Report on the 9th Grassroots Gathering, April 2005

The 9th Grassroots Gathering was held in Dublin at the weekend, seventeen workshops, three gender groups, two plenary’s, one speech, one video, one great night drinking, four meals later and we all are totally exhausted yet re-energised.
Naturally there were problems; we couldn’t show all the videos we wanted, some of the workshops had to be changed at the last minute.

Throughout the weekend, people talked about the problems faced by activists and also the problems with the way we act as activists. In the closing circle people spoke about the need to be more inclusive, to be aware that the language we use (all those three letter anronyms) can be off-putting, that we need to look at why there weren’t as many women as men at the meetings, at our need to create safer communities.

For me, grassroots is a work in progress. At each gathering we experiment, we look at how we might try to do things differently, we learn from each other.

And in this spirit of experimentation, it was decided that the next grassroots should be in a rural location. Galway grassroots (with the help of Cork grassroots) agreed to organise this, details to follow later.

It was impossible to go to every meeting, so perhaps others who were there can report on the meetings they attended.

I did manage to attend the talk on Friday night by Dave Doughlass miner, num official and anarchist. I would guess about 80-100 people attended. For reasons of time it wasn’t possible to show a video about the miners strike (but it should be possible to show this later).
Dave Doughlass spoke for an hour about his experiences. He grew up in a mining community. He described how these were communities you were born into. People became miners because their fathers and their grandfathers were miners. Miners had ßmixed feelings about the job they did, on one hand they were proud of to be miners and to belong to mining community, on the other hand they hated the work that they did, which was dirty, dangerous and difficult. In his speech he described how different mines paid different rates, so that miners in Wales for example, could be paid much much less than miners in Nottingham. Some mines were easier to work than others, had better technology than others.
He also described how the NUM was organised around autonomous branches; it was a very de-centralised organisation. A lot of his speech addressed the issue of whether or not the miners should have had a ballot about the strike and the issue of donations of money from Libya.
I think that younger people in the audience perhaps might wonder why so much time was spend on issues that, with the passage of time, seem relatively unimportant. But for those of us who remember the strike, remember the media onslaught which consequently used these two issues to attack the miners.
Dave Doughlass said that Libya did indeed donate money. Yet the story doesn’t end there. The Libyan government also said that although they raised money to give to the miners, it was stolen and they never deposited it in miners’ bank accounts. This is strange, because money did arrive in this bank account (and is still there to this day). Dave Doughlass asked the question, if the Libyans didn’t put the money there, who did? He believes the British state did, so that they could then use the link with Libya to discredit the strikers.
He also spoke about the about the poverty and hunger felt by the strikers. He said he couldn’t talk too much about this, especially about the miners children, because he found it too upsetting.
He concluded that in his opinion the defeat of the strike was never inevitable. Thatchers autobiography and the autiobiographys of some of the coal board leaders both say that if the miners had managed to hold out for days longer, they could have won.
written sovietpop - wsm/dgn for indymedia

Death of Partnership Plenary (report Laurence Cox)
The plenary had 3 short talks, from Miriam Murphy, Michael Murray and Sean Regan, followed by general discussion. There were about 70 people in the room at the height of the discussion.

Miriam Murphy spoke about her research on partnership, indicating that it represents co-optation to a neoliberal project. Since neoliberalism is committed to inequality, partnership is problematic for anti-poverty groups. Over the 6 partnership agreements, competitiveness appears as the dominant theme in the documents. Education turns up primarily as "successful adaptation to change". She concluded that the social partners were buying into unequal societies.

Michael Murray talked about social partnership as a model of governance for communities. Issues like bin tax, incinerators or superdumps are top-down processes, and "consultation" fills the democratic deficit - yet some partners are more equal than others. Because of this structural inequality, consultation focusses on end-of-pipe solutions that do not question existing power relations. In the waste area, social partnership is becoming a replacement for democracy. From a community viewpoint, it's important to look closely at how much real power communities and citizens are given in decision-making.

