A few words on how we work

Recently on our sister blog, The South Essex Stirrer, we posted up this piece: A few thoughts on neighbourhood community hallshttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/a-few-thoughts-on-neighbourhood-community-halls/ It’s about concerns expressed by a number of residents on the ¾ estate in Vange over safety issues relating to parking and traffic on Fridays when the neighbourhood community centre is used as a mosque. It’s one of those issues that if we don’t get involved with our analysis of it, there are those on the right and possibly, the far right who will be only too happy to take ownership of it. That would make it very difficult for us and our partners to continue to operate on the ¾ estate.

We’ve been working for a while with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and more recently, the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) on ways to encourage residents on the ¾ estate to get involved in making their neighbourhood a better place to live. This has involved practical actions such as community clean ups as well as using what resources we can muster to put pressure on Basildon Council to get their act together and do the job residents pay them their council tax for. VHCG was set up last year, partly as a result of a meet up and estate walkabout involving local residents, BASHA and a rare appearance from the two ward councillors. VHCG have quite a lively Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/

The VHCG Facebook group can best be described as a broad church that reflects the range of opinions that will be found on any estate. Which means that sometimes opinions will be aired that we will not agree with. Opinions that some people in some of the activist circles we know will deem to be beyond the pale. Opinions that may well prompt some activists to ask what on earth are we doing working with VHCG in the first place. A caveat – it has to be noted that the few people who do express opinions that some will regard as dodgy have never, ever been seen on any of our community clean ups. The people from VHCG whose work we do facilitate such as the clean ups and lobbying are pretty sound as far as we’re concerned.

The VHCG Facebook group gives us an insight into what people’s concerns (and occasionally, prejudices) are. Which means we can intervene by whatever means necessary to offer our viewpoint on a contentious issue and work to change people’s opinions. It’s a continuous process that won’t get instant results but if we stick at it for long enough, we gain people’s respect and that’s when we can start to change minds and win people over. It’s pretty much what we did way back in the 2000’s when we were involved with the Independent Working Class Association – direct engagement with working class people. As we have stated many times before, anyone who wants to see fundamental change is going to have to have the working class with them because without us, you will not achieve your goal!

Working in the way we do with BASHA and VHCG means there are inevitably a few grey areas. We know what we want to get out of this process so keeping that in mind, we can deal with the grey areas. Working at the coalface on isolated, deprived and forgotten estates on the fringes of a failing new town means finding an ideologically pure community group to work with is an impossibility. We have to work with what we find which means things can be a bit messy and complicated sometimes. We accept that and just get on with the process of engagement as best we can.

We could get huffy, throw the toys out of our pram and refuse to work with community groups that may include people whose views we don’t agree with. We could retreat to a hermetically sealed activist bubble where everything we hear confirms our world view and refuse to engage with those whose views we find disagreeable. We could but – it would be a massive abrogation of duty. Retreat raises the question ‘if not us, then who?’ Well, there’s a motley cast of UKIPers, ex UKIP ‘independents’, and lurking in the shadows, a few people off to the far right who would be only too happy to step in and fill the vacuum. So, this is why we work in the way we do with BASHA to make sure that there are at least a few estates in Basildon where these elements won’t be able to make an appearance without reckoning with our input.

This is the gritty, messy and complicated reality of what we deal with out here along the Essex shore of the Thames estuary. It’s not easy and there are times when we’re tearing our hair out in frustration – however, it has to be done. We’re not asking for plaudits or kudos for the way we work. All we’re asking for is an understanding of what we’re trying to achieve in terms of engaging with and winning over working class estates to a broader vision of change. As ever, constructive criticism and informed debate on the issues raised in this piece are always welcome.


