Finding common ground


When I was a lad I had an idea, a dream, a dream I shared in common with my sister, in particular, our two brothers may have been on it as well, but it has persisted with my sister to this day and, in fact, we were talking about it today, this day of writing.

What we wanted was a space, a 24 hour space, where we could go and be, together with others who needed or wanted a safe space, a coffee bar space, a shared space. I remember the loneliness that drove the idea, I also remember walking the streets at night, being there but also yearning for somewhere to go and be, of being followed by Police vehicles and of having to vanish into alleys and parkland to avoid them.

There was something wonderful about the night, when the world slept and all the space was mine to wander at will, subject to no other human presence, to no other will, nor interference (though I kept a wary eye out for cops). The night was, and is, a beautiful space, the sounds were the sounds of nature and the sensations those that nature imposed, where the wild things are, in the absence of human hustle and busy-ness.

Over the years our dream changed and we yearned for a creative space, somewhere we, along with others, could pool our energy and be supportive and supported in our creativity. Maybe a farm or a barn, a community space, where we could live and work together.

Back then we only applied social significance in as much as we felt alienated from the world around us and wanted be away from that. Today I see it as something else entirely, in that we were on the right track but a long way from seeing it.

I have been wondering for a long time now, why protest is not working as it once did and why is there, in me, a sense that protest is not enough?

Reading George Monbiot’s article in the Dorset eye today (“To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing” – see link below), I felt I had something to add, if we are to find a way forward in these incredibly dark times.

Protest is not necessarily progress, it may contain the seeds of progress but it is essentially reactive, as such it doesn’t go far enough and perhaps that is what people feel, that hope is still absent no matter the courage and sincerity of those protesting and the results they do achieve. Please understand, I am not denigrating protest, it’s necessary, laudable and positive, but it has been weakened and brutally attacked by successive governments.

But I am witnessing the seeds of something else growing around protest, in every food bank and street cafe, in every support group and network for those oppressed beyond endurance, in clothing banks and street projects supporting others. It is what Monbiot refers to as ‘the commons’, ‘an asset over which a community has shared and equal rights’.

What he is talking about is being pro-active, something which is 180 degrees the opposite of reactive. It is about working in projects which are not concerned with the rejection of bad ideas and disastrous ideologies, or the exclusive world of neoliberalism in which we are neither welcome nor invited, projects which by their existence and out-working are inclusive and creative and which are working forward, not just offering the dream of hope, but being that hope in doing. As welcoming as a warm cafe and a hot meal to a frozen homeless person, where the door is open and the company wholesome.

Rosa Monkton was reported by the BBC as saying her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome and whose godmother was Princess Diana, should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage, and that to most parents in her position a “therapeutic exemption” from the minimum wage would have a “transformative effect”. I find it hard to imagine a worse world to expose vulnerable people to than the exploitative world of work in which even the most able bodied are struggling to survive.

Monkton said, “The rules are there to prevent people from being exploited (no they aren’t) but… there should be separate rules for people with learning disabilities… based on self-worth, on the feeling that you have got somewhere to go to when you get out of bed in the morning.”

I would suggest that the last place anyone would choose to go, based on issues of self worth, is the exploitative world of work in which ‘7.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, are in poverty despite being in a working family’.

Voluntary or paid a fraction of the minimum wage, I would not even consider for a moment exposing my disabled child (if I had a disabled child) to that world which is predicated on profit, not social care, which puts profits before people. That is what is wrong with Monkton’s idea, work is not a health outcome, neither mentally nor physically. It’s just more of the same empty rhetoric of exploitation. That is where those charities who brought in to Workfare got it so wrong, Workfare isn’t voluntarism, it is opportunistic exploitation, just as working even on the minimum wage is opportunistic exploitation.

If the world of work, which the government is so avid to force us all into, even if we are dying, was the only possible work available, then maybe Monkton might have a case, but it is not and she does not.

Working in common within our communities is an establishment of our rights as people, that is what community projects have in common. The government is hell bent on destroying self worth, it is we who can, and have the power to, give it back to ourselves. If dignity and respect mean anything to us, then it behoves us to prevent those who would steal them from us from doing so and to jealously guard them from the abuses being heaped upon us by the government. Every suicide is an act of despair, even those who despair of mental or physical pain beyond suffering, it is the ultimate loss of all that it means to be human.

That requires a proactive response. I require a proactive response. I have chosen to go into therapy, having lived under the oppression of social phobia for too long, indeed most of my life. My sister and I, had we but known it, already had the solution all those years ago and I have not been paying attention. I am socially phobic for a very good reason, I should have been paying attention to what it was saying to me, instead of hiding in terror.

Those who exploit us tell us we can all aspire to be rich like them (absurd nonsense!), but I have no desire for their kind of riches, I have riches of a whole other kind in mind. They choose to sell their souls for a handful of gold, my soul is too precious to be measured in gold. I would rather walk hand in hand in common with my sisters and brothers, nothing in life has given me greater satisfaction or love or riches, and nothing ever will.

KOG. 03 March 2017

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