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(en) Ireland, Red & Black Revolution* #9 - Learning from May Day: Organisational Problems

Date Mon, 28 Nov 2005 13:27:59 +0200

1. DGN fucks up with accommodation
A couple of days before May Day the police discovered and shut
down the squat that was intended to serve as a
convergence/accommodation centre during the protests. Although
the 100-150 or so international activists were all found somewhere to
sleep, this loss obviously caused difficulties. Without a proper
convergence centre in which to debate and discuss issues related to
the protests many of the international activists felt excluded and
blamed and resented DGN for not providing what they regarded as
basic facilities for a protest like May Day. On the other hand, a large
number of Irish activists felt they were doing their best in difficult
and stressful conditions and that the visitors were treating DGNers
as disreputable tour operators rather than comrades. Unsurprisingly,
over the week a very discernible them and us attitude developed
between some Irish and English anarchists. (It should be noted that
the visitors were a very heterogenous group and 'some' means only

This led to further difficulties when the Indymedia centre began to
serve as the default convergence centre with people hanging around,
eating and drinking. This was not what the Community Media
Network (CMN) had agreed to when it had made their premises
available to Irish Indymedia and it ended up creating tensions and
misunderstandings between people from CMN/Indymedia and
people from DGN. CMN/Indymedia had no problem with meetings
being held in the building but understandably felt that if the place
was treated as a social centre it would undermine its role as an
alternative media hub. On the other hand, some of the visitors
believed that Indymedia, as a constituent part of the anti-capitalist
movement, should make the space available to them because DGN
hadn't provided any other options. This underlying tension flared up
in innumerable little incidents. At one point tempers were so frayed
that CMN activists were pushing to have the Indymedia centre shut
down early because of the behaviour of some international activists.

The lack of solidarity and the rudeness of small minority of visiting
activists was not the real cause of the problems though. The blame
rests with us in DGN for not thinking through the consequences of
issuing an international call out without having the capacity to
provide the basic infrastructure for visiting protestors.

Why did this happen? While many people in DGN have had a lot of
experience organising protests and campaigns of various sorts we
had not, until May Day, organised anything that included the sort of
logistical support that an international call out demands and we
underestimated the work that it would involve. The group dealing
with accommodation provision was too small and included activists
who were already burdened with an extraordinary amount of work.
We should have collectively made much more of an effort to support
them or made the decision that we were not in the position to
provide accommodation much earlier. This highlights one of the
observable drawbacks of the working groups model that we used
when people are overstretched; difficult and problematic tasks, such
as accommodation provision, get doled out as a way of taking them
off the agenda rather than really dealing with them collectively.

Wisdom in hindsight is a fairly useless luxury but it is also worth
reflecting on how we took an international model and applied it
wholesale to a local context without entirely thinking it through and
how that ended up colouring the perception of a good number of the
visiting activists. As effective network building both between various
elements of the Irish anti-capitalist movement and international
activists is one of the secondary aims of events like May Day this
stands as one of DGN's greatest failings over the weekend.

2. DGN's Legal support

Similarly, DGN's legal and defendant support work was more
piecemeal than it should have been. The main reason for this is that
once again we left an important job in the hands of too few people
and we failed to understand just how much preparation and effort is
needed to do such work effectively. Because of this, going into May
Day, we didn't have a proper bail fund and ever since May Day a
small number of people doing legal support having been trying to
play catch up.

In the run up to the protests the legal team distributed thousands of
bust cards with a solicitor's phone number and legal briefings to
prepare people for the possible consequences of protesting. It
appears though that many of the people who were arrested near the
Ashtown Gate were new to politics and had never taken part in
anything confrontational and did not have this information. This
meant many of those arrested were processed without knowing what
was likely to happen to them or whether they could expect support.
This was further complicated by the fact that the Gardai refused to
allow the arrestees to make their phone call until Sunday, which
slowed down the response of the legal support group. Nonetheless,
they were nearly all contacted one way or another over the weekend.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the media furore about the riot, the
vast majority of defendants contacted opted not get involved in a
defendant support group or accept any help from DGN. For those
who did opt to accept our solidarity money was and is continuing to
be raised but there is no May Day defendants group to speak of.

Two of the English anarchists arrested did ask DGN for solidarity
but were unhappy with the level of support they received. DGN's
lack of organisational coherence is part of this story because, despite
some individuals' best efforts on this score, we failed to make
defendant support a collective priority. Some of this is a question of
experience but for something as important as legal support this is
not acceptable and this aspect of the May Day experience begs
political as well as organisational questions.

3. DGN's failings as an organisational model

These problems were not just oversights, they are serious political
problems. We need to develop sustainable legal support structures
within the libertarian movement but there are a number of obstacles
to this, not least the organisational form of DGN. One of the
fundamental strengths of the DGN network model is that it is easy to
get involved, have a say, work on a given issue and then, if you
choose, take a break. This is very attractive in certain respects but as
the network is primarily a network of individuals, rather than groups,
it can lack organisational coherence and consistency. This is
compounded by the fact that many of the people in DGN have only
been working with each other for a relatively short period and the
informal patterns of cooperation and interdependence that might
compensate for such organisational weaknesses haven't fully
developed yet. This has meant that problems and issues can present
themselves at a time when DGN is not meeting very regularly or at
all and often nobody takes up the slack. This is in contrast with more
established anti-capitalist networks elsewhere, which consist mainly
of groups that have had a longer experience of working with each

Potentially, this could create other problems: not least unclear
decision-making, the development of informal hierarchies, and a
lack of accountability. It also seems as if the structure of DGN
makes it impossible to plan political activity in a paced and strategic
manner. For instance, after May Day many activists felt completely
burnt out during a period which saw an anti-immigrant referendum
and Bush's visit to Ireland and this definitely hampered the
libertarian campaigns in response to these two events. Politically,
such an unstable network is also very unlikely to build the sustained
links with communities and workplaces that could make
anti-capitalism a genuinely subversive force. It is not clear at the
time of writing whether DGN has a future or not in its current form
but hopefully these very serious failings will be addressed by the
anti-authoritarian community in the future.

by Dec McCarthy

This article was originally published as a box in the article
The Ghost of Mayday Past http://www.struggle.ws/wsm/rbr/rbr9/mayday.html
Compared to many other European countries May Day
demonstrations have always been small in Ireland. By the
mid-1990's, May Day had become a fairly underwhelming event. So,
given this dismal tradition why were the explicitly libertarian May
Day events in 2004, comparatively speaking, such a success?

This article is from Red & Black Revolution (no 9, Spring 2005)

Read more articles from this issue
* Journal of the WSM anarchist federation
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