The road to where we are
1. Start early. We decided in May to hold the event and had the basics – like a confirmed date – in place by 22 June when the national event took place. This has given us a long run up. The people who attended the national People’s Assembly were enthused and inspired, returning home determined to build a successful regional event. At the start of July we had a well-attended ‘report back’ meeting which attracted people who hadn’t been involved previously.
2. Involve people in planning it. We’ve had frequent planning meetings – about once a fortnight – and crucially these have been open to everyone. We have publicised them online and they have had good turnouts. The focus has been on practically organising the event with a shared sense of purpose, avoiding getting distracted by minor differences.
3. Audacity, audacity, audacity! By booking the 450-seat Northern Stage auditorium – a major, professional (and not cheap!) venue – we were taking a risk, but it looks like it’s going to pay off. It forced us to think big and operate in a very serious way, while signalling to people that this is something special and unique, not just another anti-cuts meeting or conference.
4. Throw in everything including the kitchen sink. It’s also an audacious event in terms of the format we’ve adopted: two major rallies (one in the morning and another in the afternoon), 10 workshops in the slots between the rallies, and an evening show in the Northern Stage main auditorium. A long list of campaign groups and unions are represented in the workshops – inviting them to offer a workshop speaker has been a great way of getting so many different groups involved and creating a true broad coalition. The evening show is an integral part of the whole package and reflects a widespread feeling that the event should be creative and use culture to reach people.
5. Get the balance right. The plenaries/rallies are important because we want a public platform for a range of speeches and they bring everyone together, helping create unity and coherence. But the workshops are vital too, allowing us to cover lots of topics, facilitating the active involvement of many different groups and enabling a higher level of participation.
The big day and beyond
It looks like 14 September will be the biggest, broadest and most diverse anti-cuts gathering in our region so far, with an unprecedented level of co-operation. We want the event to overcome the fragmentation of the movement. This is about on-going practical unity, not just a day of dialogue and co-operation. We aim to forge connections for the long term.