Saturday, 4 May 2013

Nottingham Citizens at Karimia

BFTF attended a "Listening Excercise" held by Nottingham Citizens at Karimia recently.

The event was facilitated by Nottingham Citizens' professional organizer George Gabriel and aimed to consider what were the key social issues that affected the Muslim community. Participants were a number of volunteers at BMCC, Himmah and Wollaton Mosque and Community Centre.

Whilst BFTF was familiar with some of the ground covered by George as he explained the basics of community organising, there were some aspects that really caught BFTF's attention and which are probalby worth sharing more widely.

If at first you don't succeed, try again
A listening excersise in London some years ago found that low wages were a severe problem many who lived and worked in the city. Looking at the issue more closely, London Citizens decided to focus initially on the cleaners who worked at the large HSBC HQ. This was because HSBC had outsourced the cleaning of the building and the cleaners were only paind the minimum wage - which is simply not enough to live on in the Capital.

Numerous requests to meet with HSBC management received no response so London Citizens decided that they needed to do something a little more high profile.

So they got a bunch of people together, visited a branch of HSBC and queued up to change notes into coins. When they got the coins they queued again to change them back into notes again - repeatedly.

Meanwhile, a group of (God bless them) Nuns were also queuing up and aaking to open accounts. When they had opened the accounts they queued again to close the accounts - repeatedly.

Unsurprisingly, this caused chaos in the HSBS branch and the manager was soon out asking what the heck was going on. London Citizens asked the manager to get on the phone and tell the boss of HSBC to meet with them.

The manager did indeed get on the phone, but instead of calling head office, he called the Police. When they arrived the manager told them that the branch was being disrupted by people changing money and opening apeople nd closing acounts. The Police, with admirable restraint, pointed out that he was running a bank, what did he expect?

Which is all very entertaining, but did not get London Citizens any further forward in obtaining a Living Wage for the cleaners at HSBC.

So at this point, London Citizens had failed. The organisations that formed London Citizens had given their time and their people - all to no avail.

For any nay-sayers who wanted to point out that HSBC would never listen, that community organising was a waste of time, that there were other things which needed to be addressed - this could have been their hour of triumph.

But what actually happened was that London Citizens regrouped, had a think, and TRIED A DIFFERENT APPROACH. You can read what happened next here - and Citizens has since gone on to win some £210million in extra wages for some of the lowest paid people in the UK.

George asked the participants for the qualities that they felt a leader needed and received a long list of responses along the lines of trustworthy, charismatic, hardworking, principled etc etc. With some 20-30 of these written on a whiteboard, George then asked the participants who thought they were a leader.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, now faced with this impossible-to-meet set of criteria, no-one stood up.

George then explained that your didn't need all these qualities to be a leader. What you needed to be a leader was FOLLOWERS. Without followers, no matter how good a character you had, you were just "a nice guy out for a walk".

George then asked one of the participants, a teacher,whenther his pupils generally followed what he told them. They did.

He asked another participant, a parent, whether his children generally followed him. They did.

And it became clear that, in different ways, many of those participating WERE leaders !

And also that the followers were doing so because of a RELATIONSHIP between them and the leader.

Of course, the event also spent some considerable time discussing the issues facing the Muslim community and which of these could practically be addressed.

Keeping it Going
BFTF was concerned that this kind of event only happened because Nottingham Citizens suggested it, and that the Muslim community needed to take responsibility for organising its own community action groups and activities. BFTF discussed this with an Imam, who agreed, and it is hoped that the good start given by this event will light a flame that burns of its own accord, inshallah.

Related Content
PCC Accountability Assembly
Hope and Homelessness Commission Report
Tips on Community Organising - A MUST READ
Citizens UK and Himmah

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