Getting on with it…

Posted on South Essex Heckler.

Until the time there’s a major social and political upheaval, austerity is going to be the backdrop to our lives for some time to come. When you factor in the growing possibility of another financial crash that will make the one in 2008 look like a gentle stroll in the park by comparison, for more and more of us the future is looking decidedly dodgy.

Surveying the political scene, we can’t see any sign of a major social and political upheaval taking place any time in the next few years. Okay, there’s a bid from Jeremy Corbyn, a so called ‘radical’, for the leadership of the Labour Party that’s generating a certain amount of excitement. We don’t think Corbyn is going to win. Even if he did, you can be pretty certain a largely right wing media will pull out the stops to make sure he suffers an electoral defeat that will make Michael Foot’s doomed leadership of Labour in the early 1980s look like a triumph by comparison. For the record, we think Corbyn’s statist, top down approach to ‘improving’ people’s lives is anathema to most folk who would prefer to have more direct control over their lives. Lastly, we think Corbyn’s leadership bid is a pointless diversion of energy that would be better expended on grassroots activism, campaigning in our communities and letting ordinary people have a real say in their lives.

Anti-austerity campaigning in it’s current form is a morale sapping waste of time and energy in the face of a government that’s determined not to be swayed from it’s course. To put it bluntly, a lot of anti-austerity campaigning comes over as asking the government to be a little less mean. Well, there’s fat chance of that happening as they continue to employ a psychopath like Iain Duncan Smith as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, despite a growing body of evidence that he’s clearly incompetent! Also, as we’ve written a fair few times before, if you think the current austerity programme is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet! In the aftermath of another financial crash, the powers that be have less in their arsenals to deal with the consequences and keep the system going – suffice to say it will be ordinary people who will be made to pay the price…

Fighting austerity will only work if there’s a determined effort to repeatedly chuck a spanner in the works and render the system unworkable. For obvious reasons, we don’t want to go into lengthy discussions regarding the strategies and tactics that would be required to achieve this and force a situation where a major social and political upheaval becomes a distinct possibility. We’ll leave that to those who have the strategic thinking, tactical nous and experience to bring this about. For the record, out here in southern Essex, our interest is in building community solidarity and resilience.

It’s all very well chucking a spanner in the works but when things get a bit hairy and chaotic as they could well do, real meaningful change is only going to come about if there’s a solid bedrock of support in our communities to back this up. The way we see things is that one vital component of radical change is laying the foundations of a new, more just, sane and sustainable world in the decaying shell of the one we’re still obliged to endure. This is why we repeatedly bang on about building community solidarity and resilience, not just to help us pull through the shite that’s coming our way but to start to lay the foundations for a better world.

Slogging away at a neighbourhood level is not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination and you have to put in a lot of work before you see any results. If we’re not prepared to put in the slog, then not only can we forget about any chance of meaningful change, we can also kiss goodbye to any chance of a decent future for ourselves. This is simply because the way things are going, within the next five to ten years, the stark choice will be between a resilient community where people care for and look out for each other or a neighbourhood of atomised, fearful individuals, split by cynical divide and rule tactics and relying on the local strongman for their ‘safety’.

It can be done but it’s hard work and as yet, there are no perfect examples of building community solidarity and resilience that can act as a reliable template. However, there are a fair few examples where residents are getting together to make a difference to their neighbourhoods that are worth looking at and drawing lessons from. In no particular order, here are a few examples drawn from across our patch of southern Essex…

From Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA), we have a situation where persistent work on an estate in Laindon is starting to pay off – We’re starting to get some results…https://bashousingaction.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/were-starting-to-get-some-results/ This has not been easy but BASHA have reached the stage where a growing number of residents are starting to take an active interest in improving their estate and a welcome sense of community spirit is starting to emerge. Further over in Vange, BASHA are starting to get a small foothold on one of the more troubled estates in the area – Vange 3/4 estate clean up – progress being madehttps://bashousingaction.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/vange-34-estate-clean-up-progress-being-made/ although they will be the first to admit that this one is a tough ask. Both of these are in the face of austerity cuts impacting on the estates plus an all too often less than helpful attitude from Basildon Council officers.

Down in Stanford-le-Hope, a neglected public park is being turned around by the Friends of Hardie Park – https://www.facebook.com/lovehardiepark – who are working tirelessly to make it an asset for the whole community. It could be argued that the Friends of Hardie Park are taking on what should be the responsibility of Thurrock Council. Well they are because the choice was either to step up to the plate and make a difference or watch the park decline further until it became a no-go area. As we stated at the start of this piece, austerity is here to stay so there’s no choice but to start taking on roles the council used to undertake and in the process, start to take over and bring some power down to the grassroots. Also, if you read through their Facebook page, it’s clear that in terms of provision for the community, Friends of Hardie Park have already gone way beyond what Thurrock Council would have done.

Staying in Stanford-le-Hope, there’s another example of residents getting together to make a difference – Stanford Blooming Marvels – a success storyhttp://tmblr.co/zmqaqk1sqfevy. Here’s their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/388722144628144/ Okay, we know, it’s an amenity project and you may well ask, what has creating and looking after flower beds, planters and hanging baskets to do with bringing about radical change? Well, as well as brightening up the town and boosting people’s morale, it’s also about building networks, building community spirit and generally bringing people together to work towards a common aim. Couple that with a de-centralised, non-hierarchical way of operating and you can see why Stanford Community Action (SCA) are more than happy to offer then their enthusiastic support.

What’s interesting about these two projects in Stanford-le-Hope is that they are not political in the conventional sense of the word yet they are both bringing about a transformation. Sure, some of the purists we know in the radical movement will be throwing their hands up in horror at the thought of SCA and the Heckler endorsing community led initiatives that are non-political but also draw support from individuals across the political spectrum in the area. It’s called thinking outside of the box and a willingness to look at a variety of ways people can be drawn into community activism that has the potential to lead to something more profound. Also bear in mind our emphasis on building community solidarity and resilience – this is why we’re interested in projects that get people working together on a co-operative basis.

There’s plenty more we will be writing about grassroots activism and building community resilience – this is just the start. The examples cited above are by no means a comprehensive list of projects – these are just the ones we’re aware of. If you’re involved in a community project anywhere in southern Essex that gets people working together in a way that builds solidarity, feel free to get in touch and let us know what you’re doing…

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