Founding Assembly seeks the common good

Founding Assembly seeks the common good

After much preparation, the Sydney Alliance was officially launched on September 15, filling the Sydney Town Hall to capacity and heralding hope for Sydney citizens, reports Jon Foye.

On the evening of the Founding Assembly of the Sydney Alliance, around 300 Uniting Church people — 250 identifiable in logo-imprinted shirts — gathered at Pitt Street before walking together to Sydney Town Hall to participate in the launch of a citizens coalition they had been instrumental in creating.

In March 2010, Insights reported that the Sydney Alliance — a broad network of community groups including the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT — would plan “an intentional movement of listening, discernment and research into the pressures faced and hopes held by people across all member organisations”.

More than 18 months later, the Sydney Alliance is embarking on an ambitious campaign that seeks improvements in many aspects of Sydney life.

The Alliance’s Founding Assembly had been in the planning for about four years while partnerships were formed, members were trained in community organising and agendas formulated through listening campaigns.

The Alliance’s Agenda for the Common Good identifies three key areas within which members and citizens would like to see improvement: community care and health, social cohesion and public transport.

Delegates in attendance at the launch represented churches, unions, climate change action groups, public servants, refugee advocates and other faith and community organisations.

Dr Amanda Tattersall is the Sydney Alliance’s director. Prior to the gathering she told Insights she believed the Founding Assembly would lead to the organisation receiving recognition from political and corporate leaders as a significant organisation.

“Our goal is to rebuild the voice of civil society — to give meaning to our democracy by helping citizens take democratic action beyond the vote,” she said.

“Many people in this city want their issues properly considered and discussed. They are not prepared to be fobbed off by sound bite politics any longer.”

The Sydney Alliance is modelled on Citizens UK, which has run a number of campaigns since the mid 1990s around issues such as homelessness and children held in immigration detention.

Before the last general election, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties presented their manifestos to this organisation. The Sydney Alliance hopes to replicate this impact.

David Barrow is the Sydney Alliance’s intern coordinator; a role that he described as “shepherding” some 36 volunteers through organising their own community projects.

He also works as an organiser to build relationships between the Alliance and churches, with particular focus on the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

“Sydney Alliance is building a relationship with power,” Mr Barrow said.

He said that the Founding Assembly was the Alliance’s way of “looking for recognition that it is going to make a tangible difference in people’s lives”.

Mr Barrow, who worships at Leichhardt Uniting Church, was the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) from December 2008 until January last year. His work with the Alliance combines these two aspects of his background.

While he admitted he had encountered some “scepticism” towards the churches working with unions, he told Insights that he had been able to tap into church social traditions.

“There is a rich tradition within scripture about how you (should) organise a society,” he said.

Dr Tattersall said, “Some people in Sydney are having trouble getting along. A lot are frustrated getting around and many are falling through the cracks.”

She said she hoped that the Founding Assembly would also inspire people in other Australian cities to form similar coalitions.

“It’s starting in Sydney but it is hoped that this spreads a movement where people reclaim a seat inside our democracy across the country,” she said.

Jonathan Foye is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Sydney and a freelance journalist.

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