Originally published on sabotmedia.noblogs.org
You find yourself in the middle of the woods, surrounded by the hum of anarchists chatting and the enticing smell of curry and campfire. Without your headlamp, you can’t see anything except the stars through the tree tops. Your cell phone hasn’t gone off in days. You are somewhere special, and everyone here knows it. What’s happening here, what you all are co-creating, it will ripple out from here in many profound ways you have yet to fully realize. But you feel that potential in your bones. You all do.
After months of planning, the Dual Power West Gathering met successfully June 2 to June 4 in the woods outside so-called Portland, Ore.
This article is meant to give people a view of what it took to organize an event like this, actually pull it off, and what the event felt like to those who participated in forming this gathering. We hope this can provide resources and inspiration to those wanting to plan their own such gathering as well as provide those who couldn’t attend a view of what took place this summer in the wild woods of Oregon.
Prepping for the Event
Planning for this, the second event of its time, took about six months. After the first Dual Power Gathering in Indiana on July 29-31, 2022, some participants and organizers felt a need to plan another, more regional event, specifically for the west coast of Turtle Island. This involved dozens of organizers meeting regularly and chatting freely about a rough schedule, possible campsite locations, resources and equipment that could be gathered, and setting up digital infrastructure to take RVSPs and donations.
After selecting a campground, the focus turned to assembling local resources, facilitating ride shares, planning a menu for the weekend, and thinking heavily about increasing measures of accessibility for everyone in attendance. For security reasons, the exact location was kept a secret until closer to the event and to only share it with people who had RSVP’d or by word of mouth to known comrades. Despite this, there was plenty of in-person and online promotion for the event, as organizers traveled extensively up and down the West Coast, visiting radical communities and inviting people to attend. The result of this incredibly generous time and energy was that the event was so well attended; about 150 people floated in and out throughout the weekend with about 70 people there at the peak on Saturday.
Organizers showed up May 30, a Wednesday afternoon, to get a jump on setting out signage for incoming campers to more easily find the campground as well as to set up a welcome/medic tent to guide participants to the correct sites. We also selected a central site to become the kitchen area, which would be known as “The Cauldron” during the gathering, and it served an additional function as an activity nexus throughout the weekend. Organizers designated a nearby campsite for the dining area, and they erected a massive canopy tent along with multiple black and red Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) flags and a projector setup; this became known as the “IWW Movie Haüs.”
By Friday, June 2, the first day proper of the gathering had arrived, and with it, people began to flow into the campground and find one another near the Cauldron.
“Unconference” organizing model
The model used to organize this gathering is referred to as an unconference — an open style of formatting an event which allows for the input of all participants in setting an agenda and facilitating sessions on whatever topics they desire. From unconference.net:
The unconference format creates space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity.
At the start, the whole group will gather together and be guided through creating an agenda using open space technology. The exact process is not important to understand in advance – the process will become clear as it happens. The important part is that all those gathered will have the opportunity to put conference sessions on the agenda. No session will be voted off or ‘won’t happen’ for some other reason. All sessions are welcome.
The sessions convened will range from the formal to the informal:
- From the well thought out pre-prepared talk reflecting years of research and practice to the spur of the moment ‘new idea’ that would be fun to talk about.
- From the demonstration of a working tool to the white boarding of something completely new.
Before the event…
There will likely be a wiki that gives you a sense of the range of topics that people are suggesting and to connect with others who you might collaborate with when convening a session.
Although you’ll see suggestions for sessions and talking about ideas ahead of time this is not where the agenda gets created—that happens at the event itself.
Collaboration among participants who convene sessions and even merging of sessions on similar topics are both encouraged. If you convene a session, the decision to merge with another session will always be yours to make.
Convening a session…
There are several key points about an unconference:
You do not need to do preparation in order to convene a session. If you get an idea the day of the event, call a session.
There is no ‘right way’ to lead a session. However there is a bias towards interaction and discussion.
Choose a format for your session will help you achieve your vision.
Following are a few ideas about different session types to get you thinking about possibilities.
Types of sessions…
- The longer formal presentation
- This is tricky, because it’s difficult to make a formal presentation interactive. But if you have a big, well-developed idea you can pull it off.
- A short presentation to get things started
5-15 minutes of prepared material/comments by the session leader followed by an interactive discussion
- Group discussion
Someone identifies a topic they are interested in, others come to join the conversation and an interesting discussion happens
- My Big (or Little) Question
You have a question you want to know the answer to, and you think others in the group could help you answer it. This format could also just be the seed of a conversation.
- Show and tell
You have a cool project, a demo, or just something to show and let people play with that is the springboard for all the conversation in the session. Alternatively, you can invite others to bring their own items to show and tell (perhaps with a theme), and everyone takes a turn sharing.
- Learn how to do X
If you’re inclined to teach, this can be simple and effective. Bring the equipment that you need, and have a plan that will let you teach five, ten, or 15 people how to do something all at the same time.
