Over the weekend, folks involved with Media Mouse attended the 2008 National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) in Washington DC. The conference–which was the 11th annual–brings together individuals and groups to learn from each other and to build stronger movements for left/radical social change:
“NCOR is an annual event that brings together activists from a variety of issues, struggles, ideologies and backgrounds for a weekend of learning and reflecting on the state of progressive movements occurring locally, nationally and worldwide. Through diverse workshops, panel discussions, skillshares, tabling, and the creation of an open and safe space, NCOR seeks to promote organized action amongst participants against the injustices and inequalities that we confront in our daily lives and in the world.”
Further, in summarizing the activities of the left over the past year the NCOR collective stated:
“Throughout the past year, resistance has thrived in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, and in our relationships. Oppressed communities organized cooperatively to subvert the systems that only serve the needs of a privileged few.
In both South Central LA and Washington DC, community resistance movements stood between developers’ bulldozers and our public lands. Students organized for youth liberation, community power, and their own education. The struggle for dignity in the workplace took many forms, with organized resistance spreading in New York warehouses and Florida fields. Miners on both sides of the border suffered the tragic consequences of an un- organized workplace. The racist legal system exposed itself this year: we couldn’t save Sean Bell, but we saved Kenneth Foster, and thousands marched through the streets of Jena, LA, to save six youths there. Homophobic courts punished queer self-defense against violent bigots in New Jersey, and transfolk in Philadelphia led marches against the brutal murder of Erika Keels. US resistance movements joined forces in Atlanta at the first ever US Social Forum, and a pro-democracy movement in Burma against the military junta caught the attention of the world.”
While there are always way more workshops and discussions than we can attend at NCOR, we found those that we attended to inspirational and offered a variety of ways in which we can make projects here in West Michigan more successful. In order to share some of what we learned, we decided to prepare brief summaries of the workshops that we attended and some of the key issues that were raised in them. The workshops we attended were:
Visions of Anarchism in the 21st Century – This workshop featured two panelists, Cindy Milstein who is involved with the Institute for Anarchist Studies, the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference, and Black Sheep Books and Brian, who is involved in a variety of publishing projects, Really Really Free Markets, and a books to prisoners project. In the workshop, the two talked about where they thought the anarchist movement was at and where it is going.
Milstein said that while the anarchist movement has been quite visible in the past ten years, there are several things that the movement needs to improve on if it is going to maintain and expand its presence. She said that while existing infrastructure is connecting anarchists, it is starting to stagnate and needs to be expanded and improved. However, she cautioned against developing infrastructure for its own sake and said that projects need to be undertaken in response to community needs. She also spoke of a need to relay what has and has not worked in the past and suggested mentoring as a way to convey that knowledge. Finally, she said that there is a need to develop “substantive solidarity” where projects and collectives assist each other rather than simply “networking.”
Brian began his comments by telling the audience that anarchists are notoriously bad at predicting the future direction of the movement. That said, he offered up some ideas that would help anarchism move forward. He stressed the importance of working explicitly as “anarchists” and demonstrating the values and benefits of decentralized organizing. He further argued that it is critical to consider what is happening with those who just are exposed to anarchism, as that is where the excitement and energy is often located. He said that subcultures–such as punk rock–would continue to be fertile ground for recruiting but that anarchists must be aware of getting too caught up in subcultures and must also think of ways to connect subcultures. Echoing Cindy Milstein’s comments, he said that organizations and projects will need to serve needs in order to be worth pursuing. Finally, he said that anarchists should avoid organization and confrontation for their own sake as they can drain resources if not done effectively.
TAMPthatACTION! Alternative Womyn’s Health – Brooke Parker, one of the workshop’s presenters, exposed the realities of menstruation that are often portrayed as being dirty or unnatural in the media and tampon industry. She is also a Tampaction organizer. Tampaction is a national, youth led effort to replace unhealthy, unsustainable alternatives and positive attitudes towards menstruation, menstruators’ bodies, and the environment.
She and two other organizers discussed all of the myths associated with tampons and menstruation. While the workshop explored the dangers to women’s health of using tampons, it also revealed who owns the “feminine hygiene” industry. While non-menstruating men are profiting from women’s periods, they are also selling women harmful chemical-filled (dioxin and pesticide) products that are designed to unnaturally sanitize and portray menstruation as something to feel dirty and shameful about.
