Opinion //

Community organising in times of crisis

On directing energy into small and local deeds.

It seems each season in Australia is characterised by a new disaster. I feel I live life too fast, spreading myself across spaces which prevent me from relating to my present context. It isn’t until the perceived sense of control I have over life is shaken by crisis, that I actually stop and slow down. We have ways of carrying ourselves through the muck and grit of existence. During the crises we have faced in the last 6 months, I have seen communities respond by actively being a part of individual and collective action.

The impending sense of powerlessness I feel has been diminished by joining in on existing community initiatives. Often, we look at this action as futile in light of big problems. But who’s interrogating what ‘counts’ and what ‘doesn’t count’ as action? While capitalism’s main imperative is to economically rationalise individuals as consumers, rendering other needs invisible, I have found community organising to be a way to radically fight back.

I have volunteered at Addi Road community-operated Food Pantry over the last month or so, which has galvanised the effectiveness of mutual aid efforts in empowering individuals and communities. Not only have practical needs been met, but emotionally and socially, vulnerable groups feel braced by the community (even if the government aren’t economically supporting them). Addi Road, nestled in the centre of Marrickville, has adapted in these extraordinary times by diversifying and providing Food hampers to both NGOs (such as the Asylum Seeker Centre) and individuals with growing needs in the community. They have always had two main objectives: to rescue food from landfill and to provide nourishing food to the vulnerable. It empowers me to witness the mutual aid of the community, to see others seeking environmental and social justice.

Action however, can be as mundane as being present to ourselves, the people and the places we dwell in. This presence enables me to reconnect to things fundamental to my existence that is not encouraged under capitalism.  Abstracted from food and material production we consequently use our supermarket shelf as a pantry. How I can simplify and foster skills in life that will reduce the burden I have on global chains of production? Shifting our focus to our homes during this time may not be a bad thing. Putting the care into growing plants or learning how to bake your own bread requires engagement in a ritual that helps relearn lost knowledge reducing our reliance on unstable systems. By no means do we all have to live off-grid or become entirely self-sufficient, but supply chains are fragile and rebuilding robust practices in the home is one way of reducing our environmental impact and helping us to withstand future changes.

Post COVID-19 life will have far-reaching psycho-social and environmental effects on us. We will not go back to normal. 

Naturally, the suffering COVID-19 will bring is immense. But I hope that there can be silver linings that cause us to collectively shift to a different perspective on life. We have the choice every day to resist systems that created this problem. Our reliance on global supply chains is not sustainable and that governments don’t always make decisions in your interest. By investing in personal resources, skill building and local, deliberate action we can reclaim power and be a part of radical action.