The views of those who worked for Margaret Thatcher during the conflict ridden early 1980s....What might this have to say in a C21 context to those on the underside of urban Britain who suffered at the hands of 'Margaret'?
(e.fletcher, s.robinson, c.chase, m.glover -Sugarhill records 82)
Broken glass everywhere, People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t careI cant take the smell, I cant take the noise, Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice Rats in the front room, roaches in the back, junkies in the alley with a baseball batI tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far 'cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car.
Chorus:Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to loose my head, Its like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.
Standing on the front stoop, hangin out the window, Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezesBlow, Crazy lady, livin in a bag eating out of garbage piles, used to be a fag-hag. Search and test a tango, skips the life and then go, to search a prince to see the last of senses. Down at the peepshow, watching all the creeps, so she can tell the stories to the girls back home. She went to the city and got so so so ditty, she had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own.
My brothers doing fast on my mothers TV. Says he watches to much, is just not healthy. All my children in the daytime, Dallas at night. Can’t even see the game or the sugar ray fight. Bill collectors they ring my phone and scare my wife when I’m not home. Got a bum education, double-digit inflation. Cant take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station. Me on king kong standin on my back. Cant stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac. Mid range, migraine, cancered membrane, Sometimes I think I’m going insane,. I swear I might hijack a plane!
My son said daddy I don’t wanna go to school 'cause the teachers a jerk, he must think I’m a fool. And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper if I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper. I dance to the beat, shuffle my feet wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps. Cause its all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny. You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey. They push that girl in front of a train, took her to a doctor, sowed the arm on again. Stabbed that man, right in his heart. Gave him a transplant before a brand new start. I cant walk through the park, cause its crazy after dark. Keep my hand on the gun, cause they got me on the run. I feel like an outlaw, broke my last fast jaw. Hear them say you want some more, livin on a seesaw
A child was born, with no state of mind. Blind to the ways of mankind. God is smiling on you but he’s frowning too cause only God knows what you go through. You grow in the ghetto, living second rate and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate. The places you play and where you stay looks like one great big alley way. You’ll admire all the number book takers, thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers. Driving big cars, spending twenties and tens and you wanna grow up to be just like them. Smugglers, scrambles, burglars, gamblers, pickpockets, peddlers and even pan-handlers.
You say I’m cool, I’m no fool but then you wind up dropping out of high school. Now you’re unemployed, all null n void, walking around like you’re pretty boy floyd. Turned stick-up kid, look what you done did. Got send up for a eight year bid. Now your man is took and you’re a may tag, spend the next two years as an undercover fag. Being used and abused, and served like hell till one day you was find hung dead in a cell. It was plain to see that your life was lost you was cold and your body swung back and forth. But now your eyes sing the sad sad song of how you lived so fast and died so young.............
A song that's over over 25 years old.....Speaks still in C21.....
Broad based community organising in the UK is both old and new. It is old because progressive people of faith and no-faith have for centuries engaged in grassroots action for social justice. It is new because the way we work within Birmingham Citizens only began to emerge 20 years ago when the Citizens Organising Foundation was established. Since its formation in 1989 COF has helped to stimulate the development of broad based organisations like Birmingham Citizens in Liverpool, Bristol, Bradford, North Wales, Sheffield and London. Some of these coalitions remain in close relationship with COF whilst others, like Birmingham Citizens, have begun to develop their own futures from the bottom-up.Based on the work of Saul Alinsky in Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s, broad based organising is a pragmatic model social action which unites disparate groups around shared concerns so that their common efforts can bring about achievable change. This model of united social action has become common in the USA where networks like the Gamaliel Foundation and the Industrial Areas Foundation link literally hundred of local broad based organisations in shared civil action.
In an era where the uniting power of religious institutions, political parties and trades unions has waned dramatically, as the American sociologist Robert Putnam notes, broad based organising offers an alternative grassroots approach for faith and community groups who want to make a difference in public life. Jurgen Habermas describes the ‘public sphere’ as the arena within which civic and democratic values have been expressed by an emerging middle class.
In Britain an increasing majority of people have apparently become disillusioned with this political class. BBO is providing religious groups to find new ways of bringing about progressive change and having an impact on public life. Macleod, Henderson and Salmon suggest that since the establishment of the COF in 1989, Broad Based Organising in Britain has developed to a large degree in isolation from other expressions of community engagement. In spite of an occasional isolationism BBO provides perhaps the most live contemporary example of ‘third estate’ civic activism: not the state acting for people but people acting together for themselves.Much British government policy over the last decade has sought a so-called common public space which revolves round a shared ethic of mutuality, often referred to as social cohesion. BBO operates within this public space but enables religious communities to assert its diversity and multiplicity. Lina Jamoul suggests that although community organising helps different religious groups in the city to work together its focus is not neutral because it is committed to creating a counter-cultural public space where diversity is used to challenge injustice and exclusion. The work of Robert Putnam on the potential of social capital to resource shared action on common issues helps to summarise the approach taken by BBO. Putnam speaks about the way that social networks and relationships within communities can empower local people, build bridges between different groups and resource change. BBO is an example of bridging social capital in action.
