Stop believing in authority, start believing in each other

Dave – the editor

This was a meme used on the now archived South Essex Heckler blog to illustrate a number of posts and also made available as a downloadable graphic and sticker artwork. What exactly does the slogan mean?

Regular readers of the Heckler will be aware of the many posts published highlighting the arrogance and incompetence of local councils and the high handed way they dismiss the concerns of, and also the wisdom of the residents they’re supposed to serve. Behaviour that pretty much applies to any local authority in the country riding roughshod over the concerns and aspirations of their residents.

Here are some examples of this…

In a number of London boroughs, councils have been developing ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ (LTNs). These LTNs are being introduced in the name of ‘traffic calming’. They involve the closure of residential roads, the narrowing of others, various access restrictions and more provision for cyclists. On the surface, this may seem all lovely and green. The reality is very different – it’s traffic calming for some residents and traffic intensification and more congestion for many others.

In Islington and Hackney to take just two examples, in the main, the beneficiaries have been the residents in the leafier, gentrified terraces who now have considerably less traffic going up and down their roads. The problem is that the volume of traffic has stayed the same so it gets concentrated into a smaller area. Unsurprisingly, it tends to be working class areas that are feeling the brunt of the resulting traffic congestion and increased pollution levels.

It’s the working class residents that have no choice but to drive because of shift working, early starts and late finishes who are suffering from increased traffic congestion and considerably longer journey times. For those working as carers, this means being late to the people in their care – often that will cause distress. For those working on piece rate van delivery jobs, it means delivery slots getting missed with the consequent hassle that generates. It also means emergency vehicles taking a lot longer to reach their destinations with lives increasingly being put at risk as a result.

The local councils concerned may have had consultations with the residents in the gentrified streets who would undoubtedly benefit from reduced traffic. They sure as heck didn’t have wider consultations across their boroughs with the working class residents who would be screwed over by these LTNs. Residents who with their experience of living and working in and across these boroughs would have told the councils concerned that their pie in the sky schemes were unworkable.

There is only so much residents can take of their experience and wisdom being ignored by arrogant local authorities before they say enough is enough and start to take action. This is happening in London with the Ludicrous Road Closures campaign.

On Saturday 19th September, there was a fair size, lively protest in Islington with residents from that borough plus neighbouring Hackney and Tower Hamlets out on the streets against the negative impact of LTNs on their communities. It was the common sense voice of the residents speaking out loudly and clearly against councils who have systematically dismissed their concerns. It was a protest of ordinary working class Londoners of all colours and beliefs united against local authorities who have consistently failed them. Londoners who are stopping believing in authority and are starting to believe in each other as they find their collective voice. This is probably one of the more inspiring developments we’ve seen in a good few years.

This rising up against an arrogant local authority is something that is also being seen in Basildon, particularly in relation to the controversial town centre masterplan. A masterplan which is a developer’s wet dream but does nothing for Basildon as a whole. Residents have seen through the arrogance of Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Lab), the leader of the council who is pushing hard for this masterplan to be implemented. They can clearly see this is nothing more than a green light for developers to do what the heck they want in the town centre with no regard to the consequences for the rest of Basildon. A growing number of residents have clearly lost faith in the ‘authority’ of Basildon Council and through the campaign against the masterplan, are starting to find their faith in each other.

Thurrock – if ever there was a local council that would make any right minded resident lose faith in their ‘authority’, this has to be the one! From the botched widening of the A13, the stalled re-development of the railway station at Stanford-le-Hope to arrogantly pushing through the unpopular extension of their civic offices in New Road, Grays, Thurrock Council have demonstrated they’re not fit for purpose! Here’s a bit more detail on why that’s the case: Thurrock Council and delayed infrastructure projects – there’s a pattern emerging and it ain’t good!

While there are specific, small scale campaigns against aspects of what Thurrock Council are doing to their residents, there’s no overall movement as such. Hopefully, the examples of what’s happening across the border in Basildon with the campaign against the town centre masterplan plus the actions across London against the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods will provide the inspiration needed to get things moving in Thurrock.

This is part of what’s meant by ‘stop believing in authority, start believing in each other’. At a local level, it’s clear that many working class residents have lost faith in the willingness and ability of local authorities to address their concerns. What is now happening is an accelerating trend of residents getting together to protest this and in the process, starting to find faith in each other.

On a different note when failure of parts of the system has caused problems, there are activists who recognise that the solution to our collective wellbeing ultimately lies in our own hands. At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when some people were concerned about having to go into a form of quarantine, there was increased demand for some food staples plus toilet rolls and hand sanitiser. When most supermarkets run their supply chain on a just in time basis, it only takes a small uptick in demand and there’s empty shelves and more panic.

It was this plus a fair few people having a lot more time on their hands during lockdown that led to an increase in the number of people starting to grow their own food. Not everyone has the time, expertise or the physical ability to start growing their own food from scratch. Crops NOT Shops – Dig For VICTORY!! emerged to specifically address these issues and help people get started on growing their own food. In the process of doing this, they’re educating people about the numerous flaws in our food supply systems, encouraging greater self reliance while moving away from dependence on a system that’s unsustainable.

Currently, a run of stickers with the wording ‘stop believing in authority, start believing in each other’ is slowly being distributed. The problem is that this could sound a little bit like an instruction. Once these are finished, a follow up sticker with a more positive message reflecting what’s starting to emerge will be produced.

This should be where this piece concludes, however, there is one more issue to deal with. Regular readers of the Heckler will point out that the slogan ‘stop believing in authority, start believing in each other’ was regularly used in posts criticising the lockdown and the ‘new normal’. That is exactly what the slogan was originally co-opted for and I make no apology for that and also stating that it still holds true. However, thinking back to the Heckler’s long standing slagging off of arrogant, self serving local authorities, I realised that the slogan was equally relevant to that. So yes, the its use has evolved as I’ve thought more deeply about what it represents as a rallying call for action.

As ever, constructive criticism and comradely debate are more than welcome.

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