This workshop provided “do it yourself” alternatives to mainstream tampons and pads and gynecological health, as well as direction for all women and non-menstruating allies to demand a change in the patriarchal medical system, media, and industry on this issue. More info can be found at seac.org/tampons/environmentaljustice
Anarchist Revolutionary Strategy: Getting Free – In this workshop, James Herod–a veteran of the New Left and anarchist projects–attempted to outline an anarchist strategy that is relevant for the present. Herod said that with the failure of political ideologies such as Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism, and Social Democracy there is an opportunity for anarchists to make significant gains. Unfortunately, much of his presentation was scattered and not particularly well argued. While he was quite willing to label a variety of strategies from demonstrations to single-issue campaigns as being unsuccessful, he failed to offer a clear alternative model for organizing. Moreover, his goal of a “stateless society” run by a combination of neighborhood assemblies, project (or workplace) assemblies, household assemblies (200 people) and an association of neighborhood assemblies was not clearly developed or explained.
Crashing the Conventions: An Interactive Presentation and Discussion about the Upcoming DNC and RNC Resistance – This session was convened by Unconventional Action, a group organizing protests and resistance against the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC). The group has been organizing for about two years and is based on the DISSENT Network in Europe.
Organizers from Unconventional Denver spoke first about plans to protest the DNC when it is in Denver from August 24 to 28. The direct action plans are available elsewhere on Mediamouse.org, so it seems more appropriate to highlight why they are asking that people come to Denver to protest the DNC. The presenters said that the DNC is seen by many activists in Denver as a major part of the city’s gentrification and is being used to accelerate preexisting racist and classist development and displacement practices. As such, resisting the DNC is part of an overall strategy for resisting gentrification in Denver. The DNC is also being used to increase police repression with the installation of new surveillance cameras and acquisition of weaponry that will be used against the population in the years to come. The group also argued that disrupting the DNC will show the power of grassroots movement and send shockwaves throughout the country to those who have issues with the Democrats. Finally, in terms of anarchist strategy, they argued that the DNC is critical because anarchists need to show that the Democrats are still supportive of an unacceptable status quo.
The RNC Welcoming Committee, based in the Twin Cities where the RNC will be held from September 1 to 4, presented next. Mediamouse.org has reported extensively on local and national <a href="http://www.mediamouse.org/features/100307organ.php"organizing against the RNC and as such we will just highlight some items that we have not mentioned before. The Welcoming Committee argued that large-scale mobilizations like the RNC offer an opportunity to build capacity, recruit new members, offer inspiration, and renew our energy. With the flurry of activity around the RNC already, it seems that these goals are well on their way towards becoming reality. The group discussed some recent developments pertaining to the police, telling the audience that the police have promised that there will be no fenced in zones, that protestors will be allowed “within sight and sound” of the convention center, that they will not be deployed in riot gear, and that “non-violent” protestors will be cited and released within four hours. Of course, there is every reason to be skeptical of the police, but on the surface, they seem to be taking a significantly different approach than police at the RNC in 2004.
Lessons Learned from the New Left Era – Michael Albert, a longtime activist who helped found Z Net and South End Press, and who was active in SDS, spoke about what radicals can learn from the movements of the 1960s. He began by explaining that there are profound differences between now and then. In the early 1960s, problems were largely believed to be individual–nobody thought of poverty or racism as being institutional or systemic. Moreover, as the 1960s progressed, there were a series of revelations when people said, “they are lying to us” or “there is a crime against us” that motivated action. Albert argued that while these revelations were needed in the 1960s, many on the left are still acting as if that is needed. However, Albert said that everyone already knows how bad everything is and that simply stating this repeatedly will not get people involved. Instead, he argued that the left needs to articulate an alternative. He said that right now this is difficult because much of the left thinks–deep down–that they cannot win, and as such, make no effort to act strategically. Consequently, there is little talk about vision or how to win, a fact that essentially makes organizing seem like a hopeless endeavor to those outside the left.
