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(en) US, Vermillion, SD, Reportback of Fall 2005 Great Plains Anarchist Network conference

Date Sun, 06 Nov 2005 21:10:23 +0200


These are some notes collected, edited, and compiled over the last month
since the end of the conference. They do not represent any specific
person's thoughts, or opinions, nor do they describe the inner workings of
GPAN or go in-depth about workshops or meetings; they are not detailed
"minutes." The notes are simply meant to give a general idea of what the
conference was like for GPAN affiliates who were not able to make the trip
to South Dakota. More revealing are the bits describing behind-the-scenes
planning work done by the organizers of the conference. Most importantly,
perhaps, are the comments collected in the last section of the notes, and
the results of the evaluation forms. Hopefully these notes will inspire
and encourage future GPAN planners to host fun, informative, and
constructive events in the future.

Preparations

Although past autumn GPAN conferences have been held in October or
November, we planned the Vermillion conference for mid-September, hoping
for nice weather. We chose the weekend of the 16-18 specifically because
Sunday provided a full moon for our camping experience.

We prepared Network affiliates for the conference by sending out thirty
information packets. These included: a map showing several routes to
Vermillion, including back roads for those wishing to avoid interstate
travel; a schedule of events; the agenda proposals submitted since last
caucus; GPAN points of unity and structural guidelines; promotional
posters and fliers; general information including what to bring, etc. The
packets were also sent to radical magazines and bookstores in the region,
locals who requested info, and a few anarchist organizations with national
promotional capabilities. We fundraised to cover the cost of postage. We
also spread the word locally and nationally through substantial online
posting. There was a page of information on our website
www.sdradicals.org, and we frequently used the GPAN website and mailing
list.

The campsite was prepared (wood collection, fire pits, setting up of guest
tents) a few days before the conference. Food was collected from
individual donations, food pantries, and dumpsters. A locally-owned
grocery store donated $25.00 worth of groceries, and a local pharmacy
donated almost two dozen first aid kits. More than thirty loaves of bread
were baked.

The conference began at a camp along the Missouri River, a few miles
outside of Vermillion. There were half a dozen small campsites planned,
with themes including quiet/sleepers, loud/insomniacs, kids' camp, art,
music, a medic tent, and two kitchens. There was also an Infotent.org for
zines and information.

One day before the conference, we began staffing the check-in location in
town. Here, information packets were kept, and people could be directed to
the campground. Because we had this registration place away from the
actual conference, we were able to direct people more easily when the
conference did have to move into town due to inclement weather. Otherwise,
someone would have had to stay at the rather isolated campground all
weekend simply to give directions to the new location. The check-in also
made the conference more secure. The actual site of the conference was not
named on the internet; theoretically there would have been less chance of
harassment. If "troublemakers" made it to the check-in, the planners would
be able to call and alert the camp before they arrived (if they would be
given the correct directions at all).

Friday

As night fell, GPANdas arrived. A tent city was set up and people started
socializing and eating. Friends in a local independent theatre group
prepared us for "Spontaneous Combustion," an icebreaking improvisational
experiment in theatre. Later in the night, some people took walks to the
Missouri River and into the woods. The camp grew quiet as midnight
approached. Friday's schedule was mostly reserved for social events,
icebreakers, fun and games. Since only one affiliate arrived within a few
hours of the scheduled events' starting times, most of them were sadly
cancelled.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, it rained for five hours. The conference planners
frantically called contacts to ask for the use of a shelter. Soon, a
friend from a local arts organization offered the use of the group's
building. We salvaged what food and supplies we could from the muck and
puddles, gathered people together, and caravanned into town.

