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(en) US, Philadelphia, Thedefenstrator #30 - NEMA Conference in Philly - By onion

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 10 Aug 2004 08:37:13 +0200 (CEST)

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Over the weekend of July 9th through 11th, about 50-70 activists
of various flavours from the anti-authoritarian left gathered in
Philadelphia for the 3rd meeting of the Northeast Mutual Aid
Network or NEMA (say niimah). NEMA you say? Ok, some
context is in order... Going back to the beginning of the current
chapter of the global struggle against capital and domination, we
find ourselves where else but on the internet. To be specific
reading a post on infoshop.org entitled "Draft Proposal for
a Continental Anti-Authoritarian Anti-Capitalist

The piece starts with the words: "On this tenth
anniversary of the emergence of the Zapatistas from the
Lacandon jungle, we call for the formation of a continental
anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist network for North America. Our
movements for liberation and freedom have met many challenges
and our resistance continues to grow. It is now time to organize
ourselves better through a de-centralized continental network of
anti-capitalists ..." The anonymous author reminds us of
the nasty position we're in visa vi Empire and then takes
us through our recent history of confronting capital and rulers
from Seattle's victories to our asses kicked by cops on
Miami streets. Cutting to the chase, we are called to break down
our isolation as activists and create something along the lines of
People's Global Action (PGA). The PGA, by the way
had served to connect, lift the spirits, organize and energize
anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists across the world everywhere
really but here in the USA, the heart of the beast where the
power of global capital radiates from the strongest. It had sprung
to life after an international encuentro hosted by the
Zapatista's in Chiapas. Drawing from the energy of the
Zapatistas fresh and relatively successful insurgency in Mexico,
the PGA managed to connect thousands of farm workers in India
with Chiapas' rebel peasants with autonomists in Europe
and radical Korean workers (amongst others). The PGA brought
the world the “Carnivals against Capital” and the
Global Days of Action both which gave anti-capitalist struggles
around the world a much needed boost in energy to lead us out of
the nineties, leading more or less to where we are now.

The sentiments in the Call were welcome sounds to many folks
around the anti-authoritarian scene. Much had dissipated in the
last couple years in terms of direct action. The Philadelphia
Direct Action Group (or PDAG) who helped co-ordinate shutting
down Center City for the RNC in 2000 had for some time now
been consigned to history as had the NY Direct Action Network
and other similar organizational networks which had propelled a
very confrontational direct action approach to our activism while
also broadening direct action sphere a good deal. Until
September 11, we were very much on a roll, learning much along
the way about each other and growing, strategizing and
restrategizing. It made sense in a lot of ways that we would be
reshaping and working in different ways as we navigate our
shifting territory and our relationship to power and capital, but
the disappearance of DAN style groups also made for a
disconnect in continuity, with activity focused again on more
specific but scattered project, in effect drifting away from a more
movement wide collective way of organizing.

The first face to face meeting to discuss "the Call"
I found myself at was at the National Conference for Organized
Resistance in DC. A large crowd talked somewhat unsurely
about where to go, how to go about it. A smaller regional
meeting took place in Hartford Connecticut a couple months
later where we agreed on the name followed by a NY meeting
where we agreed to take on the People's Global Action
Hallmarks: 1. A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism
and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and
governments that promote destructive globalization. 2. We reject
all forms and systems of domination and discrimination
including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious
fundamentalism of all creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all
human beings. 3. A confrontational attitude, since we do not
think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and
undemocratic organizations, in which transnational capital is the
only real policy-maker; 4. A call to direct action and civil
disobedience, support for social movements' struggles,
advocating forms of resistance which maximize respect for life
and oppressed peoples' rights, as well as the construction of local
alternatives to global capitalism. 5. An organizational philosophy
based on decentralization and autonomy. To be honest all the
way up to us agreeing on the PGA hallmarks, I was somewhat
unsure of where this was all going. During discussions at the NY
meeting, it seemed people's desires for the network were
all over the place. Some obviously came just to plug their own
project (a part of the NEMA meetings where folks talk about the
project they are involved with seemed to be the most interesting
part of the meeting), others attracted by the name Mutual Aid
brought up proposals for bartering networks and skill sharing. I
was there to expand and deepen anti-capitalist work. Hopefully
create a recognizable entity which people could plug into if they
so chose, where new activists looking towards anti-authoritarian
activity could get involved without the process of having to
culturally acclimate. The gathering's official first event
started off in a relatively laid back manner with a showing of the
film the 4th World War in Clark Park to a handful of the first
arrivals. A great film by the way, which jumps around various
struggles against capital and colonialism in Palestine, South
Africa, Argentina, Mexico, and Iraq.

But the main meeting took place the next day at the Ethical
Society, just off Rittenhouse Park. After an excellent breakfast
courtesy of Food Not Bombs we got off to a sluggish start with
few people in the room. By the time we got past introductions, a
basic rundown of our consensus process (if it could only have
been that simple) and a short history of NEMA and the PGA
(maybe shorter than my paragraphs above) the room had filled up
comfortably. Next up was a presentation by NY organizers
preparing to confront the upcoming Republican National
Convention in NYC. It was good to see how together the NY
organizers seemed. Leagues ahead of where we were at planning
to disrupt Philly's RNC 4 years back. NY's Still
We Rise coalition of what seemed like hundreds of community
organizations was exciting hear about as was their outreach
efforts and daily consciousness and fundraising events. I was
looking forward to getting down to talking about direct action
planning, to see where we fit into this whole picture. The main
direct action for the RNC was scheduled for the 31st, a couple
days after the main march, but talking about it was later on the
agenda. A number of brief report backs flew by and we landed at
the structure section of the agenda.

Though at the NY meeting, we had already used an amended
consensus process for decision making meaning that we would
make decisions based on consensus, but agree to move to a
3/4 vote if there was major bogdown and we just
couldn't make a decision. The structure working group
presented their proposal to formalize the process which I
expected would get passed quickly. What ensued was a long and
nebulous discussion about how to decide to make decisions,
which already halfway through a long ass meeting added to the
stress and frustration. Half way through the discussion about half
of the room had emptied out. By the time the structure bit had
wrapped up, we took a break and reconvened to talk about direct
action at the RNC. The group now consisting of only the most
enduring and hard core listened to some background info on the
tentative plans and ideas, but never got into anything that would
resemble any actual activity on the part of NEMA (though the
update was useful in gathering some information). The day
wrapped up talking about where to have our next meeting
(Cleveland). Sunday was falsely advertised as a day for
workshops, but in practice was a relatively laid back few hours of
wrap ups from stuff we'd tabled the day before.

In the days since the Philly NEMA gathering, in discussions with
others and from my own thoughts, it seems clear how nebulous
NEMA is as a group. There are some obvious contradictions in
attitudes or ideas about NEMA within its own constituents. For
one, are we a network purely for exchanging information and
resources? Some people suggested this very clearly, elaborating
that we never make any decisions as a group period (rendering
the structure discussions irrelevant). If so then why adopt
something as activist as PGA's hallmarks and identify
ourselves on such a confrontational and direct action based pole?
I only imagine a hell of confrontational direct action where no
decisions about anything where ever made. Can we make something
so broad and loose actually do anything? NEMA is of course still
in its infancy and still figuring itself out as a group, so
we can possibly make room to contain different ways. But we do
need to get it together to make ourselves into something that
consists of more than a bimonthly meeting.
"The Defenestrator - a newspaper of refusal and optimism
..... from an anarchist or autonomist tradition, which proposes
a revolutionary transformation of society, the abolition of
property and of all hierarchies and coercive power."

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