Speech at Alexandra Park, Feb 9th 2013

My name is Marc Hudson. I am co-editor of Manchester Climate Monthly. Some of you will have read the article in the Guardian Northerner blog by my co-editor Arwa Aburawa. It’s about this park, and also the Mersey Valley, which is facing similar problems.

So I have some questions for you. Some of them are kind of obvious.

  • Who here is angry about what has been done? [Yes!]
  • Okay, who will be this angry in 6 months? [Yes!]
  • Who wants to be standing in another part of Manchester, in a year’s time, protesting something like this that the Council has done to some other part of Manchester? Who wants that?

So the question is – how do we harness the anger, channel it, focus it, hone it, maintain it, use it?

I’d like you to turn to someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and for one minute share a story about positive times you have had in this park. Can you do that for me now?

[A minute’s very loud hub-bub!]

You get to continue doing that after I’ve shut up! So, that person you just spoke to is another person in this movement who shares your passion. And together you can keep each other strong, and you can keep each other involved.

Thank you for coming out today. But I’ve bad news. It’s not enough.

“If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.”

That’s a quote from Noam Chomsky, by the way, that’s not me.

We have to build stronger links among ourselves. We have to welcome new people into our movement, find out what they are good at – to value and honour whatever time and skills they bring.

We have to take responsibility for our own level of commitment – not taking on too much, not taking on too little. When you burn out and leave, you demoralise other people, making it more likely that they will leave.

We have to learn to learn from our mistakes and mis-steps. We have to learn that we will lose our footing occasionally – and our trees – , but that we can – we must – walk together with pride on the journey towards genuine democracy, and towards self-reliance.

So I’ve got some questions

  • Who thinks that Manchester City Council conducted an adequate, detailed and honest consultation? [No!]
  • Who thinks they will do it differently next time, unless they are forced to? [No!]

I want to quote to you from something that Abigail Pound has written on facebook. There’s Abigail! Abigail wrote this amazing thing on facebook. Some of you will have seen it.

The devastation is still in progress. But we need to do something. 5 million pounds spent in a park that we’ve grown up with, that is so dear to us – we can’t allow this to be a bad thing. We have to turn this around. This must be a turning point in the history of our city. Consultation on the transformation of our public spaces should never look like this again. The city council is caretaker for our public spaces but they are ours. It is our park. It is our heritage. Its time for some humility and recognition that this is not the way to operate. Start the healing process now Manchester City Council. Listen, apologise [“You might wait a while for that “rueful laughter] and stop felling trees, you do not have a mandate.

[Prolonged applause.]
That’s for you, Abigail, that applause is for you.

And one of the ways we – together – can make this a turning point is to start to use all the democratic options open to us. Voting, yes, if you like. But with the current set up of first past the post – Labour has a total absolute stranglehold on this city. They could dig up Dennis Thatcher, put a red rossette on him and he would win any ward in this city that you care to mention. And that’s a fact of life.

Eighty-six of the 96 councillors are Labour. Next year that will go up to 96. As in, 100%. Anybody study political science? The technical term is “one-party state. That’s what we’re going to be living in.
But even one-party states have politics; they are just harder to see. The protestors who are currently so understandably upset at what is being done in Alexandra Park will, we hope, stay involved in the important job of trying to prise open the Council, long after the trees they care about are gone.
It is only bottom-up relentless and growing pressure that can force change upon the complacent and often contemptuous political culture of this city. That pressure is yours, that you have to make, together -a nd mine, we have to make it together. The pressure will involve lobbying of individual councillors, attendance at Scrutiny Committees, full Council and Executive. It will involve Freedom of Information Act requests, public meetings, letters to the “news”papers, petitions and a host of other tactics. Not all of these actions are easy, not all of them will be successful, not all of them result in raised status within the activist sub-culture. But they all have to be done.

Finally. Manchester Climate Monthly is setting up a scheme where people are going to “adopt” one of the six scrutiny committees. And turn up at scrutiny committees, and educate themselves, and educate councillors. We want to get this going NOW, so please get in touch.

And I want to read that quote out again from Noam Chomsky, so you understand it

“If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that.
What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.”

Thank you

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