The workshop was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
But it was 10 a.m. before the class, “Creating Collectives and Co-ops,” got started and Mark Berry described how purchasing property had helped the anarchist collective he started in St. Louis 10 years ago remain viable.
Owning your own buildings can add to a collective’s longevity and sustainability, he told the tattooed, pierced, and patch-wearing crowd of about 15. But, he said, getting more and more property can also have its drawbacks.
“You start thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’” Berry said. “Is this the American dream, anarchist style?”
This was just one of 23 workshops this weekend at the CREATE conference, an acronym for Communities Reclaiming Education and Tools for Empowerment. About 120 people came from across the country for the free conference, which featured classes such as “Street Medic Basics,” “Self Cervical Exams” and “Agricultural Models for Urban Collectives.”
According to its Web site, the conference, which ran from Friday through Sunday, was designed to help people regain the expertise, abilities and tools to take care of their own needs, instead of relying on services and products offered by government agencies.
Eric Tumminia, 27, drove from Kirksville on Friday to attend the conference. Tumminia, who described himself as “second generation back-to-the-land,” said the main thing that united all the conference attendees was their anti-capitalistic beliefs.
“Rather than marching through the streets and destroying things and getting in your face with our patches and tattoos, we’re learning essential skills that can be applied to help,” he said.
For as long as people have been around, Tumminia said, they’ve had the basic skills to hunt or gather their own food and build their own shelters.
That’s no longer the case, and the conference was about realizing that the loss of those skills is something that can and should be combated, he said.
In the room next to “Creating Collectives and Co-ops,” three Lawrence, Kan., activists discussed “Prison Abolition.” Upstairs, a handful of 20-somethings learned how to assemble a computer out of parts.
Columbia resident Isaiah Taylor said he went to the conference so he could become more self-reliant.
“It’s gratifying to know that you don’t have to rely on buying things or paying for services,” he said. “It’s a way to be kind of an individual.”
Although organizers were happy with the turnout, they said they had hoped for a more diverse audience.
“We wanted it to be more than punks and anarchists and hippies, but it really is, at this point. It’s that kind of crowd,” said Laura Kurtz, an MU student and one of 10 organizers who helped develop the idea for the conference a little over a year ago.
Some who attended slept on the floor of MU’s Hillel Jewish Center, and organizers arranged for free childcare and three-a-day free vegan meals.
Classes were held at Middlebush Hall and other locations downtown. Café Berlin, the Peace Nook and Klunk Bike Repair also played a role in helping the conference run smoothly, Kurtz said.
“It’s really truly empowering to be able to do things for yourself and understand how things work,” she said. “You might have the time and have the money to get it fixed. That’s not the point. It’s just a really good feeling to be in charge of your life more.”