Grassroots organisations came together in Southend to celebrate diversity and exercise practical democracy last weekend.
The town’s magnificently ramshackle pub, the Railway Hotel, is perhaps best known as an occasional watering hole for punk singer-actor Wilko Johnson, whose face graces the pub sign.
But on Saturday 6 May it hosted the Essex town’s first Radical Fair.
A group of Real Democracy Movement supporters took the train from London to Southend to present our new book, Democracy Unchained.
There was a great atmosphere as we all rubbed shoulders in the pub’s eccentric upstairs spaces, which also housed (at least) three vintage pipe organs. Stalls included Transpire, Green Party, Sea Shepherds marine conservation charity, Grrrlzinefair hand-crafted books, Essex Feminists, Southend Transition, South Essex Stirrer, Democracy Unchained and SpiralSeed permaculture experts.
Organiser Kamil Pachalko introduced, amongst others, author Graham Burnett, who led a discussion (with David Bowie’s image as a backdrop) on permaculture and sustainability. Lara talked about the Little Free Pantry—a space where people can donate a little food to help members of the community in need. “With poverty, homelessness and social deprivation on the rise,” she said, “it is time to take back responsibility for looking after our own communities.”
The new South Essex Stirrer denounced the complicity of Tory and Labour-run London boroughs in what it described as a “brutal process of social cleansing”. Formerly solid working class neighbourhoods are being gentrified as people on council housing lists are offered homes as far away as County Durham.
Southend’s Transgender Support Network (Transpire), a grassroots network of local trans people and allies, was only formed in 2016. It has quickly become an established local group. Transpire activist Merline Evans said there is “a big contrast between the support of other people on a personal basis, and the obstructionism of top-down bureaucratic institutions.
“The people best placed to make decisions on transition and trans issues are trans people themselves.” The same principle, Merline suggests, applies to democracy in general. “People should reclaim the power to make informed decisions about their own lives and circumstances. They should not rely on ‘representatives’ who are all but unaccountable, if not openly hostile to our interests.”
Students from the East 15 Acting and Community Theatre publicised their immersive production, What do we know? at Cliff Town Theatre 1-3 June. (bookings at email@example.com) A dozen people expressed a desire to come together locally to support a Real Democracy Movement.
Thanks to Peter Arkell, Fiona Harrington and Merline Evans for helping with this blog.