National Conference on Organized Resistance

Celebrating 11 years of NCOR history

Contribute to our blog October 5, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ncor @ 10:41 pm
This is a place for documenting the impact NCOR has had, particularly as a space for developing critical
consciousness and building a broader Left. We invite you to share your anecdotes, stories, poems, video diaries, etc.

If you have something you'd like to contribute, please send it to:

Closing Statement from the National Conference on Organized Resistance

Filed under: Uncategorized — ncor @ 5:22 am
October 2008

Dear friends and allies of NCOR,

The current organizing collective of the National Conference on Organized
Resistance, together with ex-collective members, have decided to close the
conference indefinitely, following the unavoidable reality that no AU
students have volunteered to be part of the next organizing collective.
There will be no NCOR 2009. Our strong hope is that other nonsectarian
spaces emerge to support the intellectual development of the organized US
Left. It is in the spirit of that desire that we write this statement, to
communicate to the thousands of activists who have supported the conference
since its inception to explain the reasons for its closing, remind ourselves
of why it was important, and support efforts to create new radical
intellectual conference spaces. But first...

Thank You & We Apologize, To...

Everyone who heard about this decision second or third-hand and felt like they should
have heard about it from one of us directly. We know many of you have made
NCOR a central part of your organizing each year. There was no slight
intended. We've all been grieving privately and, as a coping mechanism,
frantically deprioritizing NCOR in general. You deserved better. We'll put a
more complete list of thank-yous in the memories blog.

Brief History of NCOR

The National Conference on Organized Resistance, originally titled the
National Conference on Civil Disobedience, was founded by American
University student activists in 1997. It was a part of the AU Animal Rights
Effort (AWARE), one of the oldest clubs at the university. The first
conference was held in the winter of 1998 and had around 150 participants.

The National Conference on Civil Disobedience centered on examining
examples of traditional nonviolent direct action of the type practiced by
antiwar, animal rights and antinuclear groups. In 2000, inspired by the
multifaceted demonstrations that had taken place to protest the Republican
National Convention in Philadelphia, the collective changed the name of the
conference to the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR),
reasoning that many self-described "resistance" movements were excluded from
traditional definitions of civil disobedience.

Since then the conference has continued to diversify and includes a broad
spectrum of identity-based groups, both affiliated with specific struggles,
activist or organizing projects or institutions. In the past few years, the
conference has drawn over a thousand participants and presenters from across
the country and from abroad as well. Several Left organizations have made
NCOR an important aspect of their organizing, education and activist efforts
each year, and have organized dozens of people and several well-attended
workshops or panel discussions each.

Why We're Closing NCOR

For the first four years, NCOR maintained a fairly consistent organizing
collective of mostly AU students, anchored throughout this period by its
founder, Nisha Anand. In 2002, the collective turned over entirely for the
first time, beginning what would become an annual ritual of student and
non-student organizing collective members departing the collective each
spring. Conference organizers cited the intense time demanded of collective
organizing, internal relationship dynamics, graduation/moving and the
high-stress conference environment as reasons for moving on. In recent years
the outgoing collective – or ex-organizers helping with the year-to-year
transition – have struggled to recruit collective members, particularly
from AU. In 2008 the situation became untenable: no students volunteered to
serve on the collective, despite extensive outreach building on a history of
student activist leadership development.

AU provides free space and travel subsidies for dozens of presenters,
comparable to direct cost subsidies from $10,000 to $20,000 each year,
and the university also covers cost overruns. Past conference collectives of
AU students and local activists have tried to move the conference to another
site, but have never matched the subsidies possible at AU that make NCOR
affordable ($12 registration) for up to 2,000 conference participants to
attend from across the US and Canada.

The lack of AU student interest in the core collective (general
participation is another matter; dozens of AU students attend and serve
critical volunteer roles each year) is symptomatic of a larger struggle that
has defined the conference organizing in the last several years: emotional
burnout. Each year, a new collective takes the helm, often with just one
organizer staying on from the previous year. Briefly, we'd like to offer a
few factors that we think contribute to this:

1) The pressure-cooker environment of conference organizing. The collective
meets at least once a week for between two and five hours, plus individual
and committee work, for 6-8 months.

2) Exhaustion inherent in reinventing the conference each year. Former
collective members have cited the unique challenges of conference organizing –
distinct from many of their previous collective projects – which are
exacerbated by the lack of institutional memory that comes with about 80%
annual turnover.

3) An annual renegotiation of the goals for the conference. Without a strong
internal leadership anchor, the collective members often seek to define NCOR
anew each year, and there are often at least two very distinct and
conflicting visions of who the conference should serve and what project it
contributes to in the broader work of the Left.

