Last week we were proud to be part of the London Citizens Assembly, led by London Citizens, of which we are a member of our local Barking and Dagenham Citizens Chapter [find out more about who we are and what we’re fighting for here]. We were expecting powerful testimony from people affected by the issues we want to change and we definitely saw that. It was moving hearing the creativity one mum has needed to employ just to survive in the housing she is stuck in – turning patches of mould on the ceiling into scenes for a bedtime story. That’s not OK. But it was encouraging to see both mayoral candidates, Shaun Bailey and Sadiq Khan respond positively with commitments to nearly all of our asks.
What took me aback was how this was positive politics. This was my first citizens assembly, my experience of politics is fairly limited, and experience of politicians even smaller. The debates I have seen are those that have been televised since they started a few years ago with those vying to become the next Prime Minister. All too often those descend into cynical slagging matches, with each candidate out to pull the other down, the host reduced to a referee and often throwing in their own deriding remarks about people’s track records.
But this assembly looked forwards, CitizensUK wants to work constructively and positively with those in power. Each host was looking for positive commitments to the asks we put forward, so that we can work with whoever is elected tomorrow for a brighter future for all those living in London. This is the beginning of a journey, because change doesn’t happen overnight. But through broad based organising, we are an alliance that won’t be going away, we are a voice that won’t be silenced, we are united beyond age, gender, religion or race, to see positive change for all, a fairer city to call home and a welcome for everyone. And inch by inch we will see this change happen.
Whilst we want to work positively, we are an alliance who is not afraid of tension and there were tensions particularly on the topic of tackling youth safety, and, it was disappointing to not come away with clearer commitments from the candidates, particularly Sadiq Khan on this important area. The alliance itself handles tension well internally too, being beautifully diverse including a range of views and beliefs. Sometimes we think that ‘unity’ can only happen when we all agree, but oftentimes a sign of true unity is actually being able to disagree well. That’s a sign that we respect one another enough to allow each other to be different, to not try and ‘translate’ or ‘dilute’ what the other says to fit our own opinions, and yet to have made a commitment to work together and find common ground where we can speak with one voice. That kind of unity takes time, hard work, and patience, but aren’t those the very things that any lasting change and healthy community require?
As we write today we’re engaged again in politics: it’s election day! In our ward we’re voting for local council, the London Assembly, a local by-election, as well as for the Mayor of London. We’ve loved seeing one of our friends, Fatuma Nalule, standing for local council as a Labour candidate. She is someone we know personally and have seen work tirelessly for this community. Alongside her is another local resident, Pete Mason, who again has worked and fought for this community. And behind each name on those ballot sheets will be stories and causes that lead these people to so publicly offer themselves to seek to work for the benefit of others, even if they are not personally known to me. [You can read about each candidate here].
As a church community we’re not in the business of telling you who to vote for (though I would hope we are in the business of thinking and praying through how we use our vote), but we do want to celebrate those who put themselves forward for others and to make use of the freedom we all have to make our voice heard. So go out and vote if you haven’t already (and you’re reading this on Thursday before 10pm!). But more than that, let’s choose to be those who, through simple acts of kindness, putting ourselves forwards for roles where we can serve, or organised thousand-person assemblies, seek to work together for the good of those around us.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9