On 15 September a new kind of coalition is launching in Sydney. Its called the Sydney Alliance and while it may be new to the general public, it is very familiar to the 36 member organisations that are involved. Together – we have been building this coalition since 2007. It was then that I returned from the United States and Canada where I had not only learnt about how to build coalitions differently (as written about in Power in Coalition) but had seen community organising in action in places like Seattle (Sound Alliance) and London (Citizens UK).
I approached Unions NSW with the idea of setting up a broad based coalition that didn’t start with specific issues, but rather with the ambitious desire to reconnect and bring together a united community voice. We would rebuild relationships between and within all the major community-based organisations – churches, unions, temples, schools, community organisations, mosques – and together we would train community leaders, find out what people cared about then move to action to fix those issues and improve the lives of people living in Sydney.
We began organising, and by November 2007 we had 13 organisations and $130 000 of committed funds. A year later we had 22 organisations and $1 million. And today we have 36 organisations, having trained 1300 community leaders and listened to 6500 people.
We launch with an agenda for the common good based on what we heard across the city. We heard that people are frustrated getting around (so we are working on transport), that people aren’t getting along (so we are working on social inclusion) and people are falling through the cracks (so we are working on community care and health).
The coalition is exciting as it puts into practice many of the lessons documented in Power in Coalition.
While we have lots of partner organisations, we still take “less is more” seriously – asking those partners to do a lot for their involvement. They make financial commitments and people commitments in order to be involved, and organisations are selected based on their strategic contribution to building a broad based people’s organisation that can stand for the whole of Sydney.
Individuals have been vital. Not only the positional leaders, but champions inside of those organisations, as well as thousands of trained leaders who run core teams, working groups, regional groups and our issues work.
We work on mutual self-interest – but it is organisation’s interest in reviving their own organisations that is the core reason for new organisations to join. While unions and churches might not have a lot in common – many share the need to involve more young people and invigorate their volunteer base.
Planning has been critical. Indeed we have been planning our launch for four years! It has been timetabled to coincide with a new government in NSW. We didn’t want to be a part of an election but launch in a period where we can truly be about providing people with a way to have their say beyond just voting.
Scale is vital – we are organised across the city as well in 10 regional areas of Sydney – Parramatta, Penrith, Gymea, Bankstown, Marrickville – just to name a few. We bring together people locally as well as coordinate people and organisations across the city.
The founding assembly is just the start. But it is a testament to the book that these ideas are not just words on a page, but that the lessons can be applied in practice.