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Death of our friend and comrade Ann Stafford

From some friends and comrades in the Peoples’ Global Action network from many countries: We mourn the death of Ann Stafford, dedicated Peoples’ Global Action stalwart, who passed away in Berlin on the 24th October 2013, age 46.

Everyone is special and unique in some way, living within this system of oppression and exploitation, muddling through, best we can. Some leave behind special gifts that impact on our lives in inspiring ways. They leave us beautiful lessons in humility, consistency, conviction, compassion, generosity, perseverance and selflessness. Ann Stafford, for many years a dedicated activist of Peoples’ Global Action, was one of these. We all knew her to varying degrees, some closer than others, but none of us have been left untouched or unmoved by her.
Who was Ann Stafford? It is not lost on us that perhaps these words would embarrass her, were she still with us. She was a humble rock. Nonetheless, they are true. She was a fighter with a big heart and gave all she had in every moment we knew her. While it would not be uncommon for anyone to retreat into personal despair in their final days, she worked to the end for the social movements and the justice she dreamed possible. Such was her generous character.
We write these words to remember a dear fighter, to try to make sense of this tragedy, honour her courageous fighting spirit and carry it with us always. And we do so with profound feelings of love, remembering, respect and loss. In that sense Ann has never left us.
Before paying tribute to Ann as a friend and comrade, we would like to recognize Ann’s tireless and often thankless contributions to Peoples’ Global Action (PGA). This is not an easy task, and though its influence is still felt, PGA essentially no longer exists. Furthermore, when it did exist, it never had any formal representation, and no one could speak in the name of PGA. We would like to honour Ann’s passing, not just as individual friends of Ann, but also as friends of PGA. This is the nearest we can come to honouring her in the spirit of PGA, a now largely defunct and non-representative movement.
Ann played a huge role in its incubation. PGA was a highly influential tool for anti-capitalist global coordination and communication between struggles around the world, especially from its founding in 1998 until the early 2000s. It was not the first to challenge the system but drew on those struggles across the globe where people were bravely fighting for a better world and defending Mother Nature. It became a place to connect. It provided an invitation.
Although today PGA as such only exists as a loose network of contacts, its ghost continues to haunt the system, notably by the Hallmarks, regularly adopted on different occasions to coordinate struggles and resistance. The importance of PGA in creating that sort of space for de-legitimizing and actively resisting institutions of global capitalism, such as the World Trade Organization, the G8, the World Bank and IMF, and related trade agreements, and influential corporations and their lobby groups, cannot be underestimated. Ann’s contribution to PGA also cannot be underestimated.
For many years, Ann lived and breathed PGA. She was active from its founding conference in Geneva in 1998, and stubbornly believed in it, defended it, and attempted to resurrect it even as its activities and influence eventually waned. She was part of the PGA conferences and numerous international study seminars and solidarity caravans that took place around them, always making sure to translate and interpret between English, Spanish and German to ensure that PGA was a multilingual space in which all could participate. She acted in solidarity when organizations involved with PGA were facing repression, whether it was Black communities in Colombia, Maori communities in Aotearoa, or Europeans caught up in the G8 in Genoa. Ann was also instrumental in the global Indymedia network, which grew up in close parallel to PGA, another key tool in the early 2000s, greatly anticipating much of current day social media political activity.
Together with one other comrade in Germany, she spent many hours late into the night building and maintaining the PGA website into an absolutely mammoth and comprehensive archive/database of contemporary anti-globalization and anti-capitalist resistance, with material about PGA and related activities in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic and Russian. In PGA’s heyday, this website was always kept meticulously updated. This website also later spawned another comprehensive online archive about global resistance that Ann built and maintained.
The work of building and maintaining a website was incredibly thankless and invisible work (as with the interpretations and translations). Ann was vigilant to ensure that Wikipedia contained a correct entry about PGA. The website was an officially endorsed tool and voice-piece of all the PGA structures, and Ann was tasked to do this work and her efforts were fully supported within PGA structures. Perhaps the one legitimate complaint of the site - with the sheer density of material that it contained - was that it was top-heavy. If lacking visual appeal for some the site was an amazingly comprehensive and informative resource. Perhaps this was due to Ann imprinting her own personal stamp of austerity on it. Ann was never a person for unnecessary frills, pomp or splendour.
Ann’s detailed archiving of PGA and related activities, together with her work with Indymedia, meant that she had an encyclopaedic repository of historical knowledge in her head about the PGA process and was somewhat of a custodian of the history of PGA. She was one of a small handful who understand references to such obscure things as the “Finland Meeting”, the “Geneva Seminar”, the “Prague Caravan meeting”, the “Leiden Office” or “La Usine”; the reasons why a 5th PGA Hallmark was added to the original 4 at the 2nd PGA conference in Bangalore, India; and the relevance of including reference to dignity of life, struggles against religious fundamentalism and feudalism. She understood why it was politically important, from an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist perspective, to change the name from the original name, “Peoples’ Global Action Against Free Trade and the WTO”, to a simple “Peoples’ Global Action”. And, she understood the debates about where to place the apostrophe within the name, and the dangers of appealing to chauvinistic nationalism and racism if the apostrophe was misplaced. She knew the intricacies of one particularly important debate that surfaced early in PGA’s history about the dangers of accepting funding from (far) right-wing sources that posed as progressive organizations. She knew the disruptive impact of September 11th 2001 on the 3rd PGA conference which took place just days afterwards, in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

