An Organizer's Report-Back from Wild Roots Feral Futures 2010
The second annual Wild Roots Feral Futures, a small, free, and informal eco-defense & earth skills gathering on the shores of the Piedra River in the San Juan National Forest of Southwest Colorado—which we consider occupied Ute territories—took place from June 19th through 26th, 2010. Many attendees arrived days before the official start of the gathering, and others stayed on after the official end to help break down and clean up. Nestled in one of the largest and last remaining stands of old growth Ponderosa Pine, amongst the meadows of many-colored wild-flowers and the natural hot springs along the Piedra River, on the edge of Colorado's largest Wilderness area, folks from coast to coast converged to share skills, stories, music, adventures, and much more...
For my part as a locally-based event organizer, the tasks and lessons of co-organizing such an event proved to be quite challenging, not to mention draining (to the point that it's taken me weeks of r&r to even get around to writing this report-back, sorry!). Pre-event organizing—which mostly consisted of promotion online and around town—wasn't as taxing, but once in the woods, I found very little time to participate in the many amazing activities and workshops, and spent much of my time filling roles no one else had stepped up and volunteered for. Naturally, tasks like digging or burying latrines, or graveyard welcoming/security shifts, are quite often difficult to get folks to volunteer for, but towards the end, it became very difficult to get anyone to sign up for any of the shifts whatsoever, and a handful of people ended up carrying a disproportionately large amount of responsibility (many thanks to all those who did volunteer, and extra special thanks to those of you who did something multiple times when others wouldn't step up!).
There were many amazing workshops and activities, but I feel the diversity was in some contexts lacking (not enough real direct action and forest defense stuff, for example). In the future getting a more solid and diverse list of actual commitments for workshops beforehand, and a more effective and efficient system of announcing and listing them in the woods, will be receiving greater attention from event organizers and facilitators.
Many of the intentions expressed in the language of our original call-outs and in the camp zine failed to manifest themselves, and many who had previously dedicated themselves to filling certain vital roles were simply unable to make it. We apologize for the lack of certain spaces we intended to have present but may not be empowered to create ourselves, such as a safe medical clinic space for womyn and trans people, a more solid, experienced, and dedicated medic and conflict resolution team, etc.
Inter-persynal conflicts and medical situations certainly did arise, sometimes over-lapping, and it is my opinion that these situations were exacerbated by the lack of a medical and conflict resolution infrastructure adequately prepared to handle such situations. At least one conflict was ultimately left unresolved. Luckily, the medical situations and inter-persynal conflicts that arose were not of an extremely critical or dangerous nature (though others may disagree). I ultimately feel that in this respect, things went pretty smoothly, or at the very least could have been a lot worse, as we were never faced with a situation I would describe as an emergency or even a crisis. Fear of complete and utter catastrophe is never far from the minds of those who carry and feel the weight of organizing such an event.
Often, for myself at least, the weight of perceived obligation, as an event organizer, often manifested itself negatively and unproductively in an over-bearing attempt to facilitate certain daily tasks such as morning circle, where camp basics are reviewed and workshops are announced, along with security sign-up and other announcements. At a certain point much of the camp expressed discontent with the power dynamics of these discussions, which is a heady way of saying that too few people were talking too much and dominating too much of the discourse. Such feedback is vitally important for organizers who may be taking on too much "responsibility" out of a perceived obligation to make sure certain tasks are accomplished, and gives us space to step back and re-evaluate the dynamics of the communities we spontaneously form in the woods or in the streets, collective houses, and squats. And so that's exactly what I did: step back.
And guess what? Things still happened. Others stepped up to fill the spaces I vacated. Spontaneously, folks would call for workshop announcements or make a security sign-up board and call for volunteers. Instead of the event organizers talking at other attendees, it was everyone's circle and anyone could say what they wanted to, which was, of course, the original intent (many thanks to everyone who stepped up to help facilitate morning circle and other daily camp tasks, you rock!). The overbearing weight of the role of the organizer often interferes with this, which is, of course, why it must be abolished as such. This is not to say that being an organizer or a facilitator isn't an important role, but rather, one that we must revision and remove from any separation of importance from the active roles others take on, on the ground and in the woods. Otherwise organizers suffer unnecessary stress and the weight of too much responsibility (most often self-imposed through a false perception of necessity and obligation), while animosity and separation is created between event attendees and the organizers the attendees begin to feel are trying to put themselves in a position of leadership or authority (something anarchists and anti-authoritarians often respond to with knee-jerk, reactionary virulence). Sometimes certain people take on the task of getting something going and keeping it going, but once we're all there together in the woods or in the streets, we all need to be organizers and facilitators. So step up and step back.
We as locally-based organizers were also inadequately prepared with certain infrastructural gear such as adequate radios for security/welcoming and medics, and towards the end of the gathering, as some people collected the gear they'd lent out and went on their way, we found ourselves without adequate radio communications and thus faced a total breakdown of communication between the welcoming and the main camp down the hill. Luckily, this was never a significant problem, but it certainly could have been.
Our high-capacity water storage and water filtration system also suffered a bit of a breakdown, but through innovation and a combination of boiling and personal water filters, there was, for the most part, enough drinking water to be had, though the situation was admittedly precarious at times. Securing the drinking water system will be more of a central and primary concern in organizing future events.
We were perhaps overly-optimistic in our hopes and ill-formed expectations that the gear and skills that we ourselves personally lacked would simply come together spontaneously and autonomously through the collective contributions of the greater community we all formed together. I would like to personally apologize for any such lack on our part as local event organizers.
A note on law enforcement: last year, due to the National Rainbow Gathering near-by in New Mexico and the presence of a handful of Rainbows at Wild Roots Feral Futures, we had one visit from Forest Service law enforcement officers who appeared to be looking to harass Rainbows (and thought part of a bow drill for making fire was a pipe, etc.). The incident was nominal and didn't result in confrontation (aside from minimal harassment and intimidation tactics) or arrests.
This year, we had no overt visits from uniformed law enforcement officers. One local Forest Service truck was spotted driving by and seen leaving as well, and no other sightings were recorded by the security team. This is in stark contrast to the treatment received by our predecessor event, Feral Visions, which faced heavy repression from the State towards the end, as well as other similar events in the US and abroad.
Of course, this lack of law enforcement presence only applies to uniformed officers. We will probably never know who else may have been walking amongst us, talking to us, and listening to us. And if proper security culture was observed, that doesn't matter (on that note, there was at least once incident brought to my attention of blatant disregard for and violation of security culture basics that consisted of open bragging regarding alleged participation in an illegal action, which is a definite security culture no-no!).
Though active feedback is certainly preferable, we as organizers also value retro-active feed-back and are thus calling on event organizers and attendees to write their own report-backs about their experiences at Wild Roots Feral Futures 2010 and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org (let us know if you'd like to to be kept private or if you'd like it published on our blog, etc.). Please, be honest, and be harsh. We need criticism and critique in order to learn and grow, not puffed-up glorification and congratulatory back-patting. These report-backs, however, are not spaces for the continuation of inter-persynal conflicts, so please, no calling people out directly or making direct accusations against individuals. Though such conflicts require accountability and hopefully resolution, we cannot facilitate that, and these report-backs are not the place for it.
I would like to thank the many wild and amazing folks who helped organize Wild Roots Feral Futures, who came out, attended the event, plugged in, helped out, and made the event the amazing learning and growing experience that it was. We very literally couldn't have done it without you. See you next year!
May the Forest Bewitch You,
-Nathan Negation, Wild Roots Feral Futures organizers' collective & the Dirty Hands Collective (Durango, CO)