On the 15th of September, the Sydney Alliance had its Founding Assembly. Over 2000 people packed the Sydney Town Hall for the occasion, drawn from the ranks of the 45 member organisations made up of non-government organisations, trade unions and religious organisations.
The stated goal of the Alliance is to "bring together diverse community organisations, unions and religious organisations to advance the common good and achieve a fair, just and sustainable city." It's part of the wider international network of citizen coalitions affilliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, which includes coalitions such as the Seattle Sound Alliance and Citizens UK. It was seed-funded in 2007 by Unions NSW, the peak body for trade unions in NSW. With its strong trade union involvement, the Sydney Alliance also explicitly positions itself within an Australian tradition of community-union alliances such as the green ban movement of the 1970s.
The Founding Assembly was an exciting night for me, on lots of levels. The National Tertiary Education Union has joined the Alliance, and I was one of several NTEU members there on the night. I've also been actively involved in the Alliance's Research-Action Team on public transport for a few months now, and had a small speaking role in the Assembly on behalf of that Team. They are a fantastic bunch of people, and it was a real thrill to represent them on the night and watch the whole thing go down from up on the stage. (Yay Team Transport!!)
More broadly, I think it was also an exciting night for the city. The Assembly very publicly staged the Alliance in all its diversity and ambition. In this regard, two moments stood out for me. The first was the opening "roll-call" in which someone from each of the 45 member organisations stood up to deliver a brief message about their organisation and why it had joined the Alliance. As members of each organisation stood and spoke to cheers and applause from the crowd, I actually got chills ... it was a powerful display of unity and common purpose across difference, and a real highlight of the night.
The second moment was the speech given by Amanda Tattersall, the Alliance's Director. At one point, she noted that we the people had been "sliced and diced and categorised" in various ways by political parties and the media and corporate interests --- as 'Howard's Battlers', as 'working families', as 'consumers', etc. "But from tonight," she concluded, "we go by a new name. We are the Sydney Alliance!" I think this part of Amanda's speech spoke to one of most important aspects of what the Alliance is all about -- the creation of a new political subject in and of this city.
All of which brings me to the subject of coalition-building in the city more generally. This issue has re-emerged as a central concern of recent urban activism and theory concerned with rights to the city and/or spatial justice. So, in what follows I want to offer a few thoughts on the on-going work of the Sydney Alliance through a dialogue with two recent books by Ed Soja and Mark Purcell. Both of these books strive to move beyond critique of neoliberal urbanisms by thinking about the kinds of movements that might articulate (and hopefully even realise!) visions of a more just and democratic city.