What Happened at the 2023 Land Justice Spring Gathering, and What Next?

In May, just under 60 people came together in Sheffield for the second Land Justice Spring Gathering, picking up and growing a process that we began with last year’s gathering. The gathering aimed to build a conscious coalition of people working across a broad spectrum of land justice issues, such as food & farming, housing, and climate; deepening relationships and building a shared understanding of a land justice movement.

Shared Assets worked alongside Navigate Coop to facilitate 3 days of workshops and discussion on topics such as values within the movement, how to have a functioning, healthy movement, and building shared strategy.

Part way through the gathering, however, a powerful shift in the programme occurred where concerns were voiced about whether we had built enough trust yet to continue with the planned sessions, and participants took a collective steer of what happened next. 

There were doubts that the same fundamental values did not motivate us all, and a feeling of not knowing everyone we were trying to organise with enough, and from there came a proposal to urgently address the problems of land injustice at their core - specifically around race, class and colonialism - before we would identify as a movement.

The shift that occurred was a tricky moment for the process of holding the gathering, where the facilitation plan was halted and space had to be made for different sessions to emerge. Overwhelmingly, this led to a strongly positive experience, and whilst we acknowledge that the process was not perfect nor completely representative, many felt that trust was built as well as a greater sense of collective ownership for the gathering programme and the actions that emerged from it.

We have been reflecting with Shared Assets and as smaller groups of people who attended the gathering and have collected these reflections. They represent a broad set of perspectives, not all of which agree with one another. 

From the pool of reflections we have picked out what felt powerful:

  • Energy for solidarity: There was an energising force throughout the gathering from people’s dedication to the cause of land justice, and the connections that were built through solidarity and support with each other. 
  • Collective empowerment and trust built through the programme shift and the decisions made around this change.
  • Challenging power dynamics: The gathering created a space where power dynamics could be challenged. There was emphasis on the importance of amplifying the experiences of, and ensuring leadership by, marginalised communities as we work towards more equitable and inclusive approaches to land justice. We are taking forward that more intention should be put into this for the future of these gatherings.
  • Embracing ritual and feeling spaces: Graciela, our Research Coordinator, helped us to open and close the gathering with rituals, and throughout the gathering there were efforts to embrace feeling and this helped create a sense of community, grounding, and intentionality.
  • Acknowledging discomfort: In a short space of time, people with different viewpoints and motivations to be there were meeting each other. There was a feeling that some people were ready to invest in a movement whilst others were more tentative. Through the gathering we tried to embrace and work through the discomfort that was present whilst we teased out the tensions and contradictions of the land justice movement.
“If you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition.” - Bernice Johnson Reagon

What felt difficult for some people:

  • Pace, and intention to know and trust one another: We needed a stronger, slower initial process for getting to know each other in the group before delving into strategic collaboration. One suggestion for future gatherings was to have time for small presentations from various groups to share with others in depth about their work.
  • The problem needed to be worked through before getting to the solution: Similarly to knowing one another, part of the concerns voiced about pace and trust were about knowing each other’s values and belief systems before moving into strategy.
“If we’d had an earlier and fuller conversation about what land justice means in the UK; how it's intertwined with de/colonial work, racial justice and reparations and so on, we would have been able to do more of the strategic work around theories of change” - feedback from participant
  • Limited time: Although we had a whole weekend, this was only the beginning of many conversations and organising together. We are now in the process of building infrastructure to continue what was initiated at the gathering.
  • Tension between action and relationship building: At the closing of the gathering, divergent voices were expressed - with some people content with the process of getting to know each other, feeling more familiar with who was in the movement, and what the potential of a movement could be; and others expressing frustration and a lack of concrete actions to work on.

What’s next?

Reflecting on the gathering, a pivotal theme that resonated for participants was the need for a slow, deliberative, and inclusive process for building a movement for land justice. This movement wants to be built through trust and to welcome in the emotions and cultural values of the people who make it up, rather than a leap too quickly to strategy and action. In doing this we want to avoid replicating capitalist values, and focus on transforming the tools and systems which uphold the current land system. 

Moving forward, we want to see this energy harnessed to continue momentum to share and create learning spaces (in London, some participants have already hosted a learning space about enclosures in the UK), and support more gatherings like this one to occur. A steering group has been initiated, composed of those from the gathering who have capacity to organise some of the next stages. 

We see that the work that has been done this year has laid the foundations for a movement that aims to learn transformationally, centre reparative justice and work in a diverse, participatory coalition. We have more work to do and are appreciative of the learning that this gathering has given, as well as the opportunity to work with others in whatever we create next. 

If you would like to share your thoughts, or to be involved in where we go from here, please send an email to our Movement Building Coordinator Christabel (christabel@sharedassets.org.uk).

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