Sunday the 19th of October seen the first International Anarcha-Feminist Conference, aka AFem2014. The seed from which it would eventually grow fell from the tree back in August of 2012. That tree was the St Imier International Congress anarcha-feminist round table. This was series of meetings that took place on each of the five days of that event. In the closing session it’s participants announced their plans to host an anarcha-feminist congress of their own within several years. This was met by thunderous applause from the congress floor. Busily contacts were exchanged, interested parties came forward, and a group agreed to take lead on the project.
The Anarchist Federation started to get occasional contacts asking if we knew of any organising on the Anarcha-Feminist Congress. Our international secretaries put out inquiries thought our sibling federations in IFA as well as any other contacts in the global anarchist movement. After some investigation it appeared that no planning had happened, and those who had stepped forward at St. Imier were out of contact. Sometimes things just can’t get done, such is the nature of being in a struggle, and definitely not something to be ashamed of.
That may have been the end of it if it wasn’t for one federation member deciding that this idea was necessary to both counter the failings of feminism outside the anarchist movement, with all other branches of thought happy to throw more and more people under the bus in the name of capitalism; and also within, as we see elements of the anarchist movement where misogyny and sexism are rife and where little more than lip service is given to overcoming the power structures surrounding gender, especially in regard to groups marginalized even by other feminists.
Discussions were had and soon proposals drafted for the fed to kickstart the previously proposed international event. The discussions were thorough and some of the goals laid out at this early stage. This wasn’t to be a project hosted only by the AF (as had previous anarcha-feminist events we had been involved in organising), or just undertaken by our international the IFA, but was to be born from the AF and gain its own autonomy. It had to provide a strong class-struggle perspective to provide a counter to the dominant feminist movement’s lack of liberatory potential. It also had to not only be inclusive to groups normally marginalized within the anarcha-feminist movement but also counter the prejudices they face. After some debate the federation reached a consensus of agreement to go forward and feelers were put out to other organisations.
Early on sibling federations throughout the IFA were keen to help, while here in Britain the SolFed joined and they made contact with their international federation the IWA. A meeting at 2013 London Anarchist Bookfair gathered support from independent anarcha-feminists, as did the creation of a web presence. After several months a consensus emerged on the criteria for organisation where those involved had to:
As planning went on things looked touch-and-go at times whether an event would be possible at all. New people got involved and others took breaks. Fundraising took place but money was short. Speakers and workshops started to came forward but then the programme had to be made to work. The inclusion policy was agreed along the lines of the form of oppression suffered which caused ripples in a field normally only looking purely to identity to give an indication of attendance. The safer spaces agreement was put in place and people needed to help on the day. Eventually everything started to come together.
Key to the whole event was the way in which different strands of the conference timetable would be given to groups usually marginalized within feminism (such as the disabled, sex workers, trans women, etc). This gave longer discussions over the course of the day about certain subjects, and it was hoped that this would highlight struggles from those who found their voices normally sidelined, vilified or lost entirely in feminist organising.
The day came and everything went past in a blur. Personally I spent the day either volunteering, supporting others, or helping to present the community accountability strand so I’m going to leave the nitty gritty of reviewing the strands to those who were there purely as attendees This was the first time something like this had been attempted and it was all a bit experimental – but if we are ever to succeed in our goal of social revolution we have to be brave and try stuff. I think AFem did that and made a success of it all, though not everything was perfect.
I’ve also not kept up with the internet feedback but I know there has been moaning online. I find forums are a draining, negative space, and hearing that folks were griping (often folks who were not even in attendance), I haven’t gone to look for it yet – that can wait until I’m more rested. On the other hand I spent the days following AFem hopping between different people who had been in attendance. The feedback I’ve been getting in person has been overwhelmingly positive. One person said it was best anarcha feminist event they had attended (and they were not green in this kind of thing). All of them gave feedback of negative points, but it was fell into fairly similar areas, constructively phrased, and the positives were overwhelming to them. A quick rundown these:
+ Big open/close
Folks loved the opening and closing sessions which gathered everybody in attendance together and were kept on track by the organisers. The way people set goals for the day meant there was a collective feeling of active participation expected from folks attending.
