? How do we interact with community-based groups of all kinds (especially residents associations and others who are committed to their communities)? What kind of activities can bring people together in a positive way – eg. single issue campaigning, public meetings and discussions, local festivals and street parties, informal sports, picnics, pub quizzes etc? How can such activities help build up a culture of local independence and resistance?
8. Councils – how should we relate to them?
What attitude should community activists have towards councils? Councils exercise huge influence over how resources (etc) are allocated – how do people work towards real local control and self-management over all decision-making and resources? Is it possible to support local pro-community and pro-working class election candidates and at the same time emphasise the limits of municipal democracy? Or is it better to lobby Council officers and councillors from the outside, or just ignore/boycott them and rely on direct action? In the absence of mass-participation how does a local group gauge its support in the community?
9. How to set up local groups
Is there a fundamental difference between local ‘political / radical’ groups and local ‘community’ groups, or are they complementary forms of self-organisation? How can such groups spread to every locality, especially in predominantly working class areas? Can community-based single issue campaigns lead to permanent local organisations? How do we ensure that such groups are independent, inclusive, accountable to their communities, take up a wide range of relevant issues, and promote mutual aid and solidarity?
10. Communication techniques and strategies (newsletters, mailing lists, leaflets etc)
What practical methods are the best ways of spreading information, building up communication channels, and encouraging and inspiring people to get involved in the life of their community and to join in with local groups and campaigns? What are the benefits of leaflets, public meetings, newsletters, minutes, email lists, websites, door-to-door visits/questionnaires, notice boards, posters, phone trees etc?