On the morning of Saturday 28th January, as the world began to realise that one of the most awful promises in modern politics was being kept, another kind of politics was at work in a church hall in Hackney.
On entering St Anne’s Church, Hoxton, you would be greeted with the joyous throng of an Ethiopian Orthodox congregation holding their first worship service in the church building. Realising this wasn’t the Hoxton Citizens Issues Workshop, you would look for Father Christopher, who would lead you into the church hall. There you would have found representatives of three churches, three schools and the community college huddled round tables, plotting for the common good.
Aside from an initial negotiation with the council, the Issues Workshop was the first event for our new micro-organising alliance, Hoxton Citizens. It was opportunity to feed back to each other and our councillors on the results of our listening campaigns. We presented our Charter, the result of 1,100 conversations, which outlined our priorities for the proposed development of Shoreditch Park. We received commitments from our local councillors to recognise our Charter as a part of the formal consultation, to involve us in the process, and to ensure that the development would be a Living Wage development. We also heard from primary school leaders who had identified road safety as a key concern in their institutions, had established clear winnable asks from the council and were planning actions. And we also had an opportunity to reflect together on what we were hearing. This reflection time was invaluable. People identified pragmatic solutions to difficult local problems- for example, changing a bus route to minimise log on an awkward junction- and committed to working with the other institutions to build their power. It also created space for slightly more ‘visionary’ thinking: on asked if we’d missed any out important issues from the Charter, a younger member of St John’s highlighted her desire for ‘a longer slide’ and ‘a kitten café’.
As if bold policy proposals like a kitten café weren’t reason enough to be sold on micro-organising, the morning highlighted three further strengths of the approach to me.
- Due to the smaller scale, it has more space for relationships to be built, between institutions and between us and our councillors. Aside from the specific priorities and asks identified in the listening campaign, we all left with a clearer sense of what matters to the other people around our table and in the room.
- The scale also allows new leaders to take up roles without being thrown in at the deep end of a TELCO or borough wide assembly. Hackney Citizens is blessed with a strong cohort of experienced and committed leaders- many of them based in Hoxton- but it was wonderful to see barely any of them up front! A real highlight for me was seeing the primary school councils articulate both their anger at a problem and a winnable solution that they had devised. Thanks to the work of Hackney Citizens, Hoxton pupils know that they have a voice and how to build their power.
- Finally because of the type of issues that we’re dealing with, it is much easier to draw people into organising. Everyone who lives or works in the area has had to deal with the rubbish junction of Hoxton Street. We all care about Shoreditch Park. Local organising means that we are not campaigning over abstract justice issues, which people suspect they should care about but know they don’t. Instead we are contesting specific, lived-in, storied spaces. When I talk to people about junctions and crossings, people previously uninterested in organising find their imagination fired up as they raise roads near them that need improvements. Before we can convince people that ‘another world is possible’, we first need to convince them that ‘another road is possible.’
Looking ahead, Hoxton Citizens has an ambitious program of action and negotiation ahead. We also continue to meet with other local institutions to explore with them whether they might join our growing alliance.
At St John’s, we particularly look forward to the 21st February at 8:30am where we will support St John the Baptist Primary School and be led by pupils in an action at the Zebra Crossing on Pitfield Street. They want to design a cycle slowly sign for the council to put up, so why not bring your own design too!