Do take photos of different elements of your program so you can share them with others either at sessions you lead or in other sessions.
Advice about leading a session…
- If you convene a session, it is your responsibility to “hold the space” for your session. You hold the space by leading a discussion, by posting a “first question,” or by sharing information about your program. Be the shepherd – stay visible, be as involved as necessary, be a beacon of sanity that guides the group.
- Ask for help holding the space if you need it. You might, for example, put a session on the board and know that you are so passionate about the topic that it would be better if someone else, someone more objective, facilitates the discussion. Choose someone from your team, or another participant who is interested in the topic.
- Don’t assume people in the room know more, or less, than you do. You never know who is going to be interested in your session. You might want to start by asking people to hold up their hands if they’ve been involved with the topic for more than five years, for one to five years, or for one year or less.
- Don’t be upset if only two people show up to your session. Those two people are the ones who share your interest.
- Don’t feel that you have to “fill” up an hour of time. If what you have to say only takes 15 min and the group has finished interacting–then the session can end. At the start of the conference, we will discuss guidelines for how this can happen.
- Don’t feel pressure to have everything take “only” an hour. If you start with a short presentation, and then a group conversation gets going, and your discussion needs to continue past an hour – find a way to make this happen. You might be able to keep talking for awhile in the room you are in, or move to another part of the conference area, or post “Part 2” on the agenda At the start of the conference, we will discuss guidelines for how this can happen.
- Be Brave! Others are interested in making your session work!
- Do think about the ideas that you want to cover in your session, and how you want to cover them. But don’t feel as though you need to prepare a great deal. (If you’re over-prepared, your session might lose energy.)
- Experiment with the kind of sessions you lead. There is no such thing as “failure” an an unconference.
Advice for everyone at unconference…
Go with the flow – This event is intended to help you and all the other grantees find the time and space to talk with and learn from each other.
Follow your passion – Go to the sessions that interest you.
Take responsibility for your own learning – If there are topics you are really interested in that don’t appear on the agenda at first, you need to put them on there.
Friday night included a facilitator training to help with the work of the next days, and we agreed to meet Saturday morning for a general assembly in order to determine the schedule of sessions for the weekend. We ate dinner together and spent the evening around the campfire in what would be a nightly ritual of decompression and reflections.
The next morning over breakfast, we made introductions to any newly arrived and discussed what sessions we might put on the board for the weekend.
The assembly took place immediately afterwards with us first introducing ourselves, our affiliations, and projects.
Organizers of the Dual Power Gathering acknowledged that we met on the traditional and unceded lands of Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, and ClackamasBands of Chinookan peoples, the Tualatin Kalapuya, and the Molalla.
One of the goals of the gathering was to discuss the importance of Indigenous leadership of the movements to defend water and life, as well as our collective responsibility to abolish the settler colonial states occupying Turtle Island.
We made time to discuss the needs of elders and those with disabilities, such as speaking up during sessions and making sure that everyone was able to speak, so the event would remain accessible to all. People who needed blankets were connected with those who had extras, those who needed a cot got one, etc, etc. “From each according to their needs, to each according to their ability” was a principle manifested in the gathering rather than something we’d get to at some unknown point in the future.
We looked over the white board full of offerings people had made to facilitate all sorts of interesting open discussions and more-directed facilitated events, discussing a little bit about what each session would entail. After addressing any last concerns we broke out for the day’s events and everyone went to whichever session drew their passions the most.
First Day sessions (Saturday)
- International Solidarity/Nuclear Non-Proliferation [Open Discussion]
- Community Defense [Open Discussion]
- Regional Breakouts
- Rocky Mountain
- Everywhere else
- Indigenous Values vs Capitalist Values [Presentation and Q&A]
- Community Based Therapy [Tabling of Ideas]
- Radios for Community Defense and Disaster Relief [Tech and Usage]
- Cascadia and Bioregionalism [Presentation and Discussion]
- Narcan/OD Training and Tranq Discussion [Trainings and Discussion]
- Building Bridges into the Politics [Open Discussion]
- Rural/Small Town Intentional Residential Communities [Presentation then Open Discussion]
- Movement Kitchen and Distro [Skill share and Open Discussion]
Watch this space for a full zine containing summaries of the different sessions that took place over the weekend, but here we want to aim at looking at what the event itself was like in planning and execution.
Meeting basic needs
Most of the food for the three-day event came from gleaning programs nearby or was brought in from various mutual aid depots around the West Coast.
Each day there was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner sign up sheet for prep, cooking, and cleanup, which helped the kitchen bottom-liners plan their meals better and not have to do as much by themselves. Meeting dietary restrictions and allergies was a major concern. Of note was the “snack stump”, a tree stump centrally located in the cauldron area that was commandeered for snacks and light fare, which was set out throughout the day. This helped provide people with food to eat during daylight hours.
