DIY COMMUNITY ACTION
In almost any community
a whole range of positive, practical things can be organised and
encouraged which bring people together, build up community spirit
and improve our local neighbourhoods. Also - see the article the
article below about the why to organise residents groups (click
Here are some examples
of things you could do that are already going on in local areas
around the country:
encourage lots of informal discussion and communication on the
street and in each others' homes
* do local door-to-door
leaflets and newsletters
* hold public meetings
on topical issues
* organise street parties
and other events
* set up skills and
resources sharing schemes
* campaign for youth
facilities and activities
* demand traffic calming
* set up housing solidarity
and action groups
* resist obnoxious
* defend useful facilities
threatened with closure
* promote recycling
* develop informal
gathering places (in or around local shops, parks etc)
* organise picnics
and other activities in local parks
* set up parents' groups
in schools and play centres
* do residents' opinion
* organise local art
and creativity exhibitions
* plan community murals
* set up local clubs/interest
groups (gardening, music, sports etc)
The possibilities are
The trick is to get
organised and active! By encouraging neighbours to get involved,
being as friendly as possible with everyone, and avoiding getting
bogged down with bureaucracy or politicians of any stripe, it
is amazing what people can achieve.
Why not get together
with a couple of neighbours you know and start meeting regularly
in each other's homes or in a friendly local neighbourhood centre?
Give yourselves a name. Discuss what people feel are the important
issues, and things you can start to do together - post reports
of these discussions to all interested neighbours. Encourage initiative.
Gradually build up a list of more and more contacts. Organise
public meetings and events, local campaigns and so on. Leaflet
door-to-door. Most importantly, stick at it.
In this way we can
patiently build up a strong and vibrant grass-roots movement in
and lively communities, and control over our own lives and neighbourhoods
Can people getting
together to moan about dog-shit, broken street lights and fly-tipping
ever change the world? How does working with others in our communities
who don't share radical views help build an anti-capitalist movement?
What are 'radical' views anyway - are they based on people's lifestyles,
or on their conditions of life? Whatever happened to 'common sense'?
Why are most of the popular, grass roots struggles we read about
10,000 miles away in Chiapas and Argentina, or buried in UK history
books? One anarchist who's been involved in residents groups in
London for many years reckons working in our local communities
can be inspiring, and more importantly, is absolutely essential
if we ever want to make lasting change
The world is in a terrible
mess because we're not running our own lives, directly controlling
the resources and decision-making for the benefit of all. Currently
governments and big-business boss everyone around for their own
benefit. So what can people do to get back control? Obviously
we can't expect someone to jet in and liberate us, or wait for
some cataclysmic 'collapse' of the system in some way off future.
By patiently building up grass roots solidarity and mutual aid,
we can sow and grow the seeds of the new society within the shell
of the old. We have to act for ourselves, in the here and now.
Here - and now? We
need to focus on where there is a real need, and a real untapped
potential to fight back, where people can empower each other and
spread alternative ideas. This means here within our local communities,
and now - on a day to day basis in our everyday lives.
I'm involved in Haringey
Solidarity Group, an open anarchist/libertarian/socialist collective
that grew out of the huge and successful anti-poll tax campaign
13 years ago. We produce leaflets and newsletters, and support
a whole range of activities going on in the borough. In the last
few years I've put most of my efforts into being involved in street-level
activity in my local neighbourhood.
The front line of politics
is outside your door. And also in workplaces - but that's another
matter. If we base our political activity around where people
actually are, we can achieve a lot. That doesn't mean we can't
get involved in other things, but at the end of the day we have
to have a strategy to actually change the world, for people to
take over all the decision-making themselves. After all, everyone
is an expert about their own lives and their own street.
People have concerns,
which may be surprisingly similar to those of other people in
their neighbourhoods: they want more control over their lives,
to be part of a safe and friendly community, in a decent environment
with good local services and facilities, etc. The ruling system
only wants obedient consumers and workers, where all the decisions
are made from on high in their own selfish and greedy interests.
People are not encouraged to feel that they can band together
and make changes themselves. There's always someone else claiming
to 'represent' people or act for them; politicians, Council officers,
the media, professional NGO's that pay people to organise campaigns
even direct action groups can be seen to be
a specialist lifestyle choice that most people can't relate to
or take part in. All of which takes the power away from the people
who really count: the majority, in particular working class people
and other oppressed sections of the population.
The real challenge
is: how does this translate to action on a street level that can
be taken up by millions of people? For me, the answer is to try
and build up grassroots action groups and associations that are
open and relevant to everybody in the community. It may not always
be easy, but unfortunately no-one's yet found any successful short
cuts from here to the revolution.
