Conquest Of And Roses
It’s a hard time for governments, right now – particularly for their figureheads. Consider Boris Johnson. He’d probably like nothing more than to continue his charade of playing the bumbling, blustering, quaintly-British version of Donald Trump, and keep Britain’s economy running business-as-usual, and fuck the poor. But now, it’s not enough to pander to the patriotic myth of ‘stiff-upper-lip’ and ‘Rule Britannia’, and to the Brexiteers; for British capitalism to have any chance of limping onwards after COVID-19, the state has had to (grudgingly) adopt more and more touchy-feely socialism.
Hence the current boost to benefits (with Local Housing Allowance jumping up in Bristol by 26.07%; now decent people can survive on benefits, too?), a sudden ability to pay for Travelodge rooms for the homeless (in Bristol anyway, at least for those without dogs), and a temporary (though now dwindling) break from endless walls of traffic, with less people jammed up in cars. It turns out that capitalist forces have maneuvered themselves into a corner, forced to admit some of their own contradictions – especially how a sizeable proportion of 21st Century work is just non-essential and pointless. Yet it’s not all modern-day utopia and miracles – as well as the thousands who have had their chances of economic survival shredded, both the gutting of the 2014 Care Act, and the bestowing of ever-more sweeping powers on police; it’s pretty sinister stuff. The latter two changes are temporary, we’re told – but we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.
Luckily for us radicals, COVID-19 – and our responses to it – pose no such contradictions. We practiced mutual aid before all this, and we’ll be doing it afterwards, too (assuming we’re still alive). If you’re feeling a bit hipster, you might say “we were doing mutual aid before it was cool”.
Ah well, save it for a t-shirt.
Mutual aid is a key foundation of anarchistic practice – helping each other without expecting reward, and receiving the same in kind; think solidarity, not charity. The Bristol Mutual Aid group was organising via Facebook (and now has a COVID-19-focused group, and is also running a phone line, for those who don’t access social media) around two years ago, but the rapid spread of the virus, and the unusual hardship that went with it, has led to more than 330 such groups forming up and down the British Isles in the last two months (at least according to this list, put together in March). Alongside the 14 or so other groups in Bristol, folks active in BASE Social Centre came together at the beginning of April to form the ‘BASE & Roses’ food co-op, to compile and distribute food for free. At the moment, we have been sending out food boxes principally only in BS5, as well as supplying hot meals to NFA folks in the centre.
We probably missed a beat by avoiding the classic ‘bread and roses’ nomenclature, especially as our output is far more likely to include baked flour goods than it is woody perennial flowers – or amphetamines, for that matter. Let’s hope no one tells Trading Standards.
Despite all the preparation and discussion, things can still seem somewhat rushed at B&R, but we’ve collectively been hard at work establishing aims and principles, sourcing better food storage, streamlining admin, sort out driving routes, fundraising, building up supplier networks, co-ordinating with neighbouring groups, and perfecting our hygiene practices to be as tight as possible. We decide everything collectively, and have tripled our deliveries in the first three weeks. There have been some chaotic and stressful moments, but, as the kids say: ‘Anarchy is Order’ ; we prefer organisation over chaos, any day. As of the time of writing, we are doing food runs twice a week, but have plans to soon establish a third day, as well as to export best practices and resources to enable other radical food distros to set up in the Lockleaze part of Bristol (and maybe beyond?).
COVID-19 and the lockdown is obviously not how we would have wanted things to go down, but this can be a prime opportunity to put in place the types of fairer social structures many of us have been working at for decades, and in a lot more practical forms than we as radicals often achieve. But we’re not the most eloquent of wordsmiths out there on these topics (you might want to see some of the links, here, here, and here, for example), so we’ll sign off for now with a quote:
“Coronavirus won’t be beaten by community mutual aid alone, but groups that are involved in direct communication are surely a vital public health resource that will help counter fear and dampen the noise of bad information more effectively than direct marketing or broadcast media messages. More optimistically, if not too optimistic in this present crisis, these types of groups may well act as a springboard for the better social cohesion that is part of what it will take to achieve social revolution in the future.”