1993: Summer of Gatherings
by Chuck M
The Summer of 1993 will probably go down as the Summer of Many Gatherings when the history of the 90s anarchist movement is written. Gatherings were held in San Diego, Vancouver, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Madison and Denver. The flavor of these events varied, but they all were promoted as anarchist events. Were they successful events? You'll have to ask the participants to find out. Does a plethora of gatherings indicate that the movement is strong?
The focus of this will be on the Madison Gathering which I attended. I've talked to and read accounts written by participants at the other gatherings. They had different themes and ranged from the formal to the informal. I'll also talk about some of the problems involved in hosting a conference.
The San Diego gathering was a meeting of activists who have been involved in the Love & Rage Network. Not all of the events revolved around the network, but the big news coming out of this gathering was the "end" of the old network and the birth of some new projects.
I should also mention that a lot of acrimony between factions has also resulted. The breakup of the L&R network was expected by some outside observers. There have been two main tendencies in the L&R network, which have been evident since the network's inception. The first tendency was manifested by those who were committed to building a decentralized and informal network across the continent. These folks have decided to discontinue their participation in the L&R Network, instead opting for a variety of projects. The other tendency could be described as the more centralized, program-oriented, action-oriented group. Some of these folks wanted to institute a membership system in the L&R network and the controversy stemming from that suggestion is somewhat responsible for the rift.
During the last weekend in July several hundred anarchists from around the continent met in Philadelphia for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Anarchist Gathering. This was evidently the most organized of the summer's gatherings. There were lots of workshops and lots of networking was done. A new decentralized computer network or "web" was launched and is now in use by several dozen activists around the globe (but mostly in North America). The Philly organizers apparently did an excellent job, even with the hassles from the city they had to put up with.
During the first weekend of August, some local anarchists and I hosted the Great Lakes Regional Anarchist Gathering and Picnic. The main activities were held on Saturday and Sunday at the Wilmar Center, a neighborhood center on Madison's east side. It sits in a neighbor renown for its progressive residents. The flavor of this gathering was more laid back than the Philly event. Workshops were held, but not lots of them. Workshop topics included alternative housing, creating anarchist neighborhoods, wild foods foraging, phreaking and hacking, a Midwest anarchist network, the Web proposal that was discussed in Philly, prison support, freight- hopping, and several others. We held most of the activities outdoors as it was a beautiful weekend.
One of the positive aspects of this Gathering were the group dinners that were cooked using the center's kitchen. Everybody did a wonderful job of pitching in to find food, pay for it, cook it, and clean up the mess. (Although I was disappointed with some of the "anarchists' who did little to help at all). On Saturday night, we all dropped by the local cooperative bakery to help them celebrate their open house.
How many people attended? On Saturday, during the height of the afternoon when lunch was being served, I counted over a hundred attendees. I'd estimate total attendance for both days to be around 150. It would have been nice if more locals had shown up, but overall the people who attended represented a good cross-section of the contemporary anarchist scene. We had folks there from Wind Chill and some chicago anarchists. There were the folks from the twin cities, Detroit, Columbia, Missouri; Philadelphia, Texas, and Indiana. We must thank the folks at Nottingham Co-op for housing most of these people and putting up with a few hassles from our crowd.
The folks from Dreamtime Village and some other volunteers did a "mud people" event.
At the workshop on creating a Midwest network we decided NOT to create a new network, but to strengthen ties between existing projects, individuals, and new folks.
What were my thoughts on the whole affair? Well you about how party hosts are usually not the ones having the most fun at a party, because they have to be responsible. I definitely felt that way, but was really glad to see the people who came. It was great to talk to friends in person who I normally write to each day on the Net. It was also wonderful to meet in person people who I've met on the Net AND those I know from other projects.
I should share my misgivings about the event. I started planning for it in November of 1992. Gatherings are not like business conventions, but they still require some planning. I had attended two previous anarchist gatherings. In January it looked like we had about 6 to 10 people who were interested in making this happen. Then we didn't have meetings for several months. In the Spring I started gearing up for the gathering. I arranged for some new meetings, which nobody attended. Bumping into other anarchist that I knew from around town seemed to work better than meetings. In May we had a benefit which was well attended and gave us enough money to put a deposit on the Wilmar Center. In June it became clear that we didn't have a large enough core group to be able to put on a four day, well-organized gathering. We toyed with the idea of canceling the affair, but it became apparent from rumors that lots of people around the U.S. knew about it that we had to host some sort of event. So we scaled the event back to one day and then I expanded it to two days. In reality, several people arrived in town days before the gathering officially began, so the event did "happen" for four days. In retrospect I would definitely do it differently. A gathering shouldn't be announced until you are sure you have a decent-size core planning group to pull it off. Don't forget to let your local alternative media outlets know about it. I'm generally hesitant to deal with the mainstream media, but one of the local dailies did a decent write-up of the gathering.
Near the end of the gathering we collected donations. Fortunately these funds were enough to cover the charges the Center levied because of various violations and the theft of a large aluminum kettle, but, unfortunately, that money couldn't be used on things like sending Practical Anarchy zine out to more people or other such projects.
All in all, a pretty good gathering, but the next one I go to I want to be a visitor!