The Proof of the Pudding
Residents groups have
often been seen as linked to the council, or as just complaining
bodies with limited concerns, or with only a couple of people
running the show. But they can also be solidarity organisations
in which people support each other and take up a range of local
issues important in improving the conditions and quality of life
in the neighbourhood. The potential is definitely there for all
kinds of street level residents' action groups, associations and
For about five years
I was involved in a residents network where we built up a membership
of 250 on an estate of about 1500 homes. We organised regular
meetings, usually in each other's homes every three weeks, covering
a huge range of issues. They were always minuted and all the members
got these minutes so you are building up a network of people that
are well informed and encouraged to take part in any way they
want to. We succeeded in getting a million pounds for traffic
calming, a youth club, and helped get environmental improvements
to a local park. We organised an annual 'Home Is Where The Art
Is' exhibition of residents' creativity, a local history day and
various public meetings. It really brought people together, especially
the 20 or so who were most involved.
In 2003 I moved to
another part of Tottenham and helped set up a residents association
which now has 80 members out of 230 homes. We meet every 3 weeks,
and leaflet every house in the area every six weeks encouraging
people to come along. There are about 8-10 regulars. We also have
an internal email list. We've got the Council to agree to plant
more trees in the streets, we monitor street lighting and rubbish
dumping, and are about to get traffic calming measures put in.
We campaigned to save the local pub from being demolished for
yet another block of flats, and mounted a strong campaign to try
to save the local sub-Post Office - including holding a 100-strong
march round our local streets. Both campaigns failed to win, but
were successful in helping to galvanise people into action. The
council recently tried to quadruple the rent of a popular café
in the local park, but as a result of protests and pressure they've
In May this year, we
and other nearby residents groups helped organise our second annual
community festival in the local park - it was bloody fantastic,
and attended by about three thousand people. About 20 to 30 of
us worked together on quite libertarian lines, organising it collectively
with people volunteering to take on different responsibilities.
I helped set up a 'speakers forum' tent, and there were stalls,
music, crafts, treasure hunts, sports and a carnival-ish procession.
It's not all positive.
Anti-social behaviour can also be a big problem in some neighbourhoods.
It needs to be addressed because if we can't come up with solutions
that we can do ourselves, people are going to say we need more
police, we need more CCTV, etc. It's good to support anyone harassed,
and to campaign for more youth facilities and so on - but sometimes
groups of people that are causing the problem may need to be challenged.
Digging in for the
If you're going to
start something new it's good to concentrate on positive stuff,
things that can build up community strength and empower people.
Then you can try and tackle the difficult stuff that takes a long
time to make progress on. If you just focus on that at first it
can demoralise people and that's when you might become just a
moaning group. There can be different ways of doing similar things,
some of it is empowering and some of it is frustrating, so patience
and persistence are real virtues. After all, it's your neighbourhood
- so get stuck in!
Every area is different
- differing size neighbourhoods (from a single block of flats
to a whole 'ward'), differing geography and populations, and differing
issues that are relevant. Build up a list of contacts/members.
Try to make every meeting open to everybody, with open agendas,
minutes circulated etc. That way your activities are accountable
to your community, and its more likely the group will be strongly
supported and become a real influence.
Don't moan - organise
The fundamental challenge
for any residents' group is to be active and well supported, but
to not get sucked into the way the authorities would like it to
be. They want you to have low expectations, limit your agenda,
leave it to 'professionals and experts', and think that politics
is about voting in elections and talking to Councillors. What
I like about people involved in residents groups is that if you
say to them, 'We should be independent, build up community spirit,
support each other and co-operate. We are all equals; we should
make all the decisions about our area together, with the decisions
based on our community's real needs', then nearly everybody agrees
- it's all common sense! In fact, such common-sense ideas are
actually a radical basis for alternative politics, for a real
counter-power and a new society if acknowledged and built on.
Yet if you were to ask the same people what their ideological
or political beliefs were, they would cover the whole range of
parties, beliefs and religions etc. Somewhere along the line we've
allowed our common sense to be suppressed, or hijacked.
Throughout this whole
process, the most important thing is local people coming together
as equals with a common interest in the local neighbourhood, meeting
in each others houses, getting to know each other, spreading a
positive atmosphere, because a lot of people are very demoralised
and think they can't change anything. But when they come together,
they start bringing out their own experiences, their own skills,
time and resources, their own views, and they start feeling that
there are ways of changing the world and supporting each other
based on different principles from profits and power. Working
together, face to face, and respecting each other generally works
because as neighbours you have common interest with people of
all ages, all backgrounds, and all colours in a crazy, unjust
and alienating world.
A movement of millions?
In Haringey alone there
are 120 residents associations, 20 'friends' groups of local park
users, as well as local action groups campaigning for traffic
calming measures or against various urban and commercial developments,
mobile phone masts etc. This involves a membership of thousands,
and annual distribution of tens of thousands of leaflets and newsletters.
Across the whole country this amounts to a self-organised and
independent movement of millions of people speaking and acting
for themselves and their communities. In this way people are able
to directly challenge, influence and potentially eventually make
all the decisions that affect them and their communities. Anarchists
should be fully involved. At the same time as building up people's
self-confidence, solidarity and mutual aid, we should be encouraging
people to demand not just a few crumbs off the table, or even
the whole cake, but the entire bakery.