In light of this brief word about the development of BBO in Britain I want to say a little about how community organising works in practice. Why has it appealed to religious groups in cities like Birmingham?One but not the sameWithin the Christian scriptures Saint Paul compares the church to a body: many parts, each with their own function and character, but one body. When one part of the body is hurt the whole body is damaged. The needs of one part of the body impact on the whole body. Each part needs and is in relationship with every other part of the body. This is an image I have often used to describe BBO within the church but I believe it is an image that clearly expresses the way we work in Birmingham Citizens in a language that is transferable across many different communities. In a city where difference is often viewed with defensive suspicion the use of diversity as a source of strength is a sign of hope. In terms of our action the Pauline Body imagery means that where one member group within Birmingham Citizens expresses a need this becomes a challenge for us all. What happens on one side of the city or to one religious or community group happens to us all and it is this philosophy that has helped us to develop a networked model of action for justice.
The pioneer of BBO, Saul Alinsky, emphasised the importance of self interest as a motivation for action. I have to be honest, I think Alinsky was wrong. What motivates the faith groups that are part of Birmingham Citizens is not self interest but shared interests and a common commitment to social justiceEmpowerment and Democratic Action BBO in Britain has grown largely in inner city communities amongst disempowered people. It has been most effective amongst people who feel either disenfranchised or powerless to bring about significant social change because of their relative weakness. In a sense it can be compared to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.A and examples of ‘people’s power’ across the globe.
Three characteristics of BBO make this empowerment possible: 1: An emphasis on decisions that are made from the ‘bottom-up’ not the ‘top-down’. 2: A clear commitment to making decisions about campaigns together. 3: An understanding of power as relational and relationships as the basis of action.Issues Based and Organised
Whilst BBO stresses the importance of building long-lasting community organisations, rather than short-term social movements it bears a striking similarity to the characteristics that Manuel Castells suggest mark urban social movements: goal/issue oriented, rooted in a specific context, engagement with structures of power, organised and strategic and stimulated by conscientised organisers. Birmingham Citizens has developed a clear, three tier, organisation: action teams [relating to and delivering specific actions], a strategy team [shaping the day-to-day and strategic direction of BC] and a Board of Trustees [taking legal and management responsibility for the organisation]Focus on Common Commitment to Social JusticeWhilst Birmingham Citizens is not explicitly faith based it is true to say that an overwhelming majority of our member organisations are faith groups [churches, mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues]. BBO has emerged in Britain at a point when some argue we have become a post-religious’ or a secular society. This is not an argument I buy fully. Nevertheless in a society where the values of religion are no longer those of the majority of Britons and no longer provide a binding narrative around which people can gather the values and methodology of BBO offer us the tools to build what I want to describe as a ‘post-religious liberation theology’. As a person of faith who is committed to Birmingham Citizens I see in BBO an expression of what I believe to be God’s Bias to the Oppressed and a channel to express my own preferential option for the oppressed.
The Story Moves On: In the summer of 2004 I co-chaired a series of ‘Community Dialogues’ here in Birmingham, drawing together people from across the inner city to identify key pressures on family and community life. It was out of this grassroots consultation that the Citizens ‘Agenda for Social Justice in Birmingham’ emerged. In April 2005 Birmingham Citizens held its founding assembly when 23 faith groups, community organisations, schools and trades unions from across inner city Birmingham became ‘founding members’ of the coalition. Birmingham Citizens challenged the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council to work in partnership to address the scourge of drug dealing and gang activity in public parks, to address the rising tide of rubbish and rats in parts of the inner city and to work towards the implementation of a ‘Living Wage’ for Birmingham. The Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police was challenged to work with Birmingham Citizens to address the breakdown of relations between the police and sections of the community and to work in partnership to provide improved cultural awareness training for police officers in the city. 700 people watched as these challenges were laid and the force of focused broad-based organised ‘people power’ placed pressure on these key officials to agree to work with this new network for social justice in Birmingham.Four years later we have become a more diverse people’s movement which reaches across most parts of our city and includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Christians, as well as a range of community organisations and schools. At a point when stories of religion in public life in the UK often seem to revolve around enclosed identities, ethnic/religious ghettoes, attempts to limit Britishness and the so called ‘war on terror’ Birmingham Citizens offers another picture characterised by:1: Bridge building2: Socially progressive inter-communal politics3: Inclusivity4: Solidarity with marginalised communities5: Commitment to placing religious communities at the heart of public life as agents for justiceFurther Work is Needed: It must be noted, however, that in both London and Birmingham BBO exhibit’s a number of significant weaknesses.
