The next issue of the Alternative Estuary paper has just been sent to the printer and will be back with us and getting distributed in various locations across the south of Essex within the next couple of weeks. As we can’t afford a large print run, we’re making the paper available as a downloadable PDF from here. The text of the paper is reproduced below.
We live in troubled times but you don’t need us to tell you that! It’s all too easy to sink into gloomy despair when reading the headlines, conclude nothing meaningful can be done and just try to get by as best you can. Yet, when you start to take a look around where you live, it becomes clear there are a lot of people who don’t accept that things have to be the way they are, and are doing their level best to bring about change at the grassroots.
From resident run parks, community food growing schemes through to community run kitchens and food banks, people are working together to make life in their neighbourhoods better. They’re not waiting for our so called ‘leaders’ to start coming up with solutions to the problems they face – they’re collectively doing it themselves. By doing this, they’re starting to bring power down to the grassroots where it belongs. They’re also starting to build the new world we want in the decaying shell of the dysfunctional one we currently live in.
What Alternative Estuary/Grassroots Alternatives is about is supporting and promoting neighbourhood level projects that aim to make a difference. Projects that empower people to collectively become more ambitious and hungry for real, fundamental change. The more people get stuck into community projects, the greater the chance of achieving that change. We hope this issue of our paper will inspire you to start making that change:)
Finding each other and getting stuff done
What can be done at the grassroots to bring about real change? There’s no set manual on how to bring about change at this level…
What has to get done will very much depend on the specific circumstances of the area you’re operating in. It could be setting up a food kitchen to meet immediate and urgent needs. A community run food growing project may well also be needed. It may be the case you’re in an area with a large number of rogue landlords and action has to be taken to deal with them. This list could go on and on but we’re sure you get the point that the people best placed to decide what action needs to be taken are those directly impacted by what’s going on.
We’ve been around the block when it comes to activism and have a fair bit of experience of different ways of working at a community and neighbourhood level. Where there’s been a fairly flat level of organisation with little or no hierarchy, the experience has generally been good. When it’s been in a set up with a discernable hierarchy and a leader or leaders with a bit of a Messiah complex, the experience was pretty grim.
This is where the concept of an affinity group comes into play. This isn’t some fluffy way of getting people together. It’s a tried and tested way of actually getting stuff done, as explained in the box below:
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The idea of affinity groups comes out of the anarchist and workers movement that was created in the late 19th century and fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Anarchist movement provides an exhilarating example of a movement, and the actual possibility of a society based on decentralised organisation, direct democracy and the principles behind them.
★Affinity groups: an introduction. 2003 but still good: https://libcom.org/article/affinity-groups-introduction
“Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organising, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to “be” the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups by nature are decentralised and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organising and action.”
★Affinity Groups from Re-Education. 5:52mins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNOJ5RP3EJY
This was first posted on the D.I.Y. Culture Facebook page
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Obviously some kind of mutually agreed structure and consensus decision making process needs to be in place because at the end of the day, affinity groups are about getting stuff done, not just feeling good in each others company. It’s in this spirit that we present this comprehensive range of pamphlets and readings from Seeds for Change that covers many aspects of affinity groups and consensus decision making:
Anarchic Agreements – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/anarchic_agreements
A Short Guide to Active Listening – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/activelistening
A Short Guide to Making Changes in your Group – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/makingchanges
Checklist for Encouraging People (to Be (and Stay) Involved in Your Group) – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/checklist.pdf
Consensus Decision Making – Short guide – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/shortconsensus
Consensus Decision Making – Long guide – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/consensus
Effective groups – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/effectivegroups
Working with Conflict in our Groups: a guide for grassroots activists – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/conflictbooklet.pdf
As ‘compensation’ for being in the slogging away all hours / paying over the odds on rent or mortgaged up to the hilt trap, the bastards spend a lot of energy bribing us with distractions and amusements to keep us in their loop. As the above image makes it abundantly clear, while you may be on the treadmill, the bastards do their level best to make it feel not just normal but ‘desirable’. The all embracing metaverse we’ve been ‘promised’ is the next step in keeping people plugged in and compliant. That’s if we let them…
We’ve seen more than enough evidence to suggest a growing number of people realise being stuck on this atomising, dehumanising treadmill is not the way to live and that they want a more spiritually fulfilling life built round a solid connection with nature. The hard part is pulling away from the dystopia we’re in and starting to build the new world we want on our terms.
There are a very few people who have to means to move away from the crap that traps us and live off grid. The rest of us have to find a way of exiting dystopia one step at a time to get to where we want to be. A process that’s best done collectively as part of a group rather than individually. A collective opt out is part of the process of building a new world. Take a look at this page on our blog – Links – and you’ll see plenty of resources that can help you start out on this journey.
It starts with exiting the cycle of constant upgrades and instead, making stuff last longer with an emphasis on repairing rather than replacing. Questioning whether you actually need all of the stuff that surrounds you is is next step. That involves reassessing priorities. A small example – rather that sitting isolated at home glued to a screen, get together with friends and neighbours for face to face interaction and analogue amusements:)
It goes onto deciding that not every household has to have expensive pieces of kit – purchase one between a manageable number of households where there’s a good level of trust between you and share it. Even at a purely materialistic level, think of the money you’re saving!
There’s getting out and being active in your local community. From neighbourhood food kitchens and food banks through to resident run parks, these are all ways of forming social bonds and building community solidarity. Also, they’re a way of starting to bring power back down to the grassroots where we, the residents, can have more say in how our communities are run and how they develop and grow.
We’ve written a lot about food security and growing your own food. Taking control of at least some of your food supply by growing and processing it yourself is another way of breaking out from the system. Again, it’s best done collectively as it will build social solidarity.
We’re just throwing out ideas here. We’re sure you have plenty more of your own. The point is realising that there are considerably better ways of living than the dystopian, digital prison we’re in now. Once that realisation has happened, then it’s time to experiment with creative ways of freeing yourself from the system with the eventual aim of bringing it down.
Something to think about and inspire you…
“The machine-like behavior of people chained to electronics constitutes a degradation of their well-being and of their dignity which, for most people in the long run, becomes intolerable. Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.”
Ivan Illich, born 4th September 1926.
llich was a priest who thought there were too many priests, a lifelong educator who argued for the end of schools, that hospitals cause more sickness than health, that people would save time if transportation were limited to bicycles & that historians who rely on previously published material perpetuate falsehoods. He put forward an intellectual treatise for questioning all systems of authority – from religion, to education – ‘School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is’ – to the bureaucratic mechanisms of the state.
What we’re about
It’s easy to know what you’re against in a dysfunctional, unsustainable and increasingly dystopian world. Railing against the world we have to endure may make you feel better but…does it lead to positive change? We know that the political, economic and social system we inhabit is rapidly heading towards its use by date and that we have to bring about radical change if we’re going to survive. There are many ways of bringing about the change that’s needed. What this paper is about is what can be done in the here and now to boost sustainability, community cohesion and neighbourhood resilience in an increasingly volatile world. It’s about building the new world we need and want in the decaying shell of the old one we currently endure.