The International Animal Rights Gathering is an annual event which brings together activists from all over the world for a weekend of workshops, talks, discussions, films, information stalls, entertainment and networking. The aim of the Gathering is to promote and improve co-operation and co-ordination between activists from many different countries, with the aim of building a strong coherent global movement to fight animal exploitation and spread compassion. This is particularly important bearing in mind that most animal exploitation and abuse is an international business which operates across international borders, so it’s vital that we as a movement also learn to think and work globally too.
This is the 16th international gathering, and ideally each year the gathering is hosted by a different country. Of course there are only a certain number of countries where the movement is big enough to organise a major event like this, but this number is growing all the time. Last year the gathering took place in Poland, this year Belgium will host the gathering.
History of the IARG
The gatherings have a long and interesting history, and have played a major part in the huge growth of the international animal rights movement. The very first International Gathering also took place in Holland in 1998, in the town of Leiden, at a squat called Eurodusnie. About 200 activists took part from many countries, though mostly from Europe, and as well as lots of great workshops there were some lively protests, after one McDonalds in the town was attacked, they decided to close all the McDonalds in Leiden.
The following year 1999 the gathering was held in Oslo in Norway, organised by the mainstream AR group NOAH. Around 150 activists took part, mostly from other scandinavian countries but quite a few others too. This gathering was described as quieter, more moderate, but it was yet another opportunity for activists to make connections and carry on building an international movement.
In 2000, the gathering was held in Berlin in Germany, where it was given the name the Intergallactic Animal Liberation Gathering. Here there was much in the program about the theory and philosophy behind the movement than in previous gatherings. In 2001, it was held in the UK for the first time, at a farm animal sanctuary in Kent, south east England. The following year, it was once again held in Amsterdam, Holland, and in fact for the next few years the International Gatherings took place in either the UK or Holland.
The gathering of 2003 was also in Holland, this time about 120 activists met up in a large squatted building on the outskirts of Amsterdam. This gathering became infamous for what happened some distance away from the site. On the second day of the gathering, an antivivisection protest was arranged some kilometres away from the site, and although this demo went ahead without problems, on the way back the activists decided to inspect a mink fur farm they spotted. Except some activists went a little further than inspecting, and some mink were released and damage caused. As a result, police arrested over 50 activists at the scene, which meant about half the gathering was now in custody! So the gathering really became one big prisoner support workshop, as we spent most of the time organising legal support and practical help for our imprisoned comrades. (PS We’ve learned from this, so please don’t let this put you off attending the gathering this year!)
In 2004 the gathering was back in the UK, at the same animal sanctuary in Kent where it was held in 2002. It was at the 2004 gathering the numbers attending the event started to grow far beyond had previously been the case, with over 350 activists attending the gathering in 2004, three times more than the usual attendance. In fact the 2004 gathering was so successful, that it was it decided to keep the Gathering in the same location for the following two years, and in 2006 over 500 activists from over 25 countries took part. However the UK government was not so pleased with the success of the gatherings, and they used anti-terrorism legislation to ban two prominent US speakers and activists from entering the UK to attend the 2005 gathering, claiming they were a threat to public order.
This was one of the reasons it was decided to hold the 2007 gathering in a different country, and once again the Dutch movement stepped in to host the event. The day before the gathering, hundreds of the activists held a great march against animal abuse through Amsterdam, before boarding special hired buses to travel the 200km to the camp site. They were followed all the way by a huge convoy of police cars, vans and motorcycles, as well as a police helicopter overhead. They wanted to make sure we all got to the site safely!
The following year 2008, Austrian activists volunteered to host the event, and a really good site was found near Vienna. However with just a few months to go, in March 2008 police in Austria raided the homes and offices of all the activists involved in planning the gathering, who were then imprisoned, and charged with the now famous section 278, forming a criminal organisation. As most if not all of us are now aware, the activists were released eventually, but they were then put on trial in a historic court case which lasted over a year and has just finished, and happily all of the activists have been cleared of all charges.
However, with the gathering organisers locked up in various Austrian prisons, it was no longer possible to hold the gathering in Austria, and we were left with a desperate search to find a replacement venue. It was Swedish activists who stepped in at the 11th hour to organise a great gathering at beautiful site in Jönköping in central Sweden. Despite only having a few weeks to organise the event, the Swedish organising team did an excellent job. This time the demos happened after the gathering, with some great demos and other actions taking place in Stockholm and Malmo, with people from many countries learning to work together for the animals.
In 2009, the gathering was held for the second time in Oslo, Norway. The venue was to be the famous squatted community space, Hausmania, but with just one day to go, the Norwegian police arrived at the building and used the excuse of the risk of fire to prohibit the building being used for the gathering. This happened just as the activists from all over the world were arriving in the Norwegian capital. But just when all seemed to be lost, the clever Norwegian activists revealed their cunning back up plan; They had hired a school building in another part of Oslo, which was a perfect site for the gathering, with great facilities, much better than original venue! The police chief was not happy, and spoke to the person in charge of the school claiming the activists were terrorists, but she said this was nonsense, she had met them and they were nice people. So the gathering went ahead, and was a great success. Incredibly for Oslo, it was a baking hot weekend with temperatures reaching 30C + by the Sunday!
Italy hosted the gathering for the first time in 2010, and at a really beautiful location in Venaus, a few miles from Turin and in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Over 400 activists from over 20 countries attended. The scenery was spectacular, the weather was hot and sunny, and the program was inspirational. The venue was the site of protest camp in Venaus, against the high speed train link which is planned which would smash a hole right through Alps and destroy much of the scenery and land which we all found so beautiful and inspiring. The locals were very welcoming, the mayor turned up to offer his support and the local shop ordered in many vegan foods especially, and set up a vegan corner in the shop.
The 14th gathering in 2011 took place at the anarchist camp site ‘Tot Vrijheidsbezinning’ (meaning ‘reflect about freedom’), at the edge of the village Appelscha, the Netherlands. With a full program of more than 40 workshops, lectures and discussions and the presence of more than 350 activists, representing more than 20 countries, this event has been a joyful and inspiring moment for the international animal rights movement.
In 2012, the gathering moved to Eastern Europe for the first time, to be hosted in Piskorzyna, Poland at the Tara horse sanctuary. 35 workshops, movies, and a concert by xTrue Naturex made this another memorable international event.
So as you can see the International Gathering has a long and distinguished history. Everything might not always go according to plan, but with so very many great activists all coming together in one place, you can be sure of one thing – it will be an unforgettable experience. See you all in Belgium in August!