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(en) US, "Don't Just Talk About a Movement, Build a Movement": The NYC North East Mutual Aid Gathering (and the next one in Philly)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 5 Jul 2004 20:57:31 +0200 (CEST)

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[The next gathering of North East Mutual Aid will take place this July 9, 10,
and 11 in Philadelphia. For schedule, location, and more information, check out:]
The inherently biased and perhaps even incorrect reflections of two organizers
and one attendee regarding the NYC-NEMA gathering, May 7-9, 2004…
Following the call for a continental network on the tenth
anniversary of the Zapatista rebellion, anti-authoritarian
anti-capitalists from across the Northeast gathered several times
to establish what is now called the "North East Mutual Aid" (NEMA)
network. At the May NEMA gathering in New York City, a lot of the
logistical groundwork for this vision was finally laid down.

Let's address some critical questions and concerns
immediately. The North East Mutual Aid Network, as it exists
today, works to facilitate networking amongst anti-authoritarian
anti-capitalists throughout the NorthEast, i.e. to put together
face-to-face gatherings. It is not the new group to join. It is not a
membership-based organization and it is not a federation of any
kind. NEMA seeks to provide a venue for those who agree to the
principals of anti-authoritarianism and anti-capitalism, broadly
defined. Hence everyone from anti-civilizationists to
anarcho-communists to North American Zapatistas are welcome
providing that they work to demonstrate a commitment to both
anti-authoritarianism and anti-capitalism. Conversely, capitalists,
fascists, and the authoritarian left are emphatically not welcome.
Specific ideological unity is not necessary because NEMA's
aspirations are no more lofty than bringing folks together to more
effectively affect change - and folks are more than welcome to
plug into projects or groups that share their more specific
affinities and commitments.

The New York City Gathering itself was preceded on Friday
evening by a showing of the inspirational and emotional
documentary "The Fourth World War", by Big Noise
Films. 4WW has been shown world-wide throughout the
movement and will hopefully have its official NYC release during
this summer's Republican National Convention. One of the
filmmakers was on hand for some Q&A afterwards. This film did
the work of contextualizing our local gathering on a scale that
was truly global. It weaved its way through the erupting streets of
South Africa, Palestine, Argentina, Chiapas and South Korea
illuminating real connections between geographically diverse
regions. It reminded us that although we may feel that regional
lines are one good way to more organically build a movement
from the bottom up, our movement is one that is indeed global in
measure and if we are to accomplish anything, we must
understand, as the saying goes, that the global is truly local and
vice versa. Watching people on the screen fight for their right to
free drinking water in South Africa did the much needed work of
reminding us, as activists in the belly of the beast, of our
enormous privilege and, hence, enormous responsibility to those
who do not share in those privileges.

There were roughly fifty to seventy people present at the
gathering on Saturday, which was kicked off by a presentation
and discussion around the theme of "creating a horizontal
space". This presentation was facilitated by the NYC-based
collective Active Thought Project. We reviewed the consensus
process, ways to combat privilege and power in meetings, as well
as basic courtesy, respect, and listening. For those who attended,
the workshop was valuable in getting us on the same page for the
afternoon's meeting.

The following workshop was a much needed historical discussion
around past efforts to build and sustain anti-authoritarian
networks in North America. Networking veterans shared their
experience in the Direct Action Network (DAN), Worcester
Global Action Network (WOGAN), People's Global Action
(PGA) and the Northwest Anarchist Federation. One lesson
seems to be that networks tend to come together with excitement
and promise but then fizzle out when they lack immediate
projects, conflicts, and opportunities. Some folks expressed the
need for NEMA to achieve and sustain visibility in facilitating big
events and projects. Others accepted that networks are transient
in nature but that a network is valuable while it is around.

The morning workshops helped to get people comfortable with
each other as well as giving us an enhanced context for what
came next: the actual asamblea, the heart of the gathering,
began. Everyone discussed, debated, and found common ground,
toward the goal of, as the organizers put it, "articulating,
broadening, and implementing the network." This wonderful
but long-ass meeting was interrupted only once for a late but tasty
lunch provided by Food Not Bombs, who also provided great food
on Sunday. It was good to hear about the various projects that
folks were working on and it was heartening to see folks from
different areas express interest and come together around them.
Talking about what folks were up to informed the following
discussion on how the network should work. It all seemed to be
going okay, but let me tell you, after the food arrived the energy
and passion in the room more than doubled!

While not surprisingly, many folks were young, white, and male,
many folks were not and the facilitators demonstrated an effort to
include the diversity of the room's voices in the
decision-making. One person called attention to the
facilitators' making gender-identity assumptions in their
attempts to be horizontal and inclusive. We decided to state our
pronoun-preferences, as well as our names, whenever we spoke.

