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Announcement :: DNC : Environment : Labor : Organizing : Politics
“Don’t Just Talk About a Movement, Build a Movement”: The NYC North East Mutual Aid Gathering (and the next one in Philly)
05 Jul 2004
North East Mutual Aid is an informal network of anti-capitalist anti-authoritarians. Our purpose is to open lines of communication so that existing groups and individuals throughout the Northeast can better coordinate support for each other in our local actions and struggles.
[The next gathering of North East Mutual Aid will take place this July 9, 10, and 11 in Philadelphia. For schedule, location, and more information, check out: http://defenestrator.org/nema/]

“Don’t Just Talk About a Movement, Build a Movement”: The New York City North East Mutual Aid Gathering

The inherently biased and perhaps even incorrect reflections of two organizers and
one attendee regarding the NYC-NEMA gathering, May 7-9, 2004…

Following the call for a continental network on the tenth anniversary of the
Zapatista rebellion, anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists from across the Northeast
gathered several times to establish what is now called the “North East Mutual Aid”
(NEMA) network. At the May NEMA gathering in New York City, a lot of the logistical
groundwork for this vision was finally laid down.

Let’s address some critical questions and concerns immediately. The North East
Mutual Aid Network, as it exists today, works to facilitate networking amongst
anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists throughout the NorthEast, i.e. to put together
face-to-face gatherings. It is not the new group to join. It is not a
membership-based organization and it is not a federation of any kind. NEMA seeks to
provide a venue for those who agree to the principals of anti-authoritarianism and
anti-capitalism, broadly defined. Hence everyone from anti-civilizationists to
anarcho-communists to North American Zapatistas are welcome providing that they work
to demonstrate a commitment to both anti-authoritarianism and anti-capitalism.
Conversely, capitalists, fascists, and the authoritarian left are emphatically not
welcome. Specific ideological unity is not necessary because NEMA’s aspirations are
no more lofty than bringing folks together to more effectively affect change—and
folks are more than welcome to plug into projects or groups that share their more
specific affinities and commitments.

The New York City Gathering itself was preceded on Friday evening by a showing of
the inspirational and emotional documentary “The Fourth World War”, by Big Noise
Films. 4WW has been shown world-wide throughout the movement and will hopefully have
its official NYC release during this summer’s Republican National Convention. One
of the filmmakers was on hand for some Q&A afterwards. This film did the work of
contextualizing our local gathering on a scale that was truly global. It weaved its
way through the erupting streets of South Africa, Palestine, Argentina, Chiapas and
South Korea illuminating real connections between geographically diverse regions.
It reminded us that although we may feel that regional lines are one good way to
more organically build a movement from the bottom up, our movement is one that is
indeed global in measure and if we are to accomplish anything, we must
understand, as the saying goes, that the global is truly local and vice versa.
Watching people on the screen fight for their right to free drinking water in South
Africa did the much needed work of reminding us, as activists in the belly of the
beast, of our enormous privilege and, hence, enormous responsibility to those who do
not share in those privileges.

There were roughly fifty to seventy people present at the gathering on Saturday,
which was kicked off by a presentation and discussion around the theme of “creating
a horizontal space”. This presentation was facilitated by the NYC-based collective
Active Thought Project. We reviewed the consensus process, ways to combat privilege
and power in meetings, as well as basic courtesy, respect, and listening. For those
who attended, the workshop was valuable in getting us on the same page for the
afternoon’s meeting.

The following workshop was a much needed historical discussion around past efforts
to build and sustain anti-authoritarian networks in North America. Networking
veterans shared their experience in the Direct Action Network (DAN), Worcester
Global Action Network (WOGAN), People’s Global Action (PGA) and the Northwest
Anarchist Federation. One lesson seems to be that networks tend to come together
with excitement and promise but then fizzle out when they lack immediate projects,
conflicts, and opportunities. Some folks expressed the need for NEMA to achieve and
sustain visibility in facilitating big events and projects. Others accepted that
networks are transient in nature but that a network is valuable while it is around.

The morning workshops helped to get people comfortable with each other as well as
giving us an enhanced context for what came next: the actual asamblea, the heart of
the gathering, began. Everyone discussed, debated, and found common ground, toward
the goal of, as the organizers put it, “articulating, broadening, and implementing
the network.” This wonderful but long-ass meeting was interrupted only once for a
late but tasty lunch provided by Food Not Bombs, who also provided great food on
Sunday. It was good to hear about the various projects that folks were working on
and it was heartening to see folks from different areas express interest and come
together around them. Talking about what folks were up to informed the following
discussion on how the network should work. It all seemed to be going okay, but let
me tell you, after the food arrived the energy and passion in the room more than
doubled!

While not surprisingly, many folks were young, white, and male, many folks were not
and the facilitators demonstrated an effort to include the diversity of the room’s
voices in the decision-making. One person called attention to the facilitators’
making gender-identity assumptions in their attempts to be horizontal and inclusive.
We decided to state our pronoun-preferences, as well as our names, whenever we
spoke.

