Statement from the women of Feeding Our Resilience, Greater Manchester, who are beginning to Feel our Resistance

This statement is our fresh water, hydrating us, the women of Feeding our Resilience who are beginning to Feel our Resistance.

Feeding Our Resilience (FOR) Greater Manchester is an Action Learning Set of seven women who, between us, come from cultural frameworks that span the globe.  Based within Greater Manchester, we lead several organisations and networks and come together for Action Learning Sets supported by a facilitator and an external evaluator.  As we emerged out of the COVID syndemic, we identified that, even though we are not out of hours workers, we are all continuously working – practically 24/7 – to ensure the survival of the most acutely violated people in our communities, including undocumented mothers, fathers, and new-born infants.  We recently began the second year of our Action Learning Set together and decided that it was essential for us to communicate publicly about what we are now witnessing in our respective community-based settings.

Since we started this work together the socio-political environment has very seriously deteriorated.  It is continuing to worsen, for us as women and for the communities that we are working within.  It has reached a stage where we feel an urgent need for change and yet, at the same time, we barely have the time – because of daily demands – to think about what all of these things mean to us: but we must.

Everywhere we turn, the breakdown in public service delivery is coupling with the incompetence of the private sector, and third sector funding cuts and service closures.  This combination of breakdowns is leading to mounting crises presentations at our organisations by people who are, themselves, living on cans from food banks that run out of food almost immediately after they open.  Many people are being referred to us by mainstream services and yet, at the same time as being referred, the people presenting to us cannot access the very services that are supposed to respond to their education, health, housing, legal, mental health, migration status and personal safety challenges, all of which are underpinned by environments of acute poverty. Here are a couple of examples: we have now begun to see presentations by young, trafficked mothers and babies who do not speak any English and have been relocated by the police, or older single people who are facing very serious overcrowding, homelessness or destitution after years waiting to be processed through the asylum system. 

We want to bring about change. We want to create sustainable and empowered environments that break down the barriers around the people who are marginalised so that they – and we – realise our potential. We want to foster their leadership and resilience, as well as becoming brave leaders ourselves and, as we’re doing this, disentangle political, systemic issues around poverty, sexism, racism: inhumanity.

If they had not found their ways to our organisations, our members/clients would very likely be completely excluded from any support systems whatsoever.  However, increasingly, we do not have the resources, person-time or headspace within our organisations to work with the multiple-issue and dire situations that have caused people to come in search of meaningful and sustainable changes.  Our teams of workers and volunteers are also becoming extremely fragile.  Whether we work inside or out of hours we are always having to walk that extra mile, and the road is running out.  We need to be able to release our own stresses and do what the people who come to us want us to do: enable them to find each other, experience peer support and work out how to do things collectively, with us.

Now we are questioning what we do, why we do it and what it means to us, and we are becoming increasingly questioning about the world around us.  How have we ended up in the situations that we’re in?  Even if, sometimes, we do things in the short term that make a difference, the people we work with are going back into the same circumstances that created their problems initially, and we all know that, without change, those problems will resurface again and again.

So much about the capitalist system that we live in directs us to think in very, very personal ways:  Why am I poor? Why am I suffering?  Why can’t I feed my children?  Why am I homeless?  The system seems structured to individualise what happens to people like us. Being naturally open, giving and concerned people who keep our eyes open and aim to face the reality of the world that we are living in, we know that this system is going to keep on wanting the crises that we are facing to be centred on us as individuals.  The reason for this is that if the crises are not collectivised then current conditions can perpetuate, stopping us from coming together to make it all stop.

We know that the adults and children who present to us are not deficient in themselves.  Rather, they are trying to survive in a system which is incredibly and increasingly hostile towards them and where the real problem is poverty so that, unless the situation of impoverished living environments changes, peoples’ lives, and how they feel about them, are not going to change.

We don’t underestimate the ruthlessness and the indifference of the people who are perpetuating the current system. They don’t care. They encourage the learned helplessness and the dependency of poor people, reminding them of how much they need that bowl of food or that £35. But how long can we endure being pushed to the wall?  If we come to a point of no return, then one way to make ourselves cope is to make our reality ‘normal’.  The system is designed for the homelessness to become the ‘norm’, the not having a penny to become the ‘norm’, and then we are all supposed to simply fend for ourselves, however we can, because the system is going to carry on, doing what it’s doing to us.  When that happens, the mental health issue kicks in and is often followed by other health problems that arise from there.  There is no hope, and a very dangerous master and slave relationship grows.  If we feel that we have been reduced to nothing and now we have to beg the master, then the feeling grows that we are not even entitled to the air that we breathe.  That is the way that this level of poverty is normalised – if it hasn’t been already.

We know that people want to do something meaningful, and we also know that the people who are in charge of the system are always watching and waiting and hoping to steal as much as they can: it’s called corporate greed.  What we want to do is exercise the power needed to stop this greed.  We know that power only actually exists when it is being wielded by people, in relation to other people or to things: power is relational.  We want to build power banks between us by releasing the good energy inside each of us that is already, with our backs against the wall, keeping us fighting where we stand, committed to holding our ground even though we don’t want to be here.  Every day, as we fight to keep our organisations afloat, we also want to be able to take a step away from that wall so that we not only hold but begin to expand our ground.  We want our good energy to emerge and join up with the good energy that is coming out of every one of us, collectivising into a real power that can be exercised for the collective good.

This is our regular self-care space, where we eat together, laugh or cry, and share our lives. This is our sisterhood.

The last time we were together one of us offered this imagery:

There’s a glass of water and a woman is putting soil into it, and the soil represents all the different challenges and pressures.  The soil keeps on being added to the water until the point is reached where the only thing that we can do is throw it all away and bring fresh water.

This statement is our fresh water.