We radicals have been dreaming of other social structures for decades, especially ones based on place, and on solidarity, but only very occasionally have we been able to build them.
Now it is happening all around, seemingly spontaneously. Germany, France, with three tiers, Barcelona, a couple of Fb groups in Greece. But what blows me away is the 3400 (and counting) UK street level groups in the same spreadsheet! Perhaps because many people are no longer at work, there is suddenly a tremendous volunteer capacity.
Radicals may be tempted to regard what is happening with envy, because it can feel like the revolution is happening without us, and without consideration or acknowledgement of all we've been doing. But this is based on a poor interpretation of history. History is not driven by radicals breaking through the status quo with the force of their ideas, but by external, or at least unconsciously caused events like pandemics, economic movements, and societies respond on the basis of their prevailing narratives. One strategy is to build, build, build without too much expectation, and wait maybe decades, but then to be ready when the political space to open up.
I'm curious how it happened that all these groups adopted an anarchist moniker #mutualaid. Was it a coincidence or were the anarchists lying in wait all this time, ready to seize the narrative? And are street groups really so prominent in UK, or just better at registering themselves?
All the work we've done organising our economy and society has had negligible impact so far, but the moment could come soon. The lockdown is forcing the creation of new social forms, which have an economic angle. At the moment they are ad hoc groups, but the longer it lasts, the more important they will become to our way of life and the more economic functions they will take on. Perhaps also during a post-lockdown economic depression.
That's why all people desirous of creating any kind of alternative society should be putting energy into making these groups succeed and develop a purpose beyond COVID19. But more than that, its time to put aside our ideologies, our community currencies, our pet projects, and put ourselves in service to what is actually happening. Only through direct participation do we win a seat at the design table. Only through engagement can we understand how a community can move from where it is, to where it needs to be. Only by dropping all the specific ideas we advocated for can we see clearly what is needed next.
There's nothing more irritating to community organisers than an idealist on the sidelines bleating that you should do everything differently but not actually helping. What's needed now is to make the emerging social order
- indispensable: already the UK government is planning to use it to distribute food.
- sustainable: Whatsapp and facebook (and inGermany, Telegram) groups are the tools to hand. But can millions of people 'self-organise' using chat tools alone?
- fundable: right now energy is high, but infrastructure projects emerging will need financial support. Conventional donors are geared to finance responsible organisations with fundraising professionals and detailed project plans. They currently have no way to interface with Facebook groups.