These are the notes that formed the basis of a talk I gave to the ACG public meeting on Sunday 19 January. The meeting was introduced by Nick Heath from the ACG and there was also a speaker from Angry Workers Of The World.
I’d like to thank the ACG for inviting me to talk about where we go as a movement in the aftermath of the election. What follows is based on our experience of operating as community activists and also as anarchist propagandists in the south of Essex, with particular reference to our core areas of Thurrock and Basildon.
WHAT DID THE ELECTION REALLY TELL US
- One thing we took away from the election was that more people didn’t vote than voted for the ‘winning’ Tory party.
- Almost a third of the electorate were so disillusioned by the election they chose to not exercise their right to vote.
- In the Thurrock constituency, over 40% of the electorate abstained from voting.
- This is despite a concerted effort from Labour activists to try and get the vote out for their candidate
- John Kent – who to be honest, has about as much charisma as a damp towel.
- Tactics that included flooding the constituency with activists parachuted in from outside which, as expected by us, did not go down well with voters in Thurrock!
- Where we live in the neighbouring constituency, South Basildon & East Thurrock, apart from a huge poster for the independent candidate, Kerry Smith, outside of his mates business premises opposite Stanford-le-Hope railway station, it was a case of ‘election…what election?’
- A few leaflets, a couple of hustings but round our way, no door to door canvassing at all.
- Outside both the Westminster bubble and the political activist bubble that we inhabit, the reality was a weariness with a democratic process that a growing number of people see as becoming more irrelevant to their lives.
- That was reflected in almost one in three voters not bothering to vote.
- A phenomena that the majority of the mainstream media, who are heavily invested in the Westminster bubble, chose to ignore in the aftermath of the election.
- Certainly a phenomena that any MP who was elected, whether they’re government or opposition, also chose to ignore.
- This is simply because openly acknowledging it means admitting that the government and the political system that supports it actually doesn’t have any meaningful legitimacy.
- In an indirect way, it is being acknowledged…
- You only have to listen to the volume of the triumphalism coming from the right wing media and the supporters of Johnson’s government – and the Brexit project – to realise this…
- A regime – and a Bexit project – assured of it’s legitimacy wouldn’t be making the racket the Tories, their cronies and their supporters in the country at large are making.
- Underneath the noise, there’s a brittleness there…
- The question is, what can be done to make them crack?
LEGITIMATE CONCERNS ON THE GROUND
- As we’ve written and discussed many times before, we have to start where people are.
- Operating across Thurrock and Basildon, not just as an anarchist but in my previous guise as the IWCA, one thing that comes over from talking to people on the streets and on the estates is the fear of being subjected to rapid change which they have no control over.
- Thurrock and Basildon have changed a lot over the last two to three decades.
- In Thurrock and Basildon, the process of de-industrialisation has changed the employment landscape dramatically, resulting in a much more in the way of precarious employment.
- This has taken place at the same time as demographic changes resulting from outward migration from London – a mix of voluntary and the consequences of social cleansing – plus inward migration, not just from mainland Europe but also from Africa.
- Then there are fears about the impact of the tens of thousands of new homes slated for our region – fears about healthcare provision, school places, road and public transport infrastructure not being able to cope with the extra population as well as the environmental impact.
- Then there are fears about the impact of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing on an area that already suffers from high levels of air pollution and has suffered from decades of environmental degradation.
- All topped off by another round of large scale sand and gravel extraction!
WHO CAN PEOPLE TURN TO?
- All of this gets mentioned when we’re out on the streets and estates.
- Understandably, it’s human nature to want to have some degree of control over your destiny and that of the community you live in.
- People feel they’re being buffeted around by impersonal forces beyond their control.
- The consequence of this to date has been either disengagement from the political process or what some commentators have seen as a protest vote to leave the EU and subsequently, backing the political party that says it can ‘deliver’ Brexit.
- Which is why we are where we are…
- At various points when the far right have got their act together, they’ve been out and about exploiting people’s fears about having no control over rapid change for their own nefarious ends.
- Obviously, as propagandists it’s our job to counter this with the meagre resources we have.
- That’s done through the Heckler blog and paper.
- What we try our level best to do is explain what the causes of the rapid change are, link that in to this being the consequence of the crisis ridden capitalist system we endure.
- The problem is that across Thurrock and Basildon, there are just four of us doing this so, given the history of the far right in our area, we have to operate with a degree of consideration for our security which does constrain what we’d like to do.
BUILDING AN ALTERNATIVE
- All of this only explains what’s wrong with the system.
- What has to be done is offer some degree of hope that change can come about and that eventually, power will come down to the grassroots.
- Which is why we have our Alternative Estuary project which promotes grassroots initiatives across our region that make a difference in the here and now and also empower the people who are involved in them.
- These projects range from school uniform banks and mobile soup kitchens for the homeless through to repair cafes, community gardens and a resident run local park.
- Not all of them meet anarchist purity tests but they all have elements of grassroots control, mutual aid and solidarity and empowerment that we like.
- Since the election, we’ve noted some interesting discussions in anarchist circles about the need for building grassroots networks and initiatives along with a few examples of projects that are actually getting stuff done.
- Which paradoxically enough, even though the situation we face is pretty grim, leaves us with some degree of optimism.
- However, on a more serious note, grassroots community activism offers a form of resistance that, as yet, isn’t going to see the same kind of repression from the state that street protests and workplace action will be seeing.
- With the cops attempting to break up a UVW picket at St. George’s last week alongside an arrest, the signs are already there that the gloves are coming off in how the authorities deal with the challenge of militant cutting edge unions.
- The inclusion and then, the fudged withdrawal of XR on the list of domestic ‘extremists’ that Prevent need to be focusing on is testing the water for how far the government can get away with further crackdowns on dissent.
Which is why we see the kind of grassroots projects Alternative Estuary supports as offering not just a pre-figurative future but also, the kind of resistance that can stay under the radar longer than street protests will. Alongside of this, the Heckler project will continue to offer an accessible critique of how the system is failing us on multiple fronts, not just at a national level but also locally. We face the one of the biggest challenges a lot of us have ever faced with everything to gain if we get it right but everything to lose if we don’t…