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(en) Australia - Woomera2002 scrapbook - reflections on woomera2002 actions

From dr.woooo@nomasters.org
Date Tue, 19 Nov 2002 04:38:08 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

>From : scrap book <woomerapublication@yahoo.com.au>
Desert Storm - Out Now ( woomera2002 no-border autonomadic caravan ) 
Date : Tue, 19 Nov 2002 10:05:00 +1100 (EST)

A new tabloid publication of reflections on the Woomera2002 protests and the 
ongoing struggles against borders is now available.
At the round-up of the Melbourne Woomera2002 network the great fundraising 
collective had managed to get so much cash together there was some left 
over. A proposal was agreed upon that some money be put aside to fund a 
publication of reflections and analysis of the protests. Seven long, 
disorganised months later that publication is finally completed.
We hope this publication goes some way to developing a more critical and 
reflective activist culture and contributes to the struggles against borders 
around the world.
The publication can be view online at http://antimedia.net/desertstorm

Copies can be ordered by emailing woomerapublication@yahoo.com.au or by mail 
to PO Box 209, Brunswick East, Vic 3057.

*** Following is an essay from the text, some links 
to discuss these texts and links for other information 
on the woomera2002 actions and debates.

>From the scrapbook

Shape Shifting
by Andrew
Recent years have seen a significant growth in
Australia of political organising that emphasises
self-activity, decentralisation, autonomy and networks
as key methods of working together. Many may mark
the s11 protests against the World Economic Forum in
2000 as being a key catalyst in expanding this type of
extra-parliamentary politics. Indeed the rising
movements against capitalist globalisation around the
world have been a key source of energy and
inspiration. Several forms, from reclaim the streets,
social centres, radical media making, anarchist and
autonomist groups, forest and desert direct action and
much more make up this tendency. Most recently the
Woomera2002 actions were developed around the
ideas of autonomy, self-activity and direct action and
provide a practical example to explore the limitations
and possibilities of a broader area of struggle
composed around similar themes.

Methods of Organising
As this essay is an attempt at both introducing and
critiquing the forms of organising used at Woomera I
will briefly lay out the ways in which I feel they have
operated. The methods of organising are however
inherently multifarious, there is no single model or
correct line and as such no one to speak as the voice.
The opinions thus are solely mine.

The methods of organising deny the mediation of
representatives and instead emphasise direct
democracy and direct action. Direct action is taken not
as a last-ditch measure or as a form of militant
lobbying, but as an ethic in itself, the preferred method
of acting within the social terrain. Implicit in this is the
rejection of the colonisation of everyday life by both
the state and capital, and an endeavour to carve out
some degree of autonomy in which to practice
revolutionary new social relations, spaces from which
to posit a radical reconstruction of society. One of the
key markers of this tendency is its rejection of state
structures as a means to social change. "Autonomous
social movements aim to transcend the state, not
capture it."*

Decision-making occurs mostly through regular
meetings of groups of individuals and spokescouncils
and networks based on working groups, organisations
and affinity groups. Decisions are often made by
consensus, but not always. Ideas of networks and
diversity are emphasised over some type of
homogenous unity.

An affinity group is a collective of people who work
together to establish a level of trust between
themselves. They are a radical support group who
form the key nuclei of decision making and activity.
They are most often made up of friends. 

A working group is made up of individuals, some from
groups, some not, that come together to establish key
needs of a broader network such a publicity, transport,
infrastructure, skill sharing.

A spokescouncil is a method of organisation by which
each working group, organisation or affinity group
sends a delegate or 'spoke' through which they
participate in decision making and coordinate with
other groups. As a structure they were popularised by
the anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and again
as part of the peace, feminist and anti-nuclear
movements. Sometimes only spokes attend meetings,
other times the affinity or working group will sit
behind the spoke and discuss and decide on proposals.

This is seen as a more egalitarian and cooperative
structure than typical mass meetings and was the
method employed at the Woomera2002 protests. It
encourages greater self-activity, participation and
ownership of struggles than mass meetings where
only the loudest and most confidant usually speak and
others are often relegated to a position of
spectatorship. Spokescouncils are a more sophisticated
decision-making structure and demand much more of
participants in terms of self-organisation and initiative.
The difference in structures could be seen as a
network, web, or rhizome versus a hierarchical and
static pyramid.

Evaluating Woomera
In many ways Woomera proved the practical potential
of these methods of organising and should be
celebrated for its success. There were, however, many
failures in how the protests were organised, or not
organised, which are worth evaluating. But first, the

The call to autonomy, self-organisation and
self-initiative created a space where people were
immediately trusted to bring their ideas and actions
into a cooperative space. There was not one central
structure that would approve the validity of people's
ideas but an environment that would foster different
approaches. The lack of centralised leadership meant
that instead of taking orders the possibilities were laid
out for people's imaginations. This, combined with a
lack of overt authoritarianism, despite attempts by
some groups like Socialist Alternative, created a
greater sense of ownership and spontaneity in the
protests and increased the possibilities for the fences
to come down.

