Report on Grassroots Gathering 7 in Cork, March 2004

Over 100 activists from all over the country and some from abroad converged on Cork to discuss current issues in a non-hierarchical, democratic environment. The purpose of the gathering is to bring together individuals and groups who look forward to a society where people can decide their present and future in a truly democratic manner and who reject the authoritarian organisations of the state, religion and the typical workplace.

The venue for the gathering was Ennismore House (owned and run by some religious order) in Mayfield and it proved to be a big hit for participants, with meeting rooms, dorms and kitchen spread out around a gravel courtyard with fields behind.

The weekends activities kicked off with a social in the LV pub on the Friday night to welcome early arrivals. Honourary Corkonian DJs provided a well received mix of tunes whilst old acquaintances met up and new faces got to know other participants.

The formal discussions began on Saturday morning with an introductory address from a local organiser followed by a series of workshops which were on the themes of anti-war organisation/Shannon and reproductive rights with an option of juggling/circus skills for the less politically motivated. It should be pointed out at this stage that grassroots gatherings rarely result in definite actions agreed and to be undertaken by all the participants. They are more a forum for sharing ideas, updating others on news from various campaigns. That being said, some workshops do result in separate organisational groups being set up, such as Grassroots Network Against War. This is not set in stone of course and the decision making or otherwise purpose of the ggs is regularly debated.

The well attended anti-war discussion was opened by a brief analysis of the current situation with regard to the various anti-war groups and some thoughts on how to move forward. These were presented by a prominent local organiser. The ensuing discussion was briefly sidetracked by somebody who had issues with the programme of events for the weekend. The organisers did not feel that this was the appropriate place to voice this concern but the issue was satisfactorily resolved (we think!) and the discussion continued. It focussed mainly on how to attract more people to meaningful anti-war activity and the consequences of the splits within the IAWM and what possibilities this holds for the wider movement.

The reproductive rights workshop was also well attended by mostly females and a few males. There was an introduction by a Dublin campaigner (and possibly others – this reporter did not attend this discussion) followed by a discussion that everyone I asked said was useful.

Saturday afternoon was dedicated to organising for Mayday when there is a big EU summit in Dublin. This proved to be the most contentious event of the weekend and provided a topic of debate for people to mutter about. The session was planned using a form of open space method. There were three short workshop times with five workshop spaces provided for at each time. The topics of the workshops were supposed to be provided by people at the start of the session with a discussion to do the five that most people felt were most important. That was the theory!

In practise, most people were still confused after the method was explained and the people who had done all the preparations to date, mostly from Dublin, found that the method didn’t suit what they wanted. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to want to work with the system that was provided and which (in my view) could have been easily adapted to suit, and a number of people decided it was not going to work and they’d do it their own way anyhow. This resulted in two large concurrent groups discussing similar things. In the end no-one appeared really happy with the outcome. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any positive aspects to the experience. This was the first time that most people there saw the open space method and even though it didn’t work particularly well for a variety of reasons, many participants did see the potential to use it to bring out ideas from a lot of people. GG organisers and workshop facilitators now also have a clearer understanding of the need to liaise beforehand to discuss workshop formats, special requirements, etc.

After dinner at the venue, the Saturday evening social was split between people who stayed at the venue for singing/talking and those who went to hear local superstars Los Langers punking it up and support the licensed vintners trade.

After breakfast on Sunday there were four concurrent workshops: From Toxic Incinerator to Zero Waste (anti-incinerator discussion); Activists and the Prison Experience (presented by Fintan Lane, recently jailed for 45 days out of a 60 day sentence for refusing to pay a fine for anti-war activity); Grassroots Meeting Local-Dublin Experience (discussion about how a Dublin local group have fared in a local organising version of the grassroots gathering); Women and Libertarian Struggles (overcoming challenges to women getting more involved in libertarian struggles).

After lunch, there was space and time provided for other people to do whatever workshops tickled their fancy. These included one on a Pakistani land rights movement, squatting workshop, coping with media onslought. The gathering closed with a mass meting where everyone was invited to say what they thought good or otherwise (on peril of death, of course) about the gathering and to fish for people to propose their services for hosting the next gathering. One or two people from Belfast mumbled that they didn’t have a mandate but that they’d discuss the possibility of hosting the next gathering with their local crew as they ran out the door to get their train home. So the next GG will be taking place later this year in Belfast, probably!

You may get the idea from reading this report back that the most important thing about these gatherings is the workshops. This is not necessarily the case at all. For the organisers, it is good experience for organising events, with all the headaches that entails.

Participants are also expected to pull their weight over the weekend and to help in the kitchen, facilitating workshops and setting up chairs, tidying up, etc. For some, the social informal aspect is as or more important than the formal discussions.

The GG weekend could be considered as a microcosm of a future society where all contribute what they can and participate on an equal basis in debates on issues that affect them or that they are interested in.

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