It’s the start of a new year. A time for us to reflect on what has been and set resolutions for what will (hopefully) be. I know I’m not alone in saying that 2021 was a long and tumultuous year. The pandemic has continued to rage on, we’ve experienced challenge after challenge and even suffered personal losses (RIP Grandma – I love you). But, the fact that we’re here – the fact that I’m writing this and you’re reading it – is testament to the fact that we’ve survived. We’ve managed. We’ve overcome. And that is worth celebrating. That shows there is a chance for things to get better, for us to make things better, however we can. With that thought in mind, I enter 2022 with a sense of (cautious) optimism.
I know that, after two years of this pandemic, we are crying for some return to ‘normalcy’. That’s what I hear on nearly every work Zoom call. But personally, I don’t think this world will ever be fully ‘normal’ again – not, at least, as we know it. We’ll never fully go back to the status quo and, in some ways, that’s a good thing. COVID-19 and the global response to it has laid bare societal inequalities that have always existed, but perhaps have been more easily ignored. It has shown that there was much about the old way – the ‘normal’ way- that wasn’t necessary, that was only working for the benefit of the few. In the United States we’ve seen Kellogg’s workers go on strike against their unacceptable pay and benefits. They took on a huge corporation, stood up for their rights at great risk to themselves, and they won.
Here in the UK, rights are being eroded in a terrifying fashion. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to take away our right to protest as well as further demonising and criminalising the Traveller community. The Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to create a two-tier system for the seeking of asylum, as well as strip British citizens of their citizenship without notice. We have a racist, corrupt government that acts with impunity, and an opposition that does little to oppose. When you consider, then, that the government seems unstoppable in its march towards fascism, it can feel overwhelming. It can leave you feeling powerless. I ask myself, what can be done? How do we resist this?
Community and Solidarity
It feels like there has been a real lack of solidarity and a real rising individualism over the last ten years or so. A real lack of collective understanding or appreciation for the plights of others, and that such plights affect us all. I think about moments in history like the Poll Tax Resistance in 1989-1990. Many remember it in terms of the riots, which were absolutely significant. But I’ve labelled it the Poll Tax ‘Resistance’ here because what also made a difference was not just the demonstrations, but the underlying, more sustained, actions that were locally organised. People refused to pay. Unions and other organisations set up to campaign against the poll tax organised locally to clog up the courts so that councils could not keep pace with prosecutions. Some people paid their tax in pennies and generally did everything they could to frustrate the process, thereby making it nigh on impossible for councils to keep up. Collective action and solidarity, fuelled by huge national opposition to the government’s actions, made the difference. The strategy of refusing to pay and clogging up the courts worked because enough people did it to make it effective, and they were supported by unions and local organisations. While we now live in a markedly different society to the 1990s, I do still wonder what it will take to bring that kind of collective action and solidarity back on such a wide scale.
I don’t pretend to have any, never mind all, the answers. But I do think we will have to continue to build from the ground up, and that community will be key.
New Year’s Resolutions
So, as we enter 2022 and we make our commitments to the gym, to our career development, to our finances and so on, can we also make a commitment to community? To support a cause or an initiative in whatever capacity we can? Can we put in that work? Last year, I wrote about putting up resistance and how we can do so – can we make a resolution to try that this year? I think it is clear that electoralism will not save us. Material change will only happen by each of us being willing to contribute what we can – skills, money, time – to grassroots organisations, while using our voices to call out the government and organise against them.
New Beacon Books
Speaking of commitment to community, I couldn’t finish this post without drawing your attention to New Beacon Books. New Beacon Books is an independent Black bookstore and publishing entity in Finsbury Park, north London, and was the first (and only remaining) specialist Black bookstore set up here in the 1960s. The store has been a real staple of the Black community in north London for decades but, like many businesses during this time, it has been hit hard by COVID. It has suffered in terms of lower footfall and difficulty competing online with the likes of Amazon and, until a few days ago, was facing closure. Thankfully, an online crowdfunder has raised the target amount needed for the business to survive and then some. BUT, I am still asking for donations because we know it takes a lot to run a business and there is no guarantee that there won’t be another lockdown. In the spirit of community, I am asking you to please support the crowdfunder here and give whatever you can spare at this time.
I attended my first ever writing course at New Beacon Books and I will always be grateful to it for providing a safe space for Black people to come together as well as providing our community with much needed literature and resources. As the government continues its assault on our rights, these spaces will become even more vital.
As I said at the beginning, that we are here to see 2022, that we have survived, is worth celebrating. The new year presents us with a new opportunity to improve the world we are surviving in – to make it one that we can all live happily in. If we can make that small commitment individually, who knows what we can achieve. New year, new thing – let community be it.