Sean Regan (Community Workers Coop) said that the only sustainable way to address poverty is to redistribute power. CWC had a long-standing commitment to participation and "voice", but social partnership can either be an access route for voices that weren't previously heard, or a strategy to achieve industrial piece without social change. Some community groups confuse access to power with power itself.

He discussed the experience of the Community Platform, and its attempts to achieve change. Poverty, participation and refugee issues were all excluded a priori from the last round of partnership negotiations. Those who dissent are themselves excluded, such as CWC who have lost their funding, the National Women's Council who were excluded from the equal opportunities monitoring committee, or traveller and asylum-seeker groups excluded from committees on their issues.

Sean concluded by saying that the community sector needs to engage more with other groups working for social change, such as environmental groups. He called for the establishment of local groups of activists from different movements, and suggested that there might be a counter-event held parallel to the next round of partnership negotiations.

The discussion following these contributions was quite detailed, toucihng on issues such as the relationship between the trade unions and partnership; the cooptation of the mainstream peace movement; alternatives to social partnership; the right to dissent; the effect of social partnership on activist groups; the relationship between partnership and local democracy; and whether the goal for activists should be the end of partnership or a different model of partnership.

Israel / Palesting session report Ciaran O'Reilly
Ok someone did take notes in this meeting and it wasn't me...so hopefully their will be an additional report. But things move down the newsire and their seems to be a call for rapid feedback...so here goes.

About 15 folks at this workshop - some from Workers Solidarity Movement , Dublin Catholic Worker, Irish Socialist Network & Irish Palestine Solidarity Commitee.

*Quite a few folks had been to Palestine and that was the focus of the meeting.

*The focus was the Ireland V Israel football match in Dublin June 4th. as this will be the time in which is the issues of Israel and Palestine will be most present to the Irish citizenry this year.

-it was noted that the Israeli state had used the recent away game in Israel for political mileage (eg. lots of TV footage of Irish away fans waving Israeli flags, brought a bunch of Israeli & Palestinian kidz to a football training camp in Ireland the week prior to the recent match - official interviewed celebrating that one of the Palestinian kidz no longer want to become a suicide bomber after this experience but not a recipricol declaration that any of the Israeli kidz were going to move on to draft resistance etc, Chelsea's Manager Mourinho did a similar gig in Israel that week (maybe that's mutual rehabilitation there!!!)

-their was a lot of Israeli media in Dublin leading up to the recent away game - this is likely to be heightened around the June 4th. game

ACKNOWLEDGED
- that there will be a few thousand (one would assume pretty nationalistic) Israeli away fans in Dublin around for June 4th

- because of this the Irish state will probably treat the game as a natinal security issue (see May Day 2004, Bush visit 2004)
- that solidarity activists should not come across as "anti-footbal killjoys" in their outreach to the public. egcalling for a fan boycott of the game would be setting oneself up for failure.

-that there are issues concerning human rights for Palestinian football players (see link) that Irish football fans can immediately relate to and given the response to the recent DCW/IPSC vigil at the Irish Embassy (seelink) during the away game that Irish football fans will be immediately sympathetic if the issues are pitched right.

- this is a tight World Cup qualifying group with France, Ireland, Israel on similar points this is not a dud game football intensity and interest will be at a height

SUGGESTIONS
- the potential for solidarity actions in the days leading up to the game away from the ground

- leafletting club football games leading up to the june 4th. match

-leaflettng the game itself - one side being specifically addressing human rights of Palestinian football players issues (see Guardian article on link) flipside of leaflet addressing more general issues surrounding the war on Palestine

REAL DEAL
-at present the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is the only group working on campaigning around the June 4th. match
-more stuff may appear before kick off

WORKSHOP DISCUSSION ON IRAQ
-acknowledged that Shannon is the most significant issue in relation to Ireland and the war on Iraq
-call for solidarity wih folks who are confronting the Irish state on this issue eg. Ed/Tim et al at Shannon, Pit Stop Ploughshares on trial at Four Courts Oct 24th.

