A diversity of tactics

This piece was first published on our sister blog, On Uncertain Ground. We’re re-posting it here because in our opinion, what’s discussed is very relevant to the kind of grassroots action we actively support.

The way we (South Essex Stirrer and Basildon & Southend Housing Action) operate depends very much on the circumstances prevailing at the time and the task in hand. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, those tactics are a mixture of lobbying, propaganda, education and direct action. Our ultimate aim is the empowerment of people on a working class estate so they reach a point where they will embrace our project of radical political, social and economic change. Obviously, we’re a long way from that point and have to work from where we are.

An immediate aim is the improvement of conditions on the estate. That involves a mixture of facilitating residents in lobbying Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the various housing associations to do their job properly on the one hand and community clean ups and guerilla gardening on the other. These activities are supported with propaganda in the form of posts on the South Essex Stirrer. We also produce the occasional leaflet and flyer and have plans for a newsletter in the long term.

Our long term aim is empowerment of the residents and we work very closely with the Vange Hill Community Group in achieving this. The aspirations for the estate are expressed here: A better future for the ¾ estate in Vange. Essentially what we are trying to achieve is starting to build a new world in the shell of the decaying, dysfunctional and dystopian one we currently endure. That can only be done from the grassroots upwards.

Working at the grassroots with people who in the main are fairly apolitical but also cynical about what politicians at local and national level can offer presents an interesting mix of challenges and opportunities. The challenges are that with people being apolitical, their views are formed by a combination of life experiences, how they discuss issues with friends, family and neighbours and to a certain extent, from the media. Which often means it’s hard to pin people down on any particular part of the political spectrum. One person can be pretty progressive on some issues but on others, may have a bit of a reactionary take.

We could through our toys out of the pram and walk away in a huff on encountering reactionary sentiments but as we’ve already written before, that won’t achieve anything: A few words on how we work. On the propaganda front, this is how we try to resolve contentious issues: A few thoughts on neighbourhood community halls. Regarding the issue dealt with in this piece, negotiations are underway between the parties concerned with the aim of coming to a resolution.

As for facilitating the lobbying of councils, we realise that the more purist anarchists will see us as little more than a neighbourhood pressure group. We’re not and here’s why. The key is the use of the word facilitating. We facilitate the Vange Hill Community Group in lobbying by offering support, advice and logistical backing as and when necessary. Regarding the lobbying, it’s generally aimed at the council officers responsible for a particular service on the estate with the two wards councillors (both Labour) being copied in. There have been occasional sightings of the two ward councillors but efforts to constructively engage with them have rarely been successful.

When lobbying pays off with a result, it empowers those involved in it to not just carry on but also to become more ambitious in their demands. As this lobbying proceeds and the barriers to what can be squeezed out of a council are hit, we use our propaganda to place in context what most people instinctively understand about the limits of the state in an age of permanent austerity. It’s a combination of empowerment and political education that we’re doing our level best to implement.

Then there’s the direct action. Which in the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, is a combination of community clean ups and guerilla gardening. With the community clean ups there is some degree of co-operation with Basildon Council in that we’ll tell them we’re having one, there will be sacks of rubbish and other bulkier items for them to collect when we’ve done and generally that’s what they do. When it comes to the guerilla gardening on the estate, we just get on with it and don’t even think about asking for permission.

At all times we bear in mind our ultimate aim of radical political, social and economic change. We realise that getting to the point where that can start to happen is a long journey – we’re in this for the long haul. There’s no single, easily defined route to get to that point. It’s a case of nurturing quite a few different strands and over time, gradually bringing them together and picking up momentum along the way. Which is why we deploy a variety of tactics to support our overall strategy.

Getting to where we want to be is a learning curve and there’s a lot of trial and error and subsequent reassessment of strategy and tactics along the way. We’re happy for what we do to be open for constructive criticism and discussion.

