The streams of the 11th Grassroots Gathering in Dublin

There were three streams at the 11th Grassroots Gathering in Dublin  Saturday, May 17, 2008 .  Each is defined below
Stream A: Radical civil society and the state: hopes, fears and experiences

An important part of Grassroots Gatherings is that they create a space where people and groups with diverse experiences and perpectives on creating a more just and equal society can learn from each other and find common ground. As part of this, the organisers have invited a number of community based activists and workers to discuss their experiences of creating radical change from below. Activists involved in housing and tenants' rights, environmental struggles, educational initiatives and justice campaigns will join together to discuss, in three linked sessions, the topic: 'Radical civil society and the state: hopes, fears and experiences'. The sessions will draw on the rich and varied experiences within community based activism to reflect both upon its history, and on some of the most pressing contemporary issues faced by activists and workers in this area. In doing so we also want to trace out some strategies for the future and find reasons for hope in this vital arena of Irish activism.

(1) Radical civil society and the state: hopes, fears and experiences
(2a) What do we know?
(2b) Is what we're doing working?
(3) Plenary

 Stream B: Thinking about the Grassroots movemen

Catching up on who and what we are
As movements take their course, people's lives also take their course; at one time entangled, at another time these trajectories can become estranged. So maybe sometimes we should take a moment to look at where the various nodes of our movements are at, and at what you might have missed if you were looking the other way.

Geography comes in here too: before the Grassroots Gatherings went into hibernation (this one's the first since 2005), they were prided on rotating between different places and different organisers; this went alongside the strengthening of links between activists on the banks of the Liffey, the Lagan, the Lee, the Shannon and the Corrib – to think only of Gathering venues.

Have we kept on building these links? Or, without enough networking, have we retreated inside more parochial horizons? What are we all getting up to in our niches around the country?
And who is 'we' anyway?

Do the famous Grassroots Gathering principles still serve as a meaningful rallying point for our loose coalition against capitalist globalisation? If these principles mark out our 'identity' from anybody else struggling for another world, it is in their emphasis on horizontal, libertarian ways of organising. They say as much about process as about goals: for "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."

Has this emphasis on a particular kind of process stood the test of time? Does it still form a cement for our endeavours, and tie us together as we try to move forward? Does it amount to more than a 'nice-ification' of politics? And how does an obsession with 'openness' and horizontality, and with the rejection of leadership structures and expertise, equip us to make a difference in an era defined by the global battle between an out of control, neoliberal capitalism on the one hand, and the future of humanity and of the planet on the other?

Going places: strategy and the Grassroots movement

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a movement as a "A course or series of actions and endeavours on the part of a group of people working towards a shared goal; an organization, coalition, or alliance of people working to advance a shared political, social, or artistic objective." Implicit in this definition is the subject of strategy: just how the collective in question intends to try and achieve its desired social change.

But if a Martian, interested in how social forces worked among Earthlings, descended to our planet today, would s/he find obvious the strategic outlook of the 'grassroots movement' in Ireland – that loose coalition emerging into visibility from the end of the 1990s, united around a rejection of capitalist globalisation and a desire for bottom-up, rather than top-down solutions to changing the world?

At the turn of the decade, many of us were happy to get swept away with summit protest fever, and scream and scrawl "We are winning!" across various cities of the globe. A few years on, many of the same people wouldn't be caught dead at a summit protest. (Let alone talk about winning.)

And for a while, opposing Gulf War II seemed like a real focal point for struggle; but this sense of opportunity turned to disillusionment, and other focal points were sought.

Solidarity with the victims of Shell in Erris was tangible and close enough to home for some, marking a break with 'mere activism' in favour of 'real class struggle'. More of us have answered this break towards the 'real world' down the road, with bids to build our own worlds, starting now; to carve out spaces like Seomra Spraoi, autonomous from the logic of capital, and embracing the logics of creativity, life, fun and freedom.

The contrast between these two paths echoes that old adage of anarchist thought (recently revisited in much wider movement dialogues) that human emancipation will be achieved not just through resistance – through 'negative' action – but also through the 'positive' action involved in building a new world in the shell of the old; not just seizing power, but destroying power, and constituting something better in its place.

Consciously or not, such radically different approaches to revolutionary action coexist in our midsts. How do we balance them?

The Grassroots Gathering principles give us a sketchy consensus around a desired political destination; but what is our roadmap? What is our strategy for getting there?

Solidarity? Building a healthy movement culture

How can we address the things that undermine solidarity within the grassroots movement?.

How do we create a situation where we have room to disagree and differ without this fracturing our solidarity?

Why is this a movement issue? Disagreements can fracture solidarity, create a climate of mistrust and unease, lack of respect and low morale.

This forum can be used to look at how we can create a movement culture, a way of doing things where it is good and beneficial to have disagreements, that these are received openly and engaged with and also that they are expressed in a manner that does not undermine each other's work.

If divergences and disagreements are turned into something that we engage with this can foster debate we can learn from, and be part of a healthy movement culture.

(1) Catching up on who and what we are
(2) Going places: strategy and the Grassroots movement
(3) Solidarity? Building a healthy movement culture
Stream C: Learning about grassroots movements - and everything else

'Learning about grassroots movements' is a series of introductory workshops & discussions exploring different ways of thinking about social change. These sessions aim to increase our understanding of social movements and the theories behind them.

A chance to get to grips with ideas like feminism, anarchism, socialism, and explore where they converge/collide, how they shape our view of society and inform our choices in the struggle for a different world. The workshops will have an emphasis on popular education moving beyond assumed understanding of knowledge to a space of communication sharing and learning. Whether you're coming fresh to these discussions or an old dog seeking new tricks we hope in these sessions you'll have something to contribute & something to gain…

Militant research

Militant Research aims to generate knowledge and theory from the point of view of everyday experience and collective resistance. In this session we'll explore the relationship between activism and theory and the concept and practice of militant research in particular.

Biotechnologies in Ireland and Britain, Food Sovereignty and Climate Crisis around the world

Agrofuels being grown to replace petroleum are displacing food crops across the planet, causing a global shortage of food, concentration of corporate power, and human rights violations. Big biotechnology corporations are planning new solutions to climate crisis and the oil crisis which prolong consumer capitalism and protect the interests of elites. This workshop will explore these issues and ask what kinds of action can be taken.

(1) Timeline of the 'Movement of movements'
(2) ABCs of social change
(3) Militant Research
(4) What would it mean to win?
(5) Biotechnologies, food sovereignty and climate crisis
(6) Migrants in the movement
(7) The war against war
(8) Community garden wander
(9) Social centres network update
(10) The 'gathering of gatherings': round-up from a season of meets