Out of many other things discussed and decided on, there was a
general agreement that the network should create solidarity for
local actions and organizing; share resources; and increase and
articulate anarchist/anti-authoritarian presence and politics in
larger struggles. After a long discussion the group decided that
NEMA should adopt the PGA Hallmarks, with an additional
amended statement of what NEMA specifically is and does. I
personally saw this as a good thing in that it instantly connects
us, through a global network, to anti-capitalists doing amazing
work from Chiapas to Bolivia to India to Canada. Just as no one
speaks for NEMA and NEMA speaks for no one, so does the
PGA. The hallmarks include a "very clear rejection" of
capitalism, a "confrontational attitude," and "an
organizational philosophy based on decentralization and
autonomy." As activists struggling in "the belly of the
beast," adopting these principles and thereby linking
ourselves to PGA was a significant and necessary step.

In the final minutes we set up working groups to work on
concrete NEMA-projects which include setting up a website,
archiving the history and documents of past anti-authoritarian
networks, providing mutual aid, and planning the next gathering
in Philadelphia.

Of course, it wouldn't be an anti-authoritarian gathering
without a kick-ass party, which took place at the gathering space
on Saturday night. NY-based APOC'istas and self-described
"indie sub-terrainian puerto punk band" Ricanstruction
rocked the crowd in one of the more up close and intimate
performances I've seen them in (hey, there was no stage…).
Later on, other bands and performers took the mic and the robots
(see below) were out in full force, doing their thing way into the
night. It was an apt ending to the day. On Sunday a handful of
impromptu "passion groups met" but the best part of
Sunday was the much needed unstructured time for folks to chill
out and do some informal, conversational networking and
socializing. The passion groups included the DNC-to-RNC
march and the idea of an Anarchist Worlds' Fair to take place
in NYC this summer as a way to build relationships between
traveling anarchist folk and community-based NYC anarchists.

The small collective who organized the May 7-9 gathering did a
great job logistically with very few resources. The only criticism
some of us raised in the weeks leading up to the NEMA gathering
was an emphasis on emails, fliers and other outreach materials on
"Robot Games" which were originally planned to have
taken place in the middle of the gathering on Saturday in
Manhattan (the gathering itself was in Brooklyn). Some of us felt
that this would not only be distracting and detract from the
important work of setting up the network, but also that it appealed
to a relatively narrow "subculture" set of activists and
would alienate anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist activists who
don't necessarily identify with the anarchist "scene."
In the end, the organizing collective respectfully listened to our
criticisms and amended the weekend's agenda. This question
was taken up during the asamblea and most people seemed to
agree that the changing of the agenda was a good idea.

These issues, as well as the question of whether or not to use the
word "anarchist" in the name of the network, raise
important questions for not only our Northeast network but also
anarchists and other anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist activists
across North America. Is the purpose of the networks we are
creating since the call in January to project our politics to a larger
audience, to merely facilitate communication and coordination
between already initiated activists, or both? Why was this meeting
once again overwhelmingly white, and where were some of the
NYC-based organizers who should have been there? As the
original call for a continental network stated, our movement has
largely failed to adapt to the post-9/11/01 terrain. Are NEMA and
other networks a positive step in a new direction, or old wine in
new bottles?

Personally I think NEMA accomplished one of its greatest
purposes, to facilitate communication and to get us all to know
each other and meet face-to-face in this atomized, individualistic
society where being a radical can make one feel even more
isolated. This sense of community and the strength it provides is
often and tragically overlooked by activists. Face-to-face
community is an essential ingredient in any real social
movement—it is the task of radicals in North America to come
together and build revolutionary community today. The internet is
not enough. A strong North American movement will not come
together until the atomization of the dominant society is
undermined from below. As most North American anarchists and
anti-authoritarians have come to realize the centrality of
day-to-day local organizing over big-event-hopping and
passive-email-crisis-reactions, NEMA and similar networking
projects will help folks stay connected to build cohesion around
day-to-day struggles and initiatives.

Overall the NEMA gathering was a positive experience and I
think people came away from it hopeful and energized. Time will
tell how useful such network-building will be to our movement.
The next NEMA gathering is currently scheduled for July 9-11 in
Philadelphia ()...

Related Info:

NEMA announcements listserv:
http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/neanticapitalist NEMA website:

Active Thought Project: http://www.activethoughtproject.org/
Anarchist Worlds Fair listserv:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anarchistworldsfair/ Big Noise
Films/4th World War: http://www.bignoisefilms.com/
DNC2RNC: http://www.dnc2rnc.org/ Food Not Bombs:
http://www.abcnorio.org/affiliated/fnb.html PGA:
http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/en/ Ricanstruction:

Proposal for a Continental Anti-Authoritarian Anti-Capitalist

Related at Infoshop:
Link: http://defenestrator.org/nema/

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