1....BBO has displayed an anti-dialogical character that resists networking with other movements for urban which can be expressed as the dismissal of alternative approaches. 2....Whilst asserting egalitarianism the concerns of larger Churches and Mosques and the head offices of the Citizens Organising Foundation in London can appear to outweigh those of smaller faith groups and community organisations. 3....The power analysis within Broad Based Organising presents an outmoded Modernist mode of power relations which takes no account of the transformed nature of power in a Globalised urban age. 4....The amoral pragmatism of the pioneer of Broad Based Organising, Saul Alinsky, which relegates value based activism and elevates self-interest conflicts with the philosophical core of faith based liberative praxis in spite of Jacobsen’s suggestion that, “Self-interest honours both the ’self’ and the ’other’ in the relationship.” .
The Future:Unless BBO in Britain finds a way of expressing this implied solidarity of the oppressed in terms which engage creatively with the uniting values of the Ummah, or the glocal praxis of catholicity, or the inversion of ‘self-interest’ encased in Jesus’ Beatitudes, or his call to make a ‘journey downwards’, the powerful model of community transformation which Community Organising embodies will fail to realise its potential to exemplify a postmodern and post-religious Urban Theology of. If these significant blind-spots are addressed BBO has the potential to reinvigorate radical action for social justice in urban Britain. The model’s affirmation of ‘Liberative Difference’ and a networked approach which challenges cultural dislocation and creeping ghettoisation and its characterisation of Community Organisers as ’political intellectuals’ represent a creative appropriation of the principles of liberation theology in a post-religious urban context. Consequently, BBO can contribute to the framing of a proactive Urban Theology of and Difference which has the capacity to enable radical transformation on the streets of inner city Britain.
 Habermas Jurgen , [transl. Burger Thomas & Lawrence Frederick] ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society’, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.I.T Press  Macleod Jay [November 1993], ‘Community Organising: A Practical and Theological Appraisal’, in the Journal ’Christian Action’ , London, p7. Henderson Paul & Salmon Harry , ‘Community Organising in the UK Context’, London, CommunityDevelopment Foundation, pp vii  Jamoul Lina , unpublished PhD Thesis [accessed at http://www.londoncitizens.org/ 24.1.2007] ‘The Art of Politics: Broad Based Organising in Britain’, London, Queen Mary University of London, Geography Department, 21  For a summary of the Actions of Birmingham Citizens [2005-2007] see http://.www.birminghamcitizens.org.uk/ .With reference to the ‘Living Wage’ campaign see: Birmingham Citizens & The Community Union [October 2005], ‘A Living Wage? Mapping Low Pay in Birmingham’, Birmingham, Birmingham Citizens & The Community Union  Henderson Paul & Salmon Harry , op. cit., pvii and Macleod Jay [November 1993], op. cit., 7  Alinsky Saul , ‘Of Means and Ends’ in ‘Rules for Radicals’ , quoted in Cox Fred, Erlich John, Rothman Jack & Tropman John , ‘Strategies of Community Organisation: A Book of Readings’, Illinois, F.E Peacock Publishers, 198 & 200.: Alinsky: “Life and how you live it is the story of means and ends….The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms….Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times.”  Jacobsen Dennis , op. cit., 51
1. Arises from engagement with multipolar metropolitan life. 2. Is committed to action/research [action/reflection] 3. Views difference as a defining text for theological reflection 4. Is translocal, holding the global and the local experiences of city life in dialogue 5. Reflects the fluidity of metropolitan life 6. Is inter-cultural and inter/intra-faith and explores the transformative capacity of a ‘cultural politics of difference’. 7. Takes place in the ‘Third Space’ between fixed positions/perspectives and identities 8. Is committed to those on the underside/outside of metropolitan life 9. Is postmodern and post-Christendom 10. Engages with the existential questioning of ‘post-religious’ metropolitan generations 11. Adopts a non-confessional ‘nitty-gritty’ hermeneutical stance. 12. Dubs metropolitan realities on the basis of a core commitment to an ethic of liberative difference 13. Is inherently and necessarily interdisciplinary 14. Acknowledges but moves beyond the reductionism and camp mentality of contemporary urban theologies
Powerlines criss-cross the city, Currents of energy coarse through its veins. High culture, pop culture, faith, ‘race’, muscle and money Weave their patterns and vie for control. A spaghetti junction of influences moulding metropolis; Liquid life pouring the world into its urban mould. Power flows and disrupts; Draws in and pushes away. Blood flows, life force Blocked, rationed, hoarded, controlled. Powerlines criss-cross the city, Light up the shadows for those with a key.
