A Short History of the Grassroots Gathering

Rossport Gathering

Bt the end of 2006 the Grassroots Gatherings had been on going for half a decade. These are left-libertarian get-togethers involving anything between 100 and 250 people, they take place usually three times a year, with the location and organising team switching location each time, to avoid Dublin-centrism. Grassroots Gatherings have taken place in the west on three occasions (Limerick, Galway, and Mayo), in Dublin three times , and in Belfast and Cork twice.  This article written for indymedia.ie by Terry looks at the gatherings in this period and what came out of it.

Most of the Gatherings were spectacularly poorly minuted/reported so a lot of the following is from memory or from sparse reports. It is a very subjective and very short history, but thanks to the wonders of indymedia you can add your parts in the ‘comments’ section.

They have a set of principles, mostly dust covered, arising out of the first gathering, in Dublin in November 2001. Those principles read:

The grassroots gatherings have aimed towards a network which would:

Be based on the principle that people should control their own lives and work together as equals, as part of how we work as well as what we are working towards.

Within the network this means rejecting top-down and state-centred forms of organisation (hierarchical, authoritarian, expert-based, Leninist etc.). We need a network that's open, decentralised, and really democratic.

Call for solutions that involve ordinary people controlling their own lives and having the resources to do so: the abolition, not reform, of global bodies like the World Bank and WTO, and a challenge to underlying structures of power and inequality.

Organise for the control of the workplace by those who work there.

Call for the control of communities by the people who live there.

Argue for a sustainable environmental, economic and social system, agreed by the people of the planet.

Working together in ways which are accessible to ordinary people, particularly women and working-class people, rather than reproducing feelings of disempowerment and alienation within our own network.

The Gatherings partly developed out of S.W.P. front group Globalise Resistance, or rather out of a lot people becoming pissed off with G.R., due to its authoritarian nature. The Gatherings have as their basic direction an orientation towards direct action and anti-authoritarian horizontal forms of organisation, that is, with equal participation in the decision making process.

Individual activists calling for the first Gathering came from the following organisations - Irish Mexico Group, Gluaiseacht, Workers Solidarity Movement, Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, and the Alliance of Cork Anarchists.
Irish Mexico Group was/is a pro-Zapatista group, Gluaiseacht, an initially student based environmentalist network. The rest are class struggle anarchist organisations.

It would not be too much of a disservice to the truth to say that the Gatherings, initially at least, were probably divided up 50/50 between activists with a background in environmentalism and ones with a background in class struggle anarchism. Since then there has been more of an Anarcho-punk element and sometimes also the Irish Socialist Network, a leftist-libertarian grouping.

In the early days there was a tradition that each Gathering would have an action organised out of it, or to accompany it. So out of the first Gathering was organised a small demonstration at Shannon airport, in the West of Ireland, on December 15th 2001. The demonstration being against military re-fuelling as the airport was and is being used by the American state for transporting troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Given the ideological diversity the practical unifying element within the informal networks around the Gatherings have been summit protests and anti-war actions.
It is important to remember this was a movement in its infancy, there hadn’t been much in the way of ‘social movement’ protest activism in Ireland in the years preceding this, and hence no libertarian/direct action wing of such.

Organised out of the Third Grassroots Gathering in Belfast in October 2002 was Grassroots Network Against War aka GNAW. This followed the successful faux-spontaneous destruction of a length of fencing and subsequent mass trespass of the runway grounds at Shannon earlier in the month. This had taken place at an I.A.W.M. (“Irish Anti War Movement”) demonstration, around which there were all sorts of problems of leadership and accountability, which G.N.A.W. was supposed to be the answer to, that is, to be horizontal and with space for militant tactics. The demonstration itself came in the wake of the issue of military refuelling getting mass media attention following the spray painting of a military plane there in September.

G.N.A.W. basically tried to replicate this trespass action, only in an open preannounced way. There were two attempts at this in December 2002, and March 2003. Both were spectacularly unsuccessful, for a variety of reasons. In the second case a massive media and left propaganda campaign against the action, in both a not unsurprising police adaption to the prospect of direct action, and in both generally speaking complete lack of wherewithal for direct action on the part of the network, i.e. lack of planning, organisation, and commitment.

