Many Thanks to Teena Lashmore for this excellent write up in the Hackney Unites Blogspot.
Building on the success of the recent Hackney Unites meeting with BARAC - we report on a BARAC anti-cuts meeting in our neighbouring borough of Haringey.
by Teena Lashmore
It was an incredible night at the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham Green, London on Sunday 28 February 2011. Over two hundred people attending the Round Table discussion, exploring the impact of the Governments’ cuts to the public sector and local communities.
In the space of three weeks a small group of community leaders were able to draw upon their own resources not only to organise a platform to introduce Black Activist Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC) to the people north of the river Thames, but to provide a forum to local residence to ask questions and increase their understanding about consequences to public services – should the cuts go unchallenged.
On the top table was Althea Grant a local solicitor, Gary McFarlane from the National Union of Journalism, Rev Errol Hines a local entrepreneur and small business developer, Zita Holbourne Co Chair of BARAC, Lee Jasper fellow co Chair of BARAC, local Labour MP David Lammy, Educationist Jenny Sutton from Conel College and Arpita Dutt an eminent Employment Solicitor. They were supported with Find Your Voice DJ Douglas Williams who not only chaired the evening, but was a key player in organising the event.
The audience was just as impressive with teachers, staff from the civil services, mothers, fathers, students, small business owners, community activist, local Council worker and the elderly. Sharon Grant, the wife of the late community activist Bernie Grant, the man whose political campaigns resulted in the commemorative Bernie Grant Centre, was also in attendance.
The evening began with the inspirational short film which captured the essence of an earlier campaign where local community activists along with Mr Lammy successfully prevented the gambling chain Paddy Power from erecting yet another gambling shop in the deprived area of Tottenham’s West Green Road.
This was followed by Ms Holbourne who detailed the foundations of BARAC and the need for communities to join her and BARAC on 26 March in London for the TUC demonstration against the cuts. Mr Jasper provided a brief historical narrative to explain why these cuts are ideologically driven and the need for communities to place their differences to one side and come together to mount a successful campaign against them. His radical call to over throw the Government because they have mismanaged the global financial crises and have chosen to address the deficit by attacking the working classes, the elderly and those most vulnerable in our communities clearly ignited an already agitated audience.
Mr Lammy was welcomed with mixed feelings, with many finding it incomprehensible that a Labour MP would participate in the process of implementing the Tory led coalition cuts programme onto his community. It became clear he had underestimated the level of anger local people have with Labour leaders delivering the Cuts agenda and his early involvement in the campaign against Paddy Power did little to redeem his political standing among this community. Mr Jasper was soon to his side reminding the audience of the need to work together and only then did the Round Table return to the agenda.
Ms Sutton detailed some of the consequences of the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) on local young people, adding that over eighty percent of students in Conel College qualified for the full EMA. Such statistics confirm the level of poverty of local families and the need to financially support young people into education.
Rev Hines was unapologetic in his objective - to encourage local residents to start their own business to service their own communities and beyond. This was well received forcing the Chair to agree to explore whether the Bernie Grant Centre could be made available to the local community on a monthly basis - to develop local talent into business and personal development.
The formal speeches concluded with Hackney Unites’ Ms Dutt detailing the success of using the Equality Duty to challenge local governments. She paraphrased the successful journey of a local resident who used the Equality Duty (where there is a need for local authorities to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment before imposing fundamental changes that would change the fabric of a community), to challenge the development for another shopping centre that would wipe out small independent businesses; many which were owned or run by members from minority and ethnic communities. The floor was opened to the audience and from their questions it became clear that many of the objectives for the evening were met.
What is becoming increasing clear is that as the weeks leading up to the national TUC demonstration against the cuts on 26 March 2011 in London, the people are coming together and defining their own Big Society. Community groups are actively developing their campaigns against the cuts and strategies are evolving on a weekly basis.
Mr Cameron has been unable to explain clearly what he meant when he talked about Big Society and this effectively created a void in communities. In light of the peoples’ anger about the cuts, the global community’s poor financial management of the banking systems and the successes of ordinary people coming together to rid their governments’ of poor political leaders in the Middle East, The Tory’s call for a Big Society may have in fact unleashed an unstoppable movement in England - where Big Society will not rest until they too remove from their government poor political leaders.
by Teena Lashmore