Do we dare kiss the frog?

After 3 years of working together via Zoom, finally members of GRIPP gathered in person for our long awaited first residential. Representatives from Amnesty UKATD Fourth World UKIntisaarJust FairRAPAR and Thrive Teesside, along with facilitators Susanna Hunter-Darch and Dr Rhetta Moran, spent a jam packed 24hours together on 12th-13th October 2022.

Susanna, Felix, Amanda, Hinda, Ibrahim, Rahwa, Diana, Tracey, Lyle, Tammy, Patricia, Angela, Vitalis and Rhetta

After some slightly panicked journeys from Bury, Guildford, London, Manchester, Teesside and Watford we gathered for lunch at the homely and generous Woodbrooke House in Birmingham. Later joined on Zoom with colleagues from Belfast and Orkney (unable to travel due to childcare needs) we began to get to know each other. Though most in the group had met each other before online – to come together in-person, post pandemic, had been identified as essential in our project’s co-design process earlier this year to build the trust for this work.

Some of us brought ceramic ducks, pictures of loved ones, scarves of lost family members, teddy bears and diamond art created with children to help form our sense of home. For others in the group presently living without status in the UK, the concept of home was multi-layered and complex. As our temporary community formed we all agreed to work together to create that sense of safety and comfort, and endeavoured to support each other to find exactly that.

Amanda, Patricia and Diana from ATD Fourth World UK started us off by sharing the history of the GRIPP through its various incarnations, including the work of #RightsBridge. We were all then invited to share our own journeys to GRIPP – reflecting on and sharing the experiences in life that have made us activists using human rights to eradicate poverty.

Lyle, from Just Fair, then bravely walked us through the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its Review process that we had come together to interrogate. He was interrupted many times as our Jargon Buster flipchart filled up: “What does ‘ratified’ mean?” “What’s a Treaty?” “What’s the difference between CESCR and ICESCR!?!” Discussion ensued about the value of high-level UN reviews of the human rights in the UK – “Does it really make any difference to my life, to my family, to our communities?” “Is the process really interested to hear us if it is designed in such a way that our genuine participation is near-on impossible to achieve?” “Do we want to engage in this process at all?” “How can we judge it unless we try it?” and with a wry smile, Hinda from Intisaar asked, “do we dare to kiss the frog to find out what it could be?”

Would you kiss a frog? by Painsmash on DevianArt

The passion and commitment to deliberation continued after dinner, with Felix from Amnesty UK, guiding us through a process to scrutinize how narratives are manufactured and used in society to create divides. Looking at poverty and how the discourse around it is created, we identified the dominant narratives and the underlying beliefs that it manipulates.

The following morning – with bellies full of bacon and eggs and tales of late night dance-offs – we regrouped and returned to our deliberations about how we want to engage with the ICESCR review of the UK. “Well, I learn through doing” said Tracey from Thrive Teesside, so we decided to jump in and start the process to find out more.

Through the creation of a very messy multi-coloured matrix, after 90mins of intense work, we had drawn up an outline for a collective submission. We identified the rights areas in ICESCR that our work related to; with support from Helen from Just Fair we scrutinized what the UK Government has claimed to be doing in these areas; we pointed to the lived realities of rights realisation and violations in our communities; and identified the evidence that we have to prove this. As we shared back our discussions, one decisive moment had Ibrahim, from RAPAR, holding the ICESCR explainer document in one hand and the UK State Report in the other, passionately giving voice to his frustration with the hypocrisy of the government and the need for those with lived experience to be heard.

With a huge sense of achievement, and another flipchart covered with unanswered questions, we stopped for our final meal together. We bid each other farewell – and Susanna even managed to sneak in a quick walk around the lake before finally heading home.

There is much work to be done…and we don’t quite know where all this goes…but as Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Friere professed, “We make the road by walking”! …so walking we begin…