Detailed Report from the Tenth Grassroots Gathering

Detailed report from Tenth Grassroots Gathering, consisting of a brief overview of what went on, plus minutes/notes from those workshops which have produced minutes/report backs.
Over one hundred people attended the Tenth Grassroots Gathering in Erris, Co.Mayo, on August 27th and 28th.

This was the first Grassroots Gathering outside a major urban area, and the second in Connaught.
At the event, and prior to it, a call went out for people to document the gathering, as for some reason Grassroots Gatherings usually end up unreported. Below is a collection of notes and minutes taken by various people at various meetings at the Gathering. Thanks to everyone who did this.
Accommodation was provided by Rossport Solidarity Camp, persevering despite suffering extremely bad weather conditions just prior to the Gathering. That weekend the camp briefly blossomed into three camps on the pipeline route.

Attendance at the Gathering included (some of) the usual suspects from the Grassroots Gathering circuit, as well as a lot of people from local community campaigns around environmental issues, and a lot of people from England who had travelled over to support Rossport Solidarity Camp. Contingents from Galway, Cork and Dublin Shell to Sea groups were present.
Food was supplied by the ever wonderful Bitchin’ Kitchen.
The Gathering was the culmination of the solidarity week on the camp, photo reports on which are here:.
http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=72104
http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=71823
http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=71717

The Tenth Grassroots Gathering was organised by Rossport Solidarity Camp, and largely geared to learning from similar situations in other parts and times.
There were speakers from, or speaking about, Derrybrien Development Society, the Woodland League, Galway for a Safe Environment, Gorleben anti-nuclear protest camp, the Tara campaign, anti-pylon groups from Roscommon and Donegal and the campaign against Merrill Dow in Cork in the late 80’s.
The bulk of that took place on Saturday and was followed by skills share sessions on the media, meeting organisation and arrest/interrogation.

The Gathering was originally to take place on the camp, but due to adverse climatic conditions events on Saturday were moved to a pub with a very large function room in nearby Glenamoy.
As it turned out the weather was fine on Saturday and atrocious on Sunday.
The key note address on Saturday was given by Brid Ni Sheghin, Rossport resident and Shell to Sea activist, this followed a showing of Margaretta D’arcy’s new short film on the Rossport situation see:
http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=71641
The night wound up with music from a Ballina based ballad/trad group, something described by one Cork comrade as a “refreshing change”.

Three meetings were designated to take place on the camp on Sunday, unfortunately this day had really crappy wind and rain, fortunately Ray, of Ray’s field fame, stepped into the breach with a cottage which is in his keeping.

On Sunday there was to be three meetings, a workshop on women are the key, given by Margaretta D’arcy, a discussion about improving the organisation of networks around the Grassroots Gatherings, and an open talk about how different local community campaigns can support each other and how libertarian left/green left activists can support them. Unfortunately this last workshop collapsed. Notes on the discussion on organisation, which was very much a preliminary discussion around some proposals from some participants in Rossport Solidarity Camp, are included at the end of this report.
The weekends’ events ended up in the marquee with talks on Tara and on CELT.

Notes on ‘Dealing with the Mainstream Media’ Session.

Hi all,

Here’s a rough set of minutes from the session on ‘Dealing with the Mainstream Media’ from the first day of last weekend’s Grassroots Gathering in Erris. Apologies it’s taken longer than I hoped to get them out – partly due to my laziness and partly due to my not knowing what to do with my notes: it wasn’t the most coherent session ever, and a lot of time was used up talking about how we were going to work the session, rather than on the target subject matter.

Context & outline

To veer away from (what is I’m guessing) best practice for presenting minutes, I’ll go on a bit more with contextualising the session, and try and give an outline of what it consisted of, before giving a run-down of what was said.

The session was about an hour and a half long. About fifteen people were in attendance (sorry, I’ve no exact record of attendance). These were mostly ‘activists’ – both from libertarian left/green circles, and from various local initiatives.
The group included members of/participants in Shell To Sea; Rossport solidarity camp; Derrybrien Development Group; the Woodland League; Save Tara group; Dublin Grassroots Network; Workers Solidarity Movement; Dublin Catholic Worker Movement/Pitstop Ploughshares. It’s likely that other groups were also represented but this escapes my memory – and there were individuals.

