Although central government and local government talk about empowering communities, in reality many repressive procedures are set into motion, especially at local government level, which are an antithesis to an open democratic empowered community and to the use of critical dialogue for social change. Libertarian educationalist Henry A. Giroux says in his book Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: “Empowerment” is defined as central to the collective struggle for a life without oppression and exploitation. (Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope 1997)
One also has to observe the culture of the people who live in poor British communities to ascertain whether they are also part of, and to a certain degree, responsible for oppressing each other, and in so doing preventing the use of critical dialogue. Paulo Freire states: But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradiction of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them to be men is to be oppressors. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1970).
The use of undemocratic unrepresentative community consultation:
When community residents and local government service providers meet with council officers, elected members, consultants and so on, to discuss important issues pertaining to their community, it soon becomes apparent to the critical observer, that the service providers act in a oppressive undemocratic manner. Although they are very diplomatic in their approach they still elevate themselves above the community members who are present by speaking from a frontal position and down to the people. They claim to have consulted with the community concerning the issue or project, which they are acting upon, but quite often, and almost always, this consultation has been inadequate and totally unrepresentative of the hopes and aspirations of the wider community. For instance, in the Liverpool Kensington New Deal Regeneration area it has now become accepted as normal for twenty or thirty people to vote on behalf of thousands of people. The use of community referendums, even if only for major projects, are frowned upon and downgraded by the dominant regeneration administrators and service providers. The administrators and service providers tend to think that they know best and that the wider community is incapable of making major decisions. This parental attitude angers the community and only serves to further discourage them from participating. A community member from the Edge Hill area of the Kensington NDC during an interview said to me: “Oh, I've been to a couple of the meetings, but I soon became aware of the fact that there was nothing I could do, the agenda was already signed and sealed by the faceless people in the council.” Procedures are never put into place to encourage community members to actively participate by using their own participation methodology, which they devised themselves.
Freire said: It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanisation they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle. They must realise that they are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger but for…freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well fed cog in the machine…It is not enough that men are not slaves, if social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be love of life but love of death. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1970).
Quite often the service providers, such as council officers, with the help of their consultants, who, as already stated in this paper, were themselves former council officers, meet with just a hand full of selected, quite often moderate, community members (great care is taken to actively silence certain voices which are not favourable to the way in which the service providers operate) and put together proposals for the community which are more favourable to outside vested interests, be they in whatever form. These proposals are then presented to the wider community under the auspices that they were decided upon by the community.
The closure of the public forum meeting:
In the first year of the Kensington New Deal for community’s initiative a monthly public forum meeting was set into motion by the interim Board and the regeneration administrators. These forum meeting were well attended with at least 300 people turning up. It soon became apparent that these meeting, even though the agenda of the meetings was set by the regeneration administrators, enabled the wider community to meet as a unified body. After the arrival of the new chief executive the forum meetings were discontinued. (Mr Boyle has stated that these forums have been changed from monthly to bimonthly, but if these meetings do exist no one in the community is informed of there existence). The reason for this was never explained to the community, in effect the meetings just ceased to exist. In my opinion this was a deliberate action by the minority regeneration administrators because the forum meeting represented a threat to their hegemonic position within the community and their attempts to silence and dominate the wider community.
The diverse voice of community residents should not be silenced by the connivance of service provender’s or the insistence of speed of delivery of projects by government Office for the North West, which covers the particular city, that the community is situated in. Instead people should be encouraged to engage in critical dialogue and self-expression.
It soon becomes apparent to the critical observer that the NDC regeneration administrators, City Council officers, government Office and certain community members were treating people within the community as objects rather than intelligent thinking people. Paulo Freire discusses this in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creation of people, people themselves, time, everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal. Freire further expounds on this issue by stating: The oppressed, as objects, as “things,” have no purposes except those their oppressor prescribes for them. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1970)
The monthly public forum meeting was a place were all the community could meet as one body. The community needs to know the diversity of thought that is expressed by the wider community rather than just the thoughts of the regeneration administrators, which are churned out in their newsletters that contain largely partisan views that bear no reality to the true nature of what is happening in the wider community. The NDC administrators newsletters do not give a balanced view of the problems faced by the wider community neither do they cover the diversity of thought within the community.