Thanks to resourcefulness, flexibility, and friends in the community, the
conference was eventually back on track. We dried off, made too many pots
of coffee, and began workshops. A few were cancelled; others took their
places. The subjects covered were diverse and reflected stated interests
in the planning stages of the conference: men and feminism; fertility and
birth control; histogeography of anarchism; train hopping; freaking
squares; radical parenting; articulating anarchism; alternative medicine;
massage healing; yoga; music improvisation; population control and gender
imbalances. Canceled workshops included stealth and surveillance, setting
up mental health systems, and Jeet Kune Do self-defense, to the
disappointment of many.

All through the weekend, the chefs and cooks did an amazing job of
providing vegan and non-vegan food for the 50-70 people who showed up,
especially considering that both kitchens had to be dismantled in the
morning and set up again in town. From stuffed squash to curry potatoes,
the food was delicious. Similarly working behind the scenes were a few
wonderful volunteers who befriended the youngest GPANda, making forts,
water-coloring and playing duck-duck-goose.

The workshops ended in the afternoon, and we took an extended break. Some
people returned to the campground to gather tents. A Vermillion native
constructed a dome structure, which we later painted and slept in. In the
mid-afternoon the sun finally came out and it warmed up a little. Despite
that, most of us decided to stay in town rather than try to return to the
campground. Dinner was served, and a dozen people played a fun but
complicated game called the Village. The Wheels of Justice bus tour
arrived in the evening. Their biodiesel bus is a piece of art in itself,
painted with vibrant murals and anti-war slogans and signs.

As night fell on Saturday, GPAN got down to business. A discussion began
concerning Hurricane Katrina and the grassroots anarchist response.
Efforts such as Common Ground and Food Not Bombs have been doing far more
to help the people of New Orleans than FEMA or the Red Cross. It was
exciting to hear about their work. Several Vermillion activists plan to
travel to Louisiana to contribute to the grassroots aid effort.
Approximately twenty people continued discussion afterwards with the
agenda proposals to prepare for the general meeting.

Late Saturday night, a small contingent visited the Society for Creative
Anachronism camp a mile outside of town. We stayed up drinking mead and
talking about self-sufficiency, DIY culture, and other subjects with the
peasant warriors until 3 in the morning.

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we tried to wake people up a little after dawn, which
took much effort. Eventually, though, we had a caffeinated critical mass
to welcome the Wheels of Justice crew, who spoke about their mission and
travels.

Then came the general meeting. A few proposals were discussed and
eventually passed, including the abolition of general meetings (!), in
mildly tense but mercifully short debates. A new GPAN email list was set
up, and it was agreed that future conferences should be held if their was
a need, purpose, or theme (not "just to have it"). Some people packed up
and left before the meeting was over. At noon it ended, and people started
packing. Evaluation forms were collected, and an affiliates list was made.

The last workshop took place on a grassy lawn outside, as the sun blazed
down on us. Most GPAN cats were gone by this point, but several Vermillion
natives attended. The subject was "Population Control and Gender
Imbalances," the point being that especially in the developing world, the
IMF and WTO are implementing programs that systematically target and
eliminate female fetuses through forced abortions and sexist population
control indoctrination.

Aftermath

Cleaning up took a few hours, but the building caretakers were overjoyed
that we left the place cleaner than we found it (three of us later
attended the organization's board meeting to formally thank them for the
structure's use). The arts group have our unending gratitude for the use
of the building for the conference, especially considering they made the
decision on a moment's notice!

On Sunday night we had a rock show to celebrate a successful conference.
J-Page from Gainesville, FL played along with friends in Junker Diddle and
Forgotten Voices. The Wheels of Justice bus tour returned for the show and
entertained with "The Singing CIA Agent."

Hardly a thing was done in Vermillion for the rest of the week.
Presently-a month later-we are recovered from GPAN burnout. We look
forward to attending the next conference and helping GPAN to realize its
potential.

Comments

This might have been the first anarchist gathering ever in the state of
South Dakota. Did people have a good time at our conference, and are they
as a result more likely to stay involved with GPAN? We can judge opinion
by the completed evaluation forms and the other responses received since
the conference. Below is a collected sampling of these comments. Note
especially the last remark, as it comes from the friend that let us use
the arts building. It represents a very important thing GPAN accomplished
at this caucus- we made a good impression on Vermillion locals.

