Re-Building Compassionate, Playful and Powerful Communities

8 days ago, i was elected as a local (Labour Party) councillor. 8 days on, I still can’t quite believe that the electorate has lent me their trust and votes. That’s all it is though, a lending. I need to earn it over the next 4 years. I hope, with all my heart, that I will do this.

Any of you following my blogposts over the years will note that i come with a varied skillset and experience profile. I’m an artist (unusual for a “politician”), i’m a qualified therapeutic radiographer – but now work in cancer research (not on the shop-floor so-to-speak). My work here has helped to enhance the communication & experience of radiotherapy for patients and others alike.

My experiences of what it feels like to be chronically ill and its effects on your life has moved this, making me extremely patient/people centred and passionate about (all kinds of) health & social care policy. I’ve also been working in Public Health for the last 3+ years. And I design new health & social care services/things, made WITH the people who use & work within them, get them commissioned, & change their access & experience of care that way (in a positive way). I get to do this in my multiple roles as an artist/designer freelancer.

Outside of this, I grew up very poor, in the most working class home and neighbourhood, and then I experienced homelessness with my family when I was 15 due to domestic violence. I was elected a Donx Youth Councillor just as I became homeless all those years ago.

So it always hurts my feelings a bit when people say “We [politicians] are all the same, or corrupt” or “Labour isn’t working class anymore.” Because it’s obvious – visually, when you meet me – that i am not the same. I can’t even imagine myself as being corrupt – i’ve spent my life trying to bring injustices to light. and I’m as working class as we come. But I just so happen to have a university education now. That doesn’t change these experiences that have made me, and how I still live, my culture etc. And I am still affected by my working classness in how I have to navigate fields/industries that are laced with class issues and inequalities.

I’m a big believer that our life experiences form who we are and what we can do. Being narrators of our own stories comes with a big power. We can get to decide what’s devastating, what’s not and what we can pick ourselves up from or can’t. But some of that, we still have no control of. Just our actions going forward.

Not everyone is as lucky as me (trust me, luck is a huge factor in here). Despite an illness nearly ruining my life, and the sheer stress and danger of growing up in a not safe household – it made me want to stand up. It made me realize that the everyday status is quo, and we have to actively fight to get beyond status quo. which is energy draining.

It made me see the world, from a very young age, and to see that inequality and unfairness isn’t an accident. IT IS DESIGNED.

The action of social justice has always moved me. For fairness, clarity, care, justice and innovation. And that collaboration is part of that. No decision about me without me!

In my new role as a councillor, i am wanting to build upon what Jon Alexander names as the “Citizen Story” where:

‘the role of government is neither all nor nothing, but in between: to equip and enable us, and to partner with us; to share as much information and power as possible, so that we can work together with government and with one another to create a new normal.

It’s about stepping into the power we already have as citizens.

So many people don’t realize that they have the power.

That’s a clear big 11 year project from the Tories that has drained most of our hope, making us feel like we can’t even dare to dream bigger, that we somehow don’t believe we deserve to have our kids education properly funded, or an NHS that’s fully funded. That unknown ideas might become “wasteful” – even tho we know unknown ideas are the things that always drives us forwards.

i’ve seen the power of my community. I don’t know if they can see it themselves though? So that’s going to be one of the things I will be working on, with them.

When Covid-19 happened in March 2020, Johnson wasn’t going to help stop the spread of the virus. It was the collective action of a nation, of multiple 10000s of communities coming together and demanding through their own actions for the government to announce an official lockdown and therefore having to embed support for those who needed it. We’re led to believe, probably by the media, that we’re becoming more and more individualistic. There are people who are, ofc. But they’re still a minority.

This past year & a half, we have seen that we care about each other deeply. We want to work together. We want to be useful. (and i’m one of those people). let’s harness this.

You start with truth.

There’s no single right answer. Everyone has experienced things differently and had different experiences.

everyone has their own story and everyones story is equally important. I hope I can help to make people feel heard.

Throw in laws, other organizations and money into the mix and it gets so much more tricky. If we try and plan out the most perfect plan, and try and ignore the bits that don’t fit your picture – you will be doomed for it to not work, and not in a good way.