There was far more food than we needed, but this is a key organizing principle we re-affirmed over the weekend: to be over-prepared for everything. When you do it right, being prepared feels like being over-prepared. This involved bringing extra equipment to share with those without their own stuff, being able to coordinate ride shares to and from the campground, and the initial reservation of a large amount of campsites.
Consensus Decision-Making and Limitations
Consensus was centralized, but in some cases was pushed aside due to time constraints and lack of planning. Though it was prioritized where possible during all stages of planning and execution, and while this may have taken a bit longer to accomplish decision making in certain scenarios, it led to a feeling of ownership for all involved. An intention to share a sense of co-creating this event with their fellow organizers was put out to all attending the event.
This was the vibe throughout the weekend with many commenting on how smooth everything had gone and how little conflict there was between participants from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. People made their own sessions as they saw fit, based on what their interests and passions where. People made their way to the river for some swimming if they wanted to do so, or just mingled with others near the Cauldron, openly discussing any number of intriguing and engrossing topics. We found that the intentionality of the space as a non-hierarchical and co-created space was the largest factor in contributing to well-managed conflict between people attending the event.
Second Day sessions (Sunday)
Sunday saw a bit of a shift change, as some people had to leave early, and others came late. Luckily the new crop of people seemed to fit right in and need little to no reassurance that they could jump right into actively creating the space with us. There were many words of encouragement to those wanting to make offerings on the whiteboard, as it can be intimidating to offer your knowledge up to share with others.
With the new people thoroughly integrated we moved forward into the second day of sessions, the schedule for the day became:
- Marx for Anarchists [Open Discussion]
- Food Sovereignty and Basic Foraging/ Farming Skills [Discussion and Skill Share]
- Conflict in Social Movement Spaces/ White Supremacy Culture in Our Everyday Lives [Open Discussion, Practice, and Sharing]
- Squat-Centered Locksmith [Skillshare]
- Municipal Eco-Resiliency Project (MERP) [Presentation and Open Discussion]
- Answering MLK’s Call for a Radical Revolution in Values [Presentation and Q&A]
- Learnings of No Border Struggle in Europa 2005-2022 [45-min Input and Open Discussion]
- Mutual Aid Successes [Open Discussion]
- LibSoc and Local Politics [Open Discussion]
- Anarchist Ecology [Open Discussion, Theory and Practice, Landback]
- Atlanta Forest Learnings, Strategy, and Discussion [Land Defense and Alternatives]
- Community and Neighborhood Networking [Discussion]
- [Radical Media] Reflections and Scheming
- 5 Veins of Anarchism: Care and Attack [Open Discussion]
- De-Escalation and Protest Safety
- Transforming Conflict in Movement Spaces [Open Discussion]
- Wealth Re-Distro [Open Discussion]
- What to do with your 401k/large salary and still have a place to live
- Bodywork and Co-Regulation as Mutual Aid [Skill Share]
This day, like all the others, ended around a campfire gleaning what we could from each others’ experiences at sessions we didn’t attend ourselves. Time was spent sharing experiences and projects we were working on in our hometowns. As many people had cleared out in the early evening, the few who dwindled around the campfire as the flames turned to embers took time to reflect on the weekend’s events. Conversation was free flowing and shifted organically between small and intimate conversations with your neighbor, and all encompassing wide ranging group discussions. After one last adventure to collect whatever firewood hadn’t been burnt yet, the group finally dispersed to say goodbye once again in the morning.
Those who stayed for the morning of Monday the 5th where treated to another amazing breakfast, courtesy of the Cauldron. Everyone got some coffee and food and chatted about what lay ahead for them once they returned home; revitalizing old projects, and starting some new ones. People came together to help break down the remaining campsites and the Cauldron and meeting areas. A last minute scramble to hand out all the remaining food and to gather all the items left by various campers was successful as a mutual aid crew took the food home to distribute in their work. With everything being packed the last few people headed out promising to remain in contact and to see each other again soon.
In the aftermath of the event, and once we got back to cell phone service, people’s Signal chats swelled with new found friends and comrades. Connections were reaffirmed and plans were hatched for various ways to debrief and report back on what we had all experienced. Already, plans are underway for an autonomously organized Dual Power Gathering Midwest, planned for the end of summer, details to come soon. The lessons learned from each event will serve to inform and grow the capacity and accessibility of the next. The bonds formed will sustain and nourish our communities as we struggle together, building dual power and capacity to act outside the State. These events and the framing of the event as promoting “Dual Power” are critical to expanding the movement and to retaining and growing the skills and connections of those already involved in organizing. This event wasn’t a retreat, it took a tremendous amount of labor and love to pull off; yet it felt invigorating, not draining. Even the term, “gathering,” served the event well in setting a tone and intention to come together and spend time with one another. It felt casual and yet a lot was accomplished and many profound conversations were facilitated.