While this history and track record had been part of my motivation to come and work with Citizens UK, another motivating aspect had been where their practices originated.
The catalyst for TELCO and the methods of community organizing that Citizens UK used to achieve these victories did not come out of thin air. The process started several years before the founding convention, when Rev. Tim Stevens, Neil Jameson, and other community leaders had visited the United States to learn from the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the oldest and largest community organizing network in the country (and the organization which I organized with in Dallas).
Impressed by the IAF’s method of winning social change, which was based on the philosophy that the people most affected by an issue should be the ones in charge of developing solutions, the delegation brought these practices back to England and made them their own.
27 years later, the IAF and Citizens UK remain sister organizations and collaborators, but thousands of miles and several decades has enabled Citizens UK to develop its own unique style of the work.
Ever since I began organizing with the IAF in late 2020, I have wanted to learn how these different dialects overlap and stay distinct. In particular, their success organizing with universities, childcare centers, and other community organizations beyond faith institutions shows that they have lessons to teach all of us back in the US.
From now through until the holidays, I will be working with Citizens UK to learn from the incredible work these colleagues of the IAF have been able to accomplish. My time will focus on collaborating with their North London Organization as they develop a campaign around climate issues. But I will also be shadowing organizers and traveling to different chapters across the UK as they take on issues ranging from affordable housing and refugee settlement to improving mental healthcare and expanding the living wage campaign.
It marks a dramatic shift from Barcelona, where people took to the streets as a natural expression of their civic responsibility. England, like the US, doesn’t have that habitual reflex. But the fact that a movement of 1,300 people has grown to tens of thousands and sustained itself over the past 27 years shows that even in one of the most individualistic, high paced, and competitive cities in the world, people still have an appetite to come together and organize to change their community’s future.
As of publishing this post, I have actually already been here three weeks. I have slowly adjusted to the cold and wet weather, successfully transitioned back to speaking English instead of Spanish, and gotten my bearings in this city of nine million people. Though there is a lot I miss about Barcelona, these Brits are good organizers, and they’re putting me to the test.
The next stories about the UK are coming. But in the meantime, as the transition unfolds, I would like to know what you think of those stories I’ve already written. If there are themes that have particularly resonated with you, ideas that have been sparked, questions raised, or critiques, please send me an email at Cameron.email@example.com. These discussions, like organizing, are of no use in a vacuum.