A few thoughts on neighbourhood community halls

This piece was originally posted on our sister blog, the South Essex Stirrerhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/ We’re posting it up here because we think it illustrates the issues we face working with community groups on estates facing problems arising from neglect and deprivation. Problems that if ignored and dismissed, will eventually be picked up and acted on by elements from the far right. Suffice to say that engagement with estate based, mainly apolitical community groups can be a messy and complex business but is necessary if we’re going to defeat the forces of reaction…

We’ve been made aware of parking issues occurring on the ¾ estate in Vange on Fridays around the community hall on Vange Hill Drive – this is a day the building is used for a religious gathering. This isn’t the only example of a community hall being used for a religious gathering with attendant parking and traffic problems. This is an issue with a number of religious denominations across the region we cover…

Community halls on estates were planned and built with the intention that they were for neighbourhood use. Use for anyone in the neighbourhood regardless of who they are, where they originated from and what deity they may or may not choose to worship. Catering for a neighbourhood, the assumption was that a fair proportion of the people attending events at their community hall would walk to and from events and only those living a bit of a distance away or with mobility problems would drive or be driven to them. Car parking for the community halls was generally provided based on these assumptions.

For a variety of reasons, a number of community halls are being used for events, some of them religious gatherings, that will attract people from across the borough and not just the neighbourhood. If such a community hall is on an isolated estate with poor public transport, then people travelling there from a distance will be coming by car because there is no other option. Even if there are reasonable public transport links, it may well be the case that sadly, in the increasingly divided and polarised society we live in, worshippers of some denominations might not feel safe travelling in by bus or train and choose to drive simply because it’s the safest option. This is where a car park in a community hall designed for neighbourhood use is overwhelmed and vehicles are parked in neighbouring streets that more often than not, were not designed to accommodate them. Understandably with parking in less than ideal conditions plus attendant traffic issues before and after large scale events, residents do have legitimate concerns about safety that need to be addressed.

What we are talking about should in an ideal world be seen as a planning problem that with goodwill on all sides, can be resolved by constructive negotiation and rational decision making by council planners and the relevant councillors. The problem is that with some of the religious gatherings we’re talking about, prejudice from those opposed to them can get in the way of any rational planning solution. A solution that would allow the worshippers concerned to identify a suitable site that can provide sufficient parking, would ideally would be reasonably well served by public transport and lastly, doesn’t cause any disturbance to neighbouring residents.

We’re in a bit of a bind here… Firstly, residents are afraid to raise legitimate concerns about safety regarding parking and traffic issues for fear of being branded racist. Secondly, because some councillors do, through the use of winks and nods, court an element of the electorate who could be regarded as racist, they will block solutions involving the siting of places of worship in appropriate locations in a bid to hang onto that support. With residents feeling they can’t voice their concerns for fear of being branded racist and some councillors doing their level best to block the construction of places of worship in a bid to pander to the prejudices of some of their supporters, solutions to the problems are not forthcoming. As a result, tensions and resentment can start to grow, particularly if the knuckle-draggers from the far right sense an opportunity to stick their oar in and twist the legitimate concerns of residents to suit their own nefarious, divisive and hateful ends.

Let’s get a bit specific and discuss the issue of the community hall on Vange Hill Drive, it’s use by the Muslim community and a solution that was proposed but for various reasons, was not allowed to come to fruition. Back in 2014, the Islamic group using the community hall on Vange Hill Drive wanted to set up a new centre on the Burnt Mills Industrial Estate: Faith leader defends Islamic centre planhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/11441496.Faith_leader_defends_Islamic_centre_plan/ They favoured this site because it wasn’t near any residential areas and wouldn’t cause any disturbance. The move never came to fruition. One of the objections was raised by Cllr. Kerry Smith who back in 2014 was still a member of UKIP. Smith is now an independent and is currently the ward councillor for Nethermayne on Basildon Council and the Basildon Westley Heights division on Essex County Council. Smith’s objections were based on traffic issues. Issues that with some goodwill on all sides and some rational decision making could have been resolved. Industrial estates by their very nature are designed to cope with high levels of traffic and have a pretty good level of parking as most people working on them drive to and from them. On that basis alone, in our opinion, we have to conclude that Smith’s objections were spurious to say the least…

