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Monday, Sep. 15, 2008 at 9:56 AM
RIVERSIDE - This weekend's Southern California Anarchist Convergence attracted upwards of fifty people. The participants met to share food and water, have fun, discuss, network, and strategize. Primary organizers included the Riverside and Temecula chapters of Food Not Bombs, who spread the invitation to "revolutionaries from all over Southern California, food not bombs, and radicals" primarily via internet.
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Organizers began arriving at Fairmount Park in Riverside at about three to make preparations, including hanging up a sign reading "Food Not Bombs Picnic" and flying a red-and-black flag to make their presence evident. People snacked and chatted about FNB, homelessness, and punk. By five o'clock, there were enough people to play a round of duck duck goose.
The crowd slanted young, white, and punk, especially at the beginning. As the evening progressed, however, more people of color started showing up and the crowd became a bit more heterogenous in terms of ages and styles. There was also a good gender balance.
At about five thirty, the call to circle up was made. People were invited to introduce themselves, tell what they or their group was doing in their area, and offer a goal for the day. While attendees came from all over Southern California (as far as Los Angeles and Santa Ana), most were local to the area: Murrieta, Bloomington, Fontana, Ontario, San Bernardino. Most of the attendees reported that they either worked with a FNB in their area or wanted to get one going. Participants shared that they worked with organizations such as animal shelters, the Guardian Angels, Project Safehouse, the Worker's Solidarity Alliance, and a local radio station.
After introductions, an organizer suggested that representatives from other Food Not Bombs chapters share how they operate, such as ways to get food or secure donations with the help of a tax ID number. A few did, but the large circle made it difficult to hear what speakers were saying. Then a member of Temecula FNB announced that only one workshop (on how to start a FNB) had been planned, but that if anyone wanted to facilitate another, that they should sign up. Someone else suggested that we break up into smaller, perhaps issue-based, focus groups. Another participant suggested that since one of the purposes of the convergence was to meet new people and form networks, it would be better randomize the grouping by counting off and forming five groups of ten. This suggestion was halfheartedly accepted, and while we did go through the ritual of counting off, afterwards people pretty much went where they wanted to go.
I ended up in what was, at least nominally, group five. We started off talking about ways to get food, with one young woman who had befriended store employees sharing that she had found it a successful tactic. Armando suggested holding vegan barbecues as a means of spreading awareness about veganism. We then began discussing the problems associated with drug and alcohol use among youth and within the activist community, and the need to provide education about risk reduction. Somebody suggested compiling a list of organizations and resources and distributing it to the homeless, activists, and youth. Distributing condoms at punk shows and FNB meals was suggested.
We then had a long discussion about electoral politics, which centered on Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her right-wing extremist hypocrisy. "She gave her own daughter the choice whether to give birth or not. And she wants to take that choice from the rest of us." "What?!" exclaimed Liz. "That's practically like, government control over your body. That's so authoritarian!"
We then had a short discussion about 9/11. One young woman compared the tragedy to the Kennedy assassination, expressing fear that the truth would never come out. Another activist suggested that the truth was already out. "There is so much evidence out there, but it all leads to the powerful bankers, politicians, and fascists, so nobody is investigating it. Meanwhile, the '9/11 truth' movement wants to investigate at what temperature steel melts!" Somebody else had a different interpretation. "I celebrate every 9/11. I like the idea that oppressed people of color can strike back against their oppressors."
Next we talked about the possibility of publishing a zine as a means of providing radical health education and countering consumerist and gangster mentalities.
The next topic that came up was animal rights. Armando expressed that it was too difficult to adopt pets from shelters, especially when compared to buying new pets from pet stores. A young woman then informed us all about the plight of the persecuted pit bull.
An organizer dropped in to announce that we would be reconvening soon, and that some of the other groups had been discussing topics such as how to get 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for their chapters and the need for a security culture.
At about seven, we reformed the big circle. Some people shared what their groups had discussed; others simply shared what they felt was important. The session began with an announcement that was greeted with warm applause: "We're starting a San Bernardino Food Not Bombs." A representative of one groups said that they had discussed whether or not veganism was anarchist, as well as ageism and the generation gap in the anarchist community. Someone else spoke on the need for inclusiveness and openness, saying that some people who cared about feeding the hungry and other anarchist issues felt uncomfortable collaborating with FNB, afraid that they will be judged or viewed unfavorably. A representative of Santa Ana FNB discussed her chapter's support of political prisoner Eric McDavid. "He was entrapped by the FBI into talking about a bomb, and now he's doing 20 years. He was one of us, doing what we do, and it could happen to any of us." Another young man informed us of the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture in Hesperia. "Imagine living in a dome with full autonomy. I'll help you build it." He also invited us to the institute's open house, which is held the first Saturday of every month. Another young man asked for somebody to head up a zine-writing collective, and somebody from Riverside volunteered. He then announced that there would be a protest of Republican strategist Karl Rove on Monday, September 14, in Claremont, and that people should carpool to attend. Finally, he announced that he had anarchist literature to share. "Volunteer at your local animal shelter!"
While the literature table, to which many people contributed zines and pamphlets, was being set up discussions began about marching to the Gay Pride Festival in Downtown Riverside to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community in their struggle.
A large contingent was formed and the march began. Other people stayed behind to exchange contact info and continue their discussions. By then, night had fallen, and the park began to look like a scary place. But, reassured by our new friendships and the tangible sense of solidarity, we were fearless as we dispersed into the darkness.
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