Change doesn’t just happen by putting a voting slip into a ballot box

On May 3rd, the local authority elections took place. You may had noticed the flyers coming through your door. You may had been doorstepped by enthusiastic candidates promising to do all they can for you while forgetting the constraints councillors operate under. If your local councillor was up for re-election, you may had noticed them being more solicitous and efficient than normal. On this basis, you may well have gone out and voted.

Here are some hard truths. The role of local authorities in an age of seemingly permanent austerity is to implement the government’s agenda by making painful decisions about which services to cut or scrap. No matter how enthusiastic and committed your local councillor is, even if they belong to the party that’s in power on the council, they’re obliged to deliver the government’s austerity agenda. There’s no getting away from it – your local councillor is the one who has a role in deciding where the axe is going to fall.

If you recognise the constraints your local councillor operates under but still voted, that’s fine. As anarchists, we’re supposed to hold a strict line on voting not changing anything. Voting under the system we have will never deliver the radical change we desire. However, we recognise there are merits in voting for the least worst option or for a councillor who is acutely aware of the constraints they operate under but who will still pull out the stops for you.

Whether you voted or not, bear in mind that real change will only come from grassroots community action by residents committed to making a difference in their neighbourhoods. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, that change has come from work by the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action. This has involved community clean ups, guerilla gardening and constant lobbying of the council officers involved in providing the services the estate relies upon. The two ward councillors have proved themselves to be less than effective and they’re simply bypassed.

In the case of Brooke House Residents (Brooke House is the iconic block in the middle of Basildon town centre) they do have a ward councillor who is pro-active and fully in support of their efforts. He’ll do what he can to lobby for improvements in the block but is also acutely aware of the constraints he faces; one being the long term aim of the council using a policy of managed decline to force residents to seek alternative accommodation so the block can be flogged off to a developer.

Bringing about real, radical change doesn’t come from putting a voting slip in a ballot box every now and again. It comes from residents recognising that it’s only through their collective efforts that things will start to change and then getting together to start to bring that about. We at South Essex Working Class Action are here to help facilitate the work of any residents who want to bring about change at the grassroots in their neighbourhoods.

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Building the base for radical change

Some in depth thoughts on our ultimate goals and how we hope the way we operate at the grassroots will eventually lead to them being realised…

Our long term aim is to achieve a revolution that will bring about an equitable, sane and sustainable society free from hierarchies and oppression. The question is – how do we get to that point? What this piece will attempt to do is explain the grassroots, community based approach to achieving this we take out here on the ground in southern Essex. This isn’t intended to be a definitive guide let alone a grandiose statement that our way is the best – all we’re trying to do is put some ideas and experiences into the mix and see what people think of them.

Fractured communities

In an age of rampant neo-liberalism, society is becoming ever more fractured, atomised and polarised. With increasingly precarious employment conditions that are dumping more and more people on zero hours and short term contracts, solidarity in the workplace is under attack. With the housing crisis…

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It’s that time of year…

On May 3rd, local authority elections will be taking place. You may well have noticed the flyers coming through your door. You may even have been doorstepped by enthusiastic candidates promising to do all they can for you while somehow forgetting the constraints they’ll be operating under. If your local councillor is up for re-election, you may have noticed they’re being more solicitous and efficient than is normally the case. Your local news websites and papers will be featuring ward by ward analysis of the state of play between the contestants and how that will affect the balance of power on the council.

Here are some hard truths. The role of local authorities in an age of seemingly permanent austerity is to implement the government’s agenda by making painful decisions about which services to cut or scrap. No matter how enthusiastic and committed your local councillor is, even if they belong to the party that’s in power on the council, they’re obliged to deliver the government’s austerity agenda. There’s no getting away from it – your local councillor is the one who has a role in deciding where the axe is going to fall.

If you recognise the constraints your local councillor operates under but still want to vote, that’s fine. As anarchists, we’re supposed to hold a strict line on voting not changing anything. Voting under the system we have will never deliver the radical change we desire. However, we recognise that there are merits in voting for the least worst option or for a councillor who is acutely aware of the constraints they’ll be working under but who will still pull out the stops for you. Obviously, if there’s a candidate from the far right standing in your ward, then getting out to vote to stop them making gains is imperative. Supporters of reactionary and far right parties tend to be more motivated when it comes to voting so that has to be countered.

Whether you vote or not, bear in mind that real change will only come from grassroots community action by residents committed to making a difference in their neighbourhoods. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, that change has come from work by the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action. This has involved community clean ups, guerilla gardening and constant lobbying of the council officers involved in providing the services the estate relies upon. The two ward councillors have proved themselves to be less than effective and they’re simply bypassed.

In the case of Brooke House Residents (Brooke House is the iconic block in the middle of Basildon town centre) they do have a ward councillor who is pro-active and fully in support of their efforts. He’ll do what he can to lobby for improvements in the block but is also acutely aware of the constraints he faces. One being the long term aim of the council using a policy of managed decline to force residents to seek alternative accommodation so the block can be flogged off to a developer.

Vote if you want to but bear in mind that bringing about real, radical change doesn’t come from putting a voting slip in a ballot box every now and again. It comes from residents recognising that it’s only through their collective efforts that things will start to change and then getting together to start to bring that about. We at South Essex Working Class Action (the Stirrer and Basildon & Southend Housing Action) are there to help facilitate the work of any residents who want to bring about change at the grassroots in their neighbourhoods.

A different way of thinking about community activism

We’ve just completed a six week course facilitated by Graham Burnett and Sherry Fuller – Creating A Positive Revolution In Southend (CAPRIS). It was an incredibly useful course that made us question a lot of our assumptions about community organising. As community activists, it’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of operating in a certain way and constantly wondering why your efforts aren’t making the impact you want them to make. For some activists it can be hard to have to question set patterns of working – we’re fortunate in that we welcome the opportunity to have our assumptions questioned and to start thinking about different ways to deal with the issues we encounter on the estates.

As part of our final presentation which was based around enhancing the work we’re already undertaking with the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action on an estate in Vange, we came up with the outcome tree shown above. It works in a very simple way. In red in the middle is the ultimate outcome we want to achieve. Above in blue are aspects of the vision we have for the estate. Below in green are the actions that need to be undertaken in order to realise that vision.

The outcome tree was just one tool we discussed on the course. There were others that were useful in making us think about how we work towards our desired outcome. One of these was a timeline that in our case stretched out to eight years. It starts off with one small undertaking which in our case will be encouraging residents to work on converting a patch of land recently cleared of flytipping and turn it into a pocket garden. As residents achieve more, learn more, become more confident and empowered, the vision for the development of the estate becomes more ambitious until the aim shown in the outcome tree above is realised.

This may seem like pie in the sky thinking but if you really want to change the world, you have to have a vision. Obviously, we’re well aware of the obstacles that lie in our way and we had a frank and useful discussion about those at the last session of CAPRIS. The point is that we want to move from a situation where we’re just fire fighting the whole time and dealing with the same issues over and over again to one where we’re moving forwards and making genuine progress. CAPRIS has hopefully given us the ideas and inspiration to achieve that.

Stirrer special edition back from the printer

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.

We’re bringing out another paper!

While The Stirrer does what it says on the tin – stirs and causes trouble – our sister project, The Estuary Alternative, is about promoting positive alternatives. In other words, starting to build a new world in the decaying shell of the increasingly dystopian one we currently have to endure. We’re bringing out another print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to give this project a boost. So, if you’re involved in a progressive, community based grassroots project anywhere in the south of Essex, we’d love it if you could write a piece about what you’re doing and send it to us:)

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…

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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…