We’re going to be taking our foot off the gas for the next few weeks with the blog posting on here, The Thurrock and Basildon Heckler and Alternative Estuary. This is to give us a bit of time to work out where the different components of our project are going and to make any adjustments we think are necessary. No dramas – this kind of review is something we’ve done a few times each year ever since we got this project off the ground back in 2014. It’s the combination of it being the fag end of summer and the bank holiday weekend coming up contributing to the drop in traffic we normally get at this time of year that makes it a good point to take a step back and look at where we’re going. The best place to start this is to look at the blogs and ‘zines that make up this project…
The now archived South Essex Heckler was trying to be all things to all people with posts ranging from hyper-local coverage of the machinations of the local authorities across the south of Essex through to some pretty deep pieces on the coronavirus crisis and the series of lockdowns and tiered restrictions we were going through. Doing this didn’t work as the blog and paper had lost focus and it wasn’t clear who it was aimed at.
So, it was archived and one of the replacement blogs was the The Thurrock and Basildon Heckler – the other was what is now known as The Stirrer. While there was an initial struggle to gain an audience for the The Thurrock and Basildon Heckler, with a clear focus on local issues, the numbers have slowly but steadily started to pick up. There’s a bit of an imbalance in where the audience comes from with a bias towards Basildon – we’re doing our level best to address that.
We’ve made a tentative return with the paper, albeit it’s a hybrid release of a printed paper with a modest print run, a downloadable PDF and a blog post with the text and images used on the paper.
Overall, this part of the project can be seen as a reasonable success. Having said that, there’s no room for complacency and the last thing we want to do is end up running the blog and turning out the occasional paper for the sake of it…
This is the mission statement we have for this part of the project:
It’s easy to know what you’re against in a dysfunctional, unsustainable and increasingly dystopian world. Railing against the world we have to endure may make you feel better but…does it lead to positive change? We know that the political, economic and social system we inhabit is rapidly heading towards its use by date and that we have to bring about radical change if we’re going to survive. There are many ways of bringing about the change that’s needed. What this blog is about is what can be done in the here and now to boost sustainability, community cohesion and neighbourhood resilience in an increasingly volatile world. It’s about building the new world we need and want in the decaying shell of the old one we currently endure.
One of the ways we want to achieve this is to build a network of grassroots action groups and projects operating out along the Thames estuary on the Essex side. That’s a lofty ambition. To be brutally honest, we’re nowhere near achieving this.
What we also haven’t achieved is a decent audience for the Alternative Estuary blog. While the printed papers and now the ‘zines have always been well received when we’ve handed them out at various vegan and community fairs, that has never translated into a consistently high number of blog views. Actually, the blog stats are pretty abysmal:( We definitely have not had any contributions from any grassroots activists across the region we cover for either the blog or the ‘zine.
We’re running an information stall at the Southend Vegan Fair on Sunday 5th September. We’ll be using this as an opportunity to re-launch the Alternative Estuary project. At the very least, we’ll be asking anyone we’re having a serious conversation with whether they think there’s actually a need for a project like Alternative Estuary. If they genuinely think there is and they have the time and energy, we’ll be inviting them to take an active part in getting this project properly moving forwards.
Whatever, the outcome of this exercise is, we’ll keep the blog ticking over in the background in the hope that with enough effort and some luck in the form of a lucky break, it will finally take off…
The Stirrer – (see the masthead on this blog!)
This is how this part of the project is explained in the About section:
What gets posted up on here are mainly my attempts to understand the weird, dystopian situation we’re in as a result of the coronavirus crisis, subsequent lockdowns and tiered restrictions and coming in on top of that, the great reset / fourth industrial revolution. There are also, more reflective pieces on issues such as planning, community activism, etc. For the record, having had my fingers very badly burnt in the past, I’m staying well away from saying anything about identity politics – life’s too short for the rows that could well erupt.
In the time this blog and the associated papers – online and printed – have existed, it has assumed a few identities before The Stirrer was fixed upon as the way we want to identify this part of the project. Previous identities have been Estuary Stirrings and The Estuary Stirrer. There was a period of experimenting with an online ‘paper’. It was only when we took a step back that we realised the absurdity of the concept of an online ‘paper’ that’s essentially a way of re-packing existing content in a more graphically appealing format available as a downloadable PDF. So, it was dropped with the online papers being moved from the blog.
As for the printed papers, there were three editions that served a very specific purpose. Namely, giving me a reason to be on three anti-lockdown/anti-new normal/anti-great reset protests. These took the form of two badly stewarded marches and one utter shitshow of a rally. Handing out the papers was a way of engaging with people on these protests to enable me to get a more accurate picture of who was turning up on them and why. The conclusions of this post are written up on this post: Dealing with the new (ab)normal – a situation report. Let’s just say that the reaction of a number of comrades to this wasn’t exactly supportive or understanding!
It was an interesting exercise and while the the dodgy elements sniffing around theese protests has made me want to distance myself from them, my anti-lockdown/anti-new normal/anti-great reset views remain. While there will still be posts about these issues, an effort will be made to broaden out the content. As part of the process of moving on, this blog was re-branded as The Stirrer and the links to the PDFs of the papers handed out on the protests have been removed. The papers were produced to serve a very specific purpose and keeping them online for posterity will cause problems that I don’t particularly want to deal with.
Right, that’s what we’ve done, are doing and want to do with the blogs and the papers/’zines. We are experimenting with other ways of getting the message across. Stickers are one way of doing this but we’re never sure of how much impact they have. Presumably the ones that get ripped off mean that someone was riled enough to do that! Postering on hyper-local issues on the other hand has had an impact and generally gets a positive reception: Keeping up the pressure.
While producing and distributing propaganda in various forms is one of our strengths (apart from the Alternative Estuary blog) we want to get back to more in the way of direct, on the ground community engagement. From an involvement with Billericay Community Garden, volunteering as gardeners at Hardie Park through to helping the Vange Hill Community Group and Crops Not Shops, getting our hands dirty and working alongside community activists was a key part of what we were about. Eighteen months of lockdowns and tiered restrictions has placed limitations on what we can do at this level. Having said that, there’s the community work being done by Basildon and Southend Housing Action on an estate in Laindon that’s still ongoing plus some involvement with The Gloucester Park Community Group. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back to previous levels of grassroots involvement…
With regard to the ever present issues of the new (ab)normal and the great re-set, at this point, it’s difficult to predict how things will pan out from this point. There’s a semblance of a brief pause in the shift towards this, which is why we’re using this opportunity to take our foot off the gas for a few weeks to review where we are and try to work out a way forwards. This will be a brief opportunity as come the autumn, we’re expecting a bit of a shitstorm when it comes to vaccine passports and the slide towards various other ways of digitally monitoring, tracking and controlling us.
Then there’s the situation in Afghanistan. A situation that ranges from a refugee crisis that will demand an immediate response all the way through to some very complex geopolitical shifts which will have an impact on all of us. A shift that basically means that the West is now in permanent decline. Obviously, people will have a range of views on this. It is however, an historical shift with profound and lasting consequences…
There’s a lot to think about. While we’re doing that, it helps if we take our foot off the gas for a bit to give us the space to do that thinking. Also, politically and personally, the last eighteen months have been challenging. Taking a step or two back for a few weeks is a way of allowing all of us to recover and prepare ourselves for what’s to come…