Sunday, January 04, 2009

Community chest - New Satesman

by Liana Wood (Published 11 December 2008)Observations on local organisers

More than 1,300 people crowded into York Hall in November for the 12th Annual Assembly of the East London Communities Organisation (Telco). Among the groups represented at the venue, an old Victorian baths in Bethnal Green in the East End of London, now transformed into a modern leisure centre, were churches, mosques, trade unions, charities and schools.
This kind of community organising, not limited to labour groups or religious affiliation, appears to be gathering momentum. London Citizens, a grass-roots charity that acts as the umbrella group to Telco, South London Citizens and West London Citizens, has 120 affiliated organisations. A similar group in north London and others in cities across the UK are being planned and tried out by the Citizen Organising Foundation - the national training institute.
"Politics does not just exist in Westminster," says Neil Jameson, lead organiser of London Citizens. "What we are doing helps counter the feeling that politics is far removed from people's lives."
The media may give it very little recognition, he says, but London Citizens' Living Wage campaign has achieved unprecedented success. The London Olympic organising committee has pledged to pay a living wage (at present £7.45 an hour in the capital) to those working on the 2012 games, and Barclays has set a private-sector precedent with a similar agreement.
Further afield, the next occupant of the White House is the world's best-known community organiser. Barack Obama, director of the Developing Communities Project on Chicago's South Side in the 1980s, has brought recognition to the occupation. And during the US election campaign, as Republicans such as Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani mocked community organisers, it seemed only to raise their profile.
Dave Smith, 23, who works on Telco's campaign for affordable housing, says: "Reading about Obama first interested me in the concept of community organising. The theory behind it made a lot of sense. People lead such multilayered lives these days, so grass-roots politics has to organise around all aspects of citizenry."
"It's great to have one of us in the White House," Jameson acknowledges, "but we have to raise all the money for what we do ourselves. This kind of politics is tough, but is also alive and real."
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