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Some more notes on suburban organising: and a report back

by Dave Riley

I wrote recently on my expedition to the Gold Coast with The Power of Community video. Next weekend we are replicating that exercise with a similar event on the Sunshine Coast -- 2 hours north of the Brisbane CBD.

This last weekend we did more in like mode and held a stall at a Brisbane community northside market. If you are a very early riser Sunday marketeering like this tests the political mettle as we had to front the stall holder rendezvous at 5am and staff the stall until at least 11 am or Midday.

The grand plan is to hold regular weekly stalls at this market and pay the stallholder's fee to do so.Stalls at markets like these can come cheap -- we paid $10 for the posey. While it usually is the norm to sell on the street or footpath outside events the logic of a regular stall at a community market like this is, to my mind, about setting up a headquarters.

It's like having an Activist centre in the burbs without paying the going market rent. So you say. " drop in/by and see us Sunday's at the market."

Since I shop every Sunday at this market the way the local Tongans used their stall impressed me. They'd sell taro or cassava from a marqueed location -- just three boxes of root vegetables -- and occasionally some guady Hawaiian style shirts. But I realized that these stallholders were primarily using the retail exercise as a means to link up and chat with their local Islander community.

So with the Tongans' example in mind as far as I am concerned this business of running a stall is about establishing an open air office and outlet for political organising for 5-6 hours each week. It's more than flogging literature -- it's about raising the red flag and doing the community network thing.

And networking is what happens. In a market milieu people are in a different head space than they are in the street. You spend all your time talking and discussing politics and ( usually labour) history like you're a valued guest to the neighborhood -- a sort of consultant. This is especially the case in the 'wake'(huh!) of Work Choices and the impact of Your Rights at Work campaign

Since my stall holding partner and I were local folk it becomes embarrassing how many people knew us (even if you cannot quite place their faces!) besides in market space people track back and forth rather than shoot through and past you only once.

I've sold Green Left Weekly and organised protests in a few places around where I live -- a rather sterile suburban milieu --dominated by shoppingtowns of the Westfield and Centro ilk and it's very difficult to deal with the privatised public space issue with none of the ribbon retail strip to relate to. In the old style inner city suburb that sort of shopping survives to some degree. But the further you move out of the city centre retailing has been captured by the shopping town template and it's a bugger to find a niche to raise a political POV in.

Turn up and it's wall to wall security guards or cops reading you the riot act in bully boy fashion.

Even your standard kosher community groups -- such as the Scouts, APEX or Rotary -- have negotiated their way off the pavement and now occupy a servile existence attached to a $2 sausage sizzle or raffle ticket outlet as an appendage to the entrance to Bunnings or Woolworths. Making your mark with a red flag in one hand won't get under the corporation radar unfortunately when you ask the store manager for a posey out front on real estate they 'own'. But we have to colonize the suburbs some how -- it's all about moving out of the inner city left ghettoes.

But does it work?

That's the rub. It seems to me that if we can separate turnover of stall stock from the sort of quality engagement we can foster we may be away with a chance. These burgs are so politically sterile that a presence such as this can function as an organising focus in a way our usual tendency to ab hoc campaigning has failed to address.

Super Satuday in NSW on August 16th
suggests that there are ways and means to do community organising or agitating despite the practical difficulties we have to deal with in the urban wasteland. While the extension of shopping hours has gutted the foot traffic you used to be able to access on a Saturday morning -- for those in the dormitory suburbs, community markets may be a way around that handicap. No one else does it. Not the churches or the Greens. The main parties hold stalls three weeks short of polling day and say fuck you for the rest of the time.All they want is your vote.

But to be there and to be seen to be there -- organising for campaigns as they arise changes the traction you may be able to foster.

There's a logic in the madness of a 6am start on a Sunday morning. (And besides it's a great opportunity to have a natter).

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