See first It’s Time To Shut The City Down” – Packed Meeting Vows To Fight Council Cuts from Birmingham Against The Cuts.
Plus - for added context - tweet by tweet report from @BrumProtestor
I could only attend for about an hour and fifteen minutes of the two and a half hour meeting, but I'd gone along to pursue my survey of signs of hope for the future in 2013.
First up, the turnout. I'd seen 180 positive replies on Facebook, so I'd gone expecting a good number of people but know from personal experience that you can't always rely on FB -RSVP's. I was very pleasantly surprised to see a packed meeting of 100-150 people.
I recognised some of the usual suspects - student activists, trade unionists, socialists, clerics - but even to get these people in a room together in numbers is promising. And with the numbers of attendees the meeting had, there had to be a fair proportion of the unaffiliated and curious, like me.
Second, the quality of the conversation. More often than not, it was a meeting guided by radical realism, by tactical considerations and by an awareness that in a city the size of Birmingham the support of a lot more than 150 people was required.
And the conversation had solid conclusions at its end – not only "there will be a demonstration and lobbying of the Labour Group on the 4th February when they meet to agree internally their budget proposals. Further to that will be a demonstration and direct action day on the budget day itself, which will either be at a special council meeting at the end of February, or at the usual council meeting in March."
...but the creation of a long-term strategy working group among many set-up that night.
It's my opinion that local enviromental groups should definitely be involved in supporting the legal actions of anti-cuts campaigns. There's the obvious threat to cuts to environmental services to oppose, but we should also bear in mind that other cuts may affect the ability of communities to make green choices. For example, they may mean people having to travel further to access council facilities.
Then there's the danger that environmental considerations will go hang in decision-making processes like planning given the need to save-save-save. Finally, there's the ethical duty to act in solidarity with suffering - we cannot save the planet if we're not standing up for the rights of others.
It would be great if staff and volunteers in The Warehouse - a wider cross-section of groups than just Friends of the Earth - could come out in solidarity with some of these upcoming actions.
Looking at the matter more strategically, the challenges for the anti-cuts movement seem to be to build on a short-term consensus and a) develop and enact a medium term strategy for broadening the movement and staving off the cuts as well as b) decide how to be the change - how to transform society for the better now. I found the level of honesty about this at the meeting gratifying.
Perhaps what we need at this juncture is a highfalutin' conversation about the future. But what we want is also for our short-term needs to be met. And that's where the link between challenging political decisions politically and bettering people's lives now must be struck.
Postscript: there appears to be no anti-cuts platform in Cannock Chase at the moment - the presence of the food bank in the Methodist Church down the road attests to the fact that austerity is biting there too. Perhaps this is something for me to look into?