What 'getting organised' means.
In the wake of Brexit and now Trump, many on the left (myself included) plead with our friends to turn their outrage into action. Step away from keyboard and 'organise'. But it is easier said than done.
I grew up in Ceredigion, on the west coast of Wales. It is a beautiful place, but nearly everyone I hung out with at school moved away. One of my best friends (and wisest) returned home straight after university, he's remained there ever since. Last time I was home we caught up and he talked me through his regular Saturday night. Together with his dad and one or two others on the committee, Aled runs the Ceredigion football league. At last count he holds two official positions on the committee and several unofficial ones. There are thousands of people like Aled volunteering their time to keep grassroots sports alive and well in Britain. The most challenging task is fixture secretary. Aled spends every Saturday night on the phone chasing club representatives to try and gather the day’s results. I’ve witnessed him surreptitiously updating the league table on ceredigionleague.co.uk via his phone at countless weddings and weekends away. Towards the end of the season, he's dealing with the fixture backlog caused by games getting called off in the wet winter months. That’s when he gets really busy, it is a logistical challenge that keeps him awake at night!
The term 'organise' is tied up in the labour union movement. It is a distant concept for most millennials. If we experience it at all it is through films like Pride or Milk. Work, contracts and employment law are radically different today, they all work against unionisation. With brilliant exceptions like United Voices Of The World and Independent Workers of Great Britain it is difficult to create a grassroots organised labour movement from scratch. And if it is difficult within sectors, it is even harder at a more macro, national level. At least that is the perception. We are told that Thatcher crushed the unions, it is futile to even try. Organised labour, trade union movements and strikes are framed as tough activities, for tough folk. Action only happens when circumstances have become intolerable for a critical mass of workers.
I'm currently volunteering on One Day Without Us, which sprung up in the wake of Theresa May's inflammatory speech at the Tory party conference. It is a day of action for and by migrants; a temporary withdrawal of migrant labour to demonstrate how vital it is to this country. But this sort of organising is not everyone's cup of tea. Being 'political' can feel a long way from one's comfort zone. It also involves throwing oneself into a group of activists - that can feel quite intimidating. In short, the prospect of being an ‘organiser’ is a bit out of reach and a bit off putting.
Fortunately, these perceptions are breaking down. Being involved in politics is normalising gradually. The chances of finding a politically active friend in your social circle are increasing every day. But, political organising is never going to be for everyone and it is not the only organising you can do. It is also not the only organising our divided communities need. We need more people like Aled.
Without an organising committee, the Ceredigion league would fall apart. The six hundred or so people involved would no longer be coming together on a Saturday afternoon. Nor would the people who come out to watch them play. Bringing these men and women together every weekend builds social capital. In other words, it creates bonds between people of different ages and backgrounds that might otherwise never form. I still bump into people I used to play with and against in the 90s when I'm back home today.
This is sustainability, it sustains society. The dedication of organising committee's like Aled's help communities to flourish, they bring people together. This sort of organising prevents the breakdown of society; it is not a protest against the outcomes of that breakdown.
So, next time someone tells you that we need to 'get organised' don't necessarily assume that that means you need to make a placard and head down to Parliament square. Have a think about what you can organise in your community, with your community and for your community. It could be anything: amateur dramatics, a youth club, the WI, a sewing group, a chess club, an allotment, a football team, a choir... When more people are involved in organising these things, our communities are stronger.
If we are to prevent further growth of intolerance and prejudice; if we are to heal the rifts that already exist, we need to bring people together around their shared interests and pastimes. Enabling this to happen as an organiser is within everyone's reach. You don't even need to start something new, if that is too daunting, join an existing committee so that Aled and his Dad can go back to doing just two jobs between them, not five.