PPR is a small organisation supporting a growing network of people impacted by systemic human rights failings. The campaigners we support have had their fingers burnt in all sorts of pies - asylum, housing, income, mental health, climate, digital rights. They are ‘experts by experience’ - that weird NGO phrase that describes people like your ma, i.e. sound people who tell it like it is.
In our experience people are fed up with the status quo and they don’t fit into the boxes power tries to put them in. They know they deserve better. The spectrum and scale of their activism last year is a testament to what’s possible - the growing network of campaigners, the individual and collective wins, the coalitions, the small green shoots of mutual aid, cooperation and community wealth building. We’re doing something right. In response to the world-changing event that is the COVID-19 pandemic, we have blended hi-tech solutions with lo-tech determination to organise campaigns with the most marginalised groups in our society. We are changing things.
2021 brought a brief and welcome relief from COVID restrictions. We got blended and mingled more, reminding ourselves of a fundamental fact of life – we are designed to be together. At the same time our webinars and online activism engaged greater local and international audiences than any year before the pandemic.
Mental Health Service users and families bereaved by suicide reshaped the government’s mental health strategy, which started life with ‘experts’ who completely ignored the structural causes of harm. Our mental health champions launched new technology to inspire community action, leading to 23 assembly questions from 5 political parties in 60 days and the diversion of an additional £10m in resources to much-needed counselling services. Imagine how much more we could do with a Minister willing to prioritise learning from people on the ground - the real experts?
Developing tech for good is now an established strand of our activism - from housing clinics to corporate mapping. We make the tools that work for us. We ended the year on a high with the launch of TakeBackTheCity.ie – another first of its kind, combining decades of data on inequality, health, land, housing, climate, investment, political power and much more to help us visualise a whole city’s problems and potential for the future. On the day we launched our new tech, the Minister for Communities announced 100,000 new homes across the north. Imagine some team work to make that dream work in 2022?
Our response to the changing climate made us new friends - people who were mobilising to save the planet long before we fully grasped the danger - and together we have nourished healthy, healing, green spaces, creatively occupying unused land in our communities and bringing it ot life for the public good. 2022 will be a time to double down on our flower power.
Our housing clinics mobilised over 100 families in housing need to become human rights monitors - demanding accountability from the Minister, along with action from duty bearers and private landlords accustomed to making bad decisions with impunity. Some campaigners got new homes or long-delayed home improvements done, while others are still fighting. Decision makers at the top got some perspective on the reality for people in housing need.
When plans were made behind closed doors at Council, and the Minister for Communities ignored requests to support social housing on land she controlled, in the area of greatest housing demand in the state, we premiered an alternative future at a film festival, held an art exhibition attended by 5000 people yearning for something new, and then mobilised communities to donate their pennies and potatoes, before abseiling off a 12th storey rooftop to raise funds for a landmark legal challenge. No more business as usual, folks.
But let’s be honest, 2021 was not the year when we all came together in the interest of humanity and applied the lessons of COVID to the challenges we face. The big boys who lost a lot of money when public health was put before their profits have regrouped to fly space ships and ensure their economic growth is back at the top of the agenda. New rifts and tribes emerged - among others, the vaxxed and anti-vaxxed - fuelled by political leaders who make and break rules every day and tell lies for a living, broadcasting 24/7 on not-reality TV via toxic social media machines making a mint from our misery.
Financial support to cope with the pandemic hit the high-water mark and quickly began to be withdrawn from communities in need while the austerity agenda and welfare reform was brought back with gusto.
In this economic climate, Right to Work: Right to Welfare activists teamed up with the advice sector to sound the alarm on human rights abuses in the social security system, before releasing a beautiful rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ in a cheeky bid for Christmas Number 1.
As the local sectarian, divide-and-rule politics was matched all year by reaction and racism in Westminster, and the airwaves filled our eyes and ears with the opinions of people who you would jump into traffic to avoid on the street – quietly, and unreported, asylum seekers got organised. Banned from working and sharing their skills with the collective effort to build back better, they banded together to support each other, survey their peers and share a dream for a kinder economy in a film that broke the internet.
Read Part 3 - ‘Did you call your local elected rep?’