William and Mark from Dublin Grassroots Network (and in Mark’s case Workers Solidarity Movement) were lined up to give some input on DGN media experience in the context of the Mayday 2004 protests, and to provide practical pointers.

The session was coloured to some degree by a truncated discussion on dealing with the media that took place at a separate meeting on the future of the solidarity camp the previous morning – the subject of dealing with the media had been on the agenda of that earlier meeting, but was more or less abandoned when it was considered it was too weighty a theme to be covered at the tail-end of an intense meeting already gone overtime; it was dropped at this time with the proviso that the subject could potentially be discussed in the GG Media session later on, albeit presumably in a different way. But I’m possibly biased in pointing this out, since I was one of the people advocating this – maybe it wasn’t such an issue for many people.

This contributed to an inauspicious start for the session when it began – there was some confusion in general as to what kind of orientation the session was to have: practical or theoretical, etc. It kicked off with a go-round where attendees commented freely about their thoughts on the subject of dealing with the media. After this there was a fairly protracted period spent between unstructured discussion of media issues, and discussion of how to order the session. Brainstorming for discussion points was done. Proposals were made that the group split into sub-groups. Eventually a time limit was set on the whole group discussion, and it was decided that after this was up, those who wanted would split off with William for some practical workshopping.

Note on names

I have included names in a few cases, for various reasons: for one, where speakers had some role beyond merely being an attendee – where they had been recruited to give some input to the session, and so presumably were prepared for a public role in that context. for another, where the identity of the attendee and their experience was inextricably bound up with their contribution to the meeting. Hope that all makes sense and it’s ok.

What was said

The go-round at the start showed that at least three people in attendance had experience working in the mainstream media. Many of the attendees had some experience in engaging with the mainstream media in a campaigning capacity. A considerable amount of negative feeling towards the mainstream media could be gauged. A number of attendees mentioned what they perceived as the often lazy and slipshod nature of journalism. Some attendees pointed to a conscious dereliction of duty in parts of the media, where journalistic ethics were subordinated to ideology and pragmatism. One attendee (with media experience) argued that deadline pressure was as much a factor in journalistic failures as was laziness.

Proposed discussion topics that came up in the brainstorming included:
press release techniques
techniques for writing letters to newspapers
how local groups should work together
monitoring radio and TV for the failures in their coverage of issues
media strategy
practical skills and the art of the soundbyte
DIY media, i.e. producing your own booklets

Reviewing the list of brainstormed topics, it was considered they more or less all fitted into the five areas of: practical skills; resources/skill-sharing; media strategy; reflection on previous experiences; independent media production.

There was a tad more confusion about where we were going to go with this list from here, but with a dash of spontaneity the attendee who had announced his willingness to discuss lessons learned from previous experiences started off. The speaker, Damien from the Dublin Catholic Workers – on trial with his colleagues for the disarmament of a US warplane at Shannon Airport in 2003, and by now well used to the glare of the media spotlight – discussed the importance of thorough preparation of material for media consumption when engaging in certain types of arrestable affinity group direct actions.

For example, when in the past Damien engaged in a Ploughshares-style action with his affinity group, they had press releases ready to be sent out to the media as soon as practicable – although their (pregnant) colleague lined up for spokesperson duties ended up going into labour when the time came to carry out her task – watch out for this! – but otherwise, this tactic worked well, and counteracted some of the PR fallout caused by the initial burst of negative and fanciful reporting (e.g. ‘Activists Slit Wrists In Suicide Vandal Assault – hospitalise hero cop’ –type headlines). This observation fitted in with a pattern emerging from the Damien’s reflections: the laziness of journalists is a resource for activists to exploit – the right press release at the right time will be cut, pasted and carried wholesale.

