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Economic Justice

Community organising in Birmingham – turning real life stories into a radical agenda for social justice

Saidul Haque Saeed, Community Organiser for Citizens UK: Birmingham, blogs about the success of a recent Public Accountability Assembly

 

Founded in April 2013, Citizens UK: Birmingham – a chapter of Citizens UK – is our city’s largest civil society alliance of faith, education, trade union and community groups, committed to training and applying the craft of community organising.

 

Last summer, we launched a ‘citizen’s listening campaign’ when teams of leaders in each community had thousands of face to face conversations. We heard the real life stories of the people of our city. We built relationships and we built collective power.  Then in October over 200 of us came together to turn these stories into a common social justice agenda and recruit leaders onto action teams. We have 5 specific areas of work: living wage, mental health, jobs, benefit payment delays and public safety. Five action teams have been working hard over the last 6 months to impact change.

 

On the evening of Wednesday 14 May, 429 citizens from across our membership and diverse communities gathered to do some business at our Public Accountability Assembly. We put our priorities to the decision-making powers in Birmingham. This was not a hustings or an elections debate. We assembled to seek public commitments to our specific social justice agenda.  Our approach is simple and effective.  We believe that ‘90% of an action is turn out’, mobilising hundreds of people from across our alliance to attend. The buzz and energy in the room with so many people added to the sense of unity and reinforced what a milestone the evening was.

 

Every proposal was preceded by a moving testimony by a person affected by the issue. They were people speaking publicly for the first time in their lives – the youngest were 10 years old.  No multi-slide power point presentations for speakers to hide behind, no jargon and strategy speak.  Any long-winded response not addressing the issue wasn’t going to go down well when compared to the powerful testimony which connected with the audience moments earlier.

 

And then we put our proposals to the decision-makers to see if they agreed with them. And they all did – with every proposal we put forward.

 

  • We won a pledge from a Clinical Commissioning Group Chair for a world class mental health service for young people, ending the scandal of no access for 16 and 17-year-olds.
  • We won the Council’s backing for our campaign to make Birmingham a Living Wage city and a commitment to a roundtable meeting with employers and business leaders on jobs investment.
  • We won the Police Commissioner’s backing to pilot the CitySafe scheme in our neighbourhoods. He also agreed to host a meeting with the boss of National Express (re bus safety).
  • We secured the Department for Work & Pension’s commitment to take action on benefit payment delays and provide a direct contact point for our alliance to refer cases.

 

Community organising is about building power and participating in democracy: being realistic in what we demand and winning key victories to improve the lives of people across the city. There is no better example of this than from the many young people at the Assembly who demonstrated their readiness and ability to train as leaders and act in public life.

 

 

Email:  [email protected]      twitter:  @CitizensUKBham        facebook:  Citizens UK Birmingham