The educationalist Maxine Green said about the above latter issue: We need space for expression, a public space were living persons can come together in speech and action, each one free to articulate a distinctive perspective, all of them granted equal worth. It must be a space of dialogue, a space were a web of relationships can be woven, and were a common world can be brought into being and continually renewed. There must be a teachable capacity to bring into being, a public composed of persons with many voices and many perspectives, out of whose multiple intelligence may still emerge a durable and worthwhile common world. If educators can renew their hopes and speak out once again, if they can empower more persons in the multiple domains of possibility, we shall not have to fear a lack of productivity, a lack of dignity or standing in the world. We will be in pursuit of the critical values; we will be creating our own purposes as we move. (Maxine Greene, “Excellence Meaning and Multiplicity,” Teachers College Records 86, no. 2 (winter 1984).
Parochialism, divide and rule:
To understand the way in which a given community acts one has to look at the cultural perspective of that community. The people, who live in Liverpool’s deprived communities, as well as being active participants in their own subjugation and domestication, tend to be over parochial. The media, the regeneration administrators and council officers can and do use this parochial behaviour as a tool to subjugate the residents within that community. For instance, when regeneration administrators and city council officers and their community outreach workers come into a poor deprived community, which has been designated for regeneration, they immediately set out to make contact with the community leaders and begin to divide that community up into different areas, normally five or six areas. This segregation methodology is also used at community meetings were the audience is split into several small groups.
Paulo Freire wrote on the issue of divide and rule: There is another fundamental dimension on the theory of oppressive action, which is as old as oppression itself. As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power. The minority cannot permit itself the luxury of tolerating the unification of the people, which would undoubtedly signify a serious threat to their own hegemony. Accordingly the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action, which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity. Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labelled as dangerous to the oppressors for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970).
This divide methodology only serves to hinder the wider communities understanding of what is going on throughout the whole regeneration area and can also lead to inter area rivalry, in which one area is better than an other at arguing for funding. The eventual outcome of this segregation, as well as resentment amongst active community members, is lack of community participation. It is not unusual to go to meetings were only twenty or thirty people turn up from an area were two or three thousand people live. As has already been mentioned the KNDC regeneration administrators set up five groups of residents known as the Citizens Panels, each panel representing one of the five designated areas. The residents were never asked whether they wanted these panels, they were simply imposed onto each of the five areas by consultants working for the regeneration administrators. Many of these highly paid middle class consultants are ex-council officers. The reason these people migrated over to the private sector is because they earn more money being self employed than what they did when they worked for public sector agencies. These former council officers will always receive work because the dominant culture knows that these former council officers are fully trained and versed in how to manipulate, dominate and domesticate community residents. These consultants envisaged that each panel should have fifty people attending; of course this figure of fifty residents on each panel was over ambitious. The eventual number was about ten to fifteen people per panel, although one panel, which was set up under the insistence of Parks Partnership, another regeneration agency, had only four or five people turning up. As time went by the numbers of people turning up for these panel meeting became even less. The running of these ineffective panels, their constitution, and their code of conduct, was put together by the regeneration administrator’s outreach workers known as the Community Roots team and imposed upon the well-meaning panel members, with no dialogue beforehand. All of the present structures pertaining to community participation were devised and put together by the community workers then brought to the community activists and surreptitiously imposed upon them without first asking the activist what they wanted. Dialogue with the community activists was either avoided or divisive to the community’s cultural perspective. Everything connected with community participation within the Kensington NDC project was devised and imposed upon the community by the regeneration administrators and their outreach workers, although they will deny this fact. Under close scrutiny the community participation methodology, which was, and still is, being imposed onto the community, is an antithesis to open democratic procedure or a “ bottom up approach.”
Freire referred to the above situation as “cultural invasion,” he said: The theory of antidialogical action has one last fundamental characteristic cultural invasion, which like divisive tactics and manipulation also serves the ends of conquest. In this phenomenon, the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression.
