A report from the UK's biggest direct action gathering.
This years EF summer gathering took place over 5 days from 13th August on an idyllic nature reserve near Ripon in North Yorkshire. These gatherings have been taking place annually now for almost a decade and continue attract around 4 - 500 people each year. There is no hype, no big name speakers to tell you how it is, and no mass marketing campaign advertising the event in cities all over the UK: all very different from say, the SWP's annual 'Marxism' event in London.
The EF logo
Yet despite all this these diminutive get-togethers, unknown to most of the British public, have had a major impact on national and even global politics. It was at these where the resistance to genetically modified food, if not invented, was developed into a major force. Britain became the leader in the worldwide campaign against genetic engineering.
At the '98 gathering another idea was circulated and gained support: a global day of action against financial centres all across the world. Less than 12 months later that idea became a reality that stamped its way into public consciousness in headline news across the world. On June 18th 1999 over forty countries took part in a global day of action, perhaps most notably in the City of London. After months of police planning to foil any 'trouble' a relatively simple but secret plan ensured that the 10,000 strong crowd succeeded in shutting down the world's largest (??) financial centre in a spectacular fashion.
The day after J18, as it was known, the media-invented term 'anti-capitalism' was broadcast to the world. The so called 'end of history', a term used after the fall of the Berlin Wall to insinuate that we're all capitalists now, was shown to be bollocks. Despite the media frenzy against J18, the day inspired resistance across the globe, not least in Seattle were they were preparing for their historic actions against the WTO in November. They even copied the name calling their main action day N30. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery as they say.
But whilst the few know of the existence of these gatherings the state and the police are certainly aware of their significance. A police car watched and photographed everyone entering this year's gathering from a nearby approach road - a repressive action which was recently challenged by the European Court of Human Rights. I doubt they go to such lengths at the Marxism event.
But despite the seriousness suggested by state spying these gatherings have always been a lot of fun. This year kicked off entertainment with the brilliant comedian Rob Newman who's performance was as fascinating and factual as it was funny. Starting the whole thing with a laugh was a great idea that seemed put the gathering on a positive vibe for whole 5 days.
Other entertainment included the pub cinema which showed an inspiring selection activist video shorts. On Friday there was the usual 'open mike' night where anyone could get on stage and perform. This has often been brilliant but was dampened slightly this year coz the crowd couldn't applaud loudly after 11pm. For Saturday's soiree there was the Ceilidh dance where everyone danced holding hands in the field in the dark. This was 'anarchy' in the perverted sense of the word: chaos, but still a lot of fun.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and hot drinks was provided, as usual, by Brighton's Anarchist Teapot for the bargain price of £14 for the whole 5 days. All the food was vegan and most of it was organic too. This made a nice change from the overpriced commercial festivals where for £14 you're lucky to get enough to eat and drink for one day.
But not everyone was happy with the food. The kids on site got together and decided the food was unsuitable for them. They wanted bangers and mash. And when the Teapot failed to comply with their wishes they took action. One day the dinner queue was blockaded for half an hour. On another the Teapot flag was stolen, later seen proudly hanging from the creche marquee.
So what came out of this years gathering? What's next on the horizon? Well it's not that easy to say. There is no formal hierarchy handing down decrees from on high. It's just a lot people sharing ideas and experiences and gaining information and inspiration from each other. Some of the talk is in organised workshops, sometimes it might just be idle chit chat over lunch. Many of the talks will come to nothing, perhaps like the discussions about whether to change the name and other aspects of future gatherings. These took place over several days but there seemed to be no agreement on this so it'll probably stay the same.
But the GM workshop did reach a consensus in targeting one particular company to stop the spread of GM foods. They're calling for a series of actions against Bayer (previously known as Aventis) who are leading push for the commercialization of GM crops in the UK and Europe. Report any actions, large or small, all to the website http://www.bayerhazard.com/
Rising tide held a workshop about the Baku-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline. A short film showed that not only is this huge project disastrous for the environment both locally and globally. It will also mean repression for all those living on the route of the pipeline. BP, the main company behind the project, have already got agreements from the countries the pipeline crosses to suspend domestic laws around the route of the pipeline.
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A new visitor at this years gathering was Sheffield anarchist Mark Barnsley. He had now finally been released from a long jail sentence for when HE was beaten up by students in Sheffield. He was campaigning against the slavery that exists in UK prisons. Companies like the shop Wilkinsons, or vacuum-cleaner company Dysons, reap the benefits of forced, very low paid labour. Workers get as little as £5 per week, have no holidays, no chance to join union, and may be thrown into solitary confinement for refusing to work. Despite this grim campaign it was good to see Mark Barnsley as real person contributing to the debates rather than a campaign we were trying to win. More info from: email@example.com.
There were many other workshops on all kinds of subjects, not just environmental. These included grassroots perspectives on Palestine, nanotechnology, self-defence for women, security culture, tree climbing, community organising and mental health. There was also a workshop on the upcoming anti-arms fair action Disarm DSEi in London from the 6th - 12th September. (http://www.dsei.org.uk/)
Overall the whole thing was a very positive experience which was about far more than just the discussions. The fact the Summer Gathering is not a venture for profit really highlights the capitalist element in the other festivals around the country. The entry fee was just £10 (plus a donation for those who could afford it) and there was no extra for cars, camping or the program. And once inside there was no throng of businesses trying sell you shite at grossly inflated prices. The whole thing was put on in very ecological way from the vegan organic food and the compost toilets to the recycling points for rubbish.
The emphasis is very much on Do It Yourself, and everyone is expected to contribute in some way or other. Having said that a few people worked very hard to make this event happen so much thanks to all of them and see you all next year.