Published on March 27th, 2017 | by John OMeara1
‘WE WANT BREAD, BUT WE WANT ROSES, TOO’
The adjusted line from the 1911 poem by James Oppenheim was quoted during the final Breaking Bread event at Shambhala Village on Saturday, and in many ways it captures both the spirit of the sessions and the difficulty of moving on to a further formal stage. Over 50 people came from 10 districts of Birmingham and the Black Country, there were at least 9 different countries of origin, and all shades of non-religious and religious belief. You could almost touch the energy and openness in the room. Many had overcome difficulties to achieve personal dignity and self-respect, and were seeking to ensure the same (the ‘roses’ of the poem) for the widest possible range of others. People clearly wanted the practicalities of participation for excluded groups, but they also wanted the kind of dialogue of equals demonstrated here. In restoring and sharpening the optimism and actions of a large group of individuals who place a high value on inclusion and the finding of shared ground, the sessions have justified themselves already. The beginnings of a city-wide network are in place, but it remains to be seen whether a way can be found to connect this to any formal policy and decision making process. Perhaps the proposed film of Breaking Bread will itself become a tool.
The second session had focused on the experience of Eastern European immigrants, and there were painful testaments of racism, the difficulties of getting started without information about how the society works, and unfair judgements made about behaviour related to economic deprivation and cultural norms. The third made links with the pro-Brexit area of Northfield, and found some shared themes but without the sharp contrasts in opinion and outlook that were anticipated. This final session took a city-wide view of how to counteract the separation between cultural/religious/ethnic groups.
Specific themes and ideas have emerged: how critical it is that the city-wide ‘first contact point’ for new arrivals in the City is established; the central role of schools in both creating problems (concerns about separate faith schools) and creating solutions (including through the energy and commitment of existing faith schools); the role of both local and national businesses in a more targetted use of their ‘social responsibility’ funding; strengthening the tests of genuine shared access and use in funding bids; the potential to recreate the inclusiveness of Artsfest in ‘Culturefest’ – shifting the emphasis from separate major festivals such as St. Patrick’s Parade, Chinese New Year, Gay Pride, Vaisakhi, Eid etc towards a city-wide festival which achieves the same sense of shared participation and ownership that Artsfest had, and gives more tangible form to the ‘celebration of diversity’ we talk about so much. Food has arisen time and again as a key opportunity for sharing, and for Handsworth in particular a Food Festival has the look of the earliest achievable goal.
If ‘bread’ is equated with the practicalities of the cohesion challenge, and with putting big ideas into practice, that is the most difficult part. Last Saturday, and on the preceding Saturdays, we already had ‘roses’, and with the promise of more to come.