Some personal thoughts on #wewillgather

I’ve never wanted permanence. I’ve never wanted to stay in control of things I’ve started. I’ve never worried about letting go.

Demo at NestaSo I’m not sad about closing down the #wewillgather website. It was a good idea, it delivered on the investment Nesta made in it, it inspired lots of people to do good things. It was built by Revolutionary Arts, the tiny business I’ve run since 2001, and our technical partners were Fresh Egg. They were from our hometown – it felt good to put a good contract in local hands. We never made #wewillgather into another organisation – it was always just a project, a bunch of freelancers working together. mainly, me and Lloyd (when I say ‘we’ that’s who I’m thinking of).

#wewillgather has helped lots of bigger organisations look at how they can mobilise volunteers, too. I’m talking to a group of National Trust managers this month about how they can encourage small-scale volunteering- even the establishment are interested. It’s a pity we didn’t get one big adopt – the national beach cleans, say, or a major campaign by a big charity. That would have pushed the site over the top in a way we never quite managed. But over the next few years, some of the organisations we met and evangelised to will adopt similar ways of working to the one we championed with #wewillgather. Volunteering is on the rise. Our type of volunteering especially so.

We were able to talk to politicians too, across the party lines, about the stuff we loved – social media, organising without organisations and taking local action. We showed them a smaller, street-level world outside the big, monolithic charities that usually lobby them.

#wewillgather parliamentary launchWe were open, and egalitarian. I’m proud of that. Like Tim said at the London 2012 opening Ceremony, ‘This is for everyone’. In 21 months, #wewillgather was used by town centre managers, Rotary Clubs, independent shops, national cleanup campaigns, anarchists, the RSPB, small charities, happiness campaigners and most often, by committed local citizens. It showed them they could organise for themselves. It helped people take a first step towards gathering their own tribe around them.

Nobody got rich quick, and nobody lost a fortune either. But it was good to have a budget for once, that covered a proper website build, and the time and resources needed to make things happen. That’s rare, and a privilege, so thank you to Alice Casey and the team at Nesta for allowing it to happen that way.

BBC LondonIt wasn’t an easy project at the very start. I wrestled with a technical partner, much bigger than our team, who never really got our ideas about being Open Source and thinking Agile. They were into building big, shiny things for clients, not working collaboratively. With hindsight (and with more confidence – I have that now) I’d have done things differently there. But we built it, on time, on budget, it worked and people loved the neat Twitter integration. Did you miss that? You could start a page on the website from a Tweet. Dead cool.

But I’m taking it back to where we started – Twitter and Facebook. We started good things, and the ideas we pushed will continue to inspire people to start their own good things. We’ll keep the community that’s grown up on Facebook and Twitter talking about similar ideas, new ways of working, good tools for getting people together.

I’m looking forward to what’s next – fresh conversations and new collaborations.

Was #riotcleanup fascism in action?

Q: Was the #riotcleanup(1) after the August 2011 riots fascism(2) in action?

A: No(19)

1. #riotcleanup was a response to the burning and looting of small shops(3) and people’s homes(4) during riots(5) across London. Started on Twitter(6), it mobilised up to 12,000 people(7). They cleaned up local independent shops(8) to help them reopen.
2. Fascist movements venerate the state(9), are devoted to a strong leader(10), and an emphasis on militarism(11).
3. Retailers lost 30,000 trading hours(12) and damage to businesses across London cost £100 million. 48,000 businesses suffered financially as a result of the riots.
4. At least 100 homes were destroyed during the riots, mostly flats above shops(13).
5. The riots left five people dead(14), and 14 people injured, including a 25 year old Malaysian student(15) and a 75 year old lady. Ten firefighters were also injured. A 13 year old was raped during the riots.
6. The first Tweet was sent around 10.30pm on Monday night. Around a dozen events were subsequently arranged, and the hashtag was added after midnight. A number of people built websites, set up Facebook events and organised their own events under the #riotcleanup banner. On the ground, people who gathered organised themselves, without leaders.
7. It is, of course, impossible to judge the class and ethnicity(16) of all 12,000, let alone their motivations(17). It is probably that they represent a broad a spectrum of society, with diverse reasons for getting involved.
8. For every pound spent in independent shops, over 60% stays in the local economy; with larger stores, less than 40% stays local.
9. As before, it is impossible to attribute this love of the state to all 12,000 people involved in #riotcleanup.
10. #riotcleanup had no leaders, and was organised by hundreds of people, independently and without the permission of any authority. That style of organisation is anarchy(18).
11. The broom, as used by those involved in #riotleanup, is an unlikely weapon(19).
12. Many people employed in shops will be on contracts which left them with no income while their shops were closed.
13. Presumably, not lived in by particularly wealthy people. The Riot Relief campaign, an offshoot of #riotcleanup, collected donations of food, clothing, toys and household goods to help people who had lost their homes.
14. Trevor Ellis was shot, Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir died in a hit and run and Richard Mannington Bowes was killed by a mob.
15. Ashraf Rossli was beaten and then robbed twice by looters emptying his rucksack.
16. One photo, used to suggest that a white middle class were clearing the streets, was subsequently found to have been cropped to remove black people.
17. It is, of course, equally impossible to say why people rioted in the first instance. There were no protest banners or flags, so it is only by an act or arrogance that a commentator can say this was an anti-capitalist(20) or anti-elitist protest.
18. Billy Bragg said “The people who spontaneously came out to help tidy up, that’s anarchy. Anarchy is people organising themselves for the common good in some way, without anyone coming round and giving them orders.”
19. Although it is used by Gandhi’s Shanti Sena (or Peace Army), who have cleaned up after riots in India, as a gesture of peace.
20. And, if it was an anti-capitalist protest, it does rather beg the questions of why were rioters so keen to take symbols of capitalism, such as branded trainers or widescreen televisions.