"I think we're moving in a positive direction, really like the idea of
topical conferences, also I think social gatherings is a good idea…."

"I really need something like GPAN, even if it just is a social
gathering. It's good to know all these kids and to know our numbers... A
lot of them are so inspiring and we all bring motivation to each other
just by getting together. I had a good time this weekend and i though it
was pretty well organized in that when the campground failed, there was
somewhere to go..."

"I think most of the problems this past weekend (like disorganization)
came from the weather and having to change camps, which was outside of
anyone's control."

"There is nothing negative that can be said about the local Vermillion
organizers of the conference…The organizers did a kick ass job of putting
on the conference."

"…it is affirming and inspiring to be immersed for a weekend in a whole
network of people who are striving for these ideals…I drank too much
coffee. I didn't make-out with anybody. And one weekend wasn't enough
time with everybody… overall it was an exceptionally kick-ass weekend."

"The [building] was all picked up…. No one was arrested. Nothing got
broke. Everything was back in its proper place and [it] actually looked
better than it had before our visit by the GPAN. It had been a great
weekend."



FALL 2005 GPAN EVALUATION QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

Note: Of the dozens of evaluation forms distributed, 5 were returned. Any
mathematical discrepancy in the proceeding comments comes from anarchists
picking more than one answer to a question.

1. How did you hear of the conference?
GPAN website/email/affiliate: 4
Word of mouth: 2
Homeland security/FBI/COINTELPRO: 0

2. On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best, please rate:

Event……………mean………….median
-----------------------------------------------------
a. workshops…….4.1…………….4
b. gen meeting…..2.4……………..3
c. daycare……….2.8…………….4
d. food…………..3.4……………..4
e. safety…………..5……………..5
f. hospitality………5…………….5
g. alcohol…………4.5……………5
h. helpfulness of planners…4.6…..5

3. On a scale of 1-5, 5 being too much and 1 being too little, please rate
time allotted for:
Event………………mean……..median
Workshops…………2.8…………2
Gen meeting………...2.6…………3
Fun/games………….2…………….2

4. What was your favorite part of this GPAN? (responses)
-workshops
-workshops were well planned and organized
-men and feminism workshop, Katrina discussion, meeting people
-everyone was super nice, meeting people

5. What was your least favorite part?
-the breakdown of formal "workshops" into discussion/arguing hostility
frustration in gen. meet.
-general meeting
-a little too much down-time waiting. Things seem stan-centric?
-things getting jumbled. Schedule not stuck to

6. Are you more or less likely to continue to work with GPAN?
More: 5, Less: 0

7. How far did you drive? (4 responses)
Avg: 7.12 hours, median: 5.5

8. What were your expectations?
-to be able to see my friends and hang out for a few days
-tried not to have them
-to network with others, have fun, learn stuff

9. What would you like to see different at the next GPAN?
-less hostility-more face-to-face conversation
-more organized fun and games or icebreakers for people to get to know
each other
-more focused themes-less down-time, more options for where to be (felt
kind of stuck in the church)
-schedule stuck to, more time for play, more [structured?] volunteers
-more time for discussions and workshops. Be able to talk directly with
those included with childcare

10. What do you hope continues at GPAN?
-networking-meeting, sharing ideas, inspiration
-the hospitality-the Vermillion kids did such a great job making sure
people were taken care of
-meetings, workshops, 40 brigades
-more communication between caucuses
-nice folk, lots of workshops

11. Any other thoughts on GPAN?
-great job everyone at SD
-I really think we're moving in a positive direction, I really like the
idea of topical conferences, also I think social gatherings is a good
idea-bike weekends, camping, float trips, fireworks wars, training camps,
etc.
-structure!
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