For a while we’ve needed something we can hand out at anarchist/radical bookfairs, on protests and to any people interested in what we’re doing to explain what we’re about. Sure we can give them a printed copy of the Stirrer but that’s generally us commenting on local issues from our political perspective rather than explaining where we’re coming from as activists. To resolve this, we’ve produced a special edition of the Stirrer on two sides of a sheet of A4 which explains our roots in class struggle and community activism, arguing that to achieve real change, you have to build from the grassroots upwards. It’s fairly generic in its content so it’s a resource we can use for the rest of this year – or until we run out:) All things being equal, we hope to be at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday May 12th and we’ll be handing them out then. Hopefully our message about building from the grassroots will get a positive reception and we’ll take it from there…
As ever, we don’t have a massive budget and can’t afford long print runs so we’re making the paper available as a downloadable PDF from here.
This is the full text of the paper…
Class struggle from the grassroots
WHERE WE ARE
Surveying the political, economic and social landscape, the curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ has never seemed more apt. The last few years have seen a series of events that have caught most commentators off guard as the world becomes more unpredictable and volatile by the day. The political, economic and social system we live under is in crisis. We’re in a situation where a united anarchist movement should be putting a fractured, divided ruling class on the ropes while pressing the case for fundamental change and the overthrow of a system that’s reached its use by date. It has to be said there’s some work to do before this can be realised…
BUILDING OUTWARDS AND UPWARDS
Real change will only come from the grassroots upwards. If you don’t build and facilitate a movement for change from the level of the neighbourhood and also the workplace and college upwards, nothing is going to change. Taking to the streets for militant, angry protests (yes…there was a time before the People’s Assembly!) has a role to play but if there isn’t a firm base at the level of the estate and the neighbourhood, there’s not going to be a meaningful movement for change. This is what the South Essex Stirrer and our partners at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) strive to achieve – building a base for change in our neighbourhoods and working outwards and upwards from there.
Lessons learned on the estates
As to how building from the grassroots happens, sorry folks, there’s no definitive template you can apply. From our experience in working with BASHA, every estate is different and has it’s own issues and characters. It’s a case of getting out on the doorstep in your neighbourhood and talking to people to find out what they want. It’s also a case of learning from the experiences of others and applying them to the situation you’re facing while bearing in mind the ultimate aim of what you want to achieve.
The vast majority of people are apolitical and generally don’t think about politics until it’s coming close to voting day. That’s if they’re intending to vote – when it comes to local elections, the participation rate tends to hover round the 30% mark. Also, when you start talking to people on the doorstep, pinning them down to a particular part of the political spectrum isn’t easy. Someone may be quite radical on some issues but reactionary on others – you just have to use your own political nous to decide if there’s a basis for a dialogue in these situations.
We found that doorstepping isn’t the time or place to adopt a holier than thou attitude with people. Listening to someone in order to understand where they’re coming from without interrupting or hectoring them earned us enough respect to start a dialogue. Sure, we come across a few hardened racists and it soon became clear we’d be wasting our time pursing the argument as well as compromising our own security. In those situations, we terminated the exchange and moved on while making a mental note of where the bigots lived!
Get stuck in!
When it comes to gaining respect, one thing that works is getting your hands dirty by getting stuck in on activities such as a neighbourhood clean up or building a community garden. Whether it’s organising it, facilitating the residents in running it or going along and learning some lessons from well organised residents who know what they’re doing will depend on the situation you face on the ground. The thing is getting stuck in and being seen to do so…
It’s a case of what needs to be done and what works given the circumstances and the resources to hand. Our experiences are determined by the demographic we’re dealing with and the political colour of the local authority area we’re working in. The issues we deal with and the solutions we offer are going to differ from those facing activists in a London borough such as Newham. However, the experiences of activists operating in all areas, regardless of the different circumstances they encounter, need to be shared to put all of our struggles into a broader, unifying context.
RESPECT THE DIFFERENCE AND GET ON WITH IT!
We’re living through some pretty unpredictable and potentially volatile times and the anarchist movement can’t afford to indulge in navel gazing. One example of this is the obsessive focus on various aspects of identity politics and the call out culture that accompanies it. We recognise that identity politics originated as a necessary response to oppressions experienced by certain groups – for the record we’re fully behind any group fighting for justice.
Where identity politics has been going wrong in our view is rather than aggregating those experiences of oppression into an all encompassing movement to achieve justice, there’s been a tendency for too much of it to slip into divisive, competing victimhoods. Thankfully, there are some strands of thinking on intersectionality that encourage linking together to fight oppression – these tendencies will get our backing without reservation. Basically, respect the difference and unite to fight the oppression!
The current situation could be the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation to start bringing about radical change. If we don’t get our act together, we’re facing the direst threat there’s been for many generations. We’re not just talking about the threat to us as activists but also to our class, regardless of ethnicity, creed or gender, who as we’ve already seen with social cleansing from London and the Grenfell Tower disaster, face a direct threat to their existence. A number of middle class activists may not see this threat – those at the sharp end being forced out of the capital or having to constantly look over their shoulder in fear of the immigration squads or a racist attack live with it every moment of their lives. We want to find ways of moving things forward in what’s a challenging and difficult period so we can all realise our aim of overthrowing the crap we have to put up with and bring in a saner, just, equitable and sustainable society.