This is a slightly edited version of a post that was originally published on our sister blog, the South Essex Heckler.
Dave (the editor)
Being an anarchist activist out in the badlands of the Thames estuary can be a frustrating affair. Being an anarchist activist anywhere in the current political climate can take it’s toll if we’re being honest with ourselves. There’s only so much taking part in actions and protests, writing blog posts, producing and distributing papers, intervening and supporting local campaigns before you start asking if you’re making any impact. Pretty much every anarchist we know asks these questions. After these periods of critical self reflection, most of us do carry on although sadly, some comrades do give up and fall by the wayside…
One of the things we find therapeutic is supporting local grassroots projects that have a practical aim and make a physical and social difference in the here and now. These are projects that have an element of attempting to build a new world in the shell of the screwed up one we endure at the moment. It’s this kind of activism that we actively promote here on Alternative Estuary.
We volunteer as gardeners at our local park in the east of Thurrock. Ten years ago it was a neglected, litter strewn magnet for anti-social behaviour that most people hurried through as swiftly as they could. As a result of a few residents starting off litter picking and building up from there, we now have a community run park that’s making a real difference to the town it’s in. There’s now a building hosting a cafe and meeting rooms, acting as a hub for a range of local groups. There’s a garden which was carved out of an overgrown, litter choked hedge. There are regular activities for the community that help to build the cohesion we need in increasingly uncertain times.
It’s not just the physical difference we’ve made at the park that’s important. It’s the social side with the volunteer groups and other activities that bring people together, creating a genuine sense of community. It’s also the sense of ownership that all of the volunteers have, whether they’re in the cafe, picking the litter or working out on the gardens to name just a few aspects of what goes on. At the end of the shift we did today, we stopped at the gates of the park today to take a look back, reflect on how much it’s been transformed and we thought – we, the people of this town did this. We’ve made a real, positive difference in the here and now.
Making a physical difference doesn’t have to involve the degree of co-operation and organisation that’s involved in running a park. On one of the more neglected estates we’ve worked on in Basildon, residents have taken it upon themselves to start clearing and cleaning paths and undertake some guerilla gardening to create small pocket gardens. Sure, it’s only on a few parts of the estate but the idea is that other residents will see what’s going on and start something similar in their area. The point is that people fed up with years of neglect are undertaking practical action to make life better in their neighbourhood. That in and of itself goes some way to boosting community morale and eventually, empowers people to become more ambitious in their desire for change.
When it comes to the contentious issue of climate change, the need to reduce pollution and the issues associated with living on a finite planet, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with despair. Obviously, there has to be a radical system change that sees the end of capitalism if we and the ecosystems that support us are going to have a future. As we all know, the goal of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with something more equitable, sane and sustainable is a massive ask!
While knowing this has to be our ultimate goal, there’s more than enough scope to work on projects that will start to make a difference now. We need to increase carbon absorption, biodiversity and soil fertility to help the ecosystem that supports us. There’s a very simple way of achieving this – plant more trees. Okay, planting more trees isn’t the revolution but if enough are planted to start making a difference, it buys us valuable time. Here’s a newly formed charity that’s doing just that: Cynefin Hedge Fund.
Yes, we want and need total system change. The point we’re trying to make is that there are a number of ways to get there. None of them in our view are mutually exclusive. As far as we’re concerned, it’s possible to be out on a militant action one day, then volunteering in your local park the next day – just be careful what you tell your fellow volunteers about the activities of the previous day! It may just be us but we find that practical activity on a grassroots community project that produces tangible physical and social results is often the morale booster we need.