Stopping the Cuts: Communities, the next frontier?
Right, so we’ve been to London, tried out a few different methods of streets protests, and experienced some fairly linear growth over the last few months. Its truly amazing to see the numbers of people showing up to stuff, but this presents problems on the inclusion front and also on the self-perception front. We’re a big, powerful movement, right?
As a movement, very clearly we need to be moving. To say we need to be moving forwards is a cliche, and often one used to endorse a simplistic and often-times linear understanding of where we should be going. Linear in this sense explains the pathway towards change as being singular. Perhaps its fairer to say we need to move forwards on many fronts, advancing through a diversity of tactics.
It would be a mistake to think we could have a movement proceed in a single strand for any number of reasons, but the two which spring to mind as positives are the numbers of people wanting to get involved (and I mean involved, not just show up on the odd Saturday, select a placard and follow us around like goons). This has to be a movement of leaders, and we have to be creating many new leaders every week. It also has to be a movement of new ideas, which is why its so important that discussions are framed as “what would you like to do to stop the cuts”, with the more experienced activists avoiding the temptation to dump gloom on people’s plans.
Also, we need to recognise that there are many sets of experience coming into this movement. I’ve noticed Trade Unionists making some assumptions about how their experiences are more valid than other people’s, and maybe you’ve noticed some anarchists playing up their arrest count or whatever. Seriously, this isn’t going to win us the struggle.
One rather intensive suggestion would be to have people who have longer involvement in the movement sit down with a pad and pen and some rough list of questions and informally interview people to learn what skills they can offer and think creatively about how to use them. I’d suggest you don’t try this, but rather everyone make an effort to learn about five newish activists skill-sets. You may be surprised as to what comes out, including things people are adamant are not skills for movements.
But what I really want to get over is the desperate need for campaigns to move from burgeoning pressure groups into real expressions of community uprising. We can’t just wait for the local day centre or pool to be threatened with closure, we have to get out their and be recognisable now.
York Stop the Cuts has been experimenting with local stalls. We’ve run city centre stalls for years in different campaigns, but we’re now taking out stalls to the suburbs rather than hoping people will spot us when they pop into town on the odd occasion that they do so on a Saturday. We must remember that just because town has the most people, it doesn’t mean most people are in town.
Meeting people where they’re at is important, as are the discussions that we’re having: usually much more detailed in Acomb, Haxby and Bishopthorpe Road, away from the tourists and heaving crowds. Major plus point: we get new campaigners out onto stalls in more familiar surroundings, as there are more opportunities closer to where they live. Next stage: hosting public meetings in these areas. People from these areas keep telling us they don’t want to walk into town for a meeting, especially on an evening. We can, and we must, have our ideas and tactics become mainstream in the coming months if we’re to win out.
It is clear that Britain’s working classes, from Milliband’s “squeezed middle” to the growing “underclass”, need to find a sense of solidarity amongst and between themselves. Community and Solidarity are intertwined, one being a meaningless statement without the other. The Conservatives attack and divide communities because only through fragmenting society can they possibly win. Collectivism is really their enemy, and very definitely our friend. In fact, collectivism, community, solidarity, justice and equality should probably be our 5 watchwords in the anti-cuts movement.
For most people, vague notions of theoretical solidarity are vacuous, difficult to grasp. For myself, I know I find it easier to have solidarity with a group of people when I’ve met at least one of them. By bringing things down to people’s levels we can build solidarity for it counts. In the gap between the March 26th protests and the proposed Public Sector strike in June, this should be the next phase. Having an anti-cuts group in your city isn’t going to be enough – pressure groups won’t win this. The next step is to become engrained in the fabric of our communities, offering a broad range of tactics to people and bringing new faces into full participation.