Friday, September 15, 2006

Wall Flowers

Derek Wall to be exact (you can read his blog here)

In the last couple of days we've had a really excellent couple of independent style / unaffiliated meetings. They've both been well attended and interesting, something I had been worrying about as I think I intimated in a previous post, I was worried that I hadn't done nearly enough work to make them successful, but it turns out I had! Cool.

These meetings are part of an informal series of events I've been supporting over the last year. The idea has been based around the fact that those engaged in anti-war work, local campaigns, etc. often find themselves organising actions without ever discussing the politics of why they are doing these things.

Christian Parentti uses the phrase activistism which I think is a good one. Cambridge Action Network has a brilliant focus on *doing* things. It's never bogged down with long ideological justifications or excavating the fossilised remains of theories long since past their usefulness - and I find this very healthy, and they've usually got lots of pots on the boil - but it's not enough to just crack on in a directionless free for all.

So whilst I'd never argue talking is more important than doing if we aren't discussing ideas at all then there is a real problem.

In the last year we've invited speakers like Hilary Wainwright and Anthony Arnove down - and also had less well known people like Matan Cohen, a young Israeli refusnik from Anarchists Against the Wall, on his mini tour of Europe, someone who impressed us all with his courage, particularly at seventeen.

The other leg that these meetings have stood on is in based upon the fragmentation of the movement. Often we find ourselves split off from each other, fighting for the same things but in seperate cells unable to share experiences and contacts - all too often feeling isolated.

But it was also obvious that the labels we stick on meetings (like, say, Stop the War) were keeping as many people *away* from those meetings as bringing them in, based upon distrust (sometimes well founded) of the group organising the event. Part of that stems, I think, from the fact that these meetings are primarily organisational tools. You don't have a StWC rally because it will be interesting (it may or may not be depending on whether Lindsey German is talking) but to bring people to your group. I wanted to step out of that circle entirely.

No sign up sheets, no hard sell of the next demo, no defining of who is the heirarchy of the anti-war / socialist / environmental movement - when we organise a political discussion its because that is a good thing to do in itself. We focus on interesting and challenging ideas. That rather tough attitude has paid dividends I think. In terms of bringing in independent minded people who may not otherwise come, in terms of getting a real debate rather than a series of 'interventions' and 'rebuttals' and in terms of creating thoughtful and provocative spaces (plural) it's worked. I'm very pleased.

The attempt to popularise the ideas of the movement among the people over winning the battle of ideas inside the movement to make your way THE way is the right course in my view, which is why often the speakers who've been invited down aren't ones I'd necessarily *agree* with - only that I think will say things that interest and inform.

So Wednesday we had Derek Wall come down and discuss "anti-capitalism for beginners" something I was very keen on as there are loads of anti-capitalists in these parts but very few opportunities to actually disacuss what this means. It was the biggest such meeting Libra Aries Books has ever put on apparently - and there certainly wasn't room for any more. I'm hoping the talk will be going up on Cambridge Indymedia - if so I'll let you know.

Yesterday we had a forum (actually formally organised by CamPeace) on Lebanon and Gaza with Charlie Pottins (from the Jewish Socialists' Group), Mohammad Abu Rdaini (a Palestinian who'd lived many years in Lebanon) and Gen who'd been out in Israel at the height of the conflict and had taken part in all kinds of radical 'stuff' whilst out there. They all gave very good turns, and in coversations afterwards it was clear that Charlie in particular (an old WRP warhorse of the finest kind) had impressed the audience a great deal.

What was funny was the SWP, who normally shun such events, deigned to come along this time and made such stereotypically boring paint by numbers contributions it just reminded how good these forums were and why. I think they made three contributions. Come to the demo, a rant on how the war is central to everything from a woman I'd never seen before in my life and five seconds in I knew she was an SWP members just from the tone of her voice so when she got round to holding up the paper I almost burst out laughing, and an appeal for everyone to join their organisation.

Now, I have no problems with any of these things in themselves but it basically meant that the Socialist Workers Party contributed the least interesting, most expendable part of the meeting - and the only part of the meeting that treated people as potential sales rather than having a discussion with them. No new ideas, no thoughts to mull over, no boundry pushing experimental jive - but I'm glad they came, just to remind myself of what not to do.

Anyway what I want to say is its really easy to do and I want to encourage others to have a go. Independent, label-less meetings that exist to discuss ideas without forcing the audience to listen to preaching, recruitment drives and learned by rote jargon. No ulterior motives, just political discussion... now that's what I call music.

Next month it's the Mexican revolution - as it unfolds!

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