Tag Archives: Banksy

Big Progress in Bristol

IMAG0192Bristol     Oh, the difference a year makes in an organization’s progress! I could feel it almost immediately as we walked to the new office on the border of St. Paul’s, a neighborhood we are preparing to launch an organizing drive, and Easton, the community that has been our bastion of strength. Walking to the left of Stuart Melvin, ACORN United Kingdom’s head organizer, he exchanged brief greetings with someone passing quickly he leaned over to me and said he was a letting or rental agent that had been one of the ACORN Easton group’s targets and had ended up agreeing to sign the ACORN Ethical Letting Charter to protect tenants. Only seconds later we stopped as someone approached on the right and said hello who was a member of the Easton organization and promised to be at the next meeting. It’s the little things like these quick random exchanges that help to fill in the measure of real growth in an organization in a way that the charts and reports hint at, but only these kinds of experiences can flesh out.

We met with Nick Ballard, another of the founders of the Bristol ACORN operation in the office. Although we had been renting the upper floor in the Communication Workers’ Union of Bristol since last December, it was my first time there, and what a difference it made. Same rent, thanks to our postal worker brothers and sisters as the old shared space, but instead of a tiny room on the other side of an art and book space, it was several rooms overlooking a small patch of green down below and spoke in every way to the increased quality of the work being done. You can’t judge an organization on the bricks-and-sticks, but framed action pictures and meeting posters, the books on organizing on display, and the large table where all three of us had computers blazing as Stu complained about the internet was a world of difference from our early days less than two years ago.

Most importantly the dues-paying membership was now over the 300 mark with two-thirds coming from Easton our membership and the expanded citywide tenants’ campaign that had grown from its earliest fights and another one-third attracted widely to the rising profile of the organization in the area. ACORN’s Ethical Letting Charter arguing for better enforcement of landlord repairs, increased security of tenure for leases which now all run for only one or two months at a time, and other tenant protection efforts has attracted the support in one way or another from actions to petitions of more than 10,000 people pushing the profile of the organization bigger and bigger.

Another shot in the arm was the recent five-week Dismaland brilliantly organized by world famous graffiti and counter-cultural artist and impresario, Banksy, who incidentally is a native of Bristol and former resident of Easton as well. The satirical, political, and art production drew over 150,000 people to a small town along the seaside not far from Bristol, and ACORN had been invited to set up an information stall at the event in what they called the “citizen’s advice bureau” about its work. Somewhere between 4 and 6000 people – members are still entering the information in our database – signed up as interested in more information and the exposure to the wider community and beyond of ACORN and its work was huge. Reading Newcastle organizer Tom Scott’s brief blog on the ACORN UK website (http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/two_days_in_dismaland) also gave a sense of how the event built the solidarity of the organization as organizers and members from London, Newcastle, Reading, and Birmingham all came in to help work the event on various weekends.

IMAG0200 IMAG0183 Every day is a challenge for a young organization, but in Bristol we’re seeing how quickly we can begin to reach our potential and it’s exciting to imagine the unlimited potential for our members there in the future.

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Banksy’s Dismaland

Announcing: ACORN are an official part of Banskys Dismaland! And you can too - we need your help! Visit http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/disma_volunteer to get involved!

Announcing: ACORN are an official part of Banskys Dismaland! And you can too – we need your help! Visit http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/disma_volunteer to get involved!

New Orleans      At the end of a long catch-up Skype call with Stuart Melvin, ACORN United Kingdom’s national organizer, he mentioned he and some of the members were going to be spending some time at an odd street festival of sorts not far from our folks in Bristol, England along the coast in a town called Weston-super-Mare. Stu kinda laughed about it, said he couldn’t really describe it, but I should just Google the name of the town, and I’d get a sense of it. I meant to do so of course, but I didn’t, you know how these things go, there’s only so much time in the day.

A couple of mornings later I scan a piece in the New York Times about the latest mashup from world famous street and graffiti artist, and Bristol-native, the ever elusive, Banksy. The art community had been wondering what he had been up to during an unusually quiet stretch and suddenly, and in his typical way, secretly it seemed, he had opened a massive thing he called Dismaland on the English seaside. Interesting, I thought and kept on pushing.

Later at work an email from Stu says this bizarre experience went well. Ah, that’s right the gang was going to the shore, I’d almost forgotten. Finally, the pieces came together when I saw a Facebook picture of our crack ACORN Bristol organizer, Nick Ballard, waving an ACORN flag standing next to one of our volunteers, and in the background was, yes, you guessed it, Dismaland! Damned if Banksy and his people, whoever they might be, hadn’t invited ACORN to be one of the street attractions for this 5-week extravaganza that observers believe might attract as many as 400,000 people. No wonder Stu was excited that in his first afternoon out there in a couple of hours we had enrolled 50 provisional ACORN members, all of whom wanted ACORN in their towns!

The Guardian refers to Dismaland as a mixture of anarchism and amusement park. I’m Ok with that. Just days before the Bristol ACORN crew had posted pictures of a typical summer day and it was basically a shot of dark, cold, and rain. Now reading the descriptions of Dismaland and looking at some of the pictures, what can I say, I wish I were there!

For the art lovers, Banksy is displaying 58 artists’ work, and says these are pieces from the best contemporary artists in the world, “apart from the two that turned him down.” He has 10 new pieces on display including a thing on Cinderella where her carriage has crashed killing her and her horses. You buy your 3 pound ticket online except that the huge demand has crashed the dismaland.org.uk website of course when I first visited, and then you have to endure a cardboard security station with guards in pink hi-viz vests who tell you that you cannot bring squid into the park. There is a warning that no officials or lawyers from Disneyland are allowed entry of course.

There are the normal amusement park features with a twist. The isn’t an ATM but there is a “loan shop” for children that satirically jabs at 5000% interest rates and payday lending. There’s a portrait artist, but you can only get a portrait of the back of your head, which the promo says “is surprisingly revealing.” In a takeoff of the longstanding English institution, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Comrade’s Advice Bureau teaches all interested in how they can unlock the bus display advertising posters and sells a special 5 pound tool to do the job. When asked whether this was legal, the Dismaland guide told The Guardian, “it is not illegal.”

How great is this? ACORN is honored and excited to be a part of this whole affair. But, hey, Banksy, what does it take for us to put this show on the road, so we can all go, have some laughs, be part of the fun, and shove our funny bones into the fat guts of the powers that be here and elsewhere around the world?

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These pictures credited to The Guardian. . .

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