December 11 2013 Latest news:
Monday, September 2, 2013
The man who Labour leader Ed Miliband enlisted to boost his party’s chances of winning the next general election helped spread the message that community counts during a visit to Norfolk.
Arnie Graf, a veteran community organiser in the United States, where he briefly trained a young Barack Obama, was invited by Mr Miliband to conduct a ‘year zero’ root and branch review of the Labour party.
He believes getting Labour members active in the community is key to opening up the party to non-members and getting away from the idea that political parties are only interested in voters at election time.
At the weekend, Mr Graf visited the Labour group in Great Yarmouth and yesterday joined a community clean-up in the alleys behind Mill Lane in north Norwich.
For the past five weeks, people who live in the area have cleaned up dog mess, weeds and rubbish, after Labour leafleted the streets to encourage people to get involved.
It’s a far cry from the days when Mr Graf, 69, was helping improve the quality of life in Baltimore - where the gritty drama The Wire was filmed.
But Mr Graf said he was confident his drive to make community action key to a successful general election for Labour was reaping dividends.
He said: “In the old days, we’d have heard somebody complaining about, say broken glass on their street and would have told them to call their local council.
“But now we will say to them, how many other people share this concern? And we will see if we can get them working together to sort it out.
“If people are involved in an issue they will work on it and they will bring their friends along too. I see it as the way forward for Labour.
“The party should not be about ticking boxes and bureaucracy. If we are not part of the community, than what is our purpose?”
The idea is that those people getting involved in community campaigns with Labour members might join the party themselves, or will remember the party helped them solve a problem when they go to the ballot box.
Jess Asato, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North, said it made sense for the party’s members to act as a catalyst for communities to make a difference.
She said: “I’ve been out with the city council’s street cleaning team and they go a brilliant job, picking up needles and detritus.
“But there isn’t the money to pay them to do that every day, so this is about trying to get the community to come together and take action for themselves.”
Mr Graf also visited the New Hope Christian Centre in Martineau Lane yesterday.