ANC politician, Denis Goldberg, fought apartheid with Nelson Mandela and, like him, spent many years in jail as a result. In a recent Guardian interview, Goldberg, now 84, explained why he has devoted his later years to building a centre for the arts:
“People matter. I feel the whole point of being in politics is about people. For me it’s not about power.”
For Creating Change, these words struck a deep chord, helping us to see that the connecting term between art, politics and grass-roots campaigning is quite simply ‘people’.
At our Launch Night, ‘Fighting Back’, we were privileged to hear a range of inspiring stories from local change-makers who were clearly committed to honouring the dignity and complexity of people and their everyday lives.
Vivienne Wiggins spoke passionately about the work of Beacon House Colchester which provides showers, food, clothing, health-care, and life-skills to homeless and insecurely housed people. Just as importantly, it offers a social space where people can be recognised as individuals with useful experience and skills of their own to share.
Philip Horner and Haider Alzubeidi gave an inspiring insight into the work of Refugee Action Colchester which supports individuals and their families to fully integrate into the community by accessing education and meaningful employment. We often focus on trying to understand and celebrate the culture that refugees bring with them, so it was interesting to hear Haider, himself a refugee from Syria, talk of how important it was for refugees to understand the protocols, values and traditions of their new community, and to have opportunities to practice speaking English outside of the classroom.
Rebecca Rocket spoke on behalf of Unite Community. She relived her own struggles as a worker in precarious employment, not knowing each morning as she arrived for work whether she and her workmates would be ‘cancelled’ that day. Her fight to unionise her workplace led her to be become an active member of Unite Community. Their mission is to organise people from all sections of society, including those not in employment, to strive for a society that places equality, dignity and respect above all else.
It was hugely motivating to discover that there are many ways to support this wonderful work: some of them as simple as sharing updates on Facebook, donating a bottle of mayonnaise, or helping someone fill out a form.
The key messages from our speakers:
Get the word out. For small organisations with no marketing department, a shout out, whether that’s through word of mouth or social media, is invaluable. Something as easy as sharing news and updates on Facebook, (@BeaconHouseColchester; Refugee Action – Colchester) or Twitter (@Unite_Community), can really help.
Donate things. Current ‘urgent needs’ listed by Beacon House include: deodorant, coffee, sugar, mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and clothes washing tablets.
Donate money. However much you can spare, the message was clear: every little helps.
Pledge time and skills. Beacon House and Refugee Action Colchester are always grateful for pledges of time and skill, from Guitar Lessons to helping someone visit the shops. They welcome approaches and will aim to match skills to need. Unite Community is open to all, and offers many opportunities to get involved in campaigns.
Refugee Action Colchester:
But how do these acts of change in our own community relate to the political centre? As Vivienne Wiggin’s pointed out, charities like hers are not party political, but they do provide an important lobbying voice for the people they serve. Rebecca Rocket addressed the question directly. As a member of Unite Community she was able to ask a visiting member of the Labour policy forum: How does the work of grass roots activists like us affect policy? The answer: Right here is a piece of policy directly influenced by your community action. It was heartening to hear that the connection can be as direct and as a simple as that.
In keeping with the ethos that art and politics meet through a concern for people, the talks were followed by music and dancing: a chance to celebrate our beautiful community of kindred spirits.
Singer-songwriter Lou Terry performed a fantastic set. His emotional range – from tender and fragile to terrifyingly angry – was matched by his extraordinary vocal range, proving that art can make sense of our messy human lives in mysterious ways.
Lighthouse Jam gave us a mix of their own material and carefully selected covers, including a lovely version of Working Class Hero, and quite possibly the world’s first ‘danceable version’ of Blowing in the Wind.
And dance we did – and sing – and laugh. By this time there was a fantastic, friendly buzz in the room which took us perfectly into DJ Ben Howard’s set. The opening track, Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, captured the mood perfectly. Ben then took us through Gay Pride classics from the 80s, to a bit of Pulp from the 90s, and somehow managed to fit in everyone’s personal favourite protest song along the way.
We’ll leave the last word, though, to our fantastic guests who shared their thoughts with us throughout the evening by writing on our ‘word wall’, tweeting @Creating2017 #CC2018, and posting on our Facebook Page.