Having worked alongside our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action and Vange Hill Community Group on clean ups and community gardening on the ¾ estate, we can see how a large influx of vehicles parking up in the Vange Hill Drive area, for whatever reason, will lead to safety issues. We understand the concerns of the residents and want to see a solution that will suit them and the worshippers that come in on Friday (and any other worshippers from other denominations on other days). What has to be done is to challenge those councillors who put a block on any reasonable solution because of where they draw their support from. We would like to suggest to residents in the Vange Hill Drive area that they ask Cllr. Kerry Smith why, back in 2014, he was one of those who stood in the way of a solution that would have been of mutual benefit to them and the worshippers using the community hall. Until councillors like this are challenged as to what their agenda really is, there never will be a solution to the issue and unwanted and divisive tensions will rise…tensions which will hurt all of us who want to build cohesive, friendly neighbourhoods where everyone looks out for and cares for each other…

It’s down to us but most importantly, it’s down to YOU!

The point of our project at South Essex Radical Media (SERM) with our publications, The South Essex Stirrer and The Estuary Alternative, and our alliance with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) is simple – to inspire, encourage and support people to take action at the grassroots in order to bring about meaningful change.

SERM is basically about propaganda. It’s our job to report on what we see across the region we cover and, not just point out what’s wrong but to stir people up to start acting collectively to bring about change. BASHA are community and housing activists. As well as holding Basildon Council to account for their repeated failings, they aim to encourage residents and tenants on the estates to start taking collective action to bring about change.

This is why we and BASHA support and facilitate the work of groups such as the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and help to facilitate actions such as this: Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-3/4-estate-in-vange/ It’s not for us to tell VHCG what to do – their supporters live on the estate and know exactly what needs to be done! All we do is provide logistical support and some equipment on clean up days and help them to produce their propaganda. We hope that what VHCG do will act as an example to other estates and inspire people to start collectively taking action.

With The Estuary Alternative, the ultimate aim is to hand the project over to grassroots activists in the region while we move on to other initiatives. As stated in this piece: The future of this project…https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/the-future-of-this-project/ we don’t want to be lumbered with the job of finding content for it for ever and a day. The aim of The Estuary Alternative is to foster a greater degree of communication and co-operation between and among the range of grassroots groups operating in the region. That means that ultimately, it has to end up as a collective, collaborative project…

There are only a few of us and we have to be focused on what we can achieve with what are limited resources. Running The South Essex Stirrer and the On Uncertain Ground blogs (and the paper) takes up a lot of our time and energy which is why when we launch an initiative such as The Estuary Alternative, we really do want other grassroots activists to eventually take it off our hands!

It’s the same with BASHA, there are only a few of them and they want to focus on their roles of a) holding Basildon Council to account and b) facilitating and supporting grassroots groups and activists on the estates. They are not a back up service to be called upon when the roads haven’t been gritted or the rubbish hasn’t been collected. If residents and tenants want to act together to deal with issues like this, BASHA will happily support and facilitate them but they’re not going to do the bloody job for them!

We’ve had a fair few discussions about this dilemma that we’re facing and why people look to us to do stuff rather than them collectively doing it for themselves. There’s no single answer to this…

In the case of BASHA, on a growing number of estates, it’s a toxic cocktail of factors such as a general collapse of morale in the face of austerity plus demographic reasons such as the growing number of buy to let landlords and houses of multiple occupation leading to a constant churn in the population. Atomisation isn’t just a word bandied about by sociologists in academia – it’s the brutal reality we increasingly find on the estates.

With SERM, our biggest headache is getting other people to write for our blogs. We do get a few guest pieces for which we are incredibly grateful but we still have to do a lot of the legwork in terms of sourcing content. To broaden our reach we’re increasingly using re-blogs and cut and pasting media releases from groups we trust but it’s no substitute for having a rota of regular contributors. With all of our publications, we really want to open them up to as many individual groups and activists as possible to make them truly representative of what’s going on.

