Why I’m not totally devastated by the election…

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Post-election karaoke at the community house.

Nicked from Liam’s Facebook wall:

“So I woke up today to a torrent of misery on Facebook and Twitter over the election results. I felt a bit of it myself, though fighting government has become a bit of a given for me, and something that I’ve seen the desperate need for in both Tory + Labour strongholds, so didn’t expect a great deal from the election. Still – the thought of that many Tory voters wasn’t easy to wake up to…

Then I went up to the occupied Sweets Way community house in Barnet, for Daniel, a boy who used to live on the estate’s 7th birthday party. Sweets Way is at the frontlines of the fight against social cleansing, privatisation and inequality; we are organising there against evictions, housing demolitions and families being forced into properties miles away from the places they live their lives. This can be grim stuff, to say the least, but to leave it at that would be a disservice.

What was notable about today’s visit to Sweets Way? Nothing… Except that no one seemed especially fussed about the election. And everyone was having a great time together. There was a magician and cake and karaoke, all of which were thoroughly enjoyed on site at this protest occupation (which also happened to turn two months old, as Daniel turned 7 today).

A few comments were made about Tory bastards, but it was hardly the abysmal front page news my Facebook feed had been telling me. It was a given that the bastards would keep serving the interests of the powerful, and that we would keep fighting that. Of course that fight is a monumentally hard one, but at Sweets Way it was not the crippling loss so many others perceived it to be.

One thing I think has been abundantly clear at Sweets Way is the power of collective action. Together, we have fought the twin giants of an ultra-Tory council + a private developer w/ strong links to national Tory brass… And have secured some wins that may seem piecemeal to some, but which have been absolutely critical in the lives of the various families involved. We’ve also stood by one another, using the occupation as a multifunction community space that hosts organising meetings, collective meals, and 7 year old’s birthday parties, offering the emotional and practical support needed to deal with the bullshit.

We have been creating our own power at Sweets Way and it is not a power that was phased, one way or the other by the election results. It is a power that has emerged in spite of politicians, and which will continue to grow without them.

As my mate Nishma Doshi said earlier today: “I want to restart real community/workers kitchens. I want to build the co-op housing movement. I want to know my neighbours and I want to engage with them on issues they care about. We don’t need politicians to make that happen. We need each other.”

…and while we are not yet there at Sweets Way, we are closer to it than with anything I’ve experienced in 13 years of activism + organising.

If the families of Sweets Way can avoid being too demoralized by a Tory win, so too can the rest of us. Despair doesn’t make anything better… Taking back our power together does, and would have been essential whichever pro-austerity party won last night.

Let’s get on with it then, yeah? We can do this.”

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People power doesn’t wait to vote

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The response to the call-out for Juliet on Monday was amazing! More than 1000 of you shared and Tweeted the blog and dozens more wrote to the local MP and councillor, in less than 2 days! Today we saw the results. Massive thanks to everyone who came out and braved the torrential rains, as well as those that sent emails in support!

First, Juliet, who had been discharged by Barnet Homes with her four kids, was offered a three bedroom house in the borough! She hasn’t been able to see it yet, but we know that without all our voices online and outside, she wouldn’t have had the offer.

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Unfortunately, the other two families who had meetings with Barnet Homes today didn’t have the same response (though their cases were not yet as dire as Juliet’s had been). While Juliet’s offer was a big win, considering the harsh wording she had received in her latest rejection letter from Barnet Homes, we knew that it was only ever a stage in the campaign, and that the dignity finally afforded to her family must be the default, and not the result of mass public outcry.

…So we blockaded the A1000 – London’s main commuter road – outside of Barnet Homes’ offices at 4pm to protest the wider social cleansing patterns we’ve seen with families being pushed beyond the capital and forced through immeasurable stress, so companies like Annington Properties can bulldoze good houses, to make way for high-end flats!

Following the blockade, we marched through Sweets Way and broke Annington’s undemocratic injunction against political protest on the estate! This injunction should never have been granted in the first place, and since we were walking around in the road with banners anyway, we thought: ‘why not break that stupid injunction while we’re at it?’

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So we did. Then we went back to our occupied social centre (which will be two months old on Friday, by the way!), drank tea and discussed the day’s events. We also got to know lots of new faces who had responded to the call-out online and were all-the-more-committed to getting involved in the campaign, having felt a bit of what people power can achieve.

Apparently there’s an election tomorrow and it’s a big deal and stuff, but when we know both of the main parties are committed to the kinds of destructive policies that have created the mess we are fighting, it is clear that we are not going to vote our ways into the homes we need. People power doesn’t wait to vote; it is the daily vote we are always free to cast.

Today we had a partial victory – on a day when, if we hadn’t come together, a family would be at risk of being turfed out on the street. In the days ahead – with our growing numbers and profile – we are sure to have more, as fight alongside other Sweets Way families that continue to be moved around like furniture.

Tomorrow, some of us will vote, some of us may not, but we’ll all be here together on Friday, fighting for our homes and for a London that is truly a city for all, not simply those who can afford the kinds of properties Annington is destroying Sweets Way to build.

If you want to get involved, pop by the social centre and say hello this weekend as we celebrate two months of occupation!IMG_20150506_162318