In today’s world, it can seem our systems do not work. Our politicians too far removed, our ideals too high up, our news too mad and cynical to make us doing anything other than shrug.
Often, our world and our capacity to affect it can seem massively disconnected from one another. For a community driven democratic society to work this cannot be the way the world functions, as it ceases to function.
And that’s pretty much what has been witnessed, especially for the last eighteen months of madness within our nation. It’s pretty much been the status quo for the last forty years give or take – a powerless people made to feel powerless when discussing the national stage of our country.
Yet, in the smallest areas, in the corners of our society, democracy is alive, and active, and winning.
Hence the title image – the Cardiff born “Save Womanby Street” movement that has come out in the last year. A movement singularly focused on protecting a community’s interest, succeeding via activism and campaigning on a local level, and defining what city based music means both to that city and the wider nation.
Some context to the movement: It was a response by locals within the street itself when the local council announced the sale of a plot of land within the street to develop modern flats. The local music venues that surround this potential building on all sides weren’t particularly happy with this news. One day it’s noise complaints, then some time down the line the entire music focused street would be turned into new build flats going at 200k a pop (as is every inner city’s desire – to make a profit).
Naturally, this got some folk up in arms. So they organised.
And they organised swiftly and effectively. There was a city march, support from the local bars and clubs, and local volunteers out in force to protect this place. Democracy and peaceful activism out in full force, not being sidelined and utterly focused on protecting this place as a sanctuary of the Cardiff Music Scene, on protecting a place home to the love and practice of live music, both local and afar.
And it worked! The local government got involved, the land is now bought by the council and leased to the local club, and the street is, in effect, secure from the threat of property development, which would have had a dire consequence on a core part of the local community, and part of the city’s identity.
Hell, it’s now defined a brand new term for itself – the UK’s first “music city”. Now that last part may seem like some fluff but understand that six months ago there was a genuine threat of a place losing part of its soul. Now it’s defining brand new terms for the nation.
Quite impressive, really.
This was driven by the campaign, driven by its volunteers and supported by its followers. It was an act of grassroots activism that proved successful. That continues to prove successful.
I’m sure you may be wondering why the hell this relates to the country shattering events of the last eighteen months.
It shows that in the darkness that seems to be overcoming our day to day lives via a sordid press, an awful government and just a world that seems to be slipping further and further into madness, there are stories of positivity and success. And not only success we agree with but, on a local level, visibly see it happen, see the life and drive of those involved and see that determination result in visible change in the world.
If you’ve read anything else on this corner of the ‘net I call mine, part of what I believe in is change. It is what fundamentally drives us a species and what gives us meaning.
Allow me to indulge in some philosophy for a moment: the biggest, most powerful thing we do as a species is act on our decisions.
It gives us a power that nothing else witnessed in our world is capable of. Humans, and life as a whole, are special in this capacity to shift the future of the world. Rather than reactions laid out like machines started long ago ,we shift and change and act, and thus alter the course of history.
We rarely see this play out beyond the borders of our own lives but every now and then, we witness history, not as some distant song or event told by passers by but seen and acted by those around us. We see it take place in front of our eyes.
It’s a pretty awe inspiring thing, to see people I have encountered now command and lead a movement across this city that I love, to protect something they value. Not only that, but instead of seeing it crushed beneath the will of those who would see life suffer before profit, they instead see the fruits of that world defining behaviour now change the course of this street.
For now, this corner of Cardiff is safe, and protected and free to celebrate something very dear to most people’s hearts:
There’s another piece I should write sometime about music and just how much it matters. For the sake of this one, personally, seeing it valued this much is awesome to behold. And it’s brilliant to see local, Welsh music now in the spotlight thanks to this movement. Even better that it is still valued and still going and that no amount of profit seeking is going to see it fall.
Not yet, anyway.
Because if there’s one thing this movement should not do is lose sight of why it exists. Many grassroots movements, from the largest to the smallest, have failed due to two main factors – a lack of focus and a loss of momentum.
Because these fights are never over. There’s no rest in a democracy. Every generation is fighting the same conflicts again and again, and even this victory now is not a permanent state of affairs. There will always be those who seek to change the way the world works and that inevitably leads to conflict.
Doing nothing tends to be the thing that destroys democracies as it forces the hand from local movements to boardroom meetings. And that very nature of them is exactly why we have the issues we do on the national scale.
Grassroots movements tend to be reactive to these people, as either a protective act or a responsive act. The problem is that other movements may seek to capture this momentum as part of their own agenda or worse, that these movements are consumed by the institutions they are meant to hold accountable.
Because even those the local government now supports this movement and its aims, they were not on their side at first. They were pushed into that state by the visible and audible movement that showed up outside their door and refused to bow before achieving their aims.
And once they were convinced, the movement switched into a supportive, constructive mode, so that they can all achieve the same goal. Once the agenda had been set, politicians began to act on the interest of the movement.
So there are risks and no one should get too comfortable. A movement like this, as inspiring and beautiful it is to see representative democracy and action pay off, especially so close to home, needs to keep its focus. It cannot think it is done yet, and it cannot get distracted by others with less than ideal intentions.
Despite the warning though, what an achievement for this amazing city, for it’s amazing people, it’s amazing music, and for it’s potentially amazing future. It’s a small, burning light in the darkness.
In this world, we cling to hope. It’s what drives us forward. To see it pay off with the world turning mad gives me a sense that, maybe all this nonsense going around us will end, and other movements are occurring right now to protect what matters to them.
Or maybe this is the wake up call, that reminds us we’re human, and we are capable of great things, if we put our minds to it. We do live in a democracy after all. We get as much say on paper as everyone else.
To the future then. Greatness from small beginnings, as they say.
All photos were taken from the “Save Womanby Street” Official Facebook Page. If there is any issue with the usage of these please leave a comment and I will take them down on request.