More fundamentally none of this had sufficient popular base to be sustaining, and that wasn’t just because of the left-wing policing – various left wing bodies doing their upmost to prevent direct action at the airport.
It was too much a movement based on travelling activists. Mass involvement in the antiwar movement occurred around the moments of maximum exposure in the mass media, that is in the run up to the Iraqi war and during the first stages of it, plus during the Bush visit in June 2004. There was and is no mass anti-war movement grounded in Shannon, or in Limerick, the nearest city.

Forerunners of other development around the Shannon issue can be seen notes from a workshop at the Second Grassroots Gathering, which took place in Cork in the spring of 2002.
Suggestions included:
Peace camp w/e at Shannon targeting issue of Irish neutrality
Leafleting of workers
Exploring ploughshare model of
direct action
Have an anti war demo at Shannon as part of the ecotopia event in dingle.
Send an open invitation to foreign activists to protest at shannon as
part of ecotopia - Other activists who protest at us military use of airports.

The fifth Grassroots Gathering, taking place in Dublin in June 2003, aimed at preparing for the World Economic Forum, which was due to be held in Dublin, but was cancelled. This Gathering also had some visitors from the movement in Argentina.
The Sixth Grassroots Gathering took place in Galway in November of 2003. One focus of this Gathering was community based ecological campaigns, amongst a lot of other things. There were some speakers on the Shell-Statoil development in Mayo.
At plenary sessions the beginnings of organising for what was to become Dublin Mayday 2004 were started, and Shannon also featured, with discussion on how to respond to a proposed blockade of the airport planned by radical elements within the I.A.W.M.
The Cork Gathering that spring, had more on Mayday, an appraisal of the role of the I.A.W.M. by an ex-member, and a talk given by one of the women campaigning against the proposed building of an incinerator in Ringakiddy.
The Eight Grassroots Gathering, taking place in Belfast in the Autumn of 2004, focused on racism and sexism.
In 2003 and 2004 a number of local grassroots groups developed out of the Gatherings, first in Galway, and then in Cork and Dublin. The transitional (read: student and immigrant) nature of the Galway group has meant it is no longer there, as far as I know only something of a local group exists now in Dublin in the form of Grassroots Dissent, a monthly assembly of anti-authoritarian activists.

2004 also saw Ambush, which was partly organised by local grassroots groups, this was part of the protests at the Bush visit, and was not a success in so far as it attempted to rekindle anti-war activism, though it did fuck up Bush’s press conference.

The final two Gatherings have been attempts to break out of the “activist ghetto”. In Dublin the plenary was on social partnership, particularly in regard to the community sector, while the last Grassroots Gathering took place in Mayo, organised by Rossport Solidarity Camp, and was almost entirely focused on community based ecological struggles. It has to be said that neither Gathering was an altogether success at that, but the tenth one at least (I wasn’t at the ninth) was progress.

This is perhaps giving a partly wrong impression, rather than planning actions most of what the Gatherings have consisted of is discussion around a wide variety of topics, and drinking. Perhaps because of the last factor the massive array of workshops on a wide variety of topics taking place during the various gatherings cannot be remembered. I can remember spaces being a topic at many Gatherings, something which has given fruit with the opening of the new social centre in Dublin. Arrest and interrogation is always a popular workshop, gardening, dealing with burnout, dealing with the media, computer skills, there have been lots and lots of practical workshops on all kinds of topics. The links below give a taste of the wide range of workshops and discussions.

The Gatherings positive effects have been in movement building, in creating a meshed network of people around the country who know each other, and the actions arising out of them have been a school of experience.
Also a lot of stuff went on not directly organised out of the Gatherings, but involving people who would attend them, for instance, campaigning against student fees, bin charges, many many more anti-war actions, protest tourism. Informal links made through the Gatherings assisted some of this. They have provided water to a lot of green shoots here and there to an extent which probably cannot be recorded.

Nonetheless there is a good deal of unhappiness with the Grassroots Gatherings, some of which has got to do with their diverse nature and the fact they take people out of their ideological comfort zones, some of which has got to do with the lack of permanent organisation developing out of them, and some which has got to do with a critique of activism.

In 1999 and 2000 when our comrades in London, Seattle and Prague were making headlines there wasn’t really much in the way of a libertarian left movement in Ireland. Today there is one, a lot of that is down to the Grassroots Gatherings. Now that we have the movement the question is what do we want to do with it.
Where do we want to be in five years time?