Let's Organize Anarchism – check out this proposal for a yearly conference

By Ian Mayes

There has been some talk occasionally about forming a new nation-wide anarchist organization. This is a project that definitely has caught my attention and interest, and I do think that some of the points that are made in this appeal are valid ones. At the same time I am also a bit skeptical, for I have been around long enough to see countless national and regional anarchist organizations come and go. This has all got me thinking though about the topic of formal nation-wide anarchist organizations. The thought of repeating the same old kinds of attempts that have been tried in the past does not appeal to me – whereas trying out something new does.

The real value for having a formal anarchist organization, I think, is that of providing a means for different anarchists to meet up face-to-face and having a venue for people to find folks to work together with on common projects that they all believe in. The focus of an anarchist organization should not be to provide content that reflects the beliefs and views of everyone who is associated with the organization, but rather to be a networking hub for anarchists to find each other. Having a publication is not necessary, nor is having a formal membership structure.

The idea that an anarchist organization should have ideological unity and should have common positions that everybody agrees on ultimately leads to frustrating endeavors which become a big discouraging waste of people’s time and energy. Even the term “anarchist” itself can be left undefined, although if some people want to meet up to discuss that they are welcome to do so. The key thing is for anarchists to be connecting with other anarchists, and from these connections the individual anarchists can create whatever common projects they want.

I also want to emphasize the importance of this organization being based upon people having real-life face-to-face connections with each other. In this age of online digital connections being so pervasive I think that one of the biggest barriers for anarchists now to confront is the profound social alienation of our modern society. Much of the mutual understanding and trust that is necessary for enacting real solidarity and mutual aid is lost now thanks to an over-reliance and over-emphasis on digital technology. So a new anarchist organization would still use all the modern online trappings – a web-site, Facebook and Twitter accounts, all of that – but all of these things would exist simply as tools to facilitate real-life face-to-face meetings happening.

I picture such a new anarchist organization as being based around having a large annual national gathering, as well as regional gatherings, local and citywide gatherings of anarchists. The format for these gatherings would be Open Space Technology, a means by which those people who are present at the gatherings determine themselves what the content will be. The organizing collectives for the conference would be concerned only with the logistical matters of making the conference happen, not with the content of what will be discussed at the conferences – that would be up to the conference attendees themselves to determine.

Ever since the National Conference on Organized Resistance (“NCOR”) stopped happening, there has not been an annual national conference for the anarchist movement to converge at. This new organization would exist in part to help support this conference in happening and to be a sustainable endeavor – independent of larger institutions such as universities and independent of any particular anarchist strain, ideology, or campaign. Given that this would be a nation-wide anarchist gathering, perhaps the location should be central for everyone in the country, let’s say: Wichita, Kansas. Unlike NCOR there is no reason to have to have a nation-wide anarchist conference take place every year at the capital city of the nation-state. However, like NCOR there is an advantage to having the consistency of the conference be at the same location every year.

The conference would not endorse any particular anarchist ideology and not support any particular anarchist project, and instead provide the means for different anarchist thinkers and activists to come together to meet each-other, by doing so it is hoped that the depth of anarchist thoughts and the creativity of anarchist projects would be helped more than if any particular partisan approach was supported. This is because more people from more of a diversity of backgrounds would be involved, with more of a cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives taking place.

Internet-wise, it would be best for the web presence for this organization to support people in meeting up with their local anarchist groups, projects and collectives face-to-face. Picture a kind of online version of the Slingshot Organizer’s radical spaces contact list. The web presence would also have features available to support people in sharing transportation and places to crash at while traveling. There would be no place for debate or discussion online, all of this would be channeled towards other online anarchist projects that do that, or towards individuals or groups who are interested in having such discussion in-person.

With this kind of approach to a nation-wide anarchist organization, my hope is that quite a lot of new things could come out of it, both practical and theoretical, even new formal organizations! This organization would serve as a launching pad for other, separate, new things. The irony is that with having such an organizational arrangement, none of the new things that arise would officially be associated with this organization – they would be things that arose as a result of people meeting up through this organization and then going off and doing something else together.