Thursday, 14 May 2009

Enthusiasm for Change in the East Midlands

One of the joys of being involved with CITIZENS for Sanctuary is that I get to go to city after city across the UK helping ordinary people to realise that they can make real change.

I never tire of watching the realisation dawn on someone's face that they can make a difference - if they are prepared to organise with others, plan a strategy, take action, and negotiate with those in positions of power. Sometimes you can literally see years of frustration and despair lift from a person's face - and a steely sense of purpose and a determination to overcome injustice replaces it.

It was no different during my tour of the East Midlands this week. I started off in the Secular Hall in Leicester, where representatives of about twenty local organisations had turned out, along with the Deputy Mayor, to hear about how they could join the growing network of CITIZENS for Sanctuary Regional Campaign Action Teams and organise themselves to secure justice for people seeking sanctuary and rebuild public support for sanctuary.

Later I travelled the short distance to Nottingham for a similar meeting.

In both places my message was simple. Where citizens were prepared to work together to implement the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations, we could support them with advice, training and support. In return, they would need to:

  • Use the principles of community organising to build a powerful alliance locally;

  • Identify a winnable and worthwhile issue and then explore a solution in line with the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations;

  • Be prepared to take action in pursuit of negotiation with those in positions of power;

  • Commit time and energy to making change happen!
There seemed to be a positive response - particularly when I shared with them concrete examples of change from the work of London Citizens. The proof will be whether I get invited back to run a meeting at which a core of enthusiastic leaders will commit to forming teams in Leicester and Nottingham to join those developing in Cardiff, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Reading, London, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton and Plymouth.

Oh, and we even got some local journalists from an excellent media project come and record a short interview in Leicester - you can watch it here.

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