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Berkely Anti-War Conference, I was there and yes the ISO did Hijacke it
14 Nov 2001
Modified: 15 Nov 2001
This is an email from a very well respected friend who is a highly intelligent, articulate person who was there all weekend at the ISO/Berkely Anti-War conference. She said it was evident that the ISO played a complete control role in all of this, and it made people go nuts when they figured out how they were being lied to.
I just got back from the CSAW conference in Berkeley. It was one of the
most awful organizing experiences in my life, and I wasn't the only one.
I know this is long, but if you are interested in organizing on campuses,
please read this. Something really fucked up is happening in anti-war
groups all over the country and we as anarchists and sane, nice people need
to figure out how to deal with this.
(Please note that what I am saying, "never" & "always", really means "almost
never" and "almost always" - I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know
of them. I am speaking from the position of having talked to probably a
hundred different people from all types of political persuasions and levels
of experience, as well as my own observations.)
Saturday was all workshops. I don't think even one of them were mainly
about or involving "revolution". Not one was about a specific political
analysis of the war, or the anti-war movement. There were panels/workshops
on the history of the Middle East, environmental impact of the war, how to
make newsletters, etc., but very little that was "political". Despite the
revolutionary politics of many of members of the Berkeley anti-war group
(anarchists, communists, and others), none of that was represented in the
workshops. In many workshops, whenever a person would raise a point about
revolutionary analysis (i.e. that capitalism causes wars and that's what we
need to fight), the panel or workshop leader would cut them off. Apparently
this kind of stuff smacked too much of party-politics, even if people saying
these things were anarchists or unaffiliated. There were probably a few
exeptions to this, but I talked to people who attended almost every workshop
and they all said the same thing.
Later, I found out the reason for the narrow range of workshops and weird
behavior of the workshop leaders. Students from the Berkeley group said the
speakers were organized by a very small group of people, mostly ISO. These
people did not take suggestions fron non-ISO people (I know anarchists and
communists who tried to suggest and conduct workshops and were blown off and
ignored). The Berkeley organzers said their schedule planning was not open
to anyone, and no one outside of the tiny group knew what was going on. Two
people proposed a workshop on the Hart-Rudman report (the US gov't master
plan for Homeland Defense) a couple of weeks ago, and constantly reminded
the organizers to put it on the schedule. In the end, it was not put on the
schedule, not coincidentally because that workshop would have been the only
one with leaders from a "rival" party. I realize that many political parties
use workshops and panels to say really horrificly long speeches about
Trotsky or Mao, disguising the speech as a question. I didn't hear of any
of that going on. One example I know of was a woman from PLP (a rival of
the ISO) tried to simply say "I don't agree that people who don't go to
college are too stupid to learn about imperialism, and we need to organize
based on knowing that all people are capable of understanding," and the
workshop leader cut her off in mid-sentence, saying we "didn't have time for
arguments". The workshop was on "talking to the unconvinced", a workshop on
Anyway, the workshops that did take place were OK, but politically
elementary. A lot of people at the conference were disappointed that deeper
political discussion was not allowed, and that the workshop topics in
general were very "apolitical", something which seemed pretty silly
considering the people who were attending. Another fact to note was that
many schools had at least one or two ISO members in their delegation.
Five delegates from every school would be allowed to vote and speak at the
meeting the following day. These delegates registered Saturday night, and
all proposals to be discussed and voted upon were due by 7pm Saturday. This
was so we would have a set list to get through and an infinity of new
proposals wouldn't bog us down on Sunday. On Saturday night as we were
signing in and submitting our proposals, we were told "One delegate from
every school needs to go to the agenda-setting meeting tonight". At my
school, we had two ISO people, a PLP guy, me, and an unaffiliated
anti-authoritarian. I was standing there thinking "Oh god, the ISO has
probably already signed themselves up as the one delegate and is going to go
set a fucked up agenda". Oddly to me, the ISO allowed the PLP guy to go in
there. The agenda was set in this meeting, but there was no discussion of
how decisions would be made the next day.
