Community Organising is now more important than ever before. With traditional politics in crisis, Labour facing possible extinction, Conservatives descending into recriminations after an unnecessarily divisive referendum, many people feel insecure and anxious about the future in Britain. Politics is not a game, it profoundly affects peoples lives and it is the most vulnerable who don’t have the cushioning of a bubble to live in or escape into. So it is time for Civil Society to step up and take responsibility, not to leave it up to the politicians, or just the business community. Citizens UK have proven to be the most effective at this – delivering the living wage, stopping refugee children from being detained in this country, putting the ‘legacy’ narrative into the London Olympics etc.
So we are delighted to announce that yesterday, June 29th, 2016, we were in a position to interview candidates and on the back of that have appointed a community organiser here in Manchester. It is the birth of Greater Manchester Citizens. It has taken about a year to find the funding to build up a salary for a community worker, and we are very grateful to Oxfam, Bishop John Arnold, The Royal College of Nursing, Sir Peter Fahy for helping us do that. We are hoping the Tudor Trust, UNISON, the two big universities and football clubs are soon going to follow. This will allow us to build a broader coalition in time for DevoManc which is our first target. If we find more ‘seed funding’ then we could even have a second organiser in place before Christmas. Not everyone has been helpful of course, there has been considerable resistance by ‘the establishment’. It is amazing how parochial we can be ‘up north’. However there has been some really encouraging support – people who realise as the General Secretary at Unison told me – this is of the ‘zeitgeist’.
The main task of our organiser(s) is to build a coalition of member institutions. They will go to schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, student unions, trade unions, charities and build up relations. They are trained to listen to what concerns them the most, it may be housing, local security, healthcare etc. When I was in North London it was how insecure the boys at the Jesuit school felt about being mugged for their phones, and being chased by gangs – so they started the City Safe campaign – It saved lives. Once they see how we are able to engage with power and are recognised, they will subscribe as member institutions and this will allow them to help set our agenda. What is in it for me? What is my ‘self-interest?’ – I hope it will engage the students with serious campaigns. Often it is the religious institutions that are the backbone of grassroots community action. I think Citizens allows Catholics to work productively with other Christians. Muslims etc. from this working together comes deep and lasting friendships. This is so important in our turbulent times!