Drawing to a conclusion, it seems that we are up against the evils of demoralisation and atomisation on the estates and a worrying degree of complacency in a number of grassroots groups who seem happy to plod along doing the same old thing rather than reach out, link up and step up a gear. Going into what is looking to be a turbulent and unpredictable 2018, we’re going to need as much solidarity as can be mustered to deal with the onslaught that’s coming our way.

We don’t pretend to have the answers to this dilemma by any stretch of the imagination. We’re more than happy to listen to what other people have to say on the problems of demoralisation, atomisation and passivity and how they think they can be overcome. We admit that this piece can be seen as us venting some of our frustrations! Having said that, the intention is to foster a constructive discussion on how we can move forward and get ourselves into a position where we can deal with whatever 2018 throws at us…

New Town Utopia

‘New Town Utopia is a feature documentary film about utopian dreams and concrete realities… the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex. The narrative is guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon – on a journey through memory, place and performance. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by creative spirit to help their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.’

See here for more information about this film: http://www.newtownutopia.com/

The film is about the vision the post war Labour government had for the New Towns and how that contrasts to the stark reality of what Basildon is like today. There’s footage of tired looking estates with the inevitable cracked and broken paths with the actor, Jim Broadbent, speaking the words of the Labour MP, Lewis Silken, as he articulated his vision for what the New Towns could be.

The vision of what Basildon could have been – a town largely self sufficient in employment with the new estates having a mixed population living side by side, in an environment of well designed, inspiring architecture interspersed with plenty of green space remained just that, a vision. Sure, up until the 1980s, there was plenty of manufacturing industry along the north side of Basildon by the A127. As those of us who are old enough to remember, the 1980s saw the next phase of de-industrialisation and the new factories that were optimistically built in the late 1950s and early 1960s closed one by one, destroying skilled jobs in the process. What has replaced them is an endless sea of warehouses offering little in the way of skilled labour but plenty in the way of short term and zero hours contracts.

Regarding housing, as the film points out, the right to buy in the 1980s and the individualistic mindset that came in with it started the break up of what sense of social solidarity and community there was on the new estates. The one flaw we could find in the film was the way it didn’t cover what happened to many of these properties after the owners had flogged them and left for the leafier pastures of Wickford and Billericay. Namely the growing number of buy to let landlords, a fair few of who are total scumbags who bear a responsibility for the rising number of homes of multiple occupation and the slum conditions residents of these properties have to endure.

What we loved about the film was the way it gave locals a voice. Okay, there was a bias towards the arts community in Basildon but that’s no bad thing. Yes, we did say arts community and Basildon in the same sentence – just because you’re working class, it doesn’t mean that you can’t express yourself in a creative way. In the 1970s, when there was still an air of optimism about what the place could be, there was an arts scene supported by public funding that encouraged ordinary people to participate and express themselves. Needless to say, when the 1980s came along, a lot of that went as it didn’t ‘contribute’ to the bottom line… However, even though a lot of the arts infrastructure was cut from Basildon, the musicians, artists and poets featured in the film simply kept going, relying on a ‘do it yourself’ ethos and a spirit of defiance.

This film is brutally honest about the gulf between the original vision for Basildon and the reality of life in the town now as it’s ravaged by austerity and the social problems that come with it. Problems that our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ – are only too familiar with… It’s not just the estates that are bearing the brunt of this – a walk round the town centre will show an ever increasing number of empty shop units as the economic climate gets harsher and the shoppers who still have money either go to the big malls at places like Westfield and Bluewater or shop online. The ‘green lungs’ that were planned in as parks are increasingly seen as development opportunities by a council that only values what it sees on the bottom line. The desecration of a significant chunk of Gloucester Park, which is next to the town centre, by a private housing development aimed at commuters is one example of this narrow mindset.