There must always be truth, communication, collaboration, co-ordination and conscious learning.

HYPER-LOCAL. Not centralized.

In the Citizen Story leadership model – the central government should give local government more £££ and autonomy. And the local government with the communities/citizens work together what needs to happen with that.

In spite of Local government getting £120+ million LESS per year across each council (thanks to the Tories), the Donx has been developing the community, compassionate, people & earth focused model. It’s super refreshing. And i am super stoked to be doing this with my community.

A great example of where this has worked is Test & Trace centrally didn’t work, so local authorities had to lobby the government to take charge of it in their own areas. Our council did this and it’s been super successful. Imagine if we did that from March 2020 onward. Using our own knowledge of communities, with communities – the picture would have looked a lot different.

In the Citizen story, though, councils are vital. They are citizen enablers, not service providers. When power and resources are pushed down to the local level, they are much closer to us. Whitehall cannot make the places where we live better. We can (with funding ofc). We cannot know our ministers.

We can know our councillors; we can be councillors. I want you TO KNOW ME. Some of you already know me. This is going to be key. I want more people to know that they can, & should, do this too!

A shift from “Us and Them” To “A Larger Us”

Just take any Boris Johnson story over the last year & it obviously has HUGE them & us vibes. They (he) can do whatever he likes without succumbing to the same rules/laws/morals as us. He isn’t affected by anything he does but would disproportionate negatively affect us if we did it. For example: Breaking lockdown rules during lockdown 1, or CCJ debts where a normal citizen would have been hounded or jailed for.

this sentiment lies heavy, that’s why I am branded with the same brush of politicians “always being the same” – because the current government shows this in the most extreme way, than we have ever seen before!

The Citizen story rejects this separation. We are all of us citizens, and some of us for various amounts of time take on the tasks of politics. It is a spectrum, not a binary distinction. My task is to shred this negative baggage of the binary we have created.

Using my art/design and co-creation/collaborative background –  We will be thinking about how to design/give space for dialogue platforms to enable citizens to contribute to ideas more.

These are already happening. Esp in my local community too. To remember that the word ‘government’ is a verb, something we do together; not a noun, an institution that stands apart. 

Alexander talked about a booked called A Paradise Built In Hell, (2009) about human response to disasters through history, where the American philosopher and activist Rebecca Solnit describes how communities invariably come together, developing new ways not just to survive but to thrive, healing old wounds, and finding joy in the process. She also articulates the root cause of a phenomenon where Government can do more harm than good, which disaster scholars call “elite panic”:

“The elite often believe that if they themselves are not in control, the situation is out of control.”

We are seeing this currently in Police Bills that will take away our right to protest, Citizen Identification Rules in order to vote – stopping over 2 million people’s ability to participate in democratic acts/rights. We’ve never had such an elitest government in such a way for decades and decades. Their discomfort with this situation of citizens becoming more active is ironic, given that this group came to power with the slogan “Take back control”: it seems they meant “give us control”, rather than intending for us actually to get involved

So many of us have already done so much for our communities, but far from seeing this as a burden we cannot wait to set down, we have taken joy and pride in doing so. But we are in control, I believe, and are starting to build the institutions, structures and processes that could lead to a very different future.

The Donx has an incredible new team of people focused, citizen grounded councillors with an amazing compassionate, people & earth focused plan and vision.

Together, I can’t wait for us to work to build it locally, reinventing ways on how we understand these structures and radically keep it all open for us all to be part and active within it.

How? By listening, being there, being an active citizen, building accessibility, dealing with epistemic injustices, investing into people. being creative, playful and having fun whilst doing it.

The arts are a great way to engage, show, raise, do difficult things/topics/issues together. And I can’t wait to give it a go alongside all of my other cllr duties.

***all text images are all from artist Ruth Beale kids club hosted at TACO more info at: https://taco.org.uk/The-Hundred-Club  (its london based – but will like to do something similiar here)

Published by smizz

I've had this blog since I was 17. I use it process thinking & work. It's changed with how my life has changed. Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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