The speaker also brought up the ‘Seven Commandments’ of media work (which I have not been able to divide into seven):

Beware of Sub Judicae laws – the laws that govern the media’s freedom to cover issues currently subject to judicial proceedings.
When working with press releases, be mindful of deadlines
Remember to initiate contact with media – and in particular photographers – at events, rather than just waiting for them – photographers are usually sound enough people.
Media work doesn’t necessarily hinge on talking – slogans and images can be just as powerful, e.g. when Ploughshares imagery is carried prominently on a banner or on T-shirts.
When putting on a show for the press and public outside court etc., there is a need to be disciplined – this means not munching on a sandwich or smoking fags when a camera is on you, etc.
When communicating with the media, you should remember the rules of writing essays in school and college: tell them what you’re going to say – say it – tell them what you said.
Pay attention to the formula of the press release, i.e. the first paragraph should include the when, the what, the where etc. etc.
Be very careful when getting notables, e.g. members of political parties, to chair public meetings on your behalf – such people can bring their own agendas, and you may find your meeting scuttled.
Build continuity between your events and aspects of whatever heritage/tradition you align yourself with – for CW, this might be St. Brigid’s Day, for some anarchists it might be the anniversary of the Haymarket episode.
Remember what Goebbels said: ‘Keep it simple, say it often’.
Remember what Damien’s, eh, alma matter, the Boyscouts, say: ‘bí ollamh’, that is ‘be prepared’ – keep your eyes on the diaries and websites of political parties, etc., so you know in advance when to barrack them, when to score PR stunts etc.
Journalists are apparently receptive to faxes.

Damien had a leaflet to distribute covering some of this.

William highlighted the usefulness of maintaining a ‘media watch’: monitoring what’s happening in the media, forwarding interesting or dubious articles around your networks, and calling media outlets up on flaws and untruths that they print/broadcast. When this is done in a persistent way, it can lead to getting in touch with the individual journalist responsible for the output in question; journalists will often attempt to pass the buck, but are indeed sensitive to having their laziness and lies questioned – journalists often find this very embarrassing, and it is useful to confront them with their failings.

Another attendee mentioned her policy of calling up media outlets and complaining about the nature of their news coverage – focusing on the preferential treatment given to personal interest fluff over important issues.

Another attendee (from Rossport solidarity camp) suggested that this was pointless, as mainstream media outlets don’t care what individuals think about their news policies.

An attendee from DGN/WSM pointed out the merits off playing different media elements off against one another: in the context of the media circus surrounding Mayday 2004, activists were able to put the subject of the more scandalous tabloid-type coverage of the protest plans on the agenda of the more respectable end of the media – thus making a ‘story within a story’ out of the ridiculous nature of some of the coverage.

This attendee also pointed out the merits of having a spokes-team as opposed to a spokesperson – the reasons including the chance that media could latch onto one spokesperson in a dangerous way – not that the spokes-team model is immune to this, considering the attempted character assassination directed towards one member of the DGN media team for Mayday 2004.

One attendee (formerly of the Shannon Peace Camp and Peace House, and Mid-West Alliance Against Military Aggression) wondered whether there existed any formal comeback mechanism in relation to journalistic misconduct, equivalent to the Law Society’s mechanisms for dodgy solicitors, etc.

William responded to this, stating there was nothing really equivalent to the protocols of some other ‘professions’, but reiterated that journalists are vulnerable to personal haranguing regarding their shoddy work, e.g. phoning them.

Damien from DCW said something about the need for both internal and external media email lists.

At this point, those who wanted to look at some aspects of media work in a more practical way split off with William. The remaining group (about half original number) opted to continue mulling over the agenda points that had been drawn up in the brainstorming.

One attendee, from rural Donegal, pointed out the information gap – in relation to campaigns like the Rossport one – in areas outside the ‘activist’ orbit, such as parts of Donegal, and asked what people might do about this. Meanwhile, she praised Indymedia for its value in spreading this kind of information.

The note-taker suggested that some of what the previous speaker was talking about was up to people in those areas to volunteer as local contacts for campaigns such as Shell To Sea, and to take on work such as sending press releases to local media outlets.

The facilitator (from Rossport solidarity camp) suggested that this line of discussion might involve confusion between issues of internal and external communication.

The attendee from Donegal wondered who was doing the work of writing press releases for the Shell To Sea campaign.

Damien from DCW enquired about the experiences of one attendee who had previously worked in a mainstream media job (editing documentaries).

Mark from DGN/WSM pointed out the importance of exploiting such areas of the media as local radio, and even orchestrating text-in’s to set the agenda of radio shows.

