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IOPS Welcome Event: Inspirations and Lessons

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[This blog was authored jointly by: Fintan Bradshaw, Jane HowickPreeti Kaur, John Keeley, Jamie Richardson, and Florian Zollmann.]

On 28 October 2012 IOPS hosted a one-day welcome event at Firebox café, London. The event had different components such as facilitated discussions, workshops and talks. We would like to share our experiences with you and highlight some of the lessons we learned during the day. We hope that this will encourage other members of IOPS to engage in similar activities in the future.

The aim of the welcome event was to bring people affiliated with IOPS together in order to form mutual bonds, explore the underlying ideas behind the IOPS key documents, share experience and begin to create structures for our future work.

About 40 people attended the event. Many of the participants were affiliated with the IOPS Greater London Chapter; others came from cities around the UK and Ireland such as Dublin, Leeds, Birmingham Lincoln, and Glasgow. Some friends of IOPS joined the welcome event, many from the Occupy movement; others chose to attend after meeting IOPS members at the Anarchist Bookfair that took place a day earlier, on 27 October.

It was important for us that the welcome event took place in a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. The Firebox café provided the necessary space to hold talks and meetings but also to break up into smaller discussion groups. The event took place from 11am until 5.30pm.

In the first hour, Michael Albert introduced IOPS and quickly opened the discussion up to questions. Then, during the first half of the day, vision and theory was discussed through facilitated working group discussions on all aspects of the IOPS key documents, namely what it means to be part of an interim organisation that is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-coordinatorist and anti-authoritarian. And, to be part of an organisation that flexibly explores and advocates a long-term vision of participatory socialism that combines classless economy, feminist kinship, intercommunalist culture, and self-managing polity.

To explore this in a brief – and introductory fashion – participatory facilitated working group discussions were organised on current problems and alternatives for:

  • The Economy and Ecology
  • Kinship/Gender
  • Politics
  • Culture/Race
  • International relations and Media
  • Workplaces

Participants chose two working groups of the six listed above and were provided with copies of the IOPS key documents (Mission, Vision, and Structure & Program). Michael Albert facilitated discussions on the economy & ecology, and on envisioning a self-managing polity. These discussions provided room for participants to think about existing problems inherent in capitalism, state or market socialism and representative forms of democracy, as well as touch upon possible alternatives. Oscar Addis facilitated a discussion on authoritarian workplaces with the alternative being workers’ self-management. Oscar described the principles shared by advocates of participatory economy and anarcho-syndicalism – such as ideas of reciprocity and sharing certain jobs. 

Florian Zollmann facilitated a discussion on international relations and the media. Participants thought about different strategies for changes to the production of news and information and of non-reformist reforms that IOPS members may wish to work towards in order to address current problems of corporate capitalist and public service media. The discussion focused on different ways of engaging in collective action to change the media. Participants felt diverse strategies would lead to success, and ideas included:

  • the support of existing and establishment of further alternative media and media watchdogs to provide examples of good journalism as well as counter journalism; and
  • building a media movement that might campaign to change already established public service broadcasters like the BBC. It was argued that (contrary to corporate media) the formally established foundations of the BBC as a public service institution and its perceived credibility might provide useful entry points for a non-reformist reform movement. The movement would highlight both the non-participatory structure of deciding what is ‘news worthy’ within the BBC, as well as highlighted biases inherent in the content. Recipients of the BBC would be brought closer to a systemic understanding of the organisation through such a project. For an example of a project which seeks to bring readers closer to a radical critique, readers may like to visit the website of the NYTimes eXaminer.

Preeti Kaur facilitated the discussions on kinship/gender and culture/race. During the kinship/gender working group, participants highlighted the need for IOPS to develop internal guidelines that would facilitate the full participation of groups often missing from movements, such as women, people of colour, LGBTQ people, disabled people, etc. It was suggested that, structurally, IOPS must embody its values and create spaces where members can confront and undo the oppression we’ve internalised and in this way contain the seeds of transformationIt was suggested that guidelines would perhaps outline the roles and responsibilities of members and establish clear repercussions for inappropriate and abusive behaviour by IOPS members. It was also suggested that guidelines established by other groups and past movements could provide an important starting point for developing IOPS material on the same issue.

