We thought it should also be published here.
AN EVALUATION OF INDYMEDIA FACILITIES AT THE DUBLIN EU MAYDAY MOBILISATIONS (May 2004)
This has been written by five Indymedia UK volunteers from several local collectives, and draws on discussions with Indymedia Ireland volunteers, other international Indymedia volunteers, and talks with various other activists.
To continue building a real sustainable movement there is a constant need to assess and evaluate the issues that arise during international gatherings and large mobilisations, this is one attempt, from visiting indymedia volunteers, and as such cannot be a complete document, and does not address much of the great work done in setting up and running the Independent Media Festival. Apologies in advance for any mis-representations or mistakes that may be present here.
AIMS OF EVALUATION:
There were many issues - quite inter-tangled issues - that we must face together.
Many of these issues will be recognisable from previous mobilisations and are generral problems that always seem to crop up, some will be new.
Of these issues, some relate to the political and social realities of host countries in such international mobilisations as was seen in Dublin. Others relate to Indymedia, Dublin Grassroots Network, the international visitors, Community Media Network, and many to the different expectations of what is means to participate in these mobilisations, as well as the differing levels of experience and assumptions of different players.
All of these factors merged during the days of the EU Mayday mobilisation, in an atmosphere of intimidation and repression from the state and the mainstream media, both in the weeks before, and during the protest days themselves, and which in Ireland may continue for some time after, even maybe intensifying before the Bush visit.
This is an attempt to draw together some of the facts and disagreements, to identify the priorities that must be addressed to minimise the risk of a repetition of the same problems in the future, where we will no doubt work together again. This is the most important task now facing us.
NB The evaluation does look at some non-indymedia issues, since they impacted upon indymedia and the imc / cmn space.
SOME INITIAL POINTS AND ISSUES:
As stated this evaluation derives from interactions and discussions amongst particular groups, both hosts and visitors for the mobilisation including Indymedia Ireland, Community Media Network (CMN), Dublin Grassroots Network (DGN), International participants and International Indymedia volunteers.
The EU Mobilisations were called as an International Mobilisation by the Dublin Grassroots Network (DGN). This network was understood by many to be both a group organising locally and a logistical group setting a framework in which visitors would be able to effectively slot into, collaborate, interact and in turn support.
The fact that squatting is illegal in Ireland was not adequately communicated in advance. This should have been included in the legal briefings and the information about accommodation.
The DGN website named the Indymedia Ireland / CMN space as the first port of call for people arriving in Dublin since it had stall space within it for many campaigns and issues. The idea was that, among others, there would be a DGN desk at the space where people could come to find out about the protests and accommodation etc. However this function was not provided by DGN, and as such is one of the more serious inadequacies.
Indymedia Ireland had worked together with the Community Media Network to negotiate use of their building.
CMN is a small not for profit organisation that helps and facilitates those using different media to support progressive development and social justice. They have also been involved in lobbying for community and alternative programming access to the cable tv network in Dublin (trying to replicate the diversity and access on cable tv that is seen for example in Amsterdam and other European cities). They have had to move offices several times in the last year or so, have had funding cut, and work on a shoestring budget.
CMN were happy to support Indymedia Ireland, and were keen to make links between community media and more alternative media but with certain conditions on the use of the space.
CMN have their offices upstairs in the building - Indymedia Ireland worked over several weeks to clean, restore and paint the downstairs space which had been unused before hand.
Indymedia Ireland together with CMN worked to put on an extensive 10 day Independent Media Festival, with a range of practical sessions, workshops, discussion spaces, film screenings, exhibitions and stall space.
There were several conditions placed on the use of the building, including a no alcohol policy.
PRESSURES AND CRISIS:
The Police raid of a squat, two days before the main actions, shut down accommodation facilities etc, and left the Indymedia / CMN space as the main visable public space.
Indymedia Ireland were thus caught in the middle of a difficult situation, with very vocal demands from some protesters on the one hand, and the restriction conditions of the buildings keyholders - CMN - on the other.
There were immediate efforts made to try and help in the difficult situation. Discussion enabled the building to be opened up five hours earlier the following day and food was prepared in the evening - many people worked hard to source accomodation through homestay (and others raising funds for hostels) - it looked like the situation was improving.
On May 1st the building was always meant to be closed.
Further, more serious problems arose with the space on Sunday. It seems communications broke down through the Saturday street protests which resulted in the imc / cmn building not being opened until late in the afternoon. This was a serious error, aggravated by a lack of Indymedia reporting / cmn space administration meetings throughout the several main days - this is something that needs to be addressed.