All in all, this is a film that is brutally honest, moving in parts and funny (in a gallows humour kind of way) in others. We’d recommend watching it so people can get a picture of what working class life in the new towns is like. There is one proviso – any documentary like this is a snapshot in time and life moves on. With outward migration from London, as the demographic and ethnic mix of Basildon alters, the town will see a lot of changes in the next decade or so. Maybe, with the right kind of social movement, that will offer an opportunity to try and realise some of the original vision for the new town, albeit tailored to the 21st century…

Getting on with it…

One of the problems with anarchism are certain elements who are only too willing to criticise comrades involved in campaigns, grassroots community projects, actions and the like but who never seem to get out and do anything themselves. This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning… Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – https://www.facebook.com/LoveHardiePark/ We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward for the Independent Working Class Association. It was a litter strewn, unloved no go area that most local people tried to avoid. Now, it’s a much loved, well used community asset although as the volunteers will admit, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to bring the park up to the standard we’d like! The point is that now the park is being well maintained, more people are using it and with the volunteer run cafe, it’s becoming a hub for the local community. The benefits of this in health and well being are plain for all to see.

The residents who’ve taken over the running of Hardie Park wouldn’t see themselves as having an overt political agenda – all they want is a park that’s a valuable community asset. Yes, there’s a bit of a hierarchy with the running of the park and we know anarcho purists would hate it. As far as we’re concerned it’s a) a project that has made a tangible difference to the quality of life in Stanford-le-Hope and b) in it’s own way, it’s bringing aspects of running a community asset closer to the grassroots. That ticks enough boxes for us to actively support it.

Then there’s the Billericay Community Gardenhttps://www.facebook.com/billericaycommunitygarden/ This was started by a small group of local residents on a patch of overgrown ground behind a vicarage. The aim of the project is to get locals interested in growing their own food with as little impact on the environment as possible – the emphasis is very much on the organic. Along with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we helped them in their first year with the donkey work at the site and advising them on setting up a committee. It’s a project that’s had a few ups and downs but at the moment, as you can see from the photos on their Facebook page, it’s thriving.

Southend…it must be something in the air because there’s a lot going on down there… It’s about people seeing a problem and rather than waiting for someone else to deal with it, they get on and fix it themselves. In a similar, organic gardening vein to the above, there’s the Southend in Transition Community Allotmenthttps://www.facebook.com/SiTcommunityAllotment/ Promoting repair and re-use as opposed to chucking stuff in the bin when it breaks, here’s the SouthMenders Southend Repair Cafehttps://www.facebook.com/southendintransition/ Southend Little Free Pantryhttps://www.facebook.com/southendlfp/ in their own words ‘is a place where members of our community can come to help themselves to a few groceries to help them through a time of need, whether it is financially or mobility impaired. It is also there as a judgement free space where people can share what they don’t need and possibly exchange for something they *are* in need of.’ These are just some of the people we worked with towards the end of last year going into this one to build the Southend Radical Fair that took place at The Railway on Saturday May 8th.

For a full list of local groups who get things done, take a look at the sidebar of The Estuary Alternative blog which is our sister project created specifically to support and promote positive initiatives along the Thames estuary – https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/ All of the above groups in their own individual ways are playing a part in building a new, better world inside the decaying, dysfunctional one we currently endure. We’re proud to do what we can to offer our support to these initiatives. Sure, a lot of them wouldn’t satisfy the demanding criteria of the nitpicking, purist element of what passes for an anarchist movement these days. Tough… To be honest, we much prefer to deal with the above mentioned who get things done rather than some elements in the anarchist movement who just give us a sodding headache.