The culture/race discussion was split into two parts - first, participants requested a conversation about how institutional racism operated through social structures today, and then a discussion about how IOPS interim members might seek to address issues of culture/race in society and within the organisation. Following a discussion about culture and communities broadly, the discussion moved on to the need for IOPS to think about how it might be developing its own culture or cultures - a language and languages for example - that may be accessible to broad numbers of people in society. And, it was proposed that IOPS chapters may want to consciously ensure that spaces which encourage diversity of view and stategies to flourish are protected and supported. The issue of internal guidelines was raised again. Everyone agreed that IOPS chapters should be attractive, welcoming and diverse. In relation to addressing issues of culture/race in society participants felt it was important for IOPS members to join grassroots struggles and engage in solidarity work. The connection between a vision for a participatory society, strategy and grassroots resistance of the oppressed - the working class, women, LGBTQ people, people of colour, disabled people, and youth – was raised.

After lunch, the discussion moved on to ideas for developing IOPS locally. Initially, Michael Albert gave a talk on issues of strategy broadly. Then, participants split up into working groups. Participants chose working groups based on the regions that they were from. 

London

The working group session became a discussion about what IOPS London might do next. Participants raised the following items in this regard:

  • Social events 
  • Working with other groups and movements 
  • Solidarity events 
  • Further comprehensive discussions and development about IOPS, the values it’s based on and ideas that underpin it
  • Skills sharing 
  • Recruitment – e.g. building informational cards, leaflets about IOPS 
  • Developing IOPS London Membership Guidelines
  • Organising regular IOPS Orientation Events 

Currently, members are discussing the importance of developing IOPS London into a collection of activists sharing a common analysis, vision, strategy and program while cultivating skills and knowledge within the organization and the movement. Through studying, developing our unity, creating sustainable structure and practicing our organizing on the grassroots level we hope IOPS London may eventually be able to grow and, eventually, begin to organise campaigns. A blog which considers this further is available here: http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/iops-development

England, North of Watford

During the interim stage, one of the biggest challenges for IOPS is to increase its membership while, at the same time, ensuring that members remain active within and affiliated with IOPS. That is a difficult undertaking because IOPS lacks the necessary structures in which members can meaningfully engage in local day-to-day activities. As a consequence, it has been difficult to incorporate new members. This is a serious issue because, as we have seen during the welcome event, many people are interested in the visionary and strategic programme of IOPS but are hesitant to join because IOPS does not provide a vehicle for regular and meaningful activities within the community or progressive movements.

While we believe that there are activities people can engage in after joining IOPS (for example posting on the IOPS website, doing advocacy work and recruitment, or starting projects and chapters), it is still necessary to establish more specified structures that enable us to pursue meaningful activities in the local areas where we live. These structures should be instituted during the interim phase and as part of the local chapters.

A first step in establishing such structures was the formation of the North of Watford Development Group during the welcome event. In the north of England smaller groups and singular members have joined IOPS. It has been particularly difficult to start chapters in such areas where only small numbers of people have joined. We decided therefore to establish this group that now functions as an umbrella chapter for people living in the region. The aim of the group is to share ideas and support each other during our efforts to build local chapters. This will hopefully guide more isolated members during their IOPS related activism.

Of course, more has to be done particularly on the local level. A functioning chapter needs to provide a space in which regular, at best weekly, meetings can be held. Moreover, chapters need to engage in activities that are empowering and provide positive incentives for their members. These are preconditions for people to join. They may include a range of educational and social activities that are regularly taking place. Moreover, activists might think of ways of how IOPS can immediately help to improve the lives of its members in a given community. Finding a solution for such strategic issues is vitally important for IOPS to securely navigate through the interim phase. A first step in this direction might be the IOPS Development proposal which was just posted on the website. 

South of England but not London

This group comprised about a dozen IOPS members from the south of England, but not London, it also included a delegate from Dublin, Ireland. We discussed our experiences of IOPS so far and how we could create active and vibrant chapters. The dislocated nature of this group meant that most felt that it was difficult to get a group going locally and didn’t know how to go about it. Participants discussed various impediments they experienced to participation in chapters and methods to overcome them, these included:

  • A need to get to know people personally so that they felt comfortable engaging with each other on topics that they were only just becoming familiar with. A solution to this was introducing IOPS at more social events rather than talks and lectures.
  • Some wanted to learn more about the theory as they felt out of their depth discussing some of the material in the groups and not well enough informed about the issues surrounding either  the Economy and Ecology, Kinship/Gender, Politics, Culture/Race, International relations and Media and Workplaces.
  • However, others wanted something more concrete. They felt that learning by doing might be a better approach to exploring the vision and mission in IOPS. One suggestion to achieve this was growing food together in something like community gardens. Another suggestion was participating on local issues based on IOPS values. Some felt that involvement with anti-cuts groups was worthwhile, whilst others were not so sure. This might also be a way to make a chapter visible in the community and grow the chapter.
  • The importance and difficulty of building membership was also expressed, especially in the context of very small chapters or areas where there was no chapter. Advise was given on contacting people in the area who might be interested and telling them about IOPS and also the importance of patience, that sometimes contacts may take a while to respond to being introduced to IOPS.

