Southend-on-Sea Prosperity for All Campaign

I’ve been trying to think what to call the movement we’re building in Southend.

Our local movement is inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign in the states; whose aims include challenging damaging stereotypes associated with a life in hardship.

In the UK as in the USA, people without enough money to meet their basic needs, living in housing unfit for human habitation, or in insecure tenancies, people that have to visit food banks, people depressed by crippling unending debt, people that aren’t working or are working low-paid jobs – all tend to be blamed for their own circumstances.

When we talk about anyone as though they are an underclass of society – as less than – it makes it easy to continue to oppress those people. It also makes people who are not in hardship a) feel better about themselves – I must be doing ok because I’m not like those people and b) work 40+ hours per week, constantly worry about money/job security and get themselves into debt, because they so fear becoming those people.

A narrative that blames the poor is a convenient way to control the many. It’s also convenient misdirection from the deeds of those at the top.

However, as an Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, I want to focus on where we want to end up. We want all citizens of Southend to have opportuntities to flourish. To prosper not only in terms of income, but in health, learning and in building the life they want for themselves and their families. So, for now, the working title for our movement is “Prosperity for All”. That may change. I believe in allowing things to evolve.

We held our first gathering at the beginning of December 2019. Around 20 people attended. Our intent was to gauge interest in forming an alliance of individuals, groups and organisations with a determination to challenge inequalities and work to achieve a better quality of life for everyone.

People shared their own stories about economic insecurity and hardship. It was quickly apparent that this can happen to anyone, and it can happen quickly. With the sudden loss of work, you can find yourself both a volunteer at the food bank and a customer of the food bank.

I had some ideas about core principles and actions for our movement/alliance, based on those of the Poor People’s Campaign:

  • principles similar to those of the Poor People’s Campaign; about social and economic justice, peace, equality and protecting the environment.
  • Setting up a website, or a blog site, to encourage people to get involved and share their stories.
  • Holding public gatherings around the town where people affected by poverty can share stories and talk about what would make things better. Sharing some of these stories via podcast and/or video online.
  • Championing the concept of a Universal Basic Income
  • Engaging with local politicians and policy-makers

I asked attendees at this first meeting what they thought we could do. Here’s what people said about principles and actions:

  • Everyone has a story and every voice should be heard. Listen to lived experiences.
  • Everyone should have enough money to live and thrive
  • Everyone deserves to feel valued and have high self-esteem. Services and systems should promote self-esteem/self-worth
  • Empowerment – make sure the voices of the unheard are given centre stage
  • Sustainability – ensure the movement continues even if those involved at the outset drop out or become unavailable
  • Focus – not trying to take on too much too soon. Stay focused on a core agenda
  • Produce a Connected Community information leaflet – signposting people to support
  • Equip people involved in the movement with skills and confidence to make a difference
  • Climate justice – be a part of a borough-wide pledge to reduce emissions and foster healthy climate behaviours
  • Economic justice – voting, ethical banking and other factors that support stability and prosperity
  • Involve organisations such as SHAN, YMCA, local foodbanks, Southend Food Partnership, CAB, Citizens UK, Step Change, Christians against Poverty.

We also asked people to think about their personal skills. Everyone is a unique blend of knowledge, experience and skills. We find our collective strength when we bring together the best of who we are as individuals. One of the greatest assets people can bring to this movement is connection. The more people we are connected to, the more stories we can ensure are heard, and the more ears we can ensure those stories reach.

I’ll be arranging our next meet up and activities in the New Year. I hope you will join us.

In the meantime, I leave you with this quote from one of the attendees:

Poverty is everyone’s business. Poverty is in Southend. This is our town and should be everyone’s business. That we allow people to experience hardship; it is at a cost. A social cost. An emotional cost. A monetary cost. If we want our town and community to thrive we have to have a stake in it and do something. It’s everyone’s business.

Make 2020 the year of radical change. 

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