Sunday morning began with Snehal, an ISO member declaring himself the
facilitator for the day. (We were given no choice on this.) The meeting
began using Parlimentary Procedure, with all speakers being allowed two
minutes to talk. Parlimentary procedure was not explained to the attendees,
so many people had NO idea what was going on or how they could participate.
Usually, questions from the audience about changing the procedure or asking
what was going on were dismissed with Snehal saying "we don't have time for
We started to go through the agenda. When we got to the proposals, the
moderator began to allow new proposals to be put forth. This frustrated
many of the delegates, because we began to see that new proposals would not
allow us to have time for the proposals we brought from out schools or local
coalitions of many schools. Whenever a proposal was put forward, the
moderator clearly had a side. He would allow people on his side to speak
for their two minutes, but dissent was cut off with "we don't have time for
this". If dissent was allowed, somehow an ISO member would speak soon
afterward against whatever dissent was raised. Snehal called proposals very
quickly he and ISO members in the audience would use Roberts Rules of Order
to quickly push through proposals, leaving the audience in confusion and
unhappy with whatever had just happened. An anarchist woman I know
constantly raised her hand and was put on the list of speakers, but out of
five times during the day, she was not called on. I heard the same from
other anarchists, women especially.
After a couple of hours, the hero of the day, Kyle, stood up and said that
this was very undemocratic and we need to change the process. He got a lot
of emphatic applause but the moderator ignored him. Tensions started to run
very high as the delegates realized they weren't alone in getting frustrated
and pissed off about how things were going. We broke for lunch, and after
we returned, more people challenged the process. I missed out on an hour of
the conference at this point, but I heard that Michael Novick proposed that
we not have time limits on agenda items because quality was better than
speed. This got shot down. I don't really know the rest of what happened
during this hour. When I got back, people were still challenging the
process. Unfortunately, they mostly didn't understand that it was the ISO
controlling everything and blamed the problems on sexism and racism of the
moderator and other delegates. This got nowhere, except with the promise
that "women and minorities would have priority in the speaking order". Soon
after this, the moderator decided "we didn't have time" for the remainder of
the proposals - the proposals were the whole reason we were there at all.
We had only gotten through six proposals, three of which had not been on the
list from the previous night. There were about 20 remaining, which is a
lot, but certainly possible. Another HUGE problem was a list of proposals
or an agenda had not been given to any of the delgates, so no one knew what
was on the table for the day. The only proposals discussed were about
specific "days of action", and a national conference with vague goals and
only ONE delegate allowed to ATTEND from each school. (An ISO member later
said privately that one of the ISO's three main goals was to create a
national conference and try to dominate the delegation from it.)
The Southern California Schools Against War had a great proposal that we
"oppose war research and recruitment on campus and challenge racism in our
curriculum and campus practices". This was a proposal which about twenty
schools from SoCal agreed upon. I overheard the ISO the day before telling
people "they wouldn't vote for it because it was too vague, because it
didn't have specific day of action". This made me furious - they were
saying opposing our school's racism and warmongering should be limited to a
certain day! This proposal was not raised ever by the moderator.
At this point, probably a third of the people walked out in frustration.
Most of these people didn't see any reason to be there, if making plans was
no longer allowed. Many took off, but about fifty people gathered in the
hallway and started talking. We met outside and had a discussion about what
was going on and how frustrated we were. When people mentioned that the ISO
were the people who organized, moderated, and dominated the discussions
during this whole conference, people got PISSED. Most of them had just
thought that this was a convergence of random jerks, but when people
realized that certain individuals were members of the ISO, they realized how
screwed up and controlled everything was. Two guys from Berkeley said
something like "the Berkeley group worked really hard on this so please
don't give us a hard time". They were ISO, but didn't say it!!! Another
ISO member sat there silently taking notes. Not once did anyone from the
ISO say who they were during this discussion.
