This is an expanded version of a post that was first published on our sister blog, Alternative Estuary.
We’re in the middle of a weird, disruptive and potentially dystopian scenario. One which we have no real idea as to when it will end. Events are unfolding at a pace that makes many people feel helpless and disempowered. Do things have to carry on like this or can we start to make some positive changes in the here and now?
One striking feature of 2020 has been the ramping up of existing mutual aid and solidarity projects and the emergence of many new ones: Don’t despair, organise!: an introduction to Cooperation Kentish Town – Shiri Shalmy (on behalf of Cooperation Kentish Town) | Freedom | January 3, 2020 and: Mutual Aid Groups: Five reflections for ‘Activists’ going local for the first time – Freedom | April 14, 2020. In a year where a growing number of people felt they could no longer trust the government or their local authority to look after them and deal with their problems, people were getting together at the grassroots to find their own solutions. As we move into 2021, hopefully this trend will accelerate and strengthen.
2020 showed that the systems that keep 21st century civilisation’ going were not as robust or reliable as many people have been led to believe. At the start of the COVID-19 crisis back in March, when people put a few extra items in their shopping trolleys in case they had to self isolate, it knocked a finely calibrated ‘just in time’ food supply chain out of kilter: Empty supermarkets: The food supply-chain from a workers’ perspective – Angry Workers of the World | March 25, 2020. When the French (among other countries) effectively stopped traffic going from the UK for a few days before and over the festive period in response to a new strain of COVID-19 emerging here, there were fears that supplies of fresh produce would start to run out. As it happens, the situation has been resolved and at the time of writing, there appear to be no shortages. However, the fear in some quarters that their winter supply of lettuce wouldn’t get through was palpable…
These events have focused people’s attention on not just the fragility of our food supply chain but also, how unsustainable it is: Now more than ever, we need to grow our own food. That in turn is fostering a growing and welcome interest in localised food production. The emergence of the Crops NOT Shops project is one example of how this interest is being put into action. We actively support this project and will do what we can to facilitate this and also to encourage other projects with the same aims of localising food production and empowering neighbourhoods and communities.
As we’ve mentioned before and make no apology for doing so again, the more control we can gain over our food production from community vegetable/fruit gardens through to using our own back gardens, the less dependent we are on an increasingly dysfunctional system: Food deserts, food supply and taking back control. It’s not just the amount of food we can grow that will help this – it’s also the empowerment that comes from working collectively at the grassroots to achieve this. It’s one way of building the new world we want in the shell of the increasingly dystopian one we currently have to endure.
We know this is going to be far from plain sailing. A grassroots project can only succeed if there’s enough cohesion at the level of the neighbourhood. Given the way things have gone over the last few years with the divisions over Brexit being stoked up by partisan players on both sides and the response to the COVID-19 crisis leading to toxic divisions, we’re not in a good place. Brexit is done so hopefully the partisans on both sides can agree to move forwards in a positive direction. Sadly, the divisions over how to deal with COVID-19 – or whether there’s even a crisis – show no sign of going away.
All we ask is that people take a step back and think about how those who presume to rule over us benefit from these divisions as we’re too busy scrapping with each other to deal with the threat they pose to our well being. 2020 has certainly been a great year for the divide and rule merchants – not so for the rest of us. Difficult though it will be, grassroots projects are going to have to do what they can to deal with these divisions, a good few of which appear to be getting intentionally stoked up.
This is particularly the case with the COVID-19 crisis that has pitted pro and anti-maskers and pro and anti-vaxxers against each other. The pro/anti-masking issue will impact on the practical functioning of a grassroots projects. There’s no easy answer to dealing with this other than hoping that the aims of the project over-ride these divisions and that a way of working together can be devised that respects everyone’s wishes and perspectives.
These are initial thoughts on the challenges we face as community activists in 2021. We hope to be adding more and also, reporting on positive developments as the year progresses. Remember that when the system starts to fail, all we have is each other – don’t let the divide and rule merchants win!