Embracing Our Everyday
If anti-poverty actions are to make a difference, they must have an impact on the everyday experiences of people, making life better on a daily basis, while also moving towards a more equitable future.
This idea of the everyday is beautifully described by Michael Foley in his book, “Embracing the Ordinary.” Foley notes the importance of “all that is ragged, tangled, complicated, paradoxical, inconsistent, inconclusive, insignificant and sordid – in other words everything that is most characteristic of everyday life. In life there are no plots or endings, only the ceaselessly ongoing moment with its manifold sensations, interactions and connections, its tangled network of links to the past and complex implications for the future.”
One reason that many anti-poverty projects often fail to bring sustainable success is because they drop into an area with a pre-determined programme that fails to build upon the lived experiences, histories and expertise of people who know what life is like struggling to get by on a daily basis. As Lisa McKenzie writes, many of the elites in our society who pass judgement and policies fail to recognise a complex and textured life, in which communities create “local processes and understandings…local value systems which are often misunderstood, demeaned and ignored by those on the outside.”
In Higher Blackley, where SARF has reported on the daily lived experiences of local residents, these values and support structures can be seen through friends and relatives’ care of children or the elderly; they provide a vital element of community support for people facing insecurity and anxieties created by a lack of decent, well-paid jobs and a withdrawal of the state to provide the social security that it once used to. Through paying closer attention to the everyday and the patterns of support and hardship that emerge, it is possible to support the policies, projects and actions that can make a difference to people’s lives.
It is in our everyday lives that we can begin to participate in the creation of a better society. Be it random acts of kindness, such as sharing a cup of tea with a person who is homeless rather than ignoring them, or bolder daily actions of communities coming together – as we have seen recently with the Focus E15 mums who have fought to ensure the survival of their neighbourhood. These everyday acts can subvert injustice and build an alternative; as the New Economics Foundation point out, the inspirational women of Focus E15 mums have challenged the local effects of austerity and the narrative that young, low income mums do not have a right to affordable housing within London.
In this daily and often invisible struggle, it is the everyday actions of people who are marginalised from political decisions that can be the most creative and lasting.
I think this brings hope. It connects with Edgar Pieterse’s concept of ‘radical incrementalism’. This is the idea that alternatives can be produced through everyday practices, which aim for an improvement in people’s immediate circumstances, but also lay the basis for building upon that for even greater change in the future. Over time this can lead to cumulative transformations that contribute towards a more equitable future and re-awaken our imaginations.
By embracing the everyday, a brighter future is possible.