John le Carre once observed: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”, which leads one to ponder how best to dismount from that desk and engage in the dirty world of real politics; and it is in local communities where we can find amazing people “doing politics” every day.
Mums are squeezing out the week, to fit the measly dole money they have, dads are brokering between bickering teenagers and grannies inspiring their neighbours with a commitment to caring for others, looking out for their neighbours.
They live in joined-up communities; it’s the state that seems wilfully to create unhelpful silos, bureaucratic boundaries and unhelpful paperwork.
That kind of local politics takes place every day in every community, as grinding poverty grinds communities down. More than half of those now designated as experiencing poverty in Northern Ireland are already in work — they are not work-shy scroungers; they are surviving against all the odds.
Meanwhile, our politicians are struggling to create a more favourable framework for their voters to flourish; Stormont House, fiscal autonomy, devo-max, welfare reform, flags and the past are huge issues for their consideration and dissection — they deserve our support; the ‘Make it Work’ project addresses that important endeavour. But most citizens aspire to more.
This is where the Civic Conversation strives to fill the space between these two domains – the formal political sphere and the informal community politics of families and neighbourhoods. If creativity is “joining up issues that weren’t meant to be joined up”, then this is, indeed, an act of creativity, not just to understand the issue, but to change the terms of debate for the better; to connect; to enliven the sinews of a fairer society.
So, step down from your desk, walk round to Common Grounds cafe in University Avenue, Belfast and drink in the nectar of debate, argument and ideas: join our #CivicConversation.