LINK BELOW VISUALS AND REPORT FROM VIGIL AT ISRAELI EMBASSY DURING RECENT IRELAND (AWAY) v ISRAEL GAME

Dynamic facilitation report
Thanks, Laurence, for arranging the DF session, and thanks to the folks in the collective and Food Not Bombs for the excellent food & arrangements. The whole affair had a festive atmosphere, and it was great to have the lively energy of children in the environment.

After the rousing Friday evening session, not too many folks showed up for the first sessions Saturday morning. We had about six for our discussion re/ "Making a Difference".

Dynamic Facilitation is a process which enables a group to work creatively and effectively on difficult problems. In order for the process to work, a considerable amount of time is required to get everyone's relevant ideas and viewpoints out on the table. Two four-hour sessions on two different days is probably the minimum requirement for the process to develop to the creative stage, where it becomes possible to get "outside the box" in the group's thinking.

Our one-hour session was very much an experiment, to see what might happen in such short time, and also because I had never attempted this kind of facilitation before. As it turned out, I felt comfortable in the role for the hour, and I'm glad I didn't need to swim any longer than that, my first time in the water!

DF works by "following the energy" of the group. Often this means sticking with one person for a while, helping them express what's on their mind. In our group there was one fellow who clearly had some strong ideas about "more effective activism" - he had obvious urgency / emotion in his voice. Most of our hour, quite appropriately I think, was devoted to drawing out this fellow's thinking and ideas, with others offering contributions from time to time as well.

Below is a summary the points that I recorded on the flip charts. There's a list of "Problems" facing activism, a list of possible "Solutions", and some "Observations". Quite a variety of ideas and issues were raised, and with more time these would have been expanded by other participants. You can begin to see the "size of the canvas" of the potential dialog. My overall conclusion is that this kind of process could be very productive for a future grassroots gathering, if a few people wanted to devote the better part of two days to the process. (It's not the kind of thing that works if people drop in and out.)

Thanks again to all,
Richard Moore
Wexford
http://cyberjournal.org

-----------------------------
* PROBLEMS

(1) Problems re/ "getting beyond the choir"
- How to involve the general public?
- How to break out of identity politics?
- How to connect with working class groups?
- Some of our processes alienate newcomers, or are too time-consuming.
- How to make connections globally?

(2) Problems re/ "greater effectiveness"
- How to escape from ineffective "loops"?
- How to become more efficient?
- How to set goals and strategies responsibly?
- How to achieve socially-conscious income for activists and activism?
- How to build bridges between movements?
- How to affect the "global situation"?

* SOLUTIONS

- co-op enterprises and locally-based organizations
- co-op networks for education, and to "reclaim state functions"
- Create alternatives to the state.
- A local, autonomous basis supports activist energy.
- Somehow connect local grassroots activism to global structures.
- Provide "digestible articulations" for the "rural concerned citizen"
that suggests actions and shows "global relevance"

* OBSERVATIONS

- In the 1930s there were 1500 co-ops in Ireland, now only 150.
- The WTO attacks co-ops.
- The land movements in India and South America provide
emerging models
- Corporate methods "get things done".
- External threats bring people together
- In Cork, the legal process "radicalizes".
- "Grassroots" happens without central organization

Community garden report
@ 20 people left the st nik hall and walked the "10" minutes to the choosen site which is a large derlelict piece of land on the banks of the grand canal, across from dolphins barn public library. it seems to be owned by the factory it fronts, it is about 200+ x 20 metres (@6000m.squared)
alongside the choosen space is another longer green space which is fully planted in communal alotment type garden

we took a bit longer than expected to get there, more pre organisation should have happened, it dident- sorry
when we arrived most of the group went onto the allotment to view the impressive garden, others went to check out the "derelict land"
a couple came out of their house with a wheelbarrow to do some gardening and they had what seems to have been a very pleasent chat with the garden workshop crew. 3 years ago the people from the houses decided to occupy the then derelict land and use it as a community garden- they squated it.