We made a plan to go back into the conference as a group and voice what had
happened. By this point, most people had left and there were only about 100
left in the audience. The organizers said this was because people had to
leave, but I think people would have stayed if it were worthwhile. We got
up as a group and stood at the front of the room.
Our main points were:
- the decision-making process in the conference was not agreed upon by the
attendees, nor explained to us at any point
- the decision-making process before the conference was completely hidden
from view - no one, including many Berkeley activists, had any idea what was
being planned or had any input, even when they tried to participate.
- the ISO dominated many school delegations, dominated the speakers,
dominated the planning, and completely controlled the moderation.
- opposing views were almost always cut off "because we didn't have time"
(At this point, an ISO woman named Leticia stood up and said "we don't have
time for this, people want to go home. We can discuss this later! It's too
late to bring this up anyway." Later? When would that be? It was the very
last hour of the very last day of the conference! When she make this
comment, a few people got furious and the rest tried not to laugh
- speakers were often interrupted by ISO members
- an agenda for proposals was not public and information in general was
tightly controlled by a few people, mostly ISO, who made little effor to get
outside input or even let other people know what was going on.
During our little presentation, we allowed the audience to speak in the way
that we had wanted to be treated. Questions were taken in order, there were
no time limits on speeches, etc. ISO members were the only people who spoke
defensively about the organization of the conference members. Other
delegates offered some good points, one saying that the decision-making
process isn't accidental, but political.
Anyway, people left the conference feeling much better since we had that
ad-hoc meeting to discuss what went wrong. However, out of 400 or so
people, I would guess that at least 300 of the people were very unhappy with
what happened. A lot of our campus anti-war groups are controlled by the
ISO, and we are still struggling with how we can make the groups grow and
flourish when the leadership is very tight and has a very narrow agenda.
Many of our campus groups are run in the same way the conference was run,
with a tight control of information and the excuse of "we don't have time
for this" when people would like to discuss alternate proposals.
There are dozens more little examples of my wild accusations to back up what
I'm saying, but I don't feel like writing ten more pages. Please understand
that throughout this whole conference, we tried to discuss the ISO's
*actions*, not their politics. Other 'sectarian' groups were in attendance,
but they did not cause these problems: it was not a knee-jerk reaction to
the fact that they are a trotskyist party. One thing about their politics:
this weekend, I heard ISO members repeat many times that "people who aren't
college educated can't understand..." and I think this has a lot to do with
why they dominate on college campuses, why their decision-making is hidden,
and why everything is so sneaky in general - they think we're all idiots.
The main point of all this is that clearly the ISO is vying for a dominant
position of campus anti-war groups across the country (they held identical
conferences in Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta this weekend). Their tactics
include using Roberts Rules of Order to manipulate meetings, assuming
leadership roles in campus groups, and not disseminating information to
non-ISO members of groups. (There are LOTS of examples on many campuses
where it is known they had information on agendas, events, etc and did not
share this with the larger group.) Another sad fact is they almost *never*
say they are ISO when doing all these things, which particularly misleads
new people in groups.
Across the state, college groups are having splits right now to make sure
the ISO doesn't take control of the anti-war movement. I don't know if this
is a good tactic - I'm not sure what else we can do at this point,
especially when we are not allowed to speak during campus meetings. I'm
inclined to say we should simply bring in lots of honest people to the
meetings and challenge the ISO based on their undemocratic practices, but
this clearly didn't work during the conference.
If anyone has any ideas about what to do, I would much appreciate it, and I
will pass it along to other frustrated people. I know some people on this
list went through similar bullshit in SDS - I would really like to hear
their perspectives in particular.
Terrible, just terrible
by Mary M.
(No verified email address)
15 Nov 2001
That's terrible news. They are such a bad influence. Why do they want to dis others like that, and destroy the work of others for their own cultish goals?
Almost every "socialist" I met is like that. Alone they might be nice, together in a pack or with their "commissar" they become attack dogs, all frothing in the mouth with bile and anger. Fundamentalists fundamentally.
It's such a strange phenomenon.