Early Thoughts on the NCAFC Conference
I’ll try to write something more cohesive later, but this will do as a brief first response.
I’d like to offer my thanks to the outgoing committee, and also to specific activists who made me feel welcome and included – you know who you are. The fact that a conference of this size, with this many people from this many factions was effectively organised, and happened, was a huge success, and as the first day began I felt very strongly that the campaign was prepared to move forward. I had some concerns, especially around the ‘safer space’ issue, and I felt that there were certain people and groups who had come into the conference with different agendas in terms of what they wanted from it, groups on several different sides of the debate. I came with a university delegation, and was unaffiliated with any group. I didn’t have a whip, or a party line to follow, and I think that’s where the problem lay, with a lot of what went wrong.
I strongly believe that the NCAFC should be a group made up of people, not factions, and as a result, I think having a whip goes completely against what it should stand for. On several occasions I saw people go to vote one way, and be pulled down and told not to, by someone from the same party or group as themselves. That disgusted me. Nobody, at a conference like this, should have been subjected to a whip, and I believe that having a whip defeats the point of a conference that should be about individuals putting ideas forward on how to move the anti-cuts movement forwards. On a sheerly statistical level, operating a whip gives groups more power over conference than individuals – a large group where 51% wanted to vote the same way, holding a whip, means suddenly the whole group is voting that way, meaning voices of people who aren’t whipped aren’t heard. In a moment of frustration I might go so far as to say any group operating a whip should be unwelcome.
I believe that twitter was a big part of the problem – with facts, lies and inappropriate comments coming through there to fire debate on the ground further, and I do not claim to be entirely innocent by any means. The hashtag was scattered with misogyny, filled with ableism, and had some very unpleasant bullying comments made on it. As a result, the atmosphere going into the second day was almost unbearable.
I understand there was an altercation at the pub on the Saturday night, I missed that, and I’m not going to comment on it as a result. All I’ll say is that safer spaces are important, and it seems like there were a number of issues with those, both on conference floor, and outside it. I believe I’ve made my opinion of safer space policy incredibly clear already, but to reiterate – it is essential. Much like access breaks, it isn’t something that should be up for debate. It seems like a lot of people paid lip-service to safer space policy, but they were the same people that broke it when convenient for them – to the point of deciding that applause is something that we should use in certain, specific situations, having decided already that applause makes conference inaccessible to members. It seems like, to most of conference, accessibility and liberation were a point-scoring toy, rather than a real need, and it was this that ended me up sobbing in pain after trying to stick out far too long in motions, rather than miss something important, or risk being accused of being racist for asking for an access break when having this might stifle discussion on motions around BME liberation.
The second day went on in a long and painful fashion with inappropriate behaviour from many many members. However, actually, the conference passed some pretty important motions, and it seems a shame that these are being overshadowed (even in this write-up) by the issues of internal fighting. Over the weekend we decided to call a national student strike. This could be massive, if everyone on committee is prepared to really work together to make it happen. We’re calling for another huge movement in autumn. We’re taking back our campuses. And despite all the petty factionalism, these things are able to happen anyway. I’m proud. NCAFC has a clear direction for the next few months.
Conference ended badly, and on a sour, low note, but this doesn’t signal the end of the NCAFC, just that we need to really work together to keep it effective. Making the next conference one that feels safe for people to access will be difficult, but at the same time, if people are prepared to work together, it can be done.
May I remind you all, we came together to campaign against fees and cuts, and we need to continue to do that. The fight is not won, and we are stronger together.