Albert also argued that because the 1960s generation has failed to explain what was done, why it was done, and how it did and did not work, many of the same mistakes are being repeated. He said that the antiwar movement in the US can exemplify the failures of the left. That movement put millions on the street before the war but now can only turn out 100,000 people. Albert simply asked, “Who’s fucking up here?” He said that in the 1960s the left was able to organize in the counter-culture and as such did not have to organize in the larger society. While there is no counter-culture to organize within now, the left is still not organizing within society and is marginalizing itself by excluding large sectors of the population because they watch sports, go to movies, or watch television. In rejecting this behavior, Albert argues that many leftists lose their capacity to relate to the population and instead develop an elitist attitude that sees the majority of the population with contempt.
Between Now and Utopia: Understanding Capitalism – This workshop, conducted by Peter Staudenmaier of the Institute for Social Ecology, focused on helping radicals understand capitalism. He outlined “six major building blocks” of capitalism–commodity production, markets, private property, wage labor, accumulation, and alienated social relationships. While it is beyond the scope of this article to delve into each of those topics, Staudenmaier argued that it is essential for radicals to understand capitalism in order to be able to better argue against it and articulate an alternative. He reminded the audience that when it comes to private property, radicals reject the ownership of things such as food production, not personal property like socks and shoes. He also noted that as a system, capitalism conveys the idea that it is the only option which is an obstacle that critics on the left need to overcome.
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: A Discussion on Money and the Movement – This panel featured Andrea Smith of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance, and Max Uhlenbeck of Left Turn talking about nonprofits and their role in social change movements. While much of what they said was similar to material contained in The Revolution Will Not Be Fundedthat was reviewed recently by Mediamouse.org, there were several points that are of interest to progressives and radicals.
Andrea Smith talked about how many nonprofits and radicals see foundation grants as “gifts” when in reality the money already belongs to the people in that it was generated based on exploitation and is coming to nonprofits via grants because it was put in tax shelters. She said that receiving funding from foundations is problematic because it distances people from their base and causes nonprofits not to look to their base to raise money. As such, there is no reason to grow the base and consequently many in nonprofits focus on administrative rather than organizing skills. She also argued that because of required grant reports that often reward exaggeration, many nonprofits either repeat their own or others failed programs based on flawed assessments of grant projects. Rachel Herzing spoke about how her group is working to wean themselves off foundation money. She said that this is made easier by never being afraid to pass the hat or talk about money. Finally, Max Uhlenbeck talked briefly about Left Turn magazine and its decision not to take foundation grants. He said that they have come up with a number of creative ways to raise money after making the decision to fund themselves.
Decolonizing Your Mind: Indigenous Lessons on Freedom – Naomi Archer (Iladurarrak) – teacher of Indigenous European culture and founder of Four Directions Solidarity Network, adopted member of Cante Tenza, longtime human rights and global justice activist- opened the workshop with challenging questions to the primarily Caucasian audience. She asked if people still know how to speak with the Earth and the animals; if we still speak our indigenous language; and what has attributed to us losing these things. She went on to explain that people are hungry for the origins they have lost, so they take them from others. Archer asked the audience that if there are individuals who have taken the initiative to trace their roots and decolonize themselves, what good is it if you are not sharing this and informing others.
Canupa Gluba Mani or Duane Martin Sr. (Ogallala Lakota) – leader of Cante Tenza; the Strongheart Warrior Society and Civil Rights Movement of Pine Ridge Reservation; Wounded Knee 73′; Red Cloud Building Takeover (2000); leader of White Clay Blockade; Lakota Freedom Delegate (2007) – lead the majority of the workshop by intertwining stories from his childhood of the polarization he felt from constantly choosing between mainstream colonized culture and his traditional Indigenous upbringing, and ongoing devastation felt by Native American Indian reservations, particularly the Pine Ridge Reservation located in South Dakota.
In the later half of his talk, he discussed an array of questions regarding patriotism to colonized America. He asked why people were so proud of a colonial history filled with the genocide of Indigenous peoples when all they [Native Americans] did was offer everything to Europeans. Lastly, he encouraged us all to look deep down into our hearts and question why we would want to further this brutality through modern colonization and to let freedom be our drive.