L: In a city of a thousand strands, in markets, laden with the Scents and sounds of God’s rainbow people, we meet the Creator and discover the mark of God in both stranger and Friend. O God of many names, you are both mother and Father to us all, uniting the people of the city as sisters and Brothers. On the crowded bus, in the heaving shops, in the Collage of minarets and spires we discover Your Kingdom Afresh and see Your face in back alleys and dusty corners.
E: SPIRIT OF FREEDOM, LEAD US INTO YOUR KINGDOM.
L: In a city of forgotten people and lost stories help us to listen For Your Good News amongst those left out or left behind in The busy rush. Teach us, like Jeremiah to pray for the city, For it is here that we make our home and learn of You. Just As your prophets challenged the king makers who enjoyed The wealth of Jerusalem, but oppressed the poor, grant us The courage to work for justice in our city, that this might be A place of welcome, peace and justice for all. When we are Tempted to bow before the altar of money, give us courage Like Daniel to place faith at the heart of our community.
E: SPIRIT OF TRUTH, OPEN OUR EYES TO YOUR GOSPEL.
L: Amidst the clamouring voices and the noise of our city Grant us peace and space to listen for your small voice. And as we listen fill our hearts with an image of Your Son Jesus who embraces us as a brother and throws his arms Wide to welcome us all. In the noise and in the silence, in The traffic and at home on our own fill us with a sense of His liberating presence, as we share food and as we sit alone.
E: SPIRIT OF GOD, OPEN OUR HEARTS TO OUR LORD.
L: The city was crowded with people from across the globe, The faithful gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover: The festival of freedom. Jesus and his friends hired a room Above a busy street, and there they shared a last meal Together. In the quiet of the night Jesus broke a piece Of unleavened bread: He meets the needs of a hungry city. ‘This is my body’, he said ‘Eat together and know I am at Your side.’ When everyone had finished eat Jesus passed Round a cup of Passover wine: He quenches our thirst as We search for a holy city. ‘This is my blood’, he said. ‘Drink Everyone. I have come to set you free.’
E: WE EAT, WE DRINK. GOD IS WITH US. ALLELUIA.
L: The bread, which we share, is the work of many hands. As we break it, we remember those in our city whose lives Are broken for others.
Urban theology is a contextual theology which emerges from intimate engagement with the multiple processes which shape urban Britain. It is a public theology; ushering faith from the wings of society to the centre of the public realm; a practical political theology beginning with experience and ending with transformative action. It is tempting to pretend that it is possible to re-package the class-based reflection of the Thatcher years. Such myopia freezes urban theology in time. Fluid urban Britain demands a fluid interdisciplinary urban theology which grapples in increasing depth with the following themes:
The multipolar nature of globalisation. The experience of global forces in local communities (glocalisation). The increasingly complexity and fluidity of inner city communities. The multiple nature of oppression. Persistent raciology, identity and difference as the defining terrain for urban theology. New configurations of city-space, inequality and conflict. Emerging patterns of networked and fluid patterns of urban resistance. The post-religious and postmodern nature of urban society. The significance of urban popular culture as a vehicle for negotiating meaning and truth.
God of life, here in the heartlands of our city where difference is not strange but everyday and diversity is not a threat but a sign of Your Kingdom we find Your face and sense the breaking in of Your Kingdom.
God of love, here in the heartlands of our city when neighbours share their stories of hope and work as sisters and brothers for justice we are warmed by Your presence and held in the embrace of Your including love.
God of hope, here in the heartlands of our city where the promise of new beginnings and peace-filled communities paint pictures of resurrection and images of a church of the city we are challenged by the transforming power of the Gospel.
God of promise, here in the heartlands of our city where two or three are gathered together in Your name living in and for this community, walking a new path of faith which leads us down back alleys and into housing estates, we find You within us, before us and amongst us, forging a new way of being church.
In friend and stranger we see Your face. Alongside the broken and the excluded we learn about Your Gospel. In places of rejection and despair we encounter Your transforming hope.
Chris Shannahan is a Lecturer in Religion and Theology at the University of Manchester having previously worked as a Research Fellow in Urban Theology at the University of Birmingham. He lives in Birmingham with his wife and children and a dog called scamp. He has been a Methodist Minister and community activist for 15 years and wants to find out what progressive faith means in the city in C21. This BLOG is part of that learning, sharing, challenging, changing process...