Whether urban or harsh, cultural invasion is thus always an act of violence against the persons of the invaded cultures, who lose their originality or face losing it. In cultural invasion (as in all the modalities of antidiological action) the invaders are the authors of, and actors in, the process; those they invade are the objects. The invaders mould; those they invade are modelled. The invaders choose; those they invade follow that choice, or are expected to follow it. The invaders act; those they invade have only the illusion of acting, through the actions of the invader. ((Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1966).
Even to the most casual observer it is quite plain after critical observation that what is happening in Liverpool’s KNDC area pertaining to cultural invasion is not unique. It is happening in all communities throughout the UK, even more so in those communities, which have been earmarked for regeneration and substantial funding be it in whatever form. Bodies of so called paid professional predominantly middle class suburbanite public servants and agencies are brought into areas and as they grow in size they slowly and subtly take over the community and impose their cultural perspective onto that community, a cultural perspective that does not empower, but rather domesticates through subtle indoctrination. After a period of two or three years the administrators eventually outnumber the community activists who are still involved.
Freire further states: All domination involves invasion, at times physical and overt, at times camouflaged, with the invader assuming the role of a helping friend. In the last analysis, invasion is a form of economic and cultural domination. Invasion may be practiced by a metropolitan society upon a dependent society, or it may be implicit in the domination of one class over another within the same society. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1966).
In effect if one looks closely at what Freire is saying above one cannot fail to see that what is happening in the Liverpool KNDC area and in other UK communities is exactly what Freire is describing. And taking into account the fact that Freire’s Book Pedagogy of the Oppressed was written in 1966 it shows that the dominant culture have been in such a powerful hegemonic position within civic society that they have, as well as indoctrinating the paid community administrators to carry out their oppressive agendas, managed to perpetuate and make normal that which is not normal but is in reality based on myth and illusion. The bizarre fact is that the community activists who become involved in the participation process are unaware of the fact that they are being manipulated and indoctrinated. Most activist think that what is happening to them is the natural course of events. They never realise that they actively participate in their own subjugation by the regeneration administrators who represent the oppressive agendas of the dominant culture.
Freire said: Cultural conquest leads to cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards and the goals of the invaders. In their passion to dominate, to mould others to their patterns and their way of life, the invaders desire to know how those who have been invaded apprehend reality, but only so they can dominate the latter more effectively. In cultural invasion it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1966).
As already stated in the early stages of the Liverpool KNDC initiative a monthly forum meeting was set up by the interim administrators. At this forum meeting it was common to see various well-meaning community leaders saying that they were not stupid and as such they knew what was going on. When observing this phenomenon one became aware of the fact that many people including many of the community activists felt inferior to the educated regeneration administrators. Inferiority and low self-esteem is endemic in poor working class communities. The regeneration administrators and council officers use this lack of confidence and self esteem of the community as a further tool to dominate and subjugate them with. They also use it to promote the issue of training the community into doing what they want. Never is it recognised as a concrete reality that the community, if left to its own devices, could train itself through doing rather than being told what to do. After all it is common knowledge that regeneration administrators and council officers incessantly, especially when they make mistakes, as they often do, use the phrase that they are on a “learning curve.” The service providers often voice the learning curve excuse for incompetence, but if the community makes a mistake the service providers are quick to say I told you so. The learning curve excuse, although applicable to the service providers, is never used if predominantly unpaid community activists, who are responsible for whatever project, make mistakes.
Freire said on cultural invasion: For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposites. If those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognise the superiority of the invaders. The values of the latter therefore become the pattern for the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders; to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1966).
What Freire describes above is a common feature within the Liverpool KNDC Community. It is quite common to see men and women Board members and moderate community activists dressed exactly like the regeneration administrators, and as has already been mentioned, becoming actual strangers in their own community. I have on many occasions witnessed the embarrassing sight of community members dressed up in similar attire as the administrators. It is also quite apparent that these same activists and board members wish to emulate in every way the middle class administrators attire, phraseology, and mannerisms.