Many people (including various indymedia volunteers) assumed on Sunday that the building would be open from 9.30am as it had been on Friday. The result of this was that after the main day of protests, people congregated in the park nearby waiting for the building to open, and were filmed and harassed by police during the afternoon.
When the keyholder turned up to open the building she did so on her own and received an aggressive welcome from those that had been waiting outside and were of the opinion that they had been let down by the space. This further entrenched the positions, and the situation deteriorated through the next several hours and into the evening. Some of the aggression shown (no doubt partly due to the pressures people were under) further aggravated the situation.
With the pressing need for feedback and discussion from the prior and next days coupled with the CMN need to define the center as a non-convergence space, an uncomfortable situation arose. This culminated in an excessive, ill-defined situation where suggestions were made from various individuals from various groups that activists and internationals should leave the imc/cmn building! (for their further discussions?). Significant problems over presentation / representation existed (and indeed not just at this time) with confusion over who was saying this - was it an official CMN line? was it indymedia ireland, was it DGN? was it individuals from these groups? There were certainly also serious disagreements between individuals from the same groupings as well.
On the Monday 3rd the space was closed, despite being adverstised in advance as being open through to and including the Monday.
The question is, could this have been avoided? Well perhaps it could have been. There were enough people available to administer the building to a level that may have satisfied CMN, but there was not the internal co-ordination structure to facilitate this. Similar situations have occurred around other IMC spaces in other international mobilisations, with such internal co-ordination only occurring in response to crisis - this must change, with internal IMC reporting co-ordination and space administration meetings being held at least once per day. With such a structure in place, we would all have been better placed to deal with disagreements and respond to crisis in a quicker way.
But this is not the only thing that needs addressing... read on...
CAUGHT BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
FIVE WAY SPLIT:
Dublin Grassroots Network - Internationals - CMN - Indymedia ie - International Indy volunteers
There were differing levels of tensions between the different groupings, and individuals within them!
These are a few of them:
There were tensions for sure between DGN and the internationals, which also reflected back onto Indymedia and permeated into the imc / cmn space. As mentioned the lack of a DGN desk and the problems around accommodation were some of the issues, also perhaps was a failure to understand the real need and significant importance to provide a convergence space. Statements on the radio from a person apparently speaking for DGN on the morning of Monday before the street party that "If anyone comes to the party wearing a mask they should be challenged" also did not help.
There seems to have been a real 'them and us' situation, which focussed time and energy onto negative aspects and not onto more productive collaboration. This impacted on the serious need for clear communication channels with which to convey needs and utilise local knowledge and resources.
Internationals produced, photocopied and distributed leaflets all day Saturday around Dublin areas and demonstrations advertising the new 6pm gathering location. Solidarity marches for those in prison were initiated and largely organised autonomously motivated by internationals. Despite their hard work there was also a communication problem regarding the legal teams who did not seem to have the information dissemination capacity necessary to react as effectively as possible to those arrested (though this was mostly down to lack of people).
This all seemed to distill itself into the problems around the imc/cmn space. CMN people were the fewest in number, one to two people, tasked with being the keyholder of the building (ie opening and closing the space), often tidying up, trying to administer the conditions of no alcohol, genuinely concerned about their relationship with the local community and long-term impact from the authorities etc. There were also disagreements with Indymedia Ireland volunteers, other international indymedia volunteers and CMN. Initially after the squats were raided imc and cmn worked well together, but the communications broke down after Saturday. Much negotiation was done to ensure the building opened on Sunday (it came very close to staying closed!).
Trying to find a balance between different demands was an impossible situation. In short such joint spaces may not be the most suitable during mobilisations, but perhaps with attention to a number of factors they can be made to work. More actual logistical support for CMN would certainly have helped the situation - see 'Learning the Lessons' section.
NOTE: Despite all of this people still came together to pull of the biggest anti-authotitarian / autonomous protests yet in Ireland - respect to all.
RESPECT IS A TWO WAY STREET
Several people quickly accused Indymedia Ireland of "deserting the movement" by communicating and accepting the CMN position of not allowing the building to be used for accomodation. It is also cear that people were let down by the changing opening times of the building.
On the other hand there was disrespect shown by many towards the building. Many people insisted on bringing alcohol into the space despite being asked not to, as well as insulting people, some even physically pushed a woman out of the way when she asked them not to bring in a case of beer. Such incidents contributed to a perception that there was no respect for the CMN building and made negotiations increasingly difficult. For a movement supposedly built on respect this raises serious questions. There were also lots of comments along the lines of "Why should we care about this building anyway, it's going to be demolished" - which displayed a worrying lack of consideration for CMN who are currently resident there, and will be for some time.