Damien from DCW identified a need to exploit the fact that campaigns find supporters in the shape of artists, poets, musicians etc., and sometimes in unlikely places, e.g. musicians in Dun Laoghaire writing songs about the Rossport 5. He also highlighted the merits of making documentaries about campaigns, and latching on to accessible parts of the mainstream media such as RTE’s Nationwide program, good for local and personal interest stories.

An attendee from Derrybrien Development Group advocated the writing of plays about campaign issues and the setting up of touring companies to perform them.

An attendee pointed out the importance of being careful regarding things such as what way cameras are held – angles can be purposely unflattering.

An attendee advocated lobbying regional correspondents such as RTE’s Jim Fahy to come down and check out campaign.

An attendee suggested the ‘rip-off’ aspect of the Rossport issue might be exploited so as to connect with the ‘Rip-off Ireland’ concept in the popular consciousness.

Mark from DGN/WSM pointed out the importance of having a collectively worked-out analysis of a given issue, so that there can be a unity and clarity of ideas when expressing views to the media.

The facilitator pointed out the need to place the Rossport issue in historical and global context when getting the message out, e.g. Shell’s track record in such places as Nigeria.

An attendee from the Derrybrien group suggested that an acknowledgement should be made of Mark Garavan’s good job so far as spokesperson for t Shell To Sea campaign. He also argued for the distinction between the solidarity camp and the families of the Rossport 5 to be made very clear.

Damien from DCW pointed out the need to exploit the re-opening of secondary schools after the summer holidays – opportunity to get in there and talk to kids about issues.

The facilitator argued that it should be made clear when communicating through he media that there is a need for people to come to the camp, that they are wanted, and that there is work for them to do.

Damien identified a need for people involved in the camp to offer support to the campaign without stealing the thunder from what the prisoners and their families are doing.

Notes on Merrill Dow campaign workshop:

I was taking minutes at the grassroots-gathering workshop last weekend I had to head before the feedback session so I have written up the notes that I took during the session. The notes on the Merrill Dow campaign are quite detailed, but the campaign which was successful has certain similarities with the Rossport situation i.e. rural farming community v big multinational, and there are lessons to be learned and successes to be built on.

The workshop was planned to be about Merrill Dow, Gorleben and CHASE however the CHASE people sent their apologies. First Sabina spoke about the anti-nuclear camp in Gorleben, Germany where the German government has been attempting to build a nuclear reprocessing facility. Although Sabina had not been majorly involved in the campaign she talked about her experience of visiting the camp and showed us photographs and newspaper articles from the campaign.

Eleanor spoke about the successful campaign that took place in east Cork between 1988 and 1989 against Merrill Dow, a multi national pharmaceutical company. Merrill Dow, (the American company responsible for agent orange) planned to build a factory in a green field site in east cork.
The company was encouraged by tax breaks and other incentives and was welcomed by Youghal Chamber of Commerce.

Local opposition to the proposed factory was based on the detrimental impact that the factory would have on the local environment, which was outside of the area zoned for industry (it was zoned for agriculture) and had a very clean environment.

Organisation around the proposed development began when information meetings with selective invites were held with Merrill Dow. Members of the local community, who had been uninvited to the meetings, came and confronted the company.
Soon afterwards the Woomera*[i] Valley Protection Association was set up. The group was started by farming families from the area.

The group organised info meetings, talks with locals/experts, a video on the Hanrahan[ii] case ect. It also lobbied the IFA and generally raised awareness
On 26 August 1988 planning permission was granted for the proposed factory. This was appealed. The local IFA came out strongly in support of the WVPA while the national IFA took a lot longer and in its attempt to play a meditative role between the company and the WVPA was not helpful.
An oral hearing followed, and the emphasis was on “scientific evidence” friendly experts were useful for this.

On 27th Feb 1989 the planning permission was granted to the proposed development.
Demonstrations ensued.
A high court judicial review was sought and EU legislation was examined.
Merrill Dow attempted to sideline and to buy off some objectors with token concessions. Its strategy was to try to divide the campaign and the community. It employed a new tactic of “open dialogue” and “transparency” taking half page ads in local papers for example (Shell have done exactly the same!)

While the High Court judicial was in progress a propaganda war between Merrill Dow and WVPA ensued. MD attempted to establish a local consultative committee but this was boycotted by the community.

