Authority comes only from the people

WylerSteve250_1At the Locality Convention last week Bernadette McAliskey quoted Tom Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, reminding us that authority comes not from on high, neither from monarchs nor from governments, but only from the people.

Here was a woman who (as Bernadette Devlin) had been the youngest ever woman MP, had slapped the home secretary when he lied to Parliament about Bloody Sunday, had been shot seven times by paramilitaries, and survived.

Bernadette is now the co-ordinator of the South Tyrone Empowerment Partnership, an organisation whose primary governing document is the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

She told us that her experience as a community development worker has taught her that ‘money is the last thing we need’. Not, she said, that we don’t need money, but it’s the last thing we need, we should never start with chasing after it.

And she reminded us that the ‘hard to reach’ are not the people who live in poor communities, the hard to reach are the politicians, the people in power, the government ministers.

To his credit, government minister Nick Hurd was less hard to reach than most.  He participated in a question time session, was generous in his praise for Locality and our members, and his personal commitment to the principles of community organising was obviously sincere. But he was challenged in very robust terms about government’s policies which, in the view of many delegates, have led to the poorest, and in particular disabled people, bearing the brunt of austerity.

One delegate summed up the mood of the convention well: ‘It was positive, edgy at times. The atmosphere was palpably positive in spite of the challenges many face’.

No-one expressed this positive spirit better than Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible. A series of high-energy, practical actions in Todmorden, from an ‘every egg matters’ initiative, to growing vegetables in a cemetery plot, has inspired a world-wide movement.  As one delegate put it ‘She oozes everything I believe in, and more, and sets the very best example of what the little man or woman can achieve through community good works’.

‘Government will spend millions of pounds on a campaign to eat five a day,’ said Pam as she showed us a picture of the local GP centre and explained that around this centre had been a wasted space with nothing green expect a miserable group of municipal shrubs. So the community planted vegetables and fruit for everyone to use. ‘Pull up the prickly stuff and plant apples and veg and herbs like we do!’ was her rallying call.

‘It helps if you don’t ask permission,’ she added.

The Locality convention in Leicester last week attracted 600 people and was a sell-out. If you didn’t manage to get a place I can only express my regret that you were not able to join such a fantastic event, and encourage you to book a little earlier next time…

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