Out of many other things discussed and decided on, there was a general agreement
that the network should create solidarity for local actions and organizing; share
resources; and increase and articulate anarchist/anti-authoritarian presence and
politics in larger struggles. After a long discussion the group decided that NEMA
should adopt the PGA Hallmarks, with an additional amended statement of what NEMA
specifically is and does. I personally saw this as a good thing in that it
instantly connects us, through a global network, to anti-capitalists doing amazing
work from Chiapas to Bolivia to India to Canada. Just as no one speaks for NEMA and
NEMA speaks for no one, so does the PGA. The hallmarks include a “very clear
rejection” of capitalism, a “confrontational attitude,” and “an organizational
philosophy based on decentralization and autonomy.” As activists struggling in “the
belly of the beast,” adopting these principles and thereby linking ourselves to PGA
was a significant and necessary step.

In the final minutes we set up working groups to work on concrete NEMA-projects
which include setting up a website, archiving the history and documents of past
anti-authoritarian networks, providing mutual aid, and planning the next gathering
in Philadelphia.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an anti-authoritarian gathering without a kick-ass party,
which took place at the gathering space on Saturday night. NY-based APOC'istas and
self-described “indie sub-terrainian puerto punk band” Ricanstruction rocked the
crowd in one of the more up close and intimate performances I’ve seen them in (hey,
there was no stage…). Later on, other bands and performers took the mic and the
robots (see below) were out in full force, doing their thing way into the night. It
was an apt ending to the day. On Sunday a handful of impromptu “passion groups met”
but the best part of Sunday was the much needed unstructured time for folks to chill
out and do some informal, conversational networking and socializing. The passion
groups included the DNC-to-RNC march and the idea of an Anarchist Worlds’ Fair to
take place in NYC this summer as a way to build relationships between traveling
anarchist folk and community-based NYC anarchists.

The small collective who organized the May 7-9 gathering did a great job
logistically with very few resources. The only criticism some of us raised in the
weeks leading up to the NEMA gathering was an emphasis on emails, fliers and other
outreach materials on “Robot Games” which were originally planned to have taken
place in the middle of the gathering on Saturday in Manhattan (the gathering itself
was in Brooklyn). Some of us felt that this would not only be distracting and
detract from the important work of setting up the network, but also that it appealed
to a relatively narrow “subculture” set of activists and would alienate
anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist activists who don’t necessarily identify with
the anarchist “scene.” In the end, the organizing collective respectfully listened
to our criticisms and amended the weekend’s agenda. This question was taken up
during the asamblea and most people seemed to agree that the changing of the agenda
was a good idea.

These issues, as well as the question of whether or not to use the word “anarchist”
in the name of the network, raise important questions for not only our Northeast
network but also anarchists and other anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist activists
across North America. Is the purpose of the networks we are creating since the call
in January to project our politics to a larger audience, to merely facilitate
communication and coordination between already initiated activists, or both? Why
was this meeting once again overwhelmingly white, and where were some of the
NYC-based organizers who should have been there? As the original call for a
continental network stated, our movement has largely failed to adapt to the
post-9/11/01 terrain. Are NEMA and other networks a positive step in a new
direction, or old wine in new bottles?

Personally I think NEMA accomplished one of its greatest purposes, to facilitate
communication and to get us all to know each other and meet face-to-face in this
atomized, individualistic society where being a radical can make one feel even more
isolated. This sense of community and the strength it provides is often and
tragically overlooked by activists. Face-to-face community is an essential
ingredient in any real social movement—it is the task of radicals in North America
to come together and build revolutionary community today. The internet is not
enough. A strong North American movement will not come together until the
atomization of the dominant society is undermined from below. As most North American
anarchists and anti-authoritarians have come to realize the centrality of day-to-day
local organizing over big-event-hopping and passive-email-crisis-reactions, NEMA and
similar networking projects will help folks stay connected to build cohesion around
day-to-day struggles and initiatives.

Overall the NEMA gathering was a positive experience and I think people came away
from it hopeful and energized. Time will tell how useful such network-building will
be to our movement. The next NEMA gathering is currently scheduled for July 9-11 in
Philadelphia (http://defenestrator.org/nema/)...

Related Info:

NEMA announcements listserv: http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/neanticapitalist
NEMA website: http://www.northeastmutualaid.org/

Active Thought Project: http://www.activethoughtproject.org/
Anarchist Worlds Fair listserv: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anarchistworldsfair/
Big Noise Films/4th World War: http://www.bignoisefilms.com/
DNC2RNC: http://www.dnc2rnc.org/
Food Not Bombs: http://www.abcnorio.org/affiliated/fnb.html
PGA: http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/en/
Ricanstruction: http://www.ricanstruction.net/

Proposal for a Continental Anti-Authoritarian Anti-Capitalist Network:
http://www.infoshop.org/inews/stories.php?story=04/01/01/0303286

This work is in the public domain
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