The South is Rising

The South is Rising:

A Review of the 2010 North Carolina Rising Conference

A New Day

I wake up on the floor of an unfamiliar bedroom surrounded by five people I dont know, a rat and a pile of puppets.

Ah, anarchy.

It’s Saturday morning.  Everyone is bundled tightly into sleeping bags, heads covered to ward off the sunlight creeping through the windows.  No one else seems to be awake.  I tiptoe through the layer of bodies and stumble downstairs toward the kitchen.  On the way, I glance through the back patio’s glass doors.  The corpse of a deer is splayed across the floor.  Its hind legs have been removed and are poking out of a nearby bucket, eyes appear to be missing from their sockets and a large gouge has been made in its neck.  I decide that I need some coffee.

This would be the first full day of North Carolina Rising, a convention of anarchists, anti-authoritarians and autonomists in the state.  Nearly 150 people had shown up, including the dozen or so that had traveled down from Richmond, which I believe was the only out-of-state city represented.  Several of the key organizers had also helped to facilitate the Southeastern Anarchist Network conference that took place in Charleston, SC, 2004.  I attended that conference and wrote a personal bit of prose about it afterward for friends who might not be very familiar with anarchism, concentrating not so much on the conference itself, but on its meaning to me.  In this review, I hope to focus more on substance.

Overall Summary

The physical location of NC Rising was the University of North Carolina, though I don’t believe anything about it was actually sponsored by the school.  Educational facilities at UNC are typically reserved for students, but being resourceful anarchists, the organizers somehow managed to work it out.  Like its SEANet predecessor, workshops were held in time blocks, with three taking place simultaneously over the course of any given two hour period.  (Consequently, most of this review will focus on the ones that I personally attended, and will mostly omit the ones I didn’t.)  All of these workshops and events took place in two adjacent buildings, which made finding the ones you wished to attend relatively easy.  Most meals were served at the campus “arboretum”, and were always delicious, if usually a little late showing up.

The conference was intentionally geared toward people relatively new to radical politics and activism.  I spoke with several of these folks afterward, and they unanimously gave the conference a thumbs up for accessibility.  By this measure, it was definitely a success. I did hear the complaint that there was little or no discussion of privilege, which is always a good introductory subject.  Chapel Hill is a Crimethinc home base of sorts, and I feel like the topic of privilege is always something that has been less pronounced by their authors as well.  I have no idea whether theres a connection there.

The intensive thought demanded by most of the workshops was tempered by down time in the evening and other events.  There was a puppet show on consent, an acoustic show at Internationalist Books (a radical Chapel Hill bookstore) and a dance party to benefit a local books-to-prisoners program.

I think the greatest hopes of the organizers were centered around the group discussion Sunday morning, which attempted to facilitate the coordination of North Carolina anarchists across city lines.  Workshops and parties are great, but if they dont lead to concrete progress and networking, thats all they are.  As Virginians, we had little to do with this part of the process other than offering suggestions here and there, but it was good to see the attempts to link up movements play out.

The final decision reached by the group was to have another NC Rising conference in 6 months.  During that time, anarchist/allied groups in three individual cities plan to have produced a zine about their work and shared it, along with all relevant contact information, with the other cities.  The idea is that this will help anarchists in the state be aware and practically supportive of each others work.

Time will tell whether this ultimate goal was achieved.

(read about workshops by clicking “Continue Reading”)

The Chicago Conspiracy

As our group arrived on Friday night, we were able to view the yet-to-be-released documentary The Chicago Conspiracy, a somewhat misleading title for an informative and entertaining film about radical social movements in Chile.  It was screened because of the involvement of North Carolinians in its production, though in what capacity is unclear*.  The film covers a lot of ground, from the group of 25 influential Chilean economists who attended Chicago University (from which the film takes its name), to the political assassinations of two young revolutionaries, Rafael and Eduardo Vergara, and the Day of Youth Combatant their deaths inspired, to the massive student strikes and occupations of the past 5 years, to the radical neighborhoods outside of Santiago, and even to the struggles of the indigenous Mapuche people.

The footage and interviews were excellent, dealing directly with core issues of capitalism and neoliberal “free market” economics, and how they both translated into the physical repression of the Chilean people.  Stylistically, the film reminded me a great deal of the Big Noise Collective films like Fourth World War (my favorite radical documentary).  There are plenty of standoffs and running street battles to be seen, and those who take secret (or open) delight in familiar scenes of tear gas versus molotov cocktails will not be disappointed.  I really want the soundtrack, and the film’s web site has now made a couple of the songs available for download, though they aren’t the best ones featured.

Well-deserved praise aside, the film is not perfect.  Because of the extensive ground it attempts to cover, it seems to runs quite long, and several of the images and cuts are used multiple times in an effort to keep things visually interesting.  This also leaves us lacking a “story arc”, or a feeling of steady pace that ties one element in with the next, forming a cohesive whole with an introduction, middle and resolution.  Despite these appraisals, I definitely recommend a screening/viewing, particularly for those interested in Latin American issues.

