EAFB 2018 Debrief

Thank you to everyone who came to the Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair 2018. You helped us to hold an event that had a great atmosphere and that was, overall, very successful!

Some of the things that were popular included:

  • There was a great atmosphere and no conflict;
  • We had a wide range of talks and workshops;
  • It was an event that people could bring their kids to;
  • People who don’t already describe themselves as anarchists felt welcome;
  • We had a central location with good physical access;
  • Lots of people came!
We also appreciate the support we’ve had from those who were unable to attend, and hope to see you next year! We’ve written up a brief recap for your benefit:
The Bookfair took place on a warm, sunny day, in Augustine United Church, an airy and wheelchair-accessible central venue with strong ideological commitments to social justice. Visitors to the bookfair entered into a large anteroom, where a welcome desk operated all day, staffed by enthusiastic volunteers and offering information, unicorn-print fundraiser badges, and colour-coded lanyards for attendees to indicate whether they are open to interaction with others. We had a professionally run creche operating throughout the day, in a small room opening off the side of the welcome room. A tea and coffee table was set up across from the welcome desk, meaning that the anteroom also served as a social space throughout the day.

Stalls were in the main part of the church, a large, sunny room that had been cleared for the purpose. Large banners were hung from a balcony above the space, so that we were surrounded by messages affirming our opposition to national borders, coal extraction, and the like. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy – even if some of us did feel a little strange to be having an anarchist bookfair in a church, all watched over by religious iconography intermingled with the bookfair banners. Stallholders were busy all day with lively conversation, information sharing, letter-writing, and selling their awesome books, zines, and pamphlets. You can read our full list of stalls here – unfortunately Footprint and Radical Routes were unable to attend at the last minute, but their spaces were filled by an extra zine stall, an anti-coal stall, and pamphlets relating to the Kurdish Feminism workshop.

Workshops and talks were held in two rooms in the building’s basement, a small-ish room with a circle of chairs, and a larger room with a lecture-style set-up. You can read a list of talks and workshops. These ran smoothly and to schedule thanks to our volunteer timekeepers. Feedback from attendees was very positive overall, with a few criticisms which we address below.

After the programme of talks and workshops was finished, we had a quick clear-up and clear-out before reopening for an afterparty in the evening. This was a chilled-out, byob affair, beginning with folks mostly sitting on the floor to listen to acoustic sets from Mairead Reid and Sarya Wu, and finishing up with kick-ass feminist punk from Bitch Theme, as well as holding a raffle which raised £108 for Ubuntu Women’s Shelter.

Although the day was very successful overall, we know that there are some things that we could have done better, and we’re grateful to everyone who has taken the time to give us constructive feedback and suggestions. We wanted to acknowledge these issues publicly and encourage further discussion on what could be improved. This is particularly important as we’re starting to think about EAFB 2019, and we want to commit to doing better next year. With one exception, we’ve decided not to discuss feedback on individual sessions in a public forum because we don’t think it’s fair to the speakers, but we’re willing to discuss any concerns by e-mail.

It wasn’t made clear in advance that the Responses to Patriarchy workshop wasn’t open to cis women, and this rule came across as sexist and/or transphobic

As this is a complex and important issue, we’ve written a separate post to address it in detail. However, the short answer is that we did a poor job of communicating the workshop’s aims and who it was intended for.

Next year we plan to finalise our programme at an earlier date so that there is more time for discussion of potentially controversial sessions, including with a wider group of people outside of the core organisers, and will request more information in advance from any speakers or facilitators who would like to restrict entry to their session, so that this can be shared publicly.

Most of the speakers were white and the event didn’t include topics that are important to people of colour.

This is true, and it’s a fair criticism of the event. We did approach a number of organisations run by people of colour in the local area but they didn’t have the capacity to take part in the event, and we weren’t in a financial position to commit in advance to paying travel expenses for speakers from further afield. Because our fundraising this year was successful, next year we will be able to set aside money for travel expenses, and we will prioritise people of colour when it comes to allocating funds.

We also acknowledge that our core organising group this year was mostly made up of white, cisgender people, and that our interests and personal networks helped to shape the programme. On September 7th we will be holding an information session for people who are interested in joining the organising collective. This session will be open to everyone, but we particularly want to encourage people of colour to attend and get involved if they would like to.

If you have any other ideas about how we could involve more people of colour in the Bookfair, please let us know. The anarchist movement as a whole is very white, and we want to do our part to help rectify that.

Some people found the noise and concentration of people overwhelming, and there was no quiet space available

Providing a quiet space will be one of our top priorities when choosing a venue for next year. Augustine United Church were fantastic hosts, but their building isn’t quite big enough for what we’d like to do with the Bookfair, so we’re looking at other venues. Ideally, we’d also like to have a café-style space where people can chat, which will reduce pressure on corridors and the welcome area, but this is an aspiration while the quiet space is on our list of venue essentials.

The workshop rooms were overcrowded

We didn’t expect the workshop sessions to attract as many attendees as they did, so we didn’t put a plan in place to deal with numbers – this was a mistake. It put workshop facilitators on the spot, as they had to try to balance the comfort of people already against the disappointment of those queueing outside.

Next year we hope to have a different balance of room sizes (rather than one 25-seat and one 100-seat) and to add a third stream of sessions so that there’s more choice. We will also try to gauge the interest in specific sessions over social media when we release the programme, so that where possible we can allocate larger rooms to sessions that look as if they’re likely to be popular. We’d prefer not to have to turn people away from workshops, but we plan to discuss this further in the run up to the next Bookfair as our response will depend on the venue, and we will communicate in advance how we plan to manage workshop demand on the day.

The one-hour sessions were too short, and this limited opportunities to explore the issues in depth

Agreed. Next year we hope to introduce some two-hour sessions to the programme, so that we have a mix of one-hour and two-hour sessions.

Some people felt that they couldn’t come to the afterparty because it sounded like it would be rowdy or focused on alcohol

It wasn’t our intention to throw a wild party, and we’re sorry if this didn’t come across.
We know that gigs aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but there isn’t really any form of evening entertainment that would suit everyone. One of the alternative suggestions we’ve received is to organise a shared meal instead, but not everyone is comfortable in that environment either and some find that social meals challenge their sobriety, even if there isn’t any alcohol. Catering for a large group is also hugely labour-intensive, so those cooking the meal would have to miss most of the Bookfair.

There isn’t an easy solution to this one, so it’s something that we will need to think about and discuss further. Suggestions are very welcome.

Next Steps

We would love Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair 2019 to be bigger, better and more inclusive than the 2018 event. To do that, we need more people to join the organising collective.

During August the group that organised this year’s Bookfair have met to develop a statement of principles, and discuss how we can make the logistics of a larger group work in a way that’s fair to everyone and doesn’t invite the formation of hierarchies.

In early September, we will start looking for new people to join the collective and will hold an open open meeting on September 7th to share our principles, initial ideas, and the kind of roles that will be needed in the new, larger collective. Attendance at this meeting won’t be compulsory for people who want to get involved, we just think that it’s useful for transparency, and anyone who is interested but can’t make it on that date will be able to get in touch with us for more information.