“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbours were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters."
The author Naomi Shulman.
Peace and harmony and working for the common good: CUK organiser Daniel Mackintosh gives us a brief insight into to what community organising can mean.
I work for community charity Citizens UK as the Waltham Forest and Redbridge Organiser. We are an alliance of 10 faith and education organisations, including Faizan-I-Islam, in Waltham Forest. Citizens has 400 member organisations in 11 cities UK-wide. Our mission is to revive the tradition of organising in the UK embodied by the slavery abolitionists, the suffragettes and the unionists, by strengthening our institutions to participate effectively in public life.
We live in challenging times. We have seen the normalisation of nasty politics, which has created the political environment in which terror attacks, like that on the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, could occur. Market culture dominance has led us to accept third rate treatment for poor people, as seen by the Grenfell fire. And our democracy is threatened by our withdrawal from participating in building the politics of a common life.
Academic Luke Bretherton says that the politics of a common life occurs when no single tradition of belief and practice sets the norms and conditions of shared speech and action, because different groups are all constantly negotiating what the ‘good life’ looks like.
Why am I invested in this form of politics? I am a Jewish lad from South Africa. My grandmother was a Latvian refugee who fled to South Africa as a seven-year-old child in the 1930s because of antisemitism. Her grandmother, Chaisha, was then killed by the Nazis.
My community learns two diametrically opposed lessons from the Holocaust. One group of Jews says we can never trust anyone who is not Jewish because everyone is antisemitic. Therefore, we can only rely on one another.
The other group says, no, the Holocaust is what happens when democracy breaks down. This group, into which I fall, believes that we are all safer in a society that protects minorities, be they Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or gay people. Jews are safest in societies where all people are respected, because, when one minority is attacked, so too will Jews be.
So, how to effectively build the politics of a common life?
We need at least 3 things.