* We arrived just as the film began and may have missed this information

Alternative Media in North Carolina

This workshop was put on by Greensboro Indymedia and primarily focused on discussions of media literacy, the need for independent media and objectivity in reporting.  The communication on this latter topic was especially lively.  Is it possible to report objectively?  Should we even try?  Do we have a responsibility to tell “both sides” of a story when one of them is represented so consistently in the mainstream media?  There were several perspectives on these issues, and as a radio producer and writer I found it particularly compelling.

The discussions were supplemented with a well made 45-page zine that contained information on most of the topics we had discussed, and even went into a section on radio production with computer editing tips and screen shots.  Very handy as an introductory text.

The facilitators themselves were knowledgeable and excited about their work, and encouraged that spirit in others.  One of the May Day workshops this year will be a discussion on getting Richmond Indymedia up and running again, and this workshop got me excited about it all over again.

Investigative Research

Pop quiz:  As a part of your activist campaign, you need to locate the home and business addresses of a particularly high-profile individual.  How do you do it?

If you’re anything like the rest of us, you simply try to milk Google for all it’s worth.  Not always the most fruitful solution.  Thankfully, there are people who have discovered the online tools to do this research successfully.  And for free.

Last year a number of people in Richmond were involved in a campaign against a privately run immigrant detention facility in Farmville, VA.  One thing I felt we were sorely lacking was a specific method of researching the head investors in the project.  Had we known where they lived, what businesses they owned, etc, we could have used that information to our advantage in effective ways.

In other words, we should have gone to this workshop.  Not only were all the research techniques printed on a handout that was passed out to everyone who attended, but the most important techniques were demonstrated via overhead projector.  To put it bluntly, this was one of the most practically useful workshops I’ve ever been to.

Radical Map-Making

No one I talked to had any idea what the hell this workshop might be about, but everyone’s interest level seemed relatively high.  Sure enough, quite a large crowd turned out for it, so many people that quite a few ended up sitting on the floor or standing.

The premise of the workshop was that there are a nearly infinite number of ways that one can visually represent reality, and that as radicals, we ought to be using those visual maps to provoke questions, reimagine public spaces and expose truths about systemic power structures.  Maybe that doesn’t clear things up much

The amazing thing about maps is how much information can be shown in a single image.  For instance, you could make a map of your city that succinctly tracked the movement, speed and intensity of the gentrifications that have taken place over the past decade.  Or a comparison map of the increase of police funding with the decrease in education spending.  Or a map that charts multiple locations of sexual assaults on campus.  The movement of finances from corporations into politicians’ accounts.  You can map almost anything in the world with literal or artistic representations.

Not only can these maps be efficient tools to be used in our work (and the work of others), but I think they also have the ability to make more real to us the issues that we’re working on.  Some of our struggles feel quite abstract, and I think that visual representations of what we’re working against can solidify concepts and realities in our minds.

The panel of this workshop was intelligent and articulate.  Work samples were made available.  Good stuff.

Class Workshop

Thankfully, I was unable to attend this workshop.  I say thankfully because there seemed to be a unanimous perception by those who did that it was pretty awful.  Twenty minutes after beginning, only half of the participants were left.  Most people also seemed to agree that this was primarily the fault of the individual facilitating the workshop.  Aside from having little or no actual analysis of class struggle, ze was also apparently kind of a jerk.  While writing responses of the group to one of his questions on a whiteboard, someone called out the work “banks”.  Instead of writing “banks” on the board, he wrote “Jews”.  Nuff said.  Hopefully the organizers will take note of the responses and not give this person space/time at the next conference.

Prison Abolition in North Carolina

This was a panel more than a workshop, and included Vikki Law (author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women), an organizer with the Durham Harm-Free Zone Initiative, members of Asheville’s Queer Books to Prisoners program and Chapel Hill’s Prison Books Collective.  The first thing that struck me about the people on this panel was how down-to-earth they seemed.  No pie-in-sky pipe dreams here.  These people were focused on real and practical ways to make the lives of prisoners better with the ultimate (very long term) goal of prison abolition.  They spoke candidly about the difficulty in balancing those short and long term goals in their work, which was the most interesting part for me.

The only complaint I had about this particular panel was their lack of answers regarding alternatives to jail/prison.  More than once audience members asked them about this, and both times the answers were vague and nebulous.  I understand that each and every one of them are busy getting their hands dirty in the difficult (and admirable) daily work of dealing with the here-and-nows of the “justice” system, but I feel that with a stated ultimate goal of prison abolition, there should have been someone among them who had studied workable prison alternatives.  These issues have been talked about before, and information is out there.

Overall, an interesting panel.

Setting Sun

With several of us needing to get home, most of the Richmond group left a couple of hours before the conference was completely over.  Eleven of us piled into my van and headed north.  We were all a little exhausted, I think, from our late nights, sleeping on floors and couches, and participating for two days in mentally engaging work.  While the trip to North Carolina had been full of music and conversation, the ride home was mostly quiet.  But it was a contented sort of quiet.  I think everyone was glad they went.

~ by flyingbrickrva on April 13, 2010.

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