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Building neighbourhood solidarity and resilience

This is the keynote article from the latest print edition of The Estuary Alternative.

With all of the grassroots community projects we promote and do our level best to support, there’s one key fundamental and that’s generating a sense of neighbourhood solidarity. We’re not talking about an exclusive sense of solidarity centred on one particular group – we’re talking about the kind of solidarity that respects the variety of people that go to make up a neighbourhood.

The kind of solidarity which recognises that while people can be very different from each other, they can all play a role in making a neighbourhood a better place to live once they recognise that’s what they want to achieve. The kind of solidarity that our rulers and their mates in the right wing media hate because it means people have seen beyond their games of divide and rule and encouraging us all to be nothing more than selfish, atomised, uncaring producers and consumers. It’s the kind of solidarity we’ll need in an increasingly uncertain future as we face a Brexit where no one in power in either the UK or the rest of the EU can explain to us mere plebs what its consequences are. In addition to this, there are also the ever growing risks posed by climate change to consider…

These will impact on food security – the first manifestations of which will be steep price rises. Extreme manifestations could well be shortages of certain foods… This is the kind of scenario where life in an atomised neighbourhood where no one knows or trusts their neighbours could start to get uncomfortable to say the least. The kind of scenario where neighbourhood resilience cannot happen because everyone is fearful of everyone else. The kind of scenario where the authorities can control us because we fear and can’t trust each other. Basically, a nightmare scenario that no caring human wants…

Which is why we support any community project that brings people together, regardless of their backgrounds. At the end of the day, whoever we are and wherever we’re from, everyone wants to live in a neighbourhood where people look out for and care for each other. A neighbourhood that in an age of failing public services can provide networks of support for its more vulnerable members. A neighbourhood that’s taking steps to take control of its food supply with community gardens/allotments, food buying groups and the like. A neighbourhood that once it gains a degree of self confidence about looking after itself, will start to ask some searching questions about power, who exercises it and how it has to be brought right down to the grassroots.

So, while The Estuary Alternative may on the surface seem to be a ‘fluffy’ project, what we’re about is building the new world in the shell of the crumbling one we have to endure at the moment. The key to success in that project is building neighbourhood solidarity and resilience so we can not only survive the challenges of the dysfunctional world we currently live in but we can also start to build the saner, juster and more sustainable one we desire.

Building a new world in the shell of the old

This is editorial from the latest print edition of The Estuary Alternative.

Our sister project, the South Essex Stirrer, highlights what’s wrong with the increasingly dysfunctional political, economic and social system we have to endure. People have a pretty clear idea of what the Stirrer doesn’t like but wonder what alternative can be offered instead. This is why we set up The Estuary Alternative in a bid to start looking at different ways of organising our lives.

Radical change isn’t going to come about without an upheaval that will sweep away the existing order and replace it with a society that’s more just, equitable, sane and sustainable. What can be done in the meantime is trying out different ways of organising our lives. It’s a process of starting to build a new world in the decaying shell of the dystopian one we’re in at the moment. That process necessarily involves a fair bit of experimentation to see what does and doesn’t work.

The emphasis is on bringing decision making about how we organise our communities and lives down to the grassroots. Obviously there are power structures in the way that put obstacles in the way we’d like to deal with issues such as housing. However, when you start to look, there are plenty of opportunities for projects that can start to make a difference in the here and now.

Here are just a couple of ideas as to what can be done…

Neighbourhood community gardens that give people more control over how their food is sourced. As well as empowerment from having more control, there are other benefits such as collectively working with your neighbours, access to fresh fruit and vegetables plus the exercise put in to cultivate them and a reduction in energy inputs involved in transporting food. Given the disruption to the food supply chain that’s likely to happen with a chaotic Brexit, this will boost neighbourhood resilience and cohesion in what could well be difficult times ahead.