-In order to negotiate the now multi-pronged campaign against MD those opposing the development decided to form three groups with different tactical objectives; WVPA was to focus only on the legal route and fundraising. Concerned Citizens of East Cork and West Waterford hassled TDs and ran the media campaign and Citizens against Merrill Dow took a more direct action approach.

International links were made with others who had been affected by MD. Survivors of the Bohal disaster in India came to speak out.

Opinion polls were carried out both by a local man and by the MRBI showing majority opposition to the development.

The development became an election issue, politicians were shamed ect.
Direct action was taken against MD when it seemed like building might start. The site was occupied ect.
Mary Harney attempted to act as mediator.

The High Court case was lost.
Pressure was maintained and MD pulled out in 1989.

Two main points reiterated by Eleanor about the campaign were that; 1) the campaign attacked the proposed development/MD from all angles using the legal route, the media, demos, Direct Action, ect. A consistent and multi-pronged campaign. 2) The campaigners offered NO compromise. MD would NOT build its factory.

[i] (im not sure of the correct spelling of this)
[ii] In 1978 farmer Hanrahan noticed health defects in his dairy herd. In 1976, about
a mile from his farm in Clonmel, County Tipperary, an incinerator had started
burning the waste generated by the factory, a US multi-national pharmaceutical
company Merck, Sharpe and Dohme. The company and local and national authorities
refused to accept Hanrahan's claim that the plant was causing the problem. By
1985, when Hanrahan took Merck, Sharpe and Dohme to the High Court in Ireland,
over 220 of his once prized dairy herd had died. He pointed to the incinerator as
the most damaging source of the problem. A Canadian pathologist testified on
Hanrahan's behalf that dioxins and PCBs had been found in soil and foliage samples
taken on the farm. Hanrahan lost in the High Court butin 1988 the Supreme Court
overturned the ruling, blaming emissions from the factory, notably the
incinerator, as the cause of the pollution that destroyed his dairy herd.

Tenth Grassroots Gathering
Notes taken during the First Session Saturday – Ecology and Community
In the Red Space – Anti Plyon groups, Derrybrien Development Society and East Galway anti-superdump campaigners

Derrybrien
no State support. Plan was for 71 wind turbines (there’s now 10) along side 35 houses.
Media photos grabbed public attention
Been going on since 1998 – Campaigners must have PERSEVERENCE Believe in yourselves. When ‘experts’ come, they’re paid.
Courts failed them
They’ve no faith in political system
The only system is to amalgamate and tackle injustice
Unauthorised development court case succeeded – need fair judge – Brussels
EU Commissioner for the Environment – Rap knuckles or Carte Blanche

Galway Anti-Dump
Article 28A Local rep. Reps view of local community – Local Authority
2001 Changed law
Applied and rejected three times for legal aid

Brendan Kelly – People Against Pesticides
Peoples rights
All people have access to justice
They’re elected to do a job
Freedom of Information
EIA Environmental Impact Statement needs public consultation
Ownership of land
Impact on land
Law says locals decide – LA21
All groups have to unite - (Woodland League speaker)

Anti-pylon Roscommon
Present plan is third effort by ESB. It’s 35 miles whereas direct route is 20 miles.
“DON’T SIGN” 1927 Act – Deed of Easement - Electricity – gives power to build structure for building.
Size of base of pylon is 30 metre (Bungalow size)
There were 7000 objections – ignored – no consultation
Refused oral hearing even though deemed 30% accurate
Passed! Figures changed.
Land proposed belongs to Coillte and elderly single people (Zig zags – manipulated route)
“99% is bluff!” – ESB etc

Comments from Anti-pylon Donegal speaker
Last year ESB spent 72million euro on advertising.
100 year old technology.
Should use UTILITY CORRIDOR at the side of the roads.
Pylons will generate money in the future – use for satellite dishes etc.
Wind Farms as planned aren’t Green because of the need to put up pylons.
ESB etc should prove there is no DANGER TO LIFE. Prove it’s safe. Supposedly that’s the EIA (Enviro. Impact Assessment) and then EIS (Statement) job.