We’ve been working closely with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA)https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ since the early part of 2014. A lot of that work is hands on practical work on the estates. That means the community clean ups and gardening we’ve done on Nursery Gardens in Laindon, the Pattocks and on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is what BASHA did working alongside members of the local community at the Pattocks: Cleaning up the Pattockshttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/cleaning-up-the-pattocks/ It’s working alongside members of the community who care about their estates, are pissed off with being brushed off by Basildon Council and have taken it upon themselves to make a practical difference. We do wonder if some of our anarcho critics would like an afternoon of strimming, fishing used nappies out of dense undergrowth, unblocking street drains and the like, bagging all of the trash up and taking it down to the tip… If any of them do fancy a change, they’re more than welcome to get in touch and come down for the next clean up.

Recently, us and BASHA have teamed up with the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG)https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ who are working their butts off to improve conditions on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is exactly the kind of grassroots group we want to see on the estates – if every estate in Basildon had a group like this, there would be some changes! What we do is support, advise and facilitate the work of VHCG. This is just one of many posts we’ve put up on the South Essex Stirrer highlighting the issues and the shite VHCG and BASHA have to deal with: Silencedhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/silenced/

We do get into London on occasions but…we pick and choose who we support. The criteria is supporting groups that get stuff done. One of them is Focus E15 Mothershttps://www.facebook.com/focuse15/ We’ve attended a few of their weekly stalls on Stratford Broadway and have marched with them on some of their protests as well: Marching from tower to towerhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/marching-from-tower-to-tower/ With Newham Council and the housing associations they use dumping their residents in places such as Pitsea away from family, friends and support network, we have a shared interest in supporting Focus E15 Mothers. We can’t for the life of us understand why they’re not listed on the back page of Rebel City, the paper that supports a number (but not all) of the radical groups in London. Oh hang on, we do know…it’s because the work of Focus E15 Mothers is facilitated by the Revolutionary Communist group. The wrong ‘ism’ so despite the importance of the work of Focus E15 Mothers, they don’t get a look in at the moment. This is the kind of anarcho purist sectarianism that does our sodding heads in!

Last but by no means least, there are our mates from Class Warhttps://www.facebook.com/ClassWarOfficial/ As and when we can get into London, we’ve supported their protests ranging from the weekly ‘No Poor Doors’ pickets a few years ago outside the One Commercial Street development in Aldgate to the ongoing actions outside the sick abomination that’s the Jack the Ripper ‘museum’ on Cable Street. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to go into too much detail about what we get up to with them but suffice to say they make their point, they’re fun and they know what comradeship is about…

That’s it and that’s us…getting on with it and supporting a diverse range of groups who do the same. As you will have gathered from reading the above, we’re not purists – we happily support any radical / alternative / grassroots groups that are willing to get stuck in and get results. They’re not perfect but if they’re travelling in the same broad direction of travel, we’ll back them. Come to think of it we’re not perfect but we’re happy to listen to constructive criticism and learn lessons from our mistakes…

Trying to find a way forward

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 couple of years have seen a series of political events that have caught most commentators off guard and there’s a feeling that the world is becoming more unpredictable and volatile by the day. To any rational observer of a radical persuasion, it’s clear that the political, economic and social system we live under is in crisis. Just one symptom of this are the divisions among our so called rulers over Brexit – these are not just about the arguments for and against but also what it actually means and how to implement it. They’re giving every appearance of not having a clue and are basically winging it from day to day.

We’re in a situation where a reasonably united radical 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 reaching its use by date. There are groups and people out there fighting the fight but the ones we’ve worked with and stood alongside in solidarity tend to come from outside of anarchism. Focus E15 and Movement For Justice are two we’ve stood with this year in various forms, mainly because they get on with the job and aren’t prone to endless pontificating – more on this later…

What follows is a subjective piece based on our experiences. We hope people will recognise that we’re using these experiences as our contribution to what needs to be a constructive discussion on moving the various currents of opposition that are around forwards in a way that brings about a badly needed element of unity.