Repair cafes where anything from tools to broken radios can be fixed and have their lifetimes extended. One benefit are the skills learned in repairing items as opposed to simply dumping them – skills that increase self reliance and boost confidence and self esteem. There are also the environmental benefits that come from reduced consumption of raw materials and a reduction in waste. On a more subversive note, doing this slowly undermines the unsustainable, consumer driven, production for profit rather than need model we currently have to live with.

There’s a lot more that can and should be done. The important thing is being prepared to have a go at launching a grassroots initiative that can play a part in building a new world in the shell of the old – this is what we’re looking at in this edition of our paper. Feel free to let us know what you think and send in your ideas for bringing about change at the grassroots.

We’re bringing out another paper!

As it’s almost certain we’ll be on a stall at this event (see poster below), we’re going to be bringing out another print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to promote this project and get more people contributing to it.

We pretty much wrote all of the copy for the first print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to kick start the project. With the forthcoming print edition, we feel that in order to reflect what’s going on with community focused grassroots projects in the south of Essex, the people involved in them should be writing about what they’re doing and sending the copy to us. All we want to write is a brief editorial and that’s it.

We want to get this four page, A4 paper, printed and delivered back to us by the middle of March. This means the layout has to be ready to send to our printer, Oxford GreenPrint, by the start of March. In order to allow enough time to do the layout, we need your contributions by Friday 23rd February. If you’re interested in writing a piece for The Estuary Alternative, feel free to let us know using the contact e-mail below and we’ll take it from there.

This is our contact e-mail: seradicalmedia@protonmail.com

Another community clean up for Vange on Saturday 17th February

Following on from the community clean upon the ¾ estate in Vange on December 2nd: Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-%c2%be-estate-in-vange/ the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have called another one for Saturday 17th February.

VHCG and BASHA are wondering if Basildon Council get wind of this clean up, whether they’ll put in extra effort on cleaning the estate of uncollected rubbish bags like they did before the last one back in December:) Fine – that leaves VHCH and BASHA more time to concentrate on the trimming and gardening side of things which will help with building a sense of pride in the neighbourhood…

As before, BASHA are facilitating this community clean up. The overall aim is to empower people on the ¾ estate to take an active role in making their estate a better place to live. Part of that is the physical work necessary to tidy the place up and put in some planting that will brighten things up come the spring and summer.

Obviously VHCG and BASHA are not going to be doing the whole of the ¾ estate. They’re working on two areas where they’ve already established a foothold with the aim of eventually linking these up to establish a clean and green corridor. The hope is that this will inspire residents in other parts of the estate to start working on their areas, facilitated by VHCG and BASHA if needed.

Basically, it’s all about empowering residents to take an active interest in managing their estates as part of a more fundamental project aimed at bringing power down to the grassroots where it belongs…

If you want change, you can start here…

Our next Creating A Positive Revolution course is being run in partnership with METAL Southend – begins Feb 20th, bookings now being taken! https://spiralseed.co.uk/product/creating-positive-revolution/

Festive Transition Potluck!

Saturday 30th December – 12pm-5pm.
Growing Together Westcliff, 47 Fairfax Drive.

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1498444927121476/

Hosted by Southend in Transition Community Allotment: https://www.facebook.com/SiTcommunityAllotment/

Bring yourselves, families and friends. Bring and expect vegetarian and vegan food to share.

Festive themed dishes welcomed!

Bring games and musical instruments.

Plan for the day is to eat, talk and socialise with fellow community members, reflect on the past year and look forward to the next year.

Lunch is planned for around 1pm.

Then at 2pm an opportunity for speed talks: 2mins by individuals and projects about what went well in 2017, plans for 2018 and what would help you achieve your goals.

There will be vision board activity around 4pm so please bring your favourite magazines for cut outs.

Children’s arts and crafts as well as plenty of outside space to explore!

Please text and email us even if you only MIGHT come so we gauge the number of people and speed talks (kamilpac@gmail.com)

See you there!
Love from Transition Crew