4) Attacks on conference organizers. Each year, collective members come under
personal attack by prospective workshop presenters, attendees, and others
who make demands that the collective officially ban x-person/group from
attending the conference, threaten to denounce them personally as racists if
proposals aren't accepted, accuse them of prejudice for allowing AU to take
too long to process travel reimbursements, and use their social rank to
intimidate student organizers to bend policies to accommodate their extra
housing subsidy, etc. Unfortunately, responding to these attacks diverts a
huge amount of time and emotional energy. However, we do acknowledge that
at times, the collective may not have had its act together. This, combined
with the AU bureaucracy, has led to past presenters and those who have
submitted workshop proposals that got overlooked to get shafted. This was
never our intention and we offer our sincerest apologies to those of you
who experienced this.

We think there are strategies for moving forward beyond these challenges,
most relying on a committed core of nonstudent activists to anchor the
conference goals, vision, and institutional memory. We have had little
success in generating this core to date, and collective members have for
years now been forced to spend more time repairing relationships than
evaluating and building on the experience of organizing the conference. We
feel that the net impact on local activists involved in the conference
organizing has been negative. NCOR has drained energy from other worthwhile
projects, damaged relationships and broken community bonds. This is our
reality. But it's not the only one. Having explained why we're closing the
conference indefinitely, we'd like to speak to the reasons we still
give ourselves to the conference each year, in one form or another, and why
we hope spaces like it will endure.

Accomplishments & Highlights

NCOR Workshops

The workshops are at the heart of the conference and what have been its
greatest contributions to movement building and political education. The
presentations were classified as Strategy & Theory, Case Studies or
Skill-shares. This categorization has varied through the years, depending on
the collective. For the last two years of the conference, new tracks were
added including the Institute for Anarchist Studies' Radical Theory track,
the Left Turn track and the Direct Action track. Space was also reserved
for impromptu workshops, known more popularly as "guerrilla workshops," for
those whose proposals were not accepted or for more informal discussions.

In the early years of the conference, there were about a dozen workshops.
Many of them focused on animal rights or non-violent direct action. At the
2008 conference, there were over 80 workshops that highlighted a wide
spectrum of radical causes and struggles. Some workshops and presenters have
become a regular part of the NCOR roster, and presenters returned to share
their incredible wealth of knowledge and experience with the audience. A few
examples of these are Catalyst Project, Institute for Anarchist Studies,
Icarus Project and Freedom Center, Left Turn, and International Solidarity
Movement. NCOR also supported a number of DC-based groups and activists
including the Mobilization for Global Justice, Empower DC and SUSTAIN.

External Impacts

In spite of its many problems and controversies, NCOR did its fair share
for movement building, especially for developing the politics and skills of
young activists. One former presenter described his experience of speaking
at the conference for the first time as a young recent graduate: "Although
it nearly took me under, it was an incredible opportunity to be able to
present my ideas for the first time to so many engaged activists and
organizers (mostly of my age range)."

In January 2006, NCOR received a letter of solidarity from the Zapatista
General Coordinating Council. In their letter they stated, "Meetings like
yours are a source of strength for us; they renew our hope and raise our
spirits…This is how our efforts and courage and rebellion came to be a
reality and convinced us that everything is possible, an education that we
know you too are committed to — in which there's room for many ways of
educating ourselves, of consciousness-raising — with the support of people
and organizations, forums and national as well as international meetings
like yours." This expression of solidarity and love did much to uplift the
spirits of the members and the participants of the 2006 conference.

The conference also led to the beginning of some incredible projects like
the news program, “Alive in Baghdad,” and the Radical Theory Track curated by
the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

Next Steps for Us & Ways to Contribute

While we have been critical of the conference and of our participation in
it, we would like to acknowledge that NCOR played an important role in
cultivating many of our radical identities. It took a lot out of us but it
also brought us a lot of joy and pride and helped us build some strong
friendships. In spite of the problems, we looked forward to
organizing NCOR year after year. So it is with a heavy heart that we write
this letter.

We'd like to begin – in a very limited form – documenting the impacts the
conference has had, particularly as a space for developing critical
consciousness and building a broader Left. We invite you to contribute your
anecdotes, stories, poems and video diaries to our blog:

We want to continue to support the development of radical intellectuals –
particularly here in DC –  on a much smaller scale. A few of us are working
on some ideas, so stay tuned for updates.

And we want you to organize NCOR-style spaces in your cities. We're
available as resources. Email us if we can help you think through conference

Thank you for all of your support of NCOR and the organizers. We hope our
letter serves as a beacon of hope and that others will learn from our

In love and solidarity,

NCOR Organizers