Building from the grassroots upwards

When it comes to ways of building a movement that’ll bring about fundamental change, there has to be a base at the grassroots on our estates and in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces and our colleges. As to how building from the grassroots happens, sorry folks, there’s no definitive template you can apply. From our experience in working with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) every estate is different and has it’s own issues and characters. It’s a case of learning from the experiences of others and then working out how to apply them to the situation you’re facing while always bearing in mind the ultimate aim of what you want to achieve. What follows are our experiences of working at the level of the estate and neighbourhood…

There was one very important lesson we learnt from our Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) days, particularly when we stood in the local elections in the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward in 2007 and 2008. The lesson was that 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 – bear in mind that when it comes to local elections in our area, the participation rate tends to hover round the 30% mark. Another lesson is that when you start talking to people on the doorstep, pinning them down to a particular part of the political spectrum is not 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.

Doorstepping isn’t the time or place to start adopting a holier than thou attitude with the person you’re talking to. We found that listening to someone in order to understand where they’re coming from without interrupting or hectoring them generally earned us enough respect to start a dialogue or debate. Sure, we did come across a few hardened racists and bigots and it soon became clear we’d be wasting our time pursing the argument with them as well as potentially compromising our own security. In those situations, we found it best to politely terminate the exchange and move on while making a mental note of where the bigots lived.

When it comes to gaining respect, one thing we have found from our experience 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…

To reiterate, 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 and solutions we deal with and offer are going to be very much different from those facing activists in a London borough such as Newham. Having said that, the experiences of activists operating in all areas regardless of the different circumstances they may be encountering need to be shared to put all of our struggles into a broader, unifying context.

Getting the propaganda right

From our experiences with the IWCA and subsequently working with BASHA, we’ve realised that writing propaganda that appeals to ordinary working class people is a tough call. With the Stirrer and it’s predecessor the Heckler, we still feel that we’re on a learning curve and that we’ve still got a fair way to go before we really crack this one. We’re trying to do a number of different things with our blogs and papers…

Firstly, we’re trying to put our anarchist / radical spin on events happening across the area we cover and using that to point out that the system we have is no longer fit for purpose. We’re trying to do this in a way that’s not preachy or hectoring and acknowledges that there are a fair number of people who have been at the wrong end of the system and are sceptical about what (if anything) it has to offer. If we’re writing about the situation on some of the more troubled estates such as the ¾ in Vange, we’re acutely aware residents there know what’s wrong and what they want are some pointers or support that will start to bring about change.

Secondly, we’re doing our level best to inspire people to start changing things on their estates and in their neighbourhoods. Along with our partners at BASHA, we can’t be and don’t want to be everywhere leading the fight for change. We actively want people and groups to start agitating and organising for change on their own account with our role being to nudge them in the right direction when it comes to their politics and analysis and to offer practical support as and when we can.

With facilitating grassroots action there really is no blueprint for how to do this – it’s entirely dependent on the individuals making up the group who want your assistance. Sometimes you have to accept that there’s going to have to be a bit of a political journey, at others times you may be pleasantly surprised at how much people actually ‘get it’. We have to start with where people actually are and work from that point because a perfectly formed group with just the right politics just isn’t going to pop up in your neighbourhood in the current political and social climate. Which means that we cannot afford to sit back when it comes to our propaganda – it’s something we constantly review and if it’s not working, it gets changed and will keep on being changed until it does bloody work!

The point we’re trying to convey is that all of us need to think about the audiences our propaganda is aimed at and what results we want from disseminating it. This is as much a reminder to ourselves as it is pointing out that a lot of material produced by radical and anarchist groups could be a lot better. We’ve probably been as guilty as everyone else of turning out papers and blog posts for the sake of it rather than thinking what we want to get from each one. It’s relatively easy to write material for people who are already engaged in politics and activism – it’s a lot harder coming up with something that will appeal to and engage people who are pissed off with the way things are going but have had no prior involvement with political or campaigning activity.

