Wednesday, 28 May 2008

community activism

I've been thinking of the term 'community activist' and looking at definitions on the internet, although Wikipedia doesn't have a page for this, interestingly, only 'activism' and 'community building' ... On other websites there are references to activism as 'changing the system' and in the findings from a report on the changing nature of community activism 'From placards to partnership'

http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/projects/placing-vol-activism/pdfs/P2PFindingsPaper.pdf

the phrase 'more subtle approaches based on strategic negotiation within the new local governance structures' is used to describe some of the changes.

In the 1980's I was a community activist in South Lanarkshire, living in an ex-mining village as my children grew up. But if you had asked me then what I was I would not have described myself as that - it was a matter of working with others in the community to create projects and raise funds to allow us to give our children the best play experience and to help others in the community. We were all volunteers, mothers who didn't work and didn't expect to work, living mostly in council houses. I suppose some were single parents although it's not one of the lasting memories. I started with a 'mother & toddler group' then playgroup, forming committees, working further afield on branch committees, visiting other playgroups, getting travel expenses but doing the work for free. We got a community minibus, I was a driver, and we went away for trips, to the beach, the zoo and to the shops.

I remember a council worker helping us with different things - training courses, funding sources, ideas - but it seemed that we were the driving force. Other activies including being on the school board, on steering groups Lanarkshire wide and doing youth work - attending residential training for this which involved 'trust games', being video'd and groupwork activities. We all became much more self-confident and self-aware - of our abilities and natural aptitudes as well as developing new skills, ideas and networking.

Getting back to the 'changing nature of community activism' it's interesting to hear how people are still having an influence on decision-making, adopting a more gentle approach to activism. In the previously mentioned project there is a quote from an interviewee "I think there's another cultural shift which has been the way you get your message across, whatever that message might be .... that you are more sophisticated, that you play the game, that you do it in ways that are less in-your-face" (p59 of report).