The virtues of being dispersed, acting locally & sometimes…keeping it small

With our anarchist inclinations, we tend to not like large, centralised events in one place. That applies to protests on the one hand and events like bookfairs on the other. The thinking behind this stance is that it’s better to reach out to people where they are rather than expecting them to travel miles to an event. Talking to people where they are means there’s more chance of eventually getting them on board with the project of radical change. Events and actions where people have to travel a long to way to get to them will tend to attract those already committed and on board, meaning we’ll only be preaching to the converted.

Dispersed protests and other events will have a stronger connection to the communities they’re taking place in. People from the locality involved in building them will have a sense of ownership. With that, comes accountability to the community. Rather than something dropped in from on high, these organically built and run events and actions will have a stronger connection with the area they’re taking place in.

This is an interesting example of a dispersed day of action whose aim was to draw attention to plans by Essex County Council to effectively close branch libraries by stealth: Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) Day of Action – Saturday 28.9. To summarise the piece linked to, a central point A to point B march in Chelmsford wouldn’t have achieved the objective of informing the public what would happen to their local libraries if action wasn’t taken. It was decided that a spread of local actions across Essex was a more effective way of achieving this. What was interesting were the different ways each community approached building, organising and running their actions.

If you like the concept of a dispersed event, this is an interesting approach: Welcome to Anarchist Festival 2020. Here’s a very brief history… This festival first took place in 2018 under the name ‘Not The Anarchist Bookfair’ as a response to the absence of the London Anarchist Bookfair which last took place in 2017. This dispersed event was generally considered a success and it re-appeared this year as the ‘Anarchist Festival’ utilising a larger range of venues. Following on from the success of this year, the event will take place again in 2020, hopefully spreading out to more towns and cities across the British Isles.

With a dispersed anarchist festival, it gives anarchists who can’t afford or are unable to travel to a large bookfair in London the opportunity to put on an event where they live. We’re hoping to persuade a few people in Southend that putting on a discussion or a workshop there may be a good idea – watch this space for any developments:) With a dispersed event like this, apart from those who are co-ordinating the programme, the workload in building, organising and running events is spread out. Accountability is spread and also, localised. Not only that, unlike a large, crowded central event where things can sometimes get a bit ‘tense’, these dispersed events are generally more relaxed affairs.

Keeping it small… Sure, we know that there’s a buzz with large festivals, events and protests. But sometimes, smaller festivals can be considerably better events to take part in, particularly when they’re built and run by grassroots activists: A good day out:) This write up was of the Know Your Roots Eco Fest which took place near Hainault over the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of September. We went along on the Saturday to set up our information ‘stall’ (a couple of groundsheets with our literature spread out on them) and collectively we agreed it was one of the best events we’d attended in a good few years. There were a few hundred people participating which led to a relaxed affair with absolutely no crowding, making it a lot easier to have decent conversations with the people who stopped by our stall.

Because there were only a few hundred people there, you could sense that everyone was looking out for each other and that a real sense of community was building among what was to our eyes, a pretty diverse range of folk. A consequence of this was that it felt safe at all times and we didn’t have to be constantly on our guard as we would have been if we were running a stall at a festival with tens of thousands in attendance. Also, with a smaller festival, the sense of responsibility that comes from the shared sense of community means that the site it’s taking place on gets looked after and not trashed.

We’ve been looking to write a piece like this for a while but didn’t want to deal with abstract principles. Luckily, we had these concrete examples of how being dispersed, acting locally and sometimes keeping it small chimes with our de-centralised, anarchist outlook. Three very different actions and events but the interesting common themes are community, accountability, responsibility and last but by no means least, accessibility…

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