Why we think radical papers are still relevant

Rebel City is a paper produced by a coalition of London based anarchists and it’s a publication we offer our full support to, up to and including helping out with the re-design and layout! Here’s a downloadable PDF of the latest edition of the paper.

Why, as fairly prolific bloggers, do we think that printed radical papers such as Rebel City, the South Essex Stirrer and others are still important? It’s simply because that with the best will in the world, the readers of most political blogs tend to be a self selecting audience. People are only going to seek out our blogs if they already have an interest in the kind of radical politics we engage in. While it may sound harsh, all too often we may be preaching to the converted. The whole point of what we’re trying to achieve is to change the world and we’re not going to do that by remaining in a self referential bubble in a corner of the Internet!

If you get the distribution right, radical papers are a way of reaching out to a new audience. That’s not just handing them out on the bigger protests but also in the town centres and going door-to-door. Back in our Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) days, we did a lot of door-to-door paper distribution, not just in Thurrock but also helping out other branches in Blackbird Leys and London during the local elections. The IWCA saw papers as an important way of reaching out to the communities they operated in and they were a proven success in building a new audience for their politics.

Not only that, we shouldn’t assume that everyone has access to the Internet. There’s a digital divide and in an age of austerity and stagnating pay, there’s a growing number of people who simply cannot afford to stay connected and drop off the Internet. They’re precisely the audience we need to be communicating with if we’re going to build a movement for radical change.

Also, there’s the discipline of the work involved in producing and distributing a paper. Now we know writing for a blog can be hard work and we’re not dismissing that in any way. What we’re saying is that the work involved in designing, artworking, organising the printing, planning and implementing the physical distribution of a paper gives a group a useful set of skills and when the finished product is well received by the punters, a welcome boost to morale.

The good news is that we’re detecting a revival of interest in producing physical, printed publications. Okay, the younger folk producing them call them ‘zines and they don’t bear a lot of resemblance to printed copies of the Stirrer but the point is that they’re physical manifestations of peoples’ politics. It’s an indication that an individual or a group cares enough about their beliefs to put in the work of writing, laying out, printing and distributing a publication. As distribution involves face to face encounters with potential readers, it’s bringing back the kind of engagement we used to have with people before the emergence of the Internet. After a dip, we think that radical papers and ‘zines are slowly but surely on their way back and that can only be a good thing.

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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.