Left Unity Northampton took to Abington Street on a lovely sunny day, the gods themselves were happy with our small measure of kindness we were about to bring to the streets. We were there carrying out our BooksWithBenefits project, the premise of which is we collect unwanted books off people then in turn hand them out for free, a concept some people just could not get their head around, as we were greeted with “why would you do this?” “what’s the catch?” “that’s strange?” As they eagerly poured over the treasure trove of books in front of them. All the while political discussions were taking place and stories were being shared.
LU Northampton wanted a way to engage with the public and highlight political issues, so we formulated a way to do something nice for people while doing just that. We wanted to do something positive to highlight cuts to public services, sanctions on benefits and even the prison book ban.
We were never going to sell papers, and saw no point in just having a stall that does nothing, so the idea was born. Book donations flooded in and within each book we placed a Left Unity flier publicising a political discussion around cuts and sanctions, while at the same time giving out broadsheets to people who were genuinely interested to know who these strange nice people were giving away free books.
Every single person we engaged with on a political level had not heard of us either locally or nationally and this was there first ever experience of Left Unity. They can now look back on that positively and see that we want to do something good for our community, as we were not after anything off them personally, we were giving something back. All in all the event was a great success, we engaged with people we would not have done so otherwise, and overwhelmingly people wanted to have books which could teach them something and give them knowledge. One of the books we gave out was the first English book the person had ever owned, a memory which is likely to stay with her.
While we were greeted with a lot of “no thanks” after asking people if they wanted a free book our success can be measured, we gave away quite a few books, formed new relationships with people and let people know what Left Unity is about. New people will be turning up to our discussion on cuts and sanctions next week and now LU Northampton is (until we run out of books) going to have regular engagement with the public. You can’t build a new kind of politics on old foundations, and that is what we were doing, laying new foundations for Left Unity in our town, one that can be inclusive. Far more important though than actually doing something nice, were the political discussions and engagement we had, which were all positive.
This wouldn’t of been possible without the kind people of Northampton who donated books to the project in there hundreds, so a big thank you to them and to everyone in LU Northampton who made it possible. Even while we were handing out free books people were offering to donate more books. Afterwards when we reflected on the event we decided a couple of things, first and foremost to have a big sign that stated we were giving away free books and secondly to hold it on a regular basis. Most importantly what we can take from this is we need to do more events like this where we get to engage with the public and show them what we are about, while doing a good deed, politics needs to be reconnected to the people and Left Unity has to do that if it is to build a mass movement.