When the fences were being dismantled there were no
megaphones, there were no directors because there
were no actors to direct. People refused to be bodies to
be shouted at and shunted. They chose instead to
"immediately (at once) & immediately (without
mediation)"** become agents: self-organised and
autonomous. Whilst some continued to run around
and shout at people, their authority was ignored.
People plainly and simply just got on with the job. The
fences coming down and broken apart was one of
those magic moments where hierarchies were
dissolved, carnival and freedom ensued. 

The most decisive factor was of course the
commitment of those inside, who spured those outside
to commit themselves, and provide practical and direct
solidarity to their ongoing struggle. The spontaneous
self-organisation that occurred between the two
groups of people was truly inspiring.

Despite the difficulty of trying to establish an effective
decision-making structure due to the chaos of Friday
night many people did manage to organise themselves.
The spokescouncils eventually proved their
effectiveness, but unfortunately not until Sunday. The
nature of smuggling people out of the camp, however,
demanded people work in a decentralised and
self-organised capacity.

Another limitation is that these structures, though not
new, are not established enough to be consistently
effective. Many people are not used to having to
organise themselves. The methods of
decision-making, even in so-called radical circles, are
not very different to the way the establishment
organises itself, through directors and spectators. We
are brought up taking orders from parents, teachers,
cops, CEOs and governments; it will take a bit of
practice to begin to unlearn that.

One key criticism that needs addressing is the lack of
preparation with regard to the escapes. Beyond
anything else this seems to me to be more a problem
of self-confidence, of actually believing we can achieve
social change, than any particular organisational
dysfunction. With a far greater belief in, and enaction
of, our abilities who knows what would have been
possible? The fact that the break-out was largely
spontaneous means that Woomera2002 will not
happen again. You cannot plan for spontaneity and as
such it should not be fetishized. Similarly all the tactics
used should be seen as merely that. Spokescouncils
and affinity groups are not the correct organising
method for every situation but should be applied as the
terrain demands.

Individualism versus Collectivism - Taking Autonomy
Too Far
For many the practice of autonomy centres on the
individual or very small groups. There is a tendency to
take the idea of a diverse network of collectives down
to a microcosmic level. In the case of the Melbourne
Woomera network meetings, 30 people in a room, the
vast majority of whom are there only as individuals
and not from any particular group, were told they are
not a collective but rather an amorphous network of
random individuals.

This kind of hyper-autonomy often mirrors much of
life under late capitalist society. The atomisation
experienced in everyday life also occurs within some
of the organising. The idea of a broader collective
identity, of a 'we', is shunned as impinging on the
freedom of individuals and tiny groups. If we have
common ground we should use it. Many people come
to activism through a rejection of the loneliness,
alienation and isolation of everyday life under
capitalism. They are attracted to activism because of
the relationships they hope to form and the possibility
of finding meaning through the construction of a
collective identity in struggling against injustice. If we
are to deny this collectivity we lose one of the
strongest attractions of activism and more importantly
we lose the power of collective action.

"Autonomy" is often interpreted as being "separate
from". There is a tendency though to take this to
extremes to the point of self-marginalisation and
atomisation. Autonomy doesn't mean being
autonomous from each other, it means
self-organising, self-
management, self-activity. Autonomy is different from
independence. Autonomy indicates a level of

This is not to say that the method of decentralised
networks is not a valid project to work towards. It
absolutely is. The problem is that the networks are at
such a microscopic level that they end up becoming
merely an amorphous collection of individuals and tiny
groups that are hard to break into, rather than a much
larger and much more effective web. We need to
imagine these networks beyond groupsicles and
individuals, we need to imagine it on a mass scale if is
truly to be a potent force for social change. 

The examples of Italian Autonomia, European
squatted social centres and the Zapatistas, though not
without their own problems, prove that ideas of
autonomy are applicable on a scale involving hundreds
of thousands of people. Imagining and organising
ourselves beyond our marginal scene cannot happen if
we remain atomised and isolated individuals. Linking
up with the vast majority of people, in work place or
community everyday sites of struggle, is essential if
autonomy is to be more than a marginalised
subculture and the latest activist buzzword.

It is only natural that many react negatively to the idea
of structure in an already over-structured world. It is,
however, necessary to go beyond this and envision
empowering methods of organising that facilitate
direct democracy. There is a degree of reactionism
against traditional leftist parties and a heavy and
almost paranoid consciousness in the attempts to
differentiate from them. Some of this is justified given
the track record of such groups in attempting to take
over otherwise functioning collectives. The
amorphousness is an attempt to make that harder, to
allow as little structure as possible to develop to
prevent it being taken over. You can not build a solid
politics, however, in such a reactionary state of mind,
always fearful that other groups are going to take it
over. It makes it very hard for new people to find
something to get into and so the most visible and
accessable groups end up being of the authoritarian
socialist variety.

