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THERE seems to be a demonstration most weeks. Lately most of these have been in response to the frightening rise in levels of racism and activity by the far right.
Today sees one of the most important in that it aims to unite all of the organisations campaigning against racism and the far right.
This demonstration should be more than about bringing people together in a show of unity. It should also be a celebration of our activism and of our determination to not just oppose racism and the far right but also of our commitment to building a better world.
I hope for a carnival and joyous atmosphere that stands in direct opposition to the bitterness and division that inevitably comes from racists and those on the far right.
However, to coin a phrase, if marching changed anything they would abolish it. There is always a danger that marching becomes the end in itself. A numbers game of how many people we get on a march as compared to the far right. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not opposed to demonstrations — far from it. I love a good demonstration as much as the next activist. We also can’t possibly cede the streets to racists.
What I am arguing for is the need to pay as much attention to building our organising capacity as we do to building for demonstrations. I’m more in favour of out-organising the far right on the ground in towns and cities, in communities and in workplaces up and down the country. That’s what’s going to make a real difference to the folks who are not in the habit of joining us at our demonstrations or public meetings. I think we need to refresh our work against racism in two ways.
First, we need a comprehensive programme of organiser training. We need to make sure that our “co-conspirators,” as I prefer to call them, have the necessary skills to be able to go into what might be hostile workplaces or communities and organise the resistance.
Many people in our movement already have these skills and many years of experience organising against racism and the far right. We need to develop a programme that enables them to pass on their knowledge and expertise.
The civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s and, in particular, their Freedom Summer education programmes offer a useful template on which to develop a similar level of mass training of organisers in Britain.
Thousands of activists were trained during these programmes in some of the basics that many of us more seasoned activists perhaps take for granted.
We need more “co-conspirators” trained and ready to have the difficult conversations and do the in-depth organising that will help to build the movement necessary to defeat the far right.
Second, and this something that should be part of our education programmes, we need to have clear positive messaging. It’s not enough, as important as it is, to be merely “against” racism and the far right. We have to have clarity about the sort of socialist society that we are trying to build and equip ourselves with the arguments and skills to go and make our case.
Of course this is easier said than done. I realise that on the left we place a high value on ideological purity. I understand this and I’m as guilty as the next socialist in pursuing this goal. I’m not suggesting that having the correct ideological approach isn’t important, but let’s at least make the effort to identify the basic points that bring us together so that we can present positive agenda on which to organise rather than asking people to be just against something.
We have an exciting story to tell about the sort of society we want to see. However, we spend much of our time saying what we are against rather than what we are for. This is not a sustainable message to offer to a sometimes sceptical or even hostile audience.
It’s very easy to think that these are hard times and that it’s all far too difficult. It’s certainly hard and organising against racism and for socialist change is never easy, but I genuinely believe that we are winning and that there are more of us than them.
We win when we organise — we lose when we don’t. In Unison we believe that we will succeed in defeating racism and the far right not through another public meeting or demonstration of the already converted. We will win through the hard graft of organising.
Roger McKenzie is assistant general secretary of Unison.
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