Why activists gather for Resistance conference

Issue 

Across the country, Resistance activists are preparing to attend its 24th national conference. The conference is being held in Melbourne from July 8-10 and is the largest socialist youth gathering held annually in Australia.
It is a focus for activists involved in a variety of activities, who plan to bring along their experiences and ideas for campaigning in the coming year and who want to learn more about socialist politics. FRANCESCA DAVIDSON interviewed activists who have been to past Resistance conferences about their impressions and experiences.

Sydney University student Heidi Pegrem attended her first Resistance conference last year as a high school student and joined the organisation during the conference.
Why did you decide to go to the Resistance Conference last year?

I saw a poster and I liked the things written on it — green, internationalist, feminist, socialist — and so on. I already thought I was a socialist.

I also read an article in Green Left Weekly about it. It said that there were going to be hundreds of activists there. I'd heard about Resistance before and thought it would be a good opportunity to find out more about it. The article made the conference sound really exciting.

What most impressed you about the conference?

There were so many young people there, and they articulated their opinions so confidently, coherently, and intelligently. I was impressed by the organisation of the conference too.

Also, the number of international guests was impressive. In particular I remember the speaker from the US talking about how screwed up the US is. I was inspired to hear about the people there struggling to defend basic rights to health and education.

John Percy, now national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, was one of the founders of Resistance and was present at the first Resistance conference, in 1970.
Can you tell us a bit about the first conference?

The first was held in 1970 at UNSW. I remember we had around 45 people there, and it was very exciting. It was our first ever national conference. It was the culmination of many debates in Resistance about whether organisation was important or not. Obviously we thought it was.

How have the conferences changed over the years?

Well, the first couple of years the size of the conferences grew very quickly. That was during the Vietnam War, of course, and radical consciousness was much higher. I think today though, the real difference is that activists have over 25 years of the organisation's experience in campaigning and political discussion to draw on.

Jen Crothers was women's officer at Tasmania University in 1994. She attended her second conference in 1994.
As an activist, what did you find most useful about the conference?

As women's officer, I found meeting feminist activists from around the country extremely useful. I had the chance to share experiences of campaigns and to get new ideas.

On top of that, it was wonderful to find that these women were involved in other campaigns around education, the environment and other issues. Also, coming from Hobart, sometimes its easy to feel isolated, but the Resistance conference gave us a chance to discuss campaigns and perspectives on a national basis.

The other thing that was particularly interesting was hearing Jan Logie from New Zealand (the women's officer at Auckland University) talk about feminist campaigns on campus over there.

Tim Stewart is a Darwin Resistance member and a telecommunications worker.
What did you find most valuable about the 1994 conference ?

I've been a member for several years now, and I found last year's conference quite different to previous ones. Being a kind of pioneer in a new branch (Darwin branch was set up in 1994) can be quite isolating. You can lose the sense of being part of national campaigns and a national organisation, so coming to the conference is kind of like rediscovering a framework in which to work.

Something that really stood out for me at the 1994 conference was the resolution on workers' rights. As someone new to the full time work force, it was really interesting to hear a Marxist analysis of the role of the working class and how to do politics on the job.

Wendy Robertson is a long-term Resistance member and this year's conference organiser.
How's this year's conference shaping up?

It's looking to be a great weekend packed with political discussion. Registrations have already begun flowing in, and invitations have gone out to a variety of international organisations such as the South African Communist Party Youth, the Cuban Union of Young Communists, the Democratic National Youth Federation of Nepal, the New Zealand Maori Youth, Asian Students Association, Solidarity and many others.

What are the highlights of this year's conference?

The public meeting on Friday night, "Freedom for East Timor, Freedom for the Asia Pacific", will certainly be one of the highlights. It is going to an important step in building links between the Australian left and the young people leading the democracy movements in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor.

I'm also sure that the discussion around the no fees campaign and the independence for East Timor campaign will be interesting given the mobilisations we've seen around both issues recently.

Personally , I'm looking forward to discussing some of the debates being held in the international movement at present, between reform or revolution and what sort of socialism we're talking about. It's going to be a great conference, and I encourage all young activists to come along and check it out.