As part of the events to mark the coronation of Charles III, Monday 8th May saw The Big Help Out which came with a strap line that said: ‘Lend a hand. Make a change.’ The point of the day was to encourage people to get out and about in their communities, volunteering on a range of projects. Something that we at Grassroots Alternatives should have been happy to support you may think? You would have been wrong on that. Let us explain why…

With our sister project being The Stirrer, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’re totally against the institution of the monarchy. Not only that, we reject the imposition of any form of hierarchy. So we wouldn’t be supporting an event that was designed to be a key part of marking the coronation. Having said that, fair play to anyone who was volunteering on Monday 8th May, have been long standing volunteers, and continue to volunteer in their community because they want to bring a bit of control over what happens in their neighbourhoods down to the grassroots.

On this blog, we have this page: The Directory. Basically, it lists a range of resources, grassroots projects and campaigns. Many of which would not exist if it wasn’t for people giving up their spare time. The listings range from community groups in deprived neighbourhoods doing what they can to plug the gaping holes left by a failing state through to community gardens where people are taking active steps to ensure their food security. In other words, they range from the reactive through to the prefigurative.

Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”.[1] Prefigurativism is the attempt to enact prefigurative politics.

Wikipedia –

Most people would rather not have to do the reactive stuff. However, when it feels like your neighbourhood has effectively been abandoned, residents are left with little choice but to roll up their sleeves and do what they can to plug the gaps. Even in dire circumstances such as this, there are pluses in that a sense of community solidarity is being built and people are being empowered as they learn the skills necessary to run a project meeting the needs of the neighbourhood. A bonus can be that they start to question the political, economic and social system that has left them in the shite.

That’s the serious reactive stuff. There are other reactive projects which are more about amenity than anything else. One example is community litter picking. We’re involved in a community litter picking project where we live in Keynsham. We have a patch which takes in the lane leading down to where we live and a network of footpaths leading off of that. On the basis that we regularly walk around the area and don’t like walking along litter strewn paths, once every couple of weeks we clear it up.

With the lane, we’re plugging the gap left by a council that has never sent a litter picking team down there. With the footpaths, there’s no clear indication as to who, if anyone, is responsible for keeping them clean so we’ve taken on that responsibility ourselves. We’d rather not have to be doing it but feel that we have little choice but to do it if we want to live in a litter free environment.

The community allotment in Keynsham Memorial Park

We much prefer the prefigurative projects that actively seek to start building the new world we want in the decaying shell of the one we currently have to endure. These are the kind of projects that sketch out the kind of world that’s possible if we collectively work together. That’s why we give our time to the Community Plot In The Park in Keynsham. It’s a community allotment that aims to show it’s possible to take some degree of control over our food supply by growing our own.

Then there are reactive projects that end up as prefigurative. The one that springs to mind is Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope in Thurrock where we used to live. Back in the 2000s, it was run down, a magnet for anti-social behaviour and a place residents went out of their way to avoid. A few years later, residents fed up with the continuing neglect of the park by Thurrock Council took matters into their own hands and organised a few litter picks. They had a positive response from the community and from that point things developed to the point where now, the park is run by the residents.

Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope

The transformation from a no go area to a park with a cafe, meeting rooms, lovingly tended flower beds and a vegetable garden is an example of what determined locals who care about their community can achieve. Hardie Park is now a destination and a much loved community asset thanks to the dedication of many local volunteers. As former volunteers, we saw at first hand how empowering it was for those who got stuck into the work of creating what the park is today. That’s why we would describe what it’s doing as prefigurative.

To conclude, by getting involved in grassroots projects, not only are immediate needs being met, people are also empowering themselves by learning new skills. By working on a grassroots project, people are forming bonds with each other and building the community solidarity we need in these increasingly troubled times. Empowerment and community solidarity have the potential to be a potent combination. A combination that as the system slowly crumbles and becomes more dysfunctional, will increasingly become vital, not just to get us through whatever crises are coming our way, but also to lay the foundations for the new world we want to see.

That’s what the Grassroots Alternatives project is about. It’s about empowering people to bring about fundamental change and build a better world in the process. When you start talking about bringing power back down to the level of the neighbourhood where we can all be accountable to each other and take it away from the elites, you’re making a fundamental challenge to the status quo. Challenging the status quo is a serious business. That is why Grassroots Alternatives is NOT a fluffy project in any way, shape or form!