On 29-30 November 2008, Edinburgh Anti-Militarists hosted a gathering to build momentum against the NATO Parliamentary Assembly taking place in 2009.
What came out of this was a UK-wide network of anti-militarists, committed to mutual aid and a joint effort to shut down the NATO assembly with direct action.
When we started putting together an agenda for a gathering for opposing NATO in the coming year, a larger purpose became obvious.
We talked a lot about our different experiences in the anti-war movement – its highs as well as its innumerable lows – and reasoned that if we wanted to get anywhere we would have to start bringing different groups together.
For example, activists at Faslane have an excellent repertoire of direct action and commitment to the anti-militarist cause. But they seemed to be a world apart from the no-less-direct-action-orientated or committed people who make up campaigns like SmashEDO in Brighton.
Perhaps by putting everyone in a room together, and by allowing different groups to make presentations to each other, we could begin to overcome this. This was what gave us the basic form for the weekend. Saturday would be spent giving talks, film showings and presentation on various strands of the anti-war movement, and Sunday would try to answer the question of what sort of movement we wanted, what we wanted to do about NATO and where we wanted to go from here.
While it’s true that Saturday was an inspiring day, with a lot of interesting talks and discussion, much of this is now available online and can be accessed through our website. Therefore, we think it makes most sense to talk about Sunday and what was achieved.
The first part of the discussion, on “Where do we go from here?” highlighted a number of concerns. The question of how to get more people involved lingered, as was the frustration that after the marches against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there had been no effective follow-up or Plan B to cope with our lack of success.
There was also support for getting other human rights, environmental and refugee groups involved, as well as making better links between the trades unions and the European anti-militarist movement. In general, there was agreement about the effectiveness of affinity groups and the use of training, as well as an unsurprising hostility towards trusting the police and the mainstream media.
What was stressed, however, was the need to engage with the public much more effectively and to do so on our own terms.
After too long as a fringe element, it was felt necessary that the direct action movement start making their case to more people and attracting either people new to activism or those disappointed with the anti-war movement’s lack of success.
After a quick lunch, we began the second discussion about how we intended to oppose NATO. Unsurprisingly, the question of tactics came up, and resulted in perhaps the most important discussion of the gathering.
People began by talking about their experiences of different movements and the type of actions that they felt comfortable with, and there was a strong feeling that we should be honest about tactics from the beginning to save ourselves from more damaging fall-outs later.
It was also felt important to have understanding between groups within the movement, as misconceptions had stifled discussion in the past.
After a while, we started talking about some potential guidelines. Firstly, the movement confronting NATO was a group based around “creating an infrastructure for direct action”, putting the focus on this rather than simply “protesting”.
Secondly, there was going to be respect for different tactics without public criticism of each other.
The guideline of “respect for life” was almost agreed on. It is likely that this will be decided on in the future. While not subjected to the consensus process like the other guidelines, the principle of non-hierarchicalism, when suggested, was greeted with such approval it’s been taken as a given.
The final session of the afternoon asked again “where we should go from here.” Thankfully, virtually everyone in the room said that they had found the gathering useful and supported the notion of another one like it.
The exact detail of where the next one will be, and how Scottish gatherings will relate to UK-wide gatherings, remains an open question to be decided in our continuing discussions.
Decisions were also made to call ourselves as Anti-Militarist Network UK, or AMN, and to make a website and a mailing list for ongoing discussion and planning.
We feel that it’s important not to play down what’s been achieved with the gathering. For the first time, the UK will have a nationwide network committed to using direct action against the country’s growing militarism.
Central to this is a commitment to diversity of tactics and a lack of public criticism.
As was noted at the gathering, our differences have far too often been used by powerful groups within the movement to increase their influence. To prevent this, our solidarity will be crucial.