Alternative Estuary No.07

Here it is, issue No.07 of the Alternative Estuary paper. It’s a hybrid release of printed papers, a PDF you can download from here and this blog post with the text and images.

PLEASE NOTE – For the best viewing experience, we recommend that you download this PDF from DropBox to your PC/laptop/phone.

It’s time to build a new world in the shell of the old

With our right to protest becoming ever more restricted, how can we challenge the system and start to build the new world we want? Resistance takes many forms. It’s more than protests on the streets. It’s about flying under the radar of the authorities. It’s about building the new world we want inside the shell of the increasingly dystopian one we’re currently forced to endure.

Being against the system doesn’t just mean reacting to events. It’s about showing the kind of world we want to build. It’s about creating the social and community structures we need, so that when revolution comes, we have the foundations ready for the world we want. It’s about the kind of prefigurative action we can engage in to bring this about. It’s not separate from revolution – it’s an integral part of the process.

It’s not just about the physical stuff such as community gardens, community kitchens, food banks, clothing banks and the like. It’s about learning to work with each other in a collective, non-hierarchical way. It’s about finding and developing ways of working and learning that enable people to grow and develop. It’s a positive glimpse of what the future could be.

There’s only so far a grassroots initiative can go before hitting the constraints imposed by the system. Experiencing the impact of those limits and understanding why they’re there, will make people see why radical change is needed and why existing power structures have to go.

People want to see examples of grassroots projects that bring about real change. No two grassroots projects are the same. Each one has evolved to deal with a specific set of circumstances in their neighbourhood. Generalities can be made when it comes to why a neighbourhood needs a foodbank or a community garden. However, there will always be specifics, not least regarding the people involved in the project.

The links on the back page of this paper show a range of groups who, each in their own way, are trying to make the world a better place. Whether they would define what they do as prefigurative let alone anarchist is possibly open to debate. Regarding that, we’ll leave you with this quote and link:

The anarchist conclusion is that every kind of human activity should begin from what is local and immediate, should link in a network with no centre and no directing agency, hiving off new cells as the original grows.
Colin Ward –

Keeping it local and under our control

The just in time food supply chain we have come to (over)rely on is incredibly complex. It gives us food from across the globe pretty much on demand. It has done away with the notion of seasonal eating . It has become something so integral to the way we live these days that we barely give it a second thought.

That’s until things start to go wrong. They’re starting to go wrong. There’s a shortfall in the number of HGV drivers needed to keep a just in time food supply chain functioning smoothly. That’s down to the crap money the drivers are paid for the vital work they do plus lousy working conditions. This shortfall in drivers has led to gaps and spacing out on supermarket shelves which is spooking an already nervous population.

What this situation is doing with some people is make them ask pointed questions about where our food comes from and the processes involved in it getting onto our plates. They’re asking about exploitation on farms and in some of the initial processing facilities. They’re asking why some countries export a substantial proportion of what they grow when they sometimes struggle to feed their own populations. They’re asking whether it’s really a good idea to ship produce from half way around the globe when it could actually be grown here. They’re asking how fresh (or not) is the produce that ends up on our plates. They’re asking a lot of questions and that can only be a good thing…

It’s coming up with answers that can be tough. Obviously, the shorter and less complex the supply chain is, the less prone it is to disruption, whether that’s through malicious action or a lack of holistic thinking leading to unintended screw ups. A localised and less complex supply chain means the food reaching our plates will be fresher. However, even with shorter and less complex chains, we still have to rely on other people for our food needs. Whoever controls the food supply can also control the populace. With a growing level of mistrust in the government, it’s understandable that more people are wanting to start growing as much of their own food as possible…

This piece hopefully gives some useful pointers on what you can do, individually and collectively:

Building community resilience – securing the food supply – July 21, 2021

Look, we’re not saying that you should drop everything and become a full time peasant farmer! For a start off, as things stand with land ownership and tenure in this country, unless you have access to a serious amount of dosh, it’s nigh on impossible to get access to the land you’d need. That will only happen after a massive social, political and economic transformation. We’re about what we can do in the here and now that will be the first steps towards that…

Between the various members of the Alternative Estuary crew, we manage five plots of varying sizes. With the three garden plots, the aim is to achieve 20-25% self sufficiency in vegetables. Obviously that varies from year to year as do the weather conditions – 2021 was a challenge due to a considerably wetter than normal summer. The point is, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and actually doing it.

