20 October 2011

#OccupyDameStreet - Everything and the kitchen sink

And they thought their woodworking skills would never be used again after school
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Thursday 20th October
This is a bit of a kitchen sink post, a few ideas mulling around in my head that haven't quite gelled together yet, but its a start.

I've taken a few hours off this afternoon, back at home now and nestled in the warmth of my own chair, at my own desk with a comfortable silence wrapped warm and tight around me. The physical strain of life on Occupied Dame Street, the labourious exertions, the cold and rain, the hours of standing and facing into the elements while sleep seems a distant shore long since vanished over the horizon, all the harm of these can be undone when finally head meets pillow, eyes close and the natural cycle of the body is allowed once more to take hold. Far less easy to escape is the toll this all takes on the head.

This morning was tough, juggling roving German camera crews running from tent to tent without once asking their occupants for permission to film and intrude (a common issue with the media, and with some members of the public for whom Occupied Dame Street has surely become Dublin's biggest tourist attraction, judging by the numbers of passers-by who stop to have their pictures taken with the hippies before wandering off in search of Riverdance or a bar with a flat screen telly showing the match), with those more belligerent and violent who attacked members of the Camp and threatened to come back later with a shotgun. Excuses can be made for both the former (who view us all objectively as but a story to be framed) and the latter (as one of the many troubled people society has failed, yet another reason why #OccupyDameStreet is), but the dehumanising effects of a German lens or a junkie's spit takes its toll on one's soul nonetheless.

Beyond the drain of individual and unique events there is the simple challenge of spending so much time around other people in such an extreme environment. There are those in this life who are personable people, who love company and crave lengthy interactions with their fellow human beings, for whom a day without conversation and a chance word spoken with a stranger are to be mourned and avoided. I am not one of these people. A stranger may indeed be a friend you have yet to meet, but I am quite comfortable keeping it that way. I remember reading an anthropologist suggest that a hundred and fifty people is about the maximum you can really maintain friendships with at any one time, with a core group of fifteen close friends and family members, and I'm talking about Real friends here, not FriendFace ones. In the space of thirteen days I have easily tripled the number of people I interact with on a daily basis, and under a level of intensity that forges tight bonds very quickly. This shared experience has brought us all together in common purpose, but the underlying reality is that none of us know anything more about each other than what we have experienced together on Dame Street, that we have no more in common with each other than a shared outrage at the levels of social injustice we witness and a belief that #OccupyDameStreet can effect positive change.

Believe it or not talk of politics is very rare in the Camp. Conversations are most often focused on the simple practicalities of Camp life, who needs to be doing what, and where, what needs to be done for the evening's events and who's turn it is to sweep up. While we may all engage in political debate with visitors to the Camp curious as to why we all are here, amongst ourselves there is almost a tacit agreement not to delve too deep into our own motivations beyond those that we wear on our sleeve. I know that there are those with whom I now stand shoulder to shoulder whose other convictions are anathema to me and when these come to the fore, particularly under the harsh glare of the media lens, I reel and ask myself, why am I doing this, how can I stand here and be associated with this person?

There is a disconnect between #OccupyDameStreet the Idea, and #OccupyDameStreet the Reality. They are intertwined and inseparable, but held together by quantum locking and only the occasional physical bond. The Idea brought the first Overnighters to Dame Street just shy of two weeks ago, the Reality of their Camp gave rise to a new Idea, bigger and grander than the simple Reality of twenty tents on the hard stone paving. Inspired by this grander Idea, more people joined the Reality of the Camp and it too began to grow, and its situational intransigence now fuels an even greater Idea. This Idea is what the general public beyond the tents and pallets engage with, but it is on the physical tents and pallets of the Reality that the ongoing Idea is built.

I am caught between the Reality and the Idea. I spend many hours engaged with the physical actuality of the Camp, I helped build it, shaped its walls and secured its structures, I stand watch over it on four-hour shifts welcoming in those who want to learn more and warding off those who seek to do harm. I have diffused arguments and (sadly) instigated them, facilitated General Assemblies and lamented the tortuous nature of their decision making processes. I have built walls and barricades and made tea for passing strangers and though I have yet to spend a single night, for fourteen hours a day my heart beats within that Camp.

And yet my soul lies firmly within the Idea. The concept of #OccupyDameStreet, of the workers and the unemployed, the students and the teachers, the old and the young, the women and the men, all the citizenry of Ireland excluded from the decisions and rewards of a system that benefits the minority at the expense of the majority, standing together shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, this is where my soul lies. As I sit at the feet of academics and writers hosting open air workshops in the icy cold on the politics of economics and the economics of politics, the acrid smell of the soiled streets of Dublin melts away and I am transported to the Anarres of Le Guin's The Dispossessed by way of les rues de Mai '68. For over a decade I have been hearing that another world is possible, and here on Occupied Dame Street I am witnessing that possibility made manifest.

That is why I can stand shoulder to shoulder with those whose wider beliefs may upset me, because in the Reality of Occupied Dame Street they can put aside those beliefs as I can put aside mine, and we can work together on something that we all care passionately about. The Idea of #OccupyDameStreet may exist in parallel to the Reality, but for now it very much needs this Reality to survive. For the ideals of the Idea to be, all the intrusive noise of the Other that this Reality entails must also be.

And on that note its time to head back and spend the evening sweeping up soggy cardboard, cigarette butts and all the other accidentally discarded detritus that any congregation of humanity accumulates. In years to come when I tell my imaginary grandchildren what I did in the Revolution, I'm going to make this all sound so much more glamourous.

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At 6:07 pm, Anonymous doug said...

your help is invaluable, your courage is certain, your determination is key, your belief is profound. and your posts are a great way for us to keep in touch with you guys. well done, and thanks for doing what a lot of us wish we could. respect & keep going, the whole world is watching

At 7:30 pm, Anonymous eleanor said...

I echo what Doug says above. Can you speak, have you spoken, this out in this calm compassionate manner at GA Dave?


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