the others came back and joined in the discussion in the garden, by this time the couple had left

elinor from cork mandala community gardens talked about their experiences in cork, they have 6 gardens now up and running. they work very much with existing communities, they are growing and with many communities now asking for their assistance they have recieved some money, due to cork being "culture" capital i think, so they have some full time workers now.

darren and tom talked about their experiences with their squat garden in belfast which was a year old on paddys day. this was a piece of waste land that they cleaned up and turned into a fine garden, they talked abou the learning curve that went with the year and how the garden acts as a social space which has worked very well for the welbeing of their activist group

pears talked about the community garden he has just set up in st agnes community school in crumlin, he talked about how doing volunteer work with an "organisation" can be difficult in some areas but in others how it is very good, ie- a lot of money for purchase of tools, trees, seeds and other equipment

photos of the different gardens were passed around the group

we then had a talk about where to go from here.
at this point we knew that we were well late so we headed back while continuing the discussion en route

next tuesday we will have a tree planting ceremony in the garden at 7pm, this is part of the "tree walk", come along, bring some spades, some seeds, some plants, some energy

on the following thursday there will be more garden work and a get together in seoidins shopspace

thanks to all for input, stories and ideas
very enjoyable workshop, looking foreward to getting my hands dirty

Media workshop
the media workshop was very well attended and focussed on the problems facing activists who try and use the mainstream media to get their message across. It was led by members of the MayDay 04 media team who talked briefly on their experiences. They emphasised the positive aspects of media work and talked about the necessity for support for spokespeople from other activists. They also remarked that although it was inevitable that distortion and hysteric vilification would occur the potential for getting out a message to a much bigger audience than possible through our channels was worth it, as this distortion would occur anyway.
This led into a general discussion about the problems of talking to the media which unfortunately left little time for what I considered the best part of the workshop. We were split up into groups of about 5 or 6 people each group representing a particular theme, including the Dissent Network and the Save Tara campaign. One of the speakers then went to each group and asked them a question. The group then had to consult among itself to produce an answer.
The group aspect led to some interesting perspectives and was very helpful. However we had to end this session quite shortly to make way for something else.

 
Defendent support workshop
I'm going to give a limited report back on this as we know the Gardai and Special Branch (Irish secret police) read indymedia.ie

---

The workshop started with a detailed report from someone arrested on the 'Bring the Noise' march and subsequently held in prison over the next days. This was very useful in highlighting areas where more could have been done with the very limited resources that DGN had. Also it seems clear that we were somewhat naive in expecting the state to play things by the book rather then in effect locking people up and losing the key for a number of days (until the High Court forced them to intervene). So although for instance we had given a legal support number to many of those arrested the Gardai refused to allow anyone to contact that number.

It has also become clear that a lot more people were arrested on the day than those who were held in Cloverhill and Mountjoy. We suspect some were simply dumped out of police vans on the motorway or at other out of the way spots to walk home (useful to hear from people that this did happen to - we're you taken away but let go before you got to Cloverhill?). We know that some people were arrested and so badly beaten by the Gardai that the Gardai were embarassed into releasing them without charge (at the time) - specific details were heard but I'm not posting them here as that would identify them.

We have also heard of at least 3 people who were released on the day but have been charged in recent weeks. If this has happened to you and you have not had contact with DGN legal support email legal-mayday@gluaiseacht.net

Someone from Ploghshares talked of their case and the need to build support for the re-trial period and in particular better links with the libertarian movement. The need to overcome the 'fear that they were about recruiting to the catholic church' was noted as one apparent barrier.

We'd a good discussion along the lines of what went wrong and how it can be done better next time. Lack of resources was identified as a very real problem but also that we are on a very sharp learning curve over the last 3 years when something like 160 have been arrested on protests in Ireland that grassroots people have been involved in. We also failed to note/realise all the work that had been done including that by many who had little involvement with the grassroots in particular the family and friends of defendants.

Finally it was noted that it would be a good idea to have a big 'debriefing' session to talk about what happened on the day - maybe something that could be organised for Mayday this year?