What we want to do is learn from our experiences and use that to facilitate anyone in the area we cover who is serious about growing their own, particularly if they’re doing it as a collective. Basically, it’s carrying forward the vision that emerged early in 2020 with the Crops Not Shops project that started out in Southend.

Don’t let the divide and rule merchants win

Alternative Estuary is about supporting grassroots projects that bring people together in activities benefiting the whole community. This is hard enough to achieve in normal times as the time pressures many people have to deal with leave them unable to devote the hours and energy needed to make a success of a project. However, getting stuck into a grassroots project is a first step in not just self and community transformation, but also in bringing about the new world we want.

The experience of 2020/21 with the coronavirus crisis and the subsequent lockdowns and tiered restrictions has been anything but normal. It has sadly taken its toll on some grassroots projects. On the other hand, it’s provided the impetus for the emergence of new ones whose scope ranges from community gardening through to mutual aid initiatives. A key part of the success of any new grasroots initiative is building a sense of solidarity that can bring people together for the good of the community.

In these troubled times, building and maintaining that solidarity has become more challenging. At every turn, the authorities and the mainstream media are fostering dangerous divisions. Vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers, maskers vs anti-maskers, Brexit supporters vs Remainers – the list goes on and on. There are elements on both sides of these divides who seem only too happy to perpetuate these toxic divisions. The so called ‘journalists’ fostering this need to take a long hard look at themselves because they’re complicit in this divide and rule. It’s lousy for our communities. Who wants to live in a tense, divided community? We certainly don’t.

The last thing the state and their corporate backers want is grassroots solidarity arising from projects that bring a diverse range of people together and also, give us the start of some degree of independence. The authorities want us frightened, divided and totally dependent on them – that way, we’re easier to control. If we let them get away with it that is. Now, more than ever, we need to reject the divide and rule tactics that are being used to split and weaken us. If we can do that, we’ve made a move towards building the new world we want on our terms…

We need you!

A key part of building the new world we want to see is encouraging grassroots groups to exchange ideas, experiences and lessons learned with each other. That’s what we want to achieve with Alternative Estuary. While we want to encourage grassroots groups to link up with each other, we are definitely NOT interested in creating any kind of umbrella organisation. That would take too much time and energy, and would be an unwelcome distraction from what people want to get on with.

What we DO want Alternative Estuary to be is a reference point/clearing house where groups could publish what they’ve got planned, what they’re doing, and what they’ve learned from their experiences. We’d also like it to be a space where people bounce ideas off each other and come up with new initiatives. Last, but by no means least, we’d like it to be a place where we can offer each other practical help as and when it’s needed.

We want this to be a collaborative project where we can create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. To achieve this, we need your input. Ultimately, we want to hand this project over to grassroots activists across the south of Essex to run. So if you’re involved in a community project and want to share your experiences, please get in touch with us and we’ll sort out getting them published on the Alternative Estuary blog or maybe even in the next edition of this paper. That includes the failures and lessons learned as well as the successes. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes at times – it’s helpful to have pointers from people who have gone through it, on what to avoid doing!

Obviously we’re interested in the nuts and bolts side of getting a community project up and running. What we’re also interested in is if you put what you’re doing with the project in the context of the way society is structured to get across the message that fundamental change is needed now more than ever. We’d also like your thoughts on how you think the project you’re working with is setting an example of the kind of society we want to see.

What we’re about

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 paper 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.


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