#riotcleanup

Picture1I was talking to an artist today, who’s doing some work inspired by #riotcleanup. I recently got access to my Twitter archives and it’s quite interesting reading back the Tweets from the first night of #riotcleanup, and seeing how it pulled people together, organising without an organisation.

This isn’t comprehensive; by the nature of Twitter, there’s a lot of repetition and side-channel chat (I’d be happy to let somebody better with spreadsheets than me pull out all the relevant Tweets). But this sequence of Tweets shows how #riotcleanup unfolded:

2011-08-08 15:27 Sounds like London has decided riots are inevitable tonight; watching Tweets from all over about shops shutting up, Police lining up ready

2011-08-08 17:42 RT @loudmouthman: what if everyone ;  the adults, the responsible, the true protesters for peace swarmed the streets and blocked the rio …

2011-08-08 17:50 @loudmouthman @masakepic We need ‘we’re for peace’ hi-vi jackets – or UN-blue hats

2011-08-08 18:27 Police have obviously lost control of Peckham; my grandad’s home turf

2011-08-08 18:58 Scares me more than anything yet RT @spider0246: Plz Mr prime minister send in 3 sqn RAF Regiment and the Para? (cont) http://deck.ly/~Bz87A

2011-08-08 19:23 Police reporting spectators getting in the way; Twitter showing lots of people struggling to get home after work. Maybe not spectators.

2011-08-08 20:10 Police have lost control of London. There don’t seem to be that many rioters. What’s gone wrong?

2011-08-08 20:24 Time to recall Parliament. Cameron coming back is a start; we need govt to show it’s in control

2011-08-08 22:12 Tomorrow we need to work out how to help independent retailers who’ve had businesses destroyed in all this. A minor thing, but must happen.

2011-08-08 22:46 @james_eggers Insurance will take weeks or months; small business will need help from tomorrow

2011-08-08 23:11 Empty Shops Network Facebook group; can we mobilise volunteers to help small business tomorrow? http://tinyurl.com/dm54dc

2011-08-08 23:13 Can we volunteer to help local shops tidy up, clean up in the morning? Can we help find #popupshop premises? http://tinyurl.com/dm54dc

2011-08-08 23:24 @CamdenTownUnltd think we can mobilise volunteers to help shops clean up; can you and your shops use them?

2011-08-08 23:34 @forgetcape I’m trying to match volunteers with local shops – would love your help

2011-08-08 23:35 Looking for volunteers to help clean up and support local shops in the morning in Hackney #londonriots

2011-08-08 23:36 @madeinhackney Thanks – will try and send people your way. Maybe we should just ask volunteers to meet at a certain time, certain place?

011-08-08 23:41 @Avery_Delany If you can, that would be fantastic – hope to find a volunteer to co-ordinate in each area affected

2011-08-08 23:48 Can anyone around Camden help me manage volunteers there, if we can get any?

2011-08-08 23:54 We have a hashtag – thanks to @commonacademy for #riotcleanup

2011-08-09 00:09 Getting the clean up together – Meet outside Tackle Shop, Roman Road, hackney 9am in the morning to help local shops clean up.  #riotcleanup

2011-08-09 00:10 Second clean up is at Camden; meet outside Camden tube 11am to help local shops, follow @jinacreighton @CamdenTownUnltd for more

2011-08-09 00:35 #riotcleanup Tackle Shop, Roman Rd, Hackney 9am; Chalk farm Tube10am, Camden Tube 11am; take bin bags, brooms, whatever you can #londonriots

2011-08-09 00:36 #riotcleanup Peckham, meet outside library at 8am. take bin bags, brooms etc. Follow @phoeberoberts for updates #londonriots

2011-08-09 00:42 #riotcleanup Clapham – meet outside the Falcon pub, 9am. Follow @silv3r for updates

2011-08-09 00:58 Clapham – #riotcleanup starts at 9am outside the Falcon pub. bring gloves, black sacks, brooms

2011-08-09 01:08 Croydon #riotcleanup – meet East Croydon Station, 10am – thanks @lucyorlulu for this one, follow her

2011-08-09 01:10 Lewisham #riotcleanup at 9am – meet outside Lewisham Shopping Centre – follow @drwhofreak for details

2011-08-09 01:17 Camberwell #riotcleanup starts 10am, corner of Walworth Rd/ East St with @darwinslibrary

2011-08-09 01:19 @Tonsko thank you – if you can take times/ locations from my feed that would be great – really appreciated