While being a strong internationalist, and believing in the need and possibility of bringing together struggles in different countries, she also was keenly aware of the difficulties of this, and the concrete challenges it posed to PGA. She knew about the absurdly funny email conflict about “processed Cheese” that erupted from a culture clash between Polish and Dutch PGA activists, in the days when email etiquette was still a new art form; or about the delicacy of Nepalese and Indian relations in the PGA while being strongly committed to anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian organizing. She had a clear understanding of the complicated relations between “the convenors committee” and “the support group”, the names of the informal leaders of PGA, who according to all PGA statutes and also our perhaps over optimistic expectations, did not actually exist. Yet, she also was a realist and not a dogmatist, so she knew which of these non-leader leaders were leaders because they had earned their legitimacy through struggle and efforts to build PGA, and others who were leaders simply because they had self-appointed themselves as leaders based on ego gain. This was always an area that she had strong opinions about.
Ann was very keen to bring different organizations together, she also understood some of the multiple tensions that did exist, such as the tensions between the PGA process and the World Social Forum (WSF) in relation to the Bombay WSF in 2004, or the delicate, complex and continually evolving relations between PGA and the Via Campesina and the reason why the Zapatista Army was invited into the PGA in its early stages (in the end their participation was not possible). In short, if a PGA history were ever to be written, and surely it should as there are many who do not know much if anything about its short but extremely important history, Ann’s presence in the project would have not only been desirable, but really essential. Should such a project ever be undertaken, her input will surely be sadly missed. Any solace that we can take is that her influence remains and that she affected so many people from so many places so profoundly.

Some of us didn’t know Ann was ill. This would be typical of Ann, always concerned about others even at her own expense and not wishing for anyone to worry or fret over her. Others maybe thought she would pull through. That was not surprising. If anyone was a fighter against strong odds it would be Ann and she proved this again and again right up until the end whether eating gas in the street, doing the work behind the scenes that no one sees, or fighting the illness that attacked her body.
Ann left behind her influence while supporting and participating in struggles all over the planet. As an internationalist she was both a dreamer and a realist at the same time and could walk this balance impressively. She could be found on the front lines in struggles at home and around the world, but never merely as a participant in spectacle. She helped people and movements connect and made sure the story got out while doing the things necessary behind the scenes when the street resistance had faded until another day. Although many of us knew her from the PGA days, Ann had a wealth of experience long before PGA was even imagined. This included student struggles in Germany, a solidarity visit of South African metalworkers to Germany in the early days of post-Apartheid reconstruction, the mobilizations against the World Bank/IMF which took place in Berlin in 1988 (a highly significant and often forgotten precursor to the “global anti-globalization movement”), and, the early solidarity with the Zapatista struggles in Mexico when it was so urgently needed. Ann was always there. She was a kind of reliable glue that kept these steps pasted together leading to more resistance, connections and opportunities to resist.
She was one you could go to gain perspective and knowledge, or highlight an idea or perception you had not considered or overlooked. She could do this calmly and firmly. She tirelessly raised the nature of our patriarchy, a practice that those of us men in the struggle are infected with, even when our cluelessness prevents us from seeing it in the moment. Similarly, she was eager to point out the Eurocentrism in European movements, working closely with migrant organizations and antifascist struggles. She had a keen intellectual understanding of the issues at stake, and also a keen awareness and fear that fascists and nationalists were also organizing along similar issues while often sharing similar language to antifascists, internationalists, and anti-capitalists. She always made efforts to expose this strange phenomenon and to overcome it. At the same time, Ann was not always easy to get on with, and was sometimes argumentative but this was because she had strong opinions and beliefs and was prepared to fight for them. She was not afraid to tell people that she disagreed with them. But, true to her warm character, she argued her differences in respectful political terms and did not resort to cheap personal attacks and gossip.

She could have been a great “success” by any measure of this system. Her brilliance radiated. But Ann’s version of “success” was of a deeper and different kind. It could be found in the Zapatista struggle, Ya Basta, People Global Action, Indymedia, her participation in street mobilizations in Germany against the neoliberal Harz laws, the many other mobilizations against neoliberal capitalism, and the truth that oppression must be challenged in every form, to name a few. Hers was a place where women would be free and equal players in every struggle; a society less of heroes, gladiators, and male images of greatness and self-aggrandizement. Even if some of us didn’t really know what she was saying all those years ago we do now. She planted seeds everywhere and if resistance did not find her, she would find it, or create it, because it had to be done. Yet, she paid for this rejection of “success”, never having had economic security, and also leading quite a lonesome existence, despite having many friends and impacting on even more. Her approach to her life and work was always to reject individual gain, and favouring austerity. Partly out of a lack of ego, and partly out of a healthy suspicion of police interference, Ann preferred anonymity. She rarely used her surname, and to many she was known simply as “Friday”, a reference to Man Friday in the novel Robinson Crusoe, a parable about the contradictory Master/Slave relationship whose current relevance Ann didn’t fail to appreciate, giving it at the same time a feminist twist.

Who knows why such people are taken from us so soon? Undoubtedly the cancer that wracked Ann’s body has become an epidemic, fed by poison, chemicals and pollution that are the by-product of so called capitalist “progress”. It is up to us now to add more light to our torches, carry the fight forward and remember Ann Stafford for who she was, what she did, what she taught, wrote, spoke and lived. And we carry this into struggle, whether in the streets or alone in a dark room at night. We will always love you Ann, dear friend in struggle. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and the recesses of our minds. You touched people around the planet. We will see your face in the streets, and every time someone says no and refuses to play by the rules of injustice and oppression, we will see you there, pointing out the lapses, the things we have missed and need to improve on and always without ego or blame, but the wisdom and knowledge to fill in the blanks. This is not goodbye, you remain with us always. And we will carry you into every battle we face against this wretched system that causes so much pain, until that new world you fought for so valiantly and completely is realized for everyone.

Dave, Kolya, Friedericke, Ulli and Olivier