Grassroots Gathering 8: Belfast - Oct 22-24 2004

This was the 8th GG & second in Belfast. The organising crew in Belfast decided to make a theme to the gathering. The theme was building safe communities, focusing specifically on addressing gender bias & racism.

In all around 90 people took part in the weekend mostly from around Ireland but also from England & other parts of Europe & we had some special guests from the Middle East. The venue for the weekend was various spaces in Queens University, & a few other spaces close by. The social venue for the evenings was in the South Bank Hall a theatre in an old scout hall in South Belfast.  Free food was provided for all by Belfast Food Not Bombs, & there was childcare provision for most daytime events.

Workshops included; experiences of racism, childbirth: a feminist issue?, strategies to confront racism & fascism, homeopathic women's health, queer activism, women's,   men's & trans- gender discussions, dealing with rape & sexual harassment in our communities, white privilege, water: resource use & the water tax, clash of civilisations, & developing social movement. Some people even got up early on Sunday & got to do some guerilla gardening, bike fixing or cooking with Food Not Bombs.

Overall the weekend was a successful insofar as it firmly put issues we felt had been previously marginalised (i.e. gender & racism) firmly on the agenda of grassroots movements in Ireland. Particularly positive feedback came from the Maharaba Europe talk (our guests from the Middle East), women & men's spaces, dealing with sexual harassment in our communities, & dealing with white privilege.  Most people were pretty impressed by the social venue & much dancing ensued.

Less successful was the logistical side of the weekend with the schedule becoming increasingly 'fluid' as the weekend progressed. At the feedback session at the end of the weekend someone said they couldn't help getting the feeling that there was some people out there wandering around Belfast trying to find the grassroots gathering.

We were a little disappointed that less people from Belfast came along than we expected; however we had a good turn out 2 weeks later for an evaluation meeting which was a productive session & gave rise to some scheming for future events & actions.

Watch this space....

Some feedback from the Belfast Evaluation meeting:

What we liked:

-The weekend broke Ground in that it provided childcare, the first GG in Belfast was the first GG to provide childcare, and we did it again. Also the gender discussions were really challenging, they lifted the lid off prejudices and questions. Stuff came up about the balance of power, and hidden prejudices were brought out. -The feed back from down south is positive, the local feedback is not so good. -It was interesting, especially the Palestine talk. -Enjoyed being part of the organising. -Great to be going to something on our doorstep and getting Dublin people to come here. Notoriously difficult to get to move. -The south Bank Hall was a really good Venue. People were really letting their hair time. -The themes were great, they opened people up to the idea of building safe movements. -At night there were good conversations about the workshops that had happened. Saturday night was good.  People not involved in FNB leant a hand in the end, and were brilliant. at the last minute people got involved. We pulled together at lunchtime, that was good. The big meeting was necessary, it made the schedule work. We need to keep on talking about this.

What we didn't like:

 -You don't enjoy the gathering as much if you are organising -It was chaotic.   When we have a big thing that we do regularly we don't have time to do new initiatives and big things cos all our time is spent keeping things ticking over.  We forgot that there were no concentric circles like there were in giros to help us pick up the work.  The creative organising got left behind in the nuts and bolts. The schedule was watery. People taking workshops had to leave because the time slots had changed. Because of this confusion people outside activist circles would become confused.

What we could have done better:

 -You need help from outside. Maybe we made too many assumptions. We need to look at childcare, women are dropping out of activism. -We could have done some things better. -We needed to budget our time better. There were lots of people from belfast who should have been there, it didn't mean anything to them. It would be good to see them reached for next time.    The Street stuff we did at the last GG was really good. We need time line for big projects so that work gets done. we need outreach to get people to do the work.  but Belfast people didn't come. We need to do better publicity. There was an extensive timetable for kids activities which didn't happen. hem? Names of workshops should have been sexier.

Some feedback from folk who came to Belfast for the event:

"In Belfast the kind of issues that are never addressed due to lack of time or because they’re just too big or too difficult finally got timetabled. Well done to the Belfast crew. You guys rock :) & I expected no less.

We talked about, in brief: Racism - not as an abstract but as a reality including our role in it, (think about it do we see ourselves as white or somehow race less?) Gender, the difference between awareness & guilt or over correctness.

Sexual violence & abuse within activist communities & how to get beyond worrying about taking sides, or believing someone meaning condemning someone else. 

Social movements, the stages they go through, where we are now & what's next. We started talking about goals, aims, what we want & what our options are eg. With 60-70+% ant-war public support & governments that aren't listening what next? What practical options do we have & what is a good way to view them? Us versus them leading to inevitable confrontation, or a wider systems theory view where there are more options and indirect pressure applied in the right place at the right time?

In Belfast there was an added international dimension thanks to the very excellent Middle Eastern activists & Germans who participated. Another welcome development for me as we have so much to learn from people who are struggling with the same questions we are & some of whom have been doing this for a lot longer."

"I felt that this weekend in Belfast was one of the best grassroots things I had been too.  I believe that we need to continuously be looking back at ourselves and building our community.  It is Important that we break down the oppressive and hierarchal structures in our own community while we are working at down that to the structures of the wider society."

"I do think we need to take a GG to focus on  "who are we, where are we going", etc. Belfast was an important part of this process (issues of gender and race / ethnicity are a key aspect of organisation, outreach and strategy!), and fair play to the organisers for having the courage to give it such a strong theme.

I felt the Belfast combination of some plenaries with a strongly thematic list of workshops was a good way to go: not everybody works well in plenary settings."