Building alliances

When it comes to alliances, out here in southern Essex, we take a pragmatic attitude. We cannot afford to be political purists – if we were, we would be very lonely… So yes, despite the bashing of Labour’s shameful record on social cleansing in London in the name of ‘re-generation’, if our friends at BASHA find a Labour councillor who can work the system and get things done for them on the estates, we’re happy to use them to secure our aims – the emphasis being on ‘use’… Resident and neighbourhood action groups come in all shapes and sizes – while we always undertake a process of due diligence on them, on the basis that we start with where people are, more often than not, we’ll work with them.

When it comes to working with political groups anarchist or otherwise, it can prove to be a little bit problematical… We work with Class War on housing and other issues as well but as for the other anarchists in London, sadly we’re wondering where they are a lot of the time… As stated earlier, we’re pragmatists and if a group is heading in the same broad direction of travel that we are on an issue such as housing, we’ll work and stand in solidarity with them.

Which is why we’ve stood in solidarity with Focus E15 a fair few times over the last couple of years, not least because social cleansing from Newham has a direct impact on the housing situation out here in Essex. Yes, we’re well aware that the work of Focus E15 is facilitated by the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) and as anarchists, we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. Sure we don’t see eye to eye with the RCG on everything but where it counts for us on issues such as housing we do. They stepped up to the plate a few years back to facilitate Focus E15 and for us as housing activists, to not work with them because of differences over what happened a hundred years ago during the Russian Revolution would be a gross dereliction of our duty.

Given the way things are going and the threats we face, we need allies. It doesn’t have to be any formal alliance – just a tacit understanding that on certain issues we have a common aim and that it makes sense to work together on those issues. We see this as a fluid, flexible way of working where we work together with groups as and when the need arises and not get too hung up about differences while we’re trying to get a result. Taking this stance means we tend to work alongside groups who are at the sharp end of things and who generally are happy to work in flexible alliances as and when required. Just imagine what could be achieved if people just eased off the dogma pedal a bit and took a more open approach to who they worked with…

Identity politics has to recognise the need for unity

For the record, this is what we’ve had to say about the issue of identity: Is identity fixed or does it change?https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/is-identity-fixed-or-does-it-change/ While we have some very strong reservations about identity politics and the call out culture that accompanies it, there are certain strands of thinking on intersectionalism that make some useful and salient points: Intersectionality – some tentative thoughtshttps://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/intersectionality-some-tentative-thoughts/ We’re giving you these links rather than re-hashing all of the arguments here in this piece which would make it unwieldy to say the least…

We understand that identity politics had its origins with particular oppressed groups justifiably fighting for their rights. What concerns us is the way that some people have twisted the meaning of identity politics so that it becomes a parade of competing victimhoods as opposed to a fight against oppression. Which is why we see hope in some currents of intersectionalism which while they draw attention to the varying and sometimes shifting oppressions people experience, they’re placed in a broader structural context and seek to aggregate the different struggles people are pursuing. This may well be over-simplifying things but while we have no issue with people’s different experiences and cultural backgrounds being respected, we want to see unity when it come to the fight for justice. As a matter of urgency, we have to work out what unites us so we can build the movement we need, sooner rather than later.

We’ll say it again – we’re in a period of great uncertainty and potential volatility… If the various strands of radicalism and anarchism could bury their differences and work together, the current situation could be the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation or more to seriously start to bring about radical change. However, if the current level of toxic fractiousness that’s all too prevalent in radicalism continues unchecked and we remain divided and fighting among our selves, we’re facing the direst threat there’s been for many generations.

We’re not just talking about the threat to us as activists which potentially is dire enough but to the working class, regardless of ethnicity, race 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 fair 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. In these circumstances, can we really afford to continue to squabble among ourselves?

It has to be said it’s given us no pleasure to have to write it. We want to find ways of moving things forward in what is 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. We’re aware that many of you will not agree with this piece. For the record, we’re more than happy to receive constructive criticism and engage in a reasoned debate about the points we’ve raised.