Some has already been written about different views and conflicts. Many internationals were very critical of Indymedia in Ireland, perhaps partly because it was more visible than DGN. At the same time many Irish and other people have been critical of the internationals complaining that they seem only to have been demanding and trying to impose their singular will onto people from a host country who have been working on the mobilisation for months. It is clear there were social and political differences as well, although this is always to be expected. The problem of nationalism also presented itself in some of the criticism. In short this has not been a one-sided issue or problem.
PERCEPTIONS ABOUT INDYMEDIA + REPEATED PROBLEMS
Some of these problems have occurred before. Several international Indymedia people feel that there is a problem around Indymedia being viewed as simply a service provider. Indymedia is a participative project that seeks to provide a set of facilities to support the reporting of protests, but the key thing is that it is a participative project. There seems to be a perception that Indymedia must be all things to all people.
Recognising that Indymedia has been the target of police repression and indeed state sponsored dirty tricks campaigns, and recognising that Indymedia is often a static (venue based) project that cannot 'melt away' (and indeed does not want to!), there must a level of respect and understanding, that at times seems to be missing. Respect however is a two way street.
This is something that needs addressing. But it is something that can be best achieved through better co-ordination and planning before such protests happen, and through better facilitation of meetings on the ground during the actual period of protests - the structure for which was felt to be lacking in Dublin.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INDYMEDIAS
There are indeed big differences between Indymedia groups from one town or country to another. This is part of being a loose network. It is also part of recognising and respecting local autonomy.
However it can lead to problems when people see Indymedia as a homogenous body.
It can also lead to problems when people who are used to one Indymedia culture in one country, visit another country and find there are some differences.
Physical Independent Media Centres also differ from mobilisation to mobilisation. Some have been fully open, some have been just in a tent, others in a squat, some have had very strict rules, some ask people using buildings and facilities to sign waivers, others to sign up to guidelines, join collectives, even pay money to register.
As such, the communication of local realities are key.
For example in Dublin the imc / cmn space was used as a venue for the main pre-protest press conference on the Friday. This had been negotiated by imc / cmn and the Dublin mobilisation groups who wanted to participate well in advance, along with speakers from groups like the Irish Council of Civil Liberties. However there was quite a bit of confusion over this with some people accusing Indymedia Ireland of prioritising corporate media over public access. The reason local groups felt this interaction important was something that could have been clarified and communicated better.
There was also mis-understanding of the corporate press policy for access to the building. Some thought that the policy was just a ban on corporate media cameras in the building (apart from the press conference event) - others assumed a blanket ban on corporate media in the building. This confusion led to both a specific incident and much bad feeling. It can be avoided in the future through a much clearer communication of the policies, and through addressing the issue through regular IMC reporting / space meetings.
(Although the reality is that undercover journalists repeatedly 'infiltrate' such open spaces, as well as meetings, and groups, as happened yet again in Dublin, and so this reality must also be recognised.)
A quote appearing in a corporate newspaper attributed to an Indymedia Ireland volunteer, that “Indymedia Ireland does not have an inherent bias towards the anti-globalisation movement” was certainly ill-timed, and caused a lot of disagreement and disquiet in many quarters. On this point there has been discussion between Indymedia Ireland and Indymedia uk volunteers, and a discussion is now being initiated within Indymedia Ireland on this issue (and indeed on strategies for dealing with the press).
In short Indymedia Ireland has a wider level of participation than many other Indymedias (for example Indymedia Uk), and a different analysis of "bias".
Indymedia Ireland recognises the roots and birthplace of the Indymedia network - forged in the streets of Seattle and other mobilisations before and after - but sees it's role and participation as wider than just the anti-globalisation movement (for example as including the anti-war movement and the recent bin-tax campaigns). That being the case, it seems the volunteer saw bias towards 'one area of the movements' as excluding others from 'other movements' working on grassroots campaigns towards social change. However this of course was not communicated in a one sound-bite quote in the mainstream press.
That so much discussion and debate was seen as represented by one quote in a corporate newspaper is to say the least, unfortunate.
There is also the fact that Ireland has a different political reality to the UK (and indeed other countries) following the decades of conflict, and that as stated the mobilisations as seen in Dublin are relatively new.
NB More can be written on these issues, (there was also many issues around the DGN media strategy against the corporate media mayhem propaganda mis-info campaign, and percieved priority placed on this at the expense of other areas of organising) but this is perhaps best discussed outside the framework of this particular evaluation, which is intended to identify areas where positive action can be made around Indymedia organising to try and avoid similar problems happening again.
LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE + LEARNING THE LESSONS
It's true to say that the EU Mayday protests were the biggest autonomous / grassroots (and international?) mobilisation yet in Ireland. It's also probably fair to say that as such both DGN and Indymedia did not forsee the scale of some of the possible problems that may face them during the mobilisations. Indeed for Indymedia Ireland, the week/s in Dublin were the first time that many people had met each other.
This coupled with the fact that many people were experiencing this sort of mobilisation and these issues for the first time meant that the five days of intense activity has been a steep learning curve.
Indymedia UK volunteers and some other international Indymedia people volunteered to help in Dublin and were supportive, helping out in a variety of ways, however, with a little more co-ordination from all of us the net effect could have been greater.
Reporting structures for covering the events did come together at the last minute but were pretty ad hoc and were down to some folks working with each other well and others making their own arrangements. There's usually a single unified Indymedia Reporting phone number which is given out widely and a clear communication flow structure behind this to ensure the info reports get up on the website and that for example liaison with legal teams occurs. In Dublin there was not a unified number, an attempt to sort one was made but did not materialise, although imc people quickly formed their own ad hoc communication channels.
Reporting worked pretty well on the Saturday with the alternative dispatch venue in town acting well as a hub. People popped in with photos and video to upload - and irc (Internet Relay Chat) being used to link people working to report the events who were using different lines of communication or working remotely. Monday worked pretty well in an ad hoc way, but irc was not used from the Dublin side.
Again, with specific reporting co-ordination meetings more could have been achieved, or perhaps what was achieved could have run a little smoother.
The reporting of the build up to the protests was brilliantly done by Indymedia Ireland, the coverage of the protests was very extensive and a good degree of coverage was achieved for almost all of the demonstrations, statements were published, as well as good discussions about tactics.
What was also clear was a lack of resources for staffing the imc / cmn space and for providing computer access. People worked hard for several days, reconditioning a whole host of second hand computers, putting together bits here, bits there, borrowed, salvaged and skipped, and trying to sort out connectivity - a little was achieved, but obviously no where near enough. The lack of these facilities also made it difficult for people to accept the space as an IMC space, and also resulted in international indymedia volunteers putting energy into other places in order to do indymedia and report the protests, thus reducing the people on hand to work on running the imc / cmn space.
This coupled with the lack of a dedicated and public Indymedia reporting number also contributed to the perceived separation of Indymedia from the mobilisation movement, since opportunity for participation, as well as visible imc reporting activity, were both minimised.
As said this was partly due to a lack of numbers and the other demands placed on those people who were there on the ground. It is clear more work needs to be put into this area in the future. It's also clear that after the events inDublin there are now, thankfully, more people willing to get involved in ireland and to help avoid this happening again in the future.
What matters now is learning the lessons.
CONCLUSIONS + STRATEGIES FOR THE FUTURE:
It's pretty clear that much of the main problems would not have occurred if it were not for the Police action in shutting down the squatted building infrastructure, and much of this evaluation would now not be being written.
As an open virtual space Indymedia works well, however practically on the ground it is often not practical for it to be all things to all people - it can only be as strong as the people that attempt to make it work and the collaboration it recieves - this is an important part of realising that Indymedia is part of 'the movements'.
However, Accommodation and Convergence space, while of paramount importance to such mobilisations, should NOT the responsibility of Indymedia. However Indymedia should have a responsibility to show solidarity in times of crisis.
That said Indymedia should try and be in contact with groups organising such facilities to try and ensure that any boundaries set over space usage are clearly communicated through all available channels.
Joint spaces (as in Dublin with CMN) should in fact be approached with caution if planned around mobilisations, recognising the complications that may arise in the midst of police or state repression. It was also clear that a much higer level of communication, collaboration and support are needed to make such joint spaces work.
An autonomous space may be preferable, depending on the strategic aim and usage of the space.
More support and co-ordination than occured in Dublin is actualy needed to run an imc space.
IMC spaces need at least one co-ordination meeting per day, preferably two (one in the morning, one in the evening) - at clearly advertised times - not least so that there can be a quicker response to developing situations, that also involves more people.
Alongside all of this there also needs to be a more considered respect given to Indymedia, and a greater level of understanding encouraged between all of the participants at such mobilisations - again, daily meetings can aid significantly in this.
We refuse to be divided, we re-affirm our commitment to working with diversity, and in solidarity.
....ends....7th May 2004