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(en) [indymedia] Ireland: report on 5th Grassroots Gathering

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 1 Jul 2003 16:50:50 +0200 (CEST)

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

Grassroots Gathering Five report by Laurence Cox -

Grassroots Gathering Tuesday, Jul 1 2003, 12:52pm lcox@iol.ie
> a step forward for the movement
The fifth Grassroots Gathering ran from Friday 27th to Sunday
29th in Dublin. Over 160 libertarian activists from different
movements opposed to neo-liberalism and war took part in a very
ambitious programme of events. The levels of energy were high,
and participants seemed to take control of the event for
themselves without problems. A highpoint was the involvement of
two Argentinian community activists from the massive movement
against neo-liberalism there.

Key outcomes include setting up working groups towards actions
around the World Economic Forum meeting this October, agreement
to hold an assembly in a few weeks' time to take this further,
agreement to keep anti-war networks alive in some form, and the
offer by Galway to host the next Gathering after the WEF.

Grassroots Gathering 5
a step forward for the movement

This is a quick personal report on the fifth Grassroots
Gathering, which ran from Friday 27th to Sunday 29th June in the
Teachers' Club, Dublin. The Gathering is a network of activists
and groups opposed to neo-liberalism who are committed to
non-hierarchical ways of organising and the use of direct
action. It's been in existence for two years, giving birth to
the Grassroots Network Against War last year. Each Gathering is
independently organised by a local team who take it on
themselves to create the space within which activists meet,
discuss and organise actions. So far Gatherings have been held
in Dublin, Cork, Belfast and Limerick.

This Gathering was deliberately ambitious. This spring, a wide
variety of different campaigns and actions against the war on
Iraq marked the first really large-scale participation of Irish
people in the global movement against neo-liberalism. This
autumn, the mobilisation against the World Economic Forum
creates the chance to take this participation further and
deeper, and to connect campaigning on global issues to the local
struggles of Irish people for basic needs. Our aim in organising
this Gathering was to take a step forward in terms not only of
our own numbers but also of outreach, of communicating more with
each other across our own differences, and in terms of our
shared political organising.

The final programme that actually happened (including
last-minute changes) included six plenary events; twenty
workshops focussing on networking, skills or discussion; about
fifty introductory speakers giving five-minute openers for the
workshops; a weekend-long programme of videos; and a range of
other activities including soccer, walking tours, poi,
meditation, Indian head massage and co- operative games, as well
as a benefit gig on Saturday night. (See the official programme
at http://grassrootsgathering.freeservers.com for an indication
of the shape of the weekend.) Amazingly enough, we even finished
each day within half an hour of the stated time...

Because our goal was to encourage networking between activists
from different movements, we deliberately organised a programme
of workshops around issues which are shared across movements
alongside the usual collection of workshops proposed by other
activists before or during the Gathering - about a third of the
total (in some Gatherings these are the only workshops). We
invited large numbers of people involved in different struggles
to give short intro talks to these: in order to encourage
discussion rather than simply sitting and listening, we asked
speakers to keep their talks to 5 minutes.

This was an experiment which mostly seems to have worked,
although in afew cases it was felt that five minutes was a bit
too restrictive. Rather than hand-picking facilitators (except
for the final plenary), we simply asked for volunteers (and
provided training and handouts), getting perhaps twenty
different facilitators over the course of the weekend.
Participants also mentioned appreciating the way facilitators
would prioritise those who hadn't already spoken, again
encouraging more people to share their experiences and
contribute to the workshops. Our general feeling is that we were
vindicated in orienting the Gathering towards active
participation rather than assuming that most people really
wanted to listen to long talks and leave everything to a handful
of leaders.

The feedback session at the end was almost entirely positive,
making several of us rather nervous ("what are they not telling
us?") What criticism there was was mostly technical. Obviously,
it feels as though this meant we got it largely right in terms
of the plan, but more importantly that participants really felt
ownership of the Gathering and felt in control of the different
events they took part in. Which of course is the main point of
the Gathering and of non-hierarchical organising more generally.