In fact with the network dissolving after the protest
authoritarian socialist groups did take over. Although
'take over' would be the wrong word. Basically the ball
was dropped and the responsibility of ongoing
solidarity, particularly for those facing jail terms and
still inside, was taken up by the Refugee Action
Collective. This seems ludicrous as many people now
had much energy to put into organising. As soon as
this occurred the network dissolved and then people
complain about 'Trots taking over'.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

"There are no leaders or organisers, no hierarchy." 

- 'Autonomous John Farnham fan club' 
affinity group's flyer for Woomera2002.

Hyper-autonomy gives rise easily to cliques of friends,
which diminishes the decision-making power of those
outside them. This was evidenced in the Woomera
organising with much of the decisions happening
behind the scenes through mobile phone
conversations or in informal meetings. People who are
friends form affinity groups (as is supposed to happen)
and become 'autonomous', which means those
without the skills often get left behind as it becomes
hard to break into the structures. There is a certain
degree of Darwinism where the most skilled and
well-resourced prosper. A lack of formal structure
accentuates this.

For example, people were encouraged to
autonomously produce their own propaganda or to
speak to the media so as to avoid having a single
representation, for people to represent themselves.
Whilst I agree that this is the preferred method it
ignores the reality that everyone can't go and produce
their own flyer, or has the time or money. Similarly,
not everyone has the skills to speak to the media. Such
people often end up getting represented by default,
with no say whatsoever. As such, groups like the
Socialist Party and No One Is Illegal quite often ended
up representing the protest as a whole. The point is
not to dismiss collective representation as such but to
ensure that they are transparent and democratically
accountable and that the representation that does
occur emphasises the multiplicity of participation.
That doesn't mean that people can't produce their own
material, they should be encouraged to do so, but that
those without the means don't get represented by
. These are hierarchies that need to be dealt with
rather than pretending we suddenly have equal access
to power because we are all 'autonomous'.

"Autonomy" often gets used to mean
"unaccountability", like "I can do whatever I want
cause I'm autonomous". This was evidenced at
Woomera where the spokescouncils often had no
meaning, as there was little commitment to carrying
out collective decisions. This is not to suggest that we
should all lump ourselves together, that we should
deny spontaneity and diversity but that we should be
building a more communalistic culture. There is
nothing wrong in my mind with the development of
structures that create some common ground, or
hallmarks. The emphasis on autonomy and 'respect
for diversity of tactics' were general decisions that
applied across the protest, so why not others?
Collective decisions are not inherently bad, some
degree of commonality needs to be established.

More structure in this instance, rather than being the
tyranny some rail against, can actually facilitate
communication between groups, thus enhancing
participation, accountability and democracy. More
structure might also provide ways for new people to
get involved who find it difficult to see a way into these
amorphous collaborations of individuals.

Calls for some kind of correct line, as touted by
authoritarian leftist parties, are obviously to be
rejected. The problem is to find a complementary
balance between commonality and pluralism, a kind of
decentred coherence. How can we envision "a world
with space for many worlds" that is liberatory and
revolutionary? The spokescouncil structure provides
one practical model. The establishment of broader
networks with a more defined politics is another.

Woomera2002 proved the possibilities of a networked,
anti-authoritarian and direct action approach to social
change. 50 detainees escaped and eleven remain free.
The physical destruction of the steel palisades and
razor wire that divide us, and the daily incursions
against governments, capital, and their borders by the
autonomous movement of people on a global scale,
are an assault against the state as the arbiter of who
enters the national fortress. Rather than being the
'anti-globalisation' xenophobes as parodied in the
media, the actions showed up the fraud of
'globalisation', where capital and corporations can
move but people can't. Here at Woomera were the real
globalisers: those who wish to globalise humanity.

The protests, both inside and outside the razor wire,
inspired many as to the possibilities for different
shapes and methods of refusal. Discussion of both the
successes and failures of the protest, and the growth of
anti-authoritarian and autonomous movements of
resistance, are essential if we are to escape the dead
weight of history.

* Katsiafics, G., The Subversion of Politics, Humanity
Books, 2001.

** Bey, H., Immediatism, AK Press, 1994.

debate this text ' shapeshifting'

debate other texts from the scrapbook
economic migrants

by way of introduction 

in the Middle of Somewhere...the politics of place and


An Engagement with the Real: 

Lucky Country?

more info on woomera2002

woomera2002 website


movement/s debates post-woomera

global no-border actions


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