Diary: 'Co-operation makes it happen!'

IssueApril - May 2022
Comment by Cath

I seem to have fallen into a never-ending recruitment drive – not satisfied with the ongoing search for commune members, or the renewed need to fill vacancies in my housing co-op, nor even the unusual situation of shortlisting and interviewing for a Radical Routes contract, I’ve found myself accepting a job recruiting people into a new housing co-op. For many hours a week.

Just in case the craziness of that sentence didn’t sink in – I am being paid (paid!) to help set up a housing co-op, and I (a non-member) am recruiting the new members who will set it up.

This isn’t how it normally works with housing co-ops – the idea of a team of people pretty much creating a co-op for others doesn’t sit comfortably with the self-help nature of co-ops. But treating it as an exercise in consciousness-raising, skill-sharing and anarchist empowerment makes it very exciting.

The job has some wonderful old-school cool: door-knocking, flyering, using community noticeboards, hanging out at food banks, coffee mornings and community cafes, chatting up hairdressers and charity shop staff.

It’s the stuff that I’ve always meant to do in my own community, but never seemed to have the time – getting paid to deliver a project as part of a team really does make things happen faster. Who knew.

But it also has its weird downside, putting me in a privileged position in relation to potential members, which I’m finding it hard to navigate.

It does feel really weird to encourage people, most of whom are struggling with money or time or both, to join me in activities, decision-making and responsibility-sharing when I’m getting paid and they’re not.

I find myself very conscious of a sense of unfairness, of trying to help meet immediate needs – not least because it might be more than two years before there’s a habitable property and doubtless some of these early members won’t actually end up living there.

Warren, a comrade from A Commune in the North, has written a piece* for Freedom News, on the ‘immediatism’ of anarchism – and I find myself envious of a life which contains so much focus on immediate activity, when so much of what I’m doing is all about the future. And not just ‘about the future’, but also filled with reporting, minuting, planning, scheduling, reminding, policy-writing – the bureaucracy of transparent economic organising between strangers in capitalism in the UK.

How does one overcome this? I’m fully aware of the classed and ableist nature of this way of being. Those of us who have had more formal education, who spend a lot of time at a desk, whose brains are wired for forms and computers, who are used to dealing with authorities and funders, who process masses of written information on all the text/email/discussion forum/googledrive/chat group platforms will, by default, know more and decide more if we are the ones who organise the systems and the culture. It will be a system which actively disempowers a proportion of the people in it.

Additionally, this quote particularly haunts me: ‘Where the authoritarians simply want to change who is in the driving seat and/or where the car is going, we anarchists want to stop the car, bask in the sunshine, and have a picnic while we enjoy each other’s company and every minute of what Mary Oliver perfectly described as our “one wild and precious life”.’

To help a group of strangers become a collective, develop a wild and precious identity, to ensure they manage to keep developing, upskilling, communicating and co-creating through a two-year period while they live scattered across the city, to develop roots in a community that’s new to them, we need immediatism. And it is already there – the joyful anti-authoritarians are pushing for community gardening and the new recruits are excited about a Cooperation Town**-style food co-op.

In the short term, however, I am effectively in charge – I understand the funding deadlines, the restrictions we face negotiating with the council, the amount of work other team members have put in over the past two years.

I am the person responsible for passing on information, recruiting the ‘right’ people, ensuring the group will fit in the area socially – and finding people to whom I can pass on that responsibility.

By nature, I am ill-equipped to create a chilled, fun-loving, sharing and caring group and (particularly in the current scenario) I have a terrible tendency to take the driving seat.

But Warren’s quote illuminates both the problem and one part of the solution – trust the joyful anti-authoritarians!

Facilitate their enthusiasm, direct people towards them.

All it takes now is to find some very self-aware and socially-well-adjusted people to hold that space and nurture a thoughtful, inclusive, collective culture for the long term.

As Sesame Street so perfectly put it: ‘Co-operation makes it happen!’*** This song helps me find the joy and immediacy, it will help you too. x x

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