Finally, there was a desire to be able to meet again in the not too distant future. Also, we wanted to develop contacts and relationships that were formed in order to provide support for isolated IOPS members and to prevent members becoming disconnected and discuss issues concerning them. To this end it was agreed that we would create a group on Zsocial so we could remain in contact. The group is called ‘IOPS – South but NOT London’. 

Lessons Learned

From the feedback that has already been received, participants found the day to be valuable. The authors of this blog feel that the day could have been strengthened in many ways and to improve upon future events we would invite readers of the blog who attended the event to provide your feedback in the comments section below. We, of course, also value feedback by members who did not take part in the event and would like to contribute to issues raised in this blog.

To start, we think the day could have been strengthened in the following ways:

  • Starting promptly: The event was due to start at 11am but did not commence until 11.30am. This meant that the first half hour, devoted to introductions, was lost. Although, it did give time for late attendees to arrive and for participants who did come on time to grab a tea or coffee! We do think, however, that the event should have started on time. In addition to making some introductory remarks about the day and getting to know participants, organisers of the day would have had the opportunity to explain how the day came to be organised (by IOPS members who joined the Michael Albert Speaking Tour project)
  • Coming together at the end: Following on from regional working group discussions, the event moved straight into the Social Event. Before this, it may have been valuable for all participants to get together one more time and share their experiences of the day. During the social event, organisers did seek to get as much feedback as possible by speaking to participants. During this get-together we could finally also have proposed specific steps of how to engage within IOPS in the near future. 

Moving Forward

We hope to maintain and build momentum. Some members of IOPS, including two co-authors of this blog, have proposed that a revolutionary organization needs to grow, to seek change, and to provide a worthy home for its own membership. Providing a worthy home for its members includes fostering mutual aid and a fulfilling environment as well as aiding the development of members' abilities to pursue their own chosen paths. The latter, in turn, includes having internal mechanisms for members to expand their understanding bearing on social change. In that light, some members of IOPS have proposed studying, developing our unity, creating sustainable structure and practicing our organising on the grassroots level we may be able to grow IOPS so that we can eventually – in the future – begin to organize together on shared campaigns: http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/iops-development

Taking this on, and the outcomes of the IOPS Welcome Event which took place in London on Sunday 28 October, we would propose that IOPS members in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland seek to meet in March, June, September, and November 2013. 

These meetings could provide a great opportunity for IOPS members to report on:

a) the programme (or a version of it) outlined in the blog linked to above (and available here: IOPS Development) and have further detailed discussions on it; 
b) grassroots organising by members and lessons learned from it, particularly as grassroots organising will inform theory, or the theory may have informed practice; and
c) attempts to create sustainable structure locally.

The potential meetings in March, June, September, and November 2013 could be webcast, and/or allow for input of thoughts and ideas through social media so that members who cannot travel to these meetings can provide input nonetheless. The co-authors look forward to receiving all comments from readers, and particularly as to whether:

  • you like the above idea (if not, we’d love to receive an alternative idea!);
  • you would be interested in working with IOPS members near you to host a meeting for IOPS members in March 2013.

Discussion 6 Comments

  • Alan Story 30th Nov 2012

    Colleagues /comrades:

    Very briefly for now:

    1) THANK YOU very much for writing up this informative assessment of the London session of a month ago, including inserting the links to the videos of meetings/discussions with Michael. Definitely food for thought.

    2) A small point: in future, can the speakers from the floor/ questioners in such meetings also be miked up so that we can hear their comments as well? That is, we need to be technologically anti-authoritarian so that the contributions of all can be appreciated.

    3)I would be willing to attend a North-of-Watford group meeting in March. But it will not happen spontaneously; it needs to be organised and I am willing to help out in this.
    4) Without IN ANY SENSE becoming a nasty and unpleasant in-fighting group (of the type that Michael warned of from his past experiences on the left), I do think IOPS 'members' in the UK need to become a bit blunter and sharper in expressing their views and opinions. We can have love, but not love-ins.

