I drove up to the antiwar conference in Berkeley this weekend with 9 other students representing 7 campuses (including 3 high schools). We are all members of the Southern California coalition that includes many more schools. My campus had planned to present a workshop. We had no problem getting on the agenda and none of us are affiliated with the ISO. The organizers in Berkeley did not have any concerns about the topic of our workshop. We also not only received prompt responses to any inquiries about the conference, but had five different people contact us more than once to answer questions or to ask us about the workshop we were planning. The Berkeley organizers reminded us to contact them again if we needed housing and they coordinated with a Southern California coalition member who had attended the previous Berkeley conference and volunteered to help organize housing and other logistical concerns for any Southern California campuses who cared to have his help. In opposition to other posted articles, our direct experience with Berkeley organizers prior to the conference was positive. Valid criticism threatens to be lost in the midst of wild or unsubstantiated accusations.
Our contingent of 10 students from So Cal was critical of the structure of the Sunday session described in the other postings. The young man voicing objections to the lack of democratic process in the passing of proposals was one of our group. His concern arose following a refusal by the moderator to hear further discussion which would clarify the proposal in question. The expectation was that the body would vote, without discussion of specifity that could be decided later in committee. About an hour later, with the lunch hour looming, the facilitator announced that there would be a straw poll taken on the remaining undecided proposals, which would result in elimination of some and the remaining three would then be discussed and voted on upon our return. It was at this point that the young man stood and said, "I may be speaking out of order, but could we vote on that proposal? I am upset at the lack of democratic process in this conference and if you are suggesting that we vote to eliminate some of these proposals, then we should vote on whether or not to have that vote." He was clearly struck by the freedom that the facilitator had in deciding procedure on the spot without discussion, input, or decision-making from the assembly. He also mentioned that many participants were dissatisfied and threatened to be among the many who would walk out of the conference altogether if there weren't discernible alterations to the structure of the proceedings. The facilitator clearly recognized his error and sensing potential revolt, stated that no one wanted anyone to be walking out and agreed to conduct a vote.
These examples reflect the absence of democratic process and willingness of Berkeley organizers to over-manage and manipulate the entire decision-making process. It is also problematic that facilitation was Berkeleycentric. Why weren't students from other regions invited to assist in this function?
Another serious problem occured during the afternoon/evening session as described in the other postings. The proposal for a coordinating committee which would be formed consisting of one student representative from each campus had no provision for recall or accountability. A member of the assembly suggested that this issue be addressed before the vote, but this request was denied and the statement was made by the facilitator that recall was a detail that could be decided by the committee. The vote took place without further discussion. The rushed passage of vague proposals that lack specific and defining characteristics, and lack processes for recourse in the event of misappropriation of power, raises serious concerns.
We did not present our workshop because it was scheduled
during the early afternoon on Saturday, during the time that a local WTO action would be taking place in Richmond. Our group of 10 students was seriously concerned when we heard that the conference was planned and organized with no coordination with or accomodations for this action. As
individuals and as a group, we believe that support of local struggles against huge corporations that commit genocide upon economically oppressed communities takes precedence over sitting around talking theory with college
students and has obvious ties to the antiwar movement.
The Richmond WTO march and rally on Saturday had strength in its diversity, including the local residents who know that they suffer serious health problems as a result of the oil refinery in their community and are angry that they are dying for the profits of Chevron. The link between the overt war in Afghanistan over an oil pipeline, among other things, and the covert war in Richmond over corporate greed's decision regarding dispensable populations, among other things, is an obvious one. Our group of ten students doesn't believe that students know everything. In fact, some of us think that sometimes students aren't down and dirty enough to know much. So, we decided to be over there in Richmond with the PEOPLE, demonstrating our solidarity against corporate greed and murder and the inevitable wars that follow in a real, concrete way. Unfortunately, there weren't too many students from the conference who also felt this way. And certainly, the out-of-towners weren't
given any heads up from the organizers at the conference that it was an option. Imagine how powerful a statement it would have been to have the 500 conference attendees traveling en masse to Richmond to march in solidarity
with the people. There was so much droning on about making statements and planning this national action and that national action when right there in Berkeley's backyard was not only a photo/media op, but something more real
waiting to happen. Shame on the Berkeley conference organizers.
It is a good and fine idea to state why one would make the decision not to attend the conference, but it slips into sketchy areas when someone does not attend, but presents second-hand information in a critical way. Voices
of those who experienced a situation are always best for reporting.
Our group and some others are asking ourselves questions. Why would the Berkeley conference organizers who went round and round in emails about possibly changing the date that they just happened to select in direct conflict with the already planned WTO actions, ultimately decide to
go ahead with the conference on that date anyway, but not schedule an open time during which a local WTO action could be supported? Does this say something about attitudes toward actions that are community based? Does this say something about attitudes on being involved with something that was planned/implemented/controlled by others? Does this say something about analysis of the war, its root causes, and its goals? Does this say something about competition with organizers of WTO actions? Does this make us wonder about motivations? Should we examine ties with other organizations?
The conference weekend provided the following(in descending order of impression): 1)satisfaction with the incredibly wonderful organization of the Richmond WTO action, the enthusiasm of the participants, and the eloquence of the speakers 2)new friends and renewed contacts with old friends from a variety of regions, including Arizona and Nevada 3)gratitude for the guest speakers at the conference 4)dissatisfaction that other guest speakers and workshops conflicted with the WTO action 5)so many troubling questions.