“At a moment of backlash”: one organiser’s take on the day

Taken from a Facebook post from one of the organisers the day after the conference.

The background

AFem, the inaugural UK based conference organised by a group of 35 anarchafeminists in Solfed, AFed and international anarchist organisations, as well as unaffiliated anarchafeminists, took place this weekend on Sunday 19th October. The conference was very popular, with just under 300 people through the door from 19 countries and counting, including Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Japan, Iran, the US and Canada.

The conference was funded by a mix of donations, a fundrazr for £2k, and smaller fundraising events in 3 UK cities. Food Not Bombs also held a fundraiser so we could afford to feed those on low or nil income, and many in kind donations were made, from printing to translation to childcare to signing.

On the day

The conference was largely well organised with few technical glitches: there were not enough programmes, we had issues with the technology and as we had not put a numbers limit on sessions, some of the rooms were overcrowded. We had not given enough thought to accessibility – no large print programme was available and we did not have dedicated helpers for accessibility needs.

However with those exceptions the day ran fairly smoothly from a practical point of view. Facilities at the conference were good, with a creche, a quiet space, free food for those on low or nil incomes, listeners and emotional first aid all available. In addition there was a team of 18 ‘safer spaces’ people who sat in sessions, at the front desk and in the quiet room to resolve issues or questions relating to the day’s safer spaces agreement, or help people who felt triggered or unsafe.

The conference offered 23 workshops and 2 plenary sessions. Workshops were broad, ranging from “what is gender?” to prison abolition to workplace organising around gender to middle eastern feminism to survivor-led accountability, with dedicated strands for disabled people, trans people, people of colour and sex workers. The timetable is attached as an image.

The workshops were by and large received very well at the conference. The comments book on the day was overwhelmingly positive and the atmosphere was excellent – many remarked on the new organising connections they were making and on the unusually anti-oppressive politics of the organising group and the conference itself.

However the day was not without difficulty. A small group of trans exclusionary radical feminists attended the conference, misgendering and insulting trans people and demanding space for cis women only. Exclusion of trans women from women’s space is direct transphobic discrimination and managing this issue became the bulk of the work done by the safer spaces team. As a result, several trans people at conference experienced transphobia and some were extremely upset by this. Efforts were made on the day to repair this damage, both interpersonally and politically, and care was taken to help those who had these experiences stay safely at conference, but nevertheless the TERFs should have been excluded.

Working with the organising group to develop and carry through the politics of AFem – anarchocommunist, feminist, multigender, anti-oppressive, accountable, democratic and transparent – has been one of the best organising experiences I’ve had in a long time, but also one of the most difficult, because we’re currently at a moment of backlash against prefigurative political forms.

In the run-up to AFem, as we made our politics clear on our website, blogs and social media, an increasing number of critiques were posted online. This made the run-up to conference extremely tense – we weren’t sure whether there might be opposition or even disruption on the day. For those who haven’t seen them, our gender inclusion policy and safer spaces agreement can be found on the AFem website.

There’s clearly some anxiety in our milieu about whether accountable organising spaces are overly authoritarian. My feeling is that this conference was a good initial response: it was a popular and much-needed event with minimal difficulty and an atmosphere of solidarity, and I’m really happy solfed supported it and supported me and other comrades to help organise it.

The organising group will respond to criticisms on the AFem website, once we’ve got the post-conference tasks done and all the feedback collated. We plan on organising further AFem events, and will recruit new organisers shortly.

Note: I’ve held off commenting on racism and cultural appropriation cos I’d rather that commentary came from poc, but I’m really happy we organised the poc- only space and that critiques were fed back to conference as a result.

For other write-ups from the day, see our conference summary page.

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