    Best
    Alan Story-IOPS Nottingham

  • Preeti Kaur 30th Nov 2012

    Thanks Alan,
    2) Good point! Perhaps the next fundraiser should include a budget for hiring a travelling microphone.

    3) Great that you would be happy to organise a meeting North-of-Watford. If others also volunteer, we could perhaps establish an on-line Project to help faciltiate the practical things. Could this March meeting be extended to all IOPS 'members' in Britain?

    4) I don't understand what you mean. The purpose of the above blog was really to: a) outline what we did on the day; b) communicate some lessons learned and reach out for more feedback; c) express & reflect a diversity of ideas and multiplicity of voices that came out of the 28th event; and d) to think of a way to move forward in 2013!

    Preeti

  • Alan Story 30th Nov 2012

    Preeti:

    Responding to your point 3:

    I would be happy to work with others on helping to organise a North-of-Watford session. Perhaps those who would be interested in working together on this could e-mail me off list ( to - acs3344@gmail.com)over the next 10-14 days and if enough interest, we could get rolling and make some proposals.

    But without aiming to be exclusionist, I do think the focus should be on N-of-W IOPS people. N-of-W was set up, I thought, specificially as a counter-weight to what would/could be the likely tendency of IOPS England: to be London-centric.

    Those of us out here in the 'boonies'/provinces/shires definitely need to build our own local chapters. Here in Nottinghamshire, an area with more than one million people, there are only 8 IOPS members, only 2 of us ( I believe) have even met each other, and there has never been a local IOPS meeting ( though we have made two attempts.) To concentrate too many resources on a London-centred group would be a mistake in my opinion.

    Responding to your point 4.

    Sorry if I was not clear. My comments about being up-front and not being so polite were NOT meant as a criticism of your very helpful report. Rather it was intended as a more generic comment about how we communicate with each other and what will be needed if we are to build the revolutionary organisation that is so badly needed.

    Best
    Alan

  • Preeti Kaur 30th Nov 2012

    Regarding your point 3). It would be great - of course - for the North of Watford group (and all other groups) to build local stuctures.

    The idea put forward, however, was that - in addition to building locally - we try to meet in larger groups regularly. The idea put forward was quartely but it might be annually, or biannually. Some of the reasons for this were:
    a) to provide a space for us to share our local experiences; and
    b) to allow all members have a space to get to know other members in person (some chapters only an online presence)
    c) perhaps to share our experiences of studying the proposed IOPS curriculum (or a version of it)
    there were others but I forget! Perhaps the other co-authors will add stuff]
    ... So - to build locally - but to every now and then come together with others from Britain to learn and share. It is possible that March 2013 is too soon for another national get-together however.

    I also don't understand how having another broader or national gathering would 'concentrate too many resources on a London-centred group'. Could you explain? Sorry if I'm missing something.

    Also - Thanks for the clarification Alan. Of course, honesty should be encouraged. There is - of course - a difference between an honest expression and a rude expression. So - without understanding exactly where your point 4) is coming from - I think it's important that members articulate themselves freely without fear that they will receive ungracious or curt and crass responses.

  • Alan Story 1st Dec 2012

    I won't go on and on about this, but on the North of Watford list is was proposed that there would be a meeeting as well in March. It was this meeting that I was offering to help organise --- that is, as long as there is a sufficient number of other NoW who come forward to help as well.

    Actually I do not think IOPS has yet had a national meeting. From the geographics of those attending and from the report of a person I know who did attend, IOPS England has had one largish meeting attended overwhelmingly by people from London...and a few people from outside. ( We could not/should not have a national meeting until there is billeting arranged for people from out of town.)This is NOT a criticism, I am glad such a session was held, and London-based people should not be 'slowed down' because IOPS is stronger here than elsewhere in England.

    Preeti: you are a person who does express her point of view ...and it is appreciated.

    Alan

    • David Jones 5th Dec 2012

      Hi Alan, you wrote further up:

      "My comments about being up-front and not being so polite were NOT meant as a criticism of your very helpful report. Rather it was intended as a more generic comment about how we communicate with each other and what will be needed if we are to build the revolutionary organisation that is so badly needed."

      Mark Evans wrote a blog about this a while ago that you may not have seen and may find interesting. Here's the link:

      http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/communication-in-a-participatory-organisation-society .