Posted by Left Luggage on June 24, 2009
A few months ago, we received an email from a reader seeking some advice on how to become politically active. His workplace was not unionised and he felt he lacked roots in the working class community where he lived. His neighbours seemed so disengaged from politics, and the challenge of changing this situation so huge, that our reader despaired.
We replied that we were certainly no experts on organising, but that in our experience the best way to win support, trust and confidence was to tackle the most pressing problems people face. Often these issues do not at first sight appear political, but addressing them can force local councils and other agencies to be accountable to the communities they claim to serve. Crucially, they also increase people’s faith in collective action as a way of improving the social environment.
Our reader got back to us recently with the good news that he had helped set up a community advocacy group in his town. Pleasley Hill Plight has been busy since its foundation a month ago. They have already distributed a newsletter and are planning a range of activities including a community clear-up, a bike race for kids and a campaign to lobby the Council over its regeneration plans.
The founding post on the group’s website makes its stance clear:
As I walk around this area, I do see a community of people. People whose children play together. People who donate to each other, and people who share their skills and their labour when their neighbours need a hand. Yes there are divisions in our own community. But when we stop and think, we are united by so much. When I walk out my door, people are friendly, and talkative. What is lacking in Pleasley Hill is not community, but organisation. It is organisation that has brought about change for communities throughout history. It is organisation that makes authority listen. And it is organisation that has freed people throughout history.
An organised community has the strength to hold its council to account. The ability to enact change through pressure. And it has the power, if it so chooses to reject the authority of the council, and take control of its own future.
This view of organising could not be more different than the view implicit in the activities of some groups on the Left, who see themselves as separate and above the daily struggles of working class people, and who see their role as “intervening” to direct “the class” towards revolutionary politics. In practice, this means little more than a race to sell ‘papers and enlist recruits. Such groups stand no chance of becoming an active, permanent presence in working class communities.
Of course, it is not enough just to start a community group and run some social activities. There are many factors that can affect how successful and enduring a community group will be, including the group’s understanding of how change is achieved, the degree of democracy and participation encouraged and the way smaller struggles are built into larger ones.
For these reasons, it is important that some form of national federation is established to share ideas and coordinate action. As we’ve said previously, there are numerous groups around the country running social activities, organising campaigns and standing candidates in local elections. At the moment, given the current poor state of organisation on the Left, a coalition of community campaigns may represent the best hope for building a progressive movement.
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