Collectives and Networking Meeting:

D. spoke of the AmBush Campaign in June, 2004 when a coalition
network was mooted to organise protests surrounding Bush's visit to
Ireland.
Galway grassroots rose out of the UCG ecology soc – this was `used'
as a platform for the AmBush protests and it was believed that they
would link up with groups outside the orbit of SWP, i.e. non-aligned peace groups
throughout the country.
A national meeting was held to promote networking – callouts were
undertaken but no real network established.
Consequently the aspects of organisation was vague – there was a lack
of commitment and a small number were left to do the work – this
group tried to plan teams to deal with media, etc but the remoteness
of various people made organising difficult.
At the event weekend coordinators flaked out and the organisation
failed to a degree – chaos.
There was ambiguity and lack of clarity; money was spent and debts accrued.
This has caused problems in the subsequent year.
In conclusion, D said, there was naiveté and commitments were
informal and vague.

T. said in all events the AmBush demo was successful but the
organisational problems at AmBush and the camp at Rossport would
illustrate that starting from scratch for each successive campaign is
a problem, as is relying on the same people. He identified 3 issues:
1. Resources and managing them in an accountable way – who are
Rossport Solidarity Camp when it ceases and hence what happens to gathered resources?
2. Where do we get resources?
3. The necessity to have resources on a permanent basis for
various campaigns.

F. gave a resume of the Grassroots movement to date. He said we know
there are groups out there but we continually start from scratch –
such as the Dublin grassroots network which rallied against the EU last May Day.
He too identified the need to set up permanent structures (Seomra
Spraoi / the marquee) - people need to be organised into collectives
vis a via the media, etc. There's a need to build on the past and
pool resources for various areas. F. said there was a need to meet
regularly and not loose the momentum garnered from Rossport. He said
there was a poor collective memory and that a few people is not
enough to move forward – how to move forward?

T. indicated how some people take the initiative and decision making
is therefore limited in that an informal hierarchy develops yet it
was essential to be ready before issues / campaigns arose.

F. asked if the meeting could create a structure? He said things have
tended to be organised around various campaigns and asked what would
bind the people together?

B. asked about the actual Shell to Sea campaign. Was there a
volunteer for each angle to coordinate each element of the campaign?

A. asked How do you get the commitment? And that there should be
more than one for each position.

D. pointed out that the Seeds of Hope / Ploughshares handbook was
available & info online and that a Grassroots `golden pages' would be
useful online.

People spoke about the issues relevant to organising camps.

F. said that there would need to be a commitment of 12-18 months
organising such a network and that you can't force people to go to
meetings or check out people's trustworthiness. In relation to the
geographic spread – how does one work out the logistics? He said that
abstract collectives would be difficult to organise.

W. from the Tara /Skryne campaign said they organised support teams
by allocation of tasks.

It was generally agreed that organising working groups around
specialisations would create hierarchies and that skill share is
important.

Two elements were identified – creating different groups with skills
and groups with resources, linking these people and it was agreed
that certain skills were essential for all i.e. dealing with media.

The problem is that experience is not being retained for use again –
there should be special interest focus groups for fundraising,
transport, etc.

It was proposed to identify the collectives and people to work on
these.
The question of the level of interconnection between these was
discussed – national monthly or bi-monthly meetings of coordinators?

F. said one could argue the existence of a grassroots infrastructure
at present – he said to go ahead and organise meetings and if people
don't come to meetings – ipso facto.

The question of why does grassroots not really exist? Political
differences and affiliations have been divisive and the question of
how people allocate/ prioritise their energy was raised.

People need to work on things which interest them – structures should
not be rigid.

The meeting asked if we could agree on the idea of collectives?

There are practical and geographic issues in connecting with the
grassroots.
It was agreed that the concept is loose but it was important to
spread the word about grassroots.

It was agreed that in this context a collective is to organise around
a common interests in a non-hierarchical way.

It was suggested that the Grassroots list be revived and a calendar
of meetings devised for the coming year.

Collectives identified.

1. Media – skills and interaction with.
2. Outreach / education
3. Camp infrastructure – Kitchen/ equipment / energy/ tents,
etc.
4. Communication
5. Fundraising / maintenance
6. Transport
7. Entertainment
8. Accommodation
9. Technology
10. Action

Email addresses were taken and it was agreed to utilise the
Grassroots list to communicate about forthcoming meetings.