+ Developing ideas
Everyone I talked to had learned new ideas and methods to take back home, and many otherwise liberal feminists were not only exposed to anarcha-feminism for the first time, but engaged and took away lessons from an anarchist perspective.
The way in which strands were organised was loved by all. It led for more discussion and time to work on things. People said this was SO MUCH BETTER than how bookfairs and other conferences run their meetings and it rarely felt like you were just being talked to but were part of a discussion.
On the whole people found the atmosphere at the event to be positive and liberating, with people able to build solidarity against shared opression. ot only that but international links were forged and space for meeting other anarcha-feminists took place. They also commented on how easy it was to find organisers and volounteers, and upon how friendly and approachable they all were.
+ Safer Spaces Policy
Every person commented that it was refreshing to see is attempting a safer space policy that goes far beyond what most conferences would do, and think we have struck some new ground in how this could be put in place at similar events, though some areas do need development.
+ Self Care
Food Not Bombs provided lunch for anyone who was skint and was loved by all. At the same time a decent quiet space and the readily available interpretation and safer space volunteers made everything a lot more manageable.
The international aspect was seen as being vital to the experience, with at least 19 different countries represented in attendance, and something others would hope to see us expand.
+ Enthusiasm to continue
Overwhelmingly people wanted to see this happen again, if not next year then in 2016.
The constructive criticisms raised to me were:
– Time table clashes
These can almost never be avoided, and people acknowledged this, but at the same time everyone said there was some clash at some time for them. We tried the best we could but always worth keeping this in mind.
– TERF infestation
A group of trans exclusionary radical feminists (known as TERFs for short) tried to undermine the event. Someone who had been on the organiser list from the start lied about their willingness to uphold the inclusion policy to other organisers. They then positioned themselves to help present the Introduction to Anarcha-Feminism where they went off the presentation planned with the co-facilitator in order to spout some transphobic bile. At the same time they were seen conferring with other terfs before they dispersed into each session and parrot the same transphobic talking points, and appeared to be using the quiet space to regroup and plan. Attempts were made to remove the TERFs by some of the organisers but this unity was undermined and they used the confusion caused by sabotage of the consensus we had otherwise forged for the event to hang about. Despite this betrayal and sabotage, everyone I talked with found that any move towards transphobic discussion was quickly shut down and made unwelcome, and that the issue was handled better than most events. However, there was still a lack of consistency on how those breaking with the safer spaces agreement were dealt with.
– Cultural appropriation/racism
Lots of white people turned up using fashion displays from cultures that had been othered by white imperialism with no respect for the cultures they were came from and then got defensive when this was fed back in a negative light by the POC strand. Again, while the safer space policy had words on this subject we didn’t have a consistent process on what we were actually doing about it.
– Lack of resources
We didn’t have enough full programmes for the attendees (though everyone did get a timetable), and while we had people on hand to read out the timetable we did not have large print versions. This was a major slip up and something that I will not be repeated.
On the TERF gang, it is unfortunate that but not surprising that they would go to such lengths to try and ruin the event. However if after a year of planning the best they could manage was to get one person to lie about their intentions and then protect the five or six die-hards that came along in the center of London then they have played what may be their hardest hitting attempt to disrupt at a time where the conference was vulnerable and gone home with plumbs. The problems that have been highlighted have came with constructive suggestions for improvement and the organising group are already moving forward with these, thought we are going to need to take a wee break before launching into any serious planning.
AFem has now been fully realized as its own organisational entity, separate to the groups that nurtured it early on. As a member of the AF this is a key example of the worth of the federation, and illustrates the way in which anarchist organisations differ from their authoritarian counterparts. Where others would use this as a front group and co-opt the struggles of others for self gain, anarchists work to create mutual aid and forge solidarity between truly autonomous groups, with struggles directed by those who are oppressed. I have every confidence that this has been the start of an ongoing series of truly international events to build a modern anarcha-feminist practice and will start to ensure that anarcha-feminism is central to anything that could be regarded today as anarchist practice. As such, the last thing to say is a big thanks to everyone who contributed to making AFem 2014 a resounding success. Thank you all!