The Bright Side of Life

Once upon a time, when we started this blog, we were all young and unburdened by the weight of the world, and each had a pair of oversized, sparkly anime eyes, with fluttering eyelashes. Now, two and a bit years later, we’re world-wary cynical veterans of the post-apocalypse (although mostly lacking in either Mad Max or Fallout-style aesthetics, more’s the pity). I mention this only as a form of round-about justification, to explain why that earnest vow we once made to ourselves (to keep this blog freshly updated on a monthly basis) has now deteriorated into a more pragmatic, but less optimistic posting schedule of – I dunno – twice a year? If you’re lucky?

So, that dreary preamble very much preambled, what’s left to say?

The housing market can be a disheartening thing, when you’re looking to wedge yourself into it. You might have thought that the UK’s Brexit economic suicide might have destabilised things enough to put pause to the rollercoaster price hikes; but, as intuitive as such a situation may seem to the likes of us, the reality has been very different. Ready access to affordable meds, vegetables, and diesel may now be consigned to history, but the cost of housing climbs every onward. In our naïveté, we once thought also that the pandemic might give wannabe home-owners like us a break, but the stamp duty holiday crushed that dream. Instead of reducing the costs of home buying, it effectively did the complete opposite – inflating house prices to even more catastrophic levels. Perhaps the main beneficiaries – other than the usual landlords and estate agents – were those lucky few who kept their jobs throughout lockdown, and got to amass loads of money through having too little to spend on.

On top of this, we’re in Bristol, so we face even more gentrification than usual, due to the incoming London high-speed rail. We and ours have long been priced out of areas like Easton and Fishponds, but also now from St. George, and can expect the same treatment from Hanham and Kingswood, too. It’s been hard for new co-ops forming (do we still count as “new”, after five years?), so it’s not unusual when such groups don’t realise their goals before disbanding – and it seems to be getting tougher all the time.

What does this mean for the likes of us? I’ll just get a quick consultation from Ommadon, our financial projector.

Ommadon, the antagonist of 1982 animation 'Flight of Dragons', proclaiming "Doom! Doom! Doom!"

Well, it’s time we got creative, if we can. Some new co-ops forming in Bristol are instead investigating building properties up from scratch, and Bristol City Council land releases have been put to use for doing just that. We are also exploring routes to contact potential sellers directly, cutting out estate agents. We have been meeting on a near-weekly basis with and receiving help from Community Led Homes West, who have been offering all kinds of advice on business tricks, best practice, and obscure loophole-type stuff.

But time marches ever onwards, and we’re growing quietly more desperate for housing – especially now that some of our members are expecting a new small human! The current economic mess has also had us considering setting up further afield, in other towns – although we haven’t quite given up on Bristol yet!

In other news and things:

Thing #1

BASE and Roses food distro is still doing its thing, and attracting new comrades to help out. But the work can be fairly exhausting (and, in honesty, some of our own members really need get back into it!) and, on more than one occasion, B&R have come very close to having to cancel entire delivery routes, due to a lack of drivers. So, you know, if you’re a driver with the means and time, you should probably get in touch and offer a hand. B&R can be contacted here: baseandroses[at]riseup[dot]net.

Thing #2

Hey – you folks remember books, right? You know, when humans used to tear down softwood habitats to preserve printed knowledge on paper? Yeah, books – it’s the thing we used to do before we were all about fossil fuels, nuclear power, and dodgy mining practices to preserve knowledge on computers and smartphones. So, apparently books are still a thing. Oh, and bookfairs! So, we’re going to be along at the Bristol Radical Bookfair this Sunday from 12 til 4pm at the Exchange, and also at the Manchester & Salford Anarchist Bookfair on 6 November. Why not come along and say “hi”? Did we mention there’ll be books? Oh, and maybe coffee. I hope they have coffee.

Thing #3

We’re still doing our Radical Routes thing: the network is currently trying to reach out towards community-owned football clubs, and is also developing more accessible ways to distribute useful, up-to-date info on setting up and maintaining co-ops – ideally, via a website that looks like it made past the 90s.

A6 advert for Radical Routes: "Work Without Bosses, Homes Without Landlords"

Radical Routes (RR) faces a fairly unique set of challenges, it seems. It’s not an easy thing to build a network of groups and individuals aiming for radical social change – or rather, it’s not easy to build such a network, and have it still be active and growing more than three decades later. For folks who are very focused on fair decision-making, and very critical of the laughably-limited forms of meaningful control that everyday people get to assert over their lives – not to mention the direction of wider society – RR definitely bogs itself down in a weird kind of bureaucracy. We collectively create all these rules and checks-and-balances, to ensure that no small collection of powerful people, can amass unfair amounts of influence. But due to RR’s current reliance on consensus decisions, trying to get any kind of proposal to be accepted can easily drag out for a year or more, if even a tiny amount of people find it controversial.

More and more, the RR network is forced to examine its own nature, to make sure that too many protocols and red tape won’t lock the organisation into a future of complete co-option and irrelevance. Being a network that deals not just in strategies and tactics to bring about fluffy bunny social change, but also has to have its feet planted firmly in the soul-destroying reality of government policy and money-markets, all makes for a weird balancing act. Sometimes, it can seem like the network is built for someone else entirely, especially if you’re not educated enough, not wealthy enough, not able-bodied enough, or not white enough. But at the same time, there are several varying tendencies within it, many of whom are doing what they can to make involvement be as accessible and painless to all, regardless of whatever oppressions potential members might already face.

That said, as Anarres, we’re still very impressed with the technical difficulties that have been overcome by the network, caused by the pandemic. Despite the fact that our usual large-scale face-to-face quarterly Gatherings quickly got the chop, we’ve still been able to adapt and operate throughout (which is more than can be said for other radical initiatives some Anarrans have dealt with). In some ways, COVID gave RR a proper kick up the arse, in terms of considering how to accommodate the involvement of not just those who like travelling up and down the country four times a year, to bed down in echoey community centres and lumpy, brambly fields, but to accommodate those others for whom their physical health, mental health, or ongoing life commitments gets in the way of doing that.

Go go fully-automated luxury queer space communism!

Well, you know, baby steps. We’ll get there. But first, a house would be nice.

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