In all, over 160 people registered at the Gathering, making this
apparently the largest libertarian gathering in Ireland in the
last thirty years. The vast majority of participants were
committed activists, with a sprinkling of visitors and people
coming to check out the scene. Along with anti-war activists,
environmentalists, anarchists, anti- racist activists,
feminists, non-dogmatic Marxists, autonomists, alternative media
workers and more, there was a significantly higher proportion of
community activists and a more international participation than
at recent Gatherings, with languages needed including Spanish,
Italian and German.

The range of material available from different groups in the
info- room gave a good sense of the diversity and level of
activity of the different campaigns and groups involved in the
movement - ecological magazines, anarchist literature, reports
from community projects, flyers for prisoner support benefits,
Food not Bombs picnics, the Irish Social Forum launch, CDs with
the Irish report back from Evian... At the final session, the
announcements of future protests, benefits, meetings,
get-togethers and actions planned went on for over quarter of an
hour. This movement has not been killed off by the invasion of
Iraq. It has caught its breath, found its feet and is growing.
Like Terminator 3, "We're baa-aack"!

There were two real high points of the weekend from my point of
view. The first was the participation of two Argentinian
activists: community artist / human rights activist Graciela
Monteagudo, whose puppet show on Friday night convinced many
sceptics that there are alternative ways to communicate radical
political analyses; and piquetera (unemployed blockader) Neka
Jara, who rather than give a formal talk on Saturday night gave
the session over to an exchange of experiences between the
Argentinian and Irish movements. Both activistsm stressed that
the most important support Irish activists can give to their
struggle is to build our own movements; and this weekend we
certainly did that.

The second high point was the series of workshops covering past
and future actions: the experiences gained from the anti-war
movement and the need to create continuity for the next war; the
lessons learned at Evian; issues of prisoner support; and
preparing for the World Economic Forum, the main subject of our
final plenary. We agreed to focus on raising awareness in
advance and getting our point of view across; on organising
direct action to stop the WEF if possible; and to create space
for ourselves within the Irish Social Forum rather than try to
organise a counter-summit as well. Even if we can't work
together with other anti-capitalist groups on every kind of
action, we should all be able to cooperate on organising
practicalities such as legal and medical support, accommodation,

The level of energy and enthusiasm was high, a major turn-around
from the Limerick Gathering when many people and groups were
struggling with the experience of defeat in the anti-war
movement and burnout from doing so much under such difficult
circumstances. Participants mentioned the high level of
donations (the surplus was given to Anarchist Prisoner Support),
the willingness of participants to stay on board a challenging
schedule of events, the way events ran themselves without
needing the organising team to make things happen, and the high
level of interest in the political workshops as against the more
relaxing events as indicators of where people are at: self-
confident, recovered from the anti-war movement, and ready to
move further forward.

Despite our political differences, it's clear that the last two
years of Gatherings and the last year of anti-war activity have
given us a much higher level of trust in each other and have led
to the building of friendships across traditional boundaries.
Reaching consensus, including on challenging practical issues,
was remarkably easy and it was clear from discussions that our
practical orientations to the issues facing us are very similar.
Even where we had deliberately set up sessions to debate issues
that divide us (such as ecology vs. industrialism, voting vs.
consensus, or explicit ideology vs. non-dogmatism) disagreements
were respectful and we found we had at least as much common
ground as divergences.

Practical outcomes include the following:

- The setting up of over a dozen practical working-groups to get
going on the different tasks facing us around opposing the World
Economic Forum;

- Agreement to hold an assembly based on these groups in a few
weeks' time to report back and see what further steps need to be

- Agreement that our anti-war networks should not shut down
completely but should keep some level of continuity and
communication in preparation for the next war;

- The offer from Galway to organise the next Grassroots
Gathering at some point after the World Economic Forum (October
20th - 21st).

Thanks are due to everyone who made this Gathering such a
success, in particular Neka and Graciela who stole the show;
Robert for organising their visit; our invited speakers both for
coming and for restricting themselves to the five minutes we had
asked of them; Nick, Martha and the other interpreters; and to
all the participants for taking responsibility for their own
workshops and events, for staying on board throughout a
punishing weekend schedule, and for bringing so much of
themselves and their own activism to this weekend. As the
companeras from Argentina put it, "We will meet in the


related link: http://grassrootsgathering.freeservers.com

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