Community organising is one of the pillars of progressive politics. If there is one thing that has been repeatedly shown throughout history it is that change comes only to those who are willing to act to achieve their goals. It is strange to hear politicians admit the limits of their powers to change things. But at Progress Political Weekend 2014, that is what we heard and really, it is something we need to hear a bit more.
One of the things we are consistently told is that we should participate in the democratic process. This usually consists of lectures that we should use our vote. As if that is all we need to do before sitting back and watching things improve around us because of the people we have voted for.
In a sense it is true that we judge our own contribution to getting things done and changing things on our willingness to walk into a community hall every few years to mark a box and leave the building believing ourselves absolved of any more responsibility. After all, isn’t the name on the card we have just endorsed meant to do that work for us?
In reality the world does not work – or change – that way. That is what we were told and that is the one thing we should take away from the weekend: In reality if we really want to change the world then we have to be willing to change it bit by bit, ourselves.
Many politicians are quite fond of telling us to believe in hope. And we can always just hope that things will change. But hoping will only get us so far. To really make a difference we have to couple that hope with action and organisation.
A member of parliament can call for more money for a community group. But that call can easily be ignored. Being a member of parliament does not endow an all-empowering ability to shift mountains and we would do well to remember that sometimes.
It added a nice bit of humour to proceedings to hear Stella Creasy explain how one constituent had effectively asked her to stop Apple in its tracks. But behind the comic absurdity of the anecdote there is a sad reality that our elected representatives can only do so much.
Creasy described the almost parental attitude to some in politics that you can elect your representatives and then be assured that they will look after you and make your changes for you. But she was right when she said the only power members of parliament really have is demonstrated by walking through one of two lobbies in the House of Commons.
One thing we can take away from the weekend is the knowledge that to really make a difference we must feel empowered to act for ourselves. ‘By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we do alone’ is how the statement goes. The only difference between throwing off the shackles of a tyrannical government and getting a bus stop installed or a community group formed is the size of the challenge of sacrifice. The guiding principle is the same. A simple desire to change the world.
If progressive politics can empower and inspire those communities, then those communities really will change the world.
Michael Davies is a writer and a member of Progress. He tweets @mjdavies1
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