Working for a charity, I am explicitly told not to mix my politics with my work. And I get it, I do, but what has occurred to me lately is the numerous parallels that run between my passion (politics) and my day job (community engagement).
My role is to broaden engagement within community organisations; at present that is Neighbourhood Watch, which is far more interesting than it sounds let me assure you. The main reason that it is interesting, is that community groups do work very much like political parties in many ways, and so I thought I would explore these parallels a little to try and break up some of the apathy around politics that leads me to be told - don't mention the 'P' word.
Political parties and community groups both try to broaden engagement. The point of coming together as a collective, is to share values and to try to convince more people to get involved with your task. This is as true for a community group that is looking to improve safety in their street or local area, as it is for a political party that is working toward peace worldwide. Many hands make for lighter work, and more importantly affect the biggest change. Getting people involved in the things that effect their lives is the basis of democracy - but unfortunately politics has become so far detached from what people see as affecting their immediate environment, that our democracy has become stunted.
I do believe however, to quote Joni Mitchell, it is very much a case of 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'. With the huge democratic deficit in this country, we have ended up with an economic one (Robin Hood in reverse). This leads slowly but surely to the awaking of the masses once more, who are raising their heads up like meerkats wondering where it all went wrong. It's time to re-engage people, whether at a local community group level, with a charity, a protest group, or indeed - a political party. We can of course enact change more efficiently if we partake in the structures we seek to alter.
Community groups and political parties both need to fundraise, and both campaign on issues that are important to them, through the most effective means available to them. Both attempt to manipulate media response to any action they take and both are in the main, run by volunteers with a passion for the 'cause'. Both have worries, both have goals - a reason for existence and both usually believe their existence is making the world a better place (though the validity of this is dubious in the case of some purple toned parties).
I have said it before, and I will say it again, in fact I will keep saying it until everyone realises it. Everyone wants our money. Politicians, publicans, bankers, bakers, charities and corporations. By choosing where we spend both our money and our time we have an effect on our immediate environment. Whether we are lining the pockets of politicians, gazillionaires with offshore accounts, or Bob the carpenter that lives down the road with Maggie whose children go to school with yours. Community groups represent local level politics at its purist and we need to carry over that purity into the bigger picture. We need to put the P word back to proper use.
The only difference I can think of, is that community groups are working on a smaller scale - political parties are trying to change the county, and the world, whereas community groups are mainly concerned with their local surroundings or their county. Wouldn't it be great if we political types made more of an effort to reach out to these community groups - to see how they are managing all of the above? Share ideas, and seek to understand the problems one another face. It is all active citizenship, just with a different label. Once people realise that and stop ostracising 'politics' as something to be left alone we may just see real change happen - from the bottom up no less, which is the way it always should be. The P word needs to be cleansed, and to do that we have to reclaim it.
If one person in a community such as an office is politically inclined, it definitely spreads. People in my office are now signing petitions, getting involved in campaigns, and questioning the news more than ever before. One of them has even stopped eating at KFC, Nandos, and McDonalds. You can affect change so long as you refuse to segregate politics from every other part of your life as has been the status quo for so long. It is all one of the same and the sooner we realise that the sooner the world will change for the better.