Lois JC reports from rs21’s participatory day event last Saturday. Videos from various sessions will appear on the site soon.
Many woke up on the Friday morning after the 2015 election with a sinking feeling in their stomach, 5 more years of Tory austerity and seemingly with a bigger mandate than the past 5 years. Nobody was expecting the result which will mean the living standards of millions will plummet even further while the wealthy continue on their extravagant trajectory. However since that election there have been many positive signs that people want something different and that there is motivation to think about what ‘politics beyond austerity’ looks like. Around four thousand people marched in Bristol against austerity at a demonstration called by a group of sixth form students and a general assembly called by Brick Lane Debates to call a ‘new joined-up radical left network’ attracted around 900 people.
rs21 organised a day conference, ‘They Don’t Represent Us’, to try to have discussions and come to a better understanding of the state of politics after the election and how we organise. Around 250 people attended during the day from a variety of organisations and movements, and it was noticeable that it didn’t feel like we were talking to the same crowd. The meeting topics which were covered included analysing the human impact of austerity, discussing radical movements which have grown in places like Scotland, Greece and Ireland, discussing the rise of islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric and looking at feminist organising today. There were speakers and representatives from a variety of organisations including Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign, Dublin’s anti water charges movement, Syriza, Brick Lane Debates, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and Novara media.
The meetings were structured in a way that was supposed to encourage debate, a short ten minute lead off from speakers, followed by the audience breaking off into discussion groups for twenty minutes to expand on ideas and then the groups feeding back to the room. I found this really useful, it seemed to encourage people who didn’t usually like speaking in meetings to speak and it felt like more women spoke. It also meant you got to develop ideas with a larger group of people and the discussion felt less fragmented.
There are clearly going to be large challenges for the left in the coming months, it needs to become bigger and we need to experiment with ways of organising that fit the society we are in. There will be a large debate over European Union membership and we need to find a fraternal way to have these arguments. People are angry but also need solidarity and support, we need to be modest about what we can achieve but also provide alternatives for people to imagine the world as a better place. Hopefully this was a small contribution to the democratic and vibrant anti-capitalist movement we need to be part of creating, but it wasn’t perfect, we need to ensure that we keep up these links with others, and never imagine we have the answers on our own.