19 October 2011

#OccupyDameStreet - A Philosophy of Communication

Senator David Norris visits the Camp
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 19th October
A difficult day for me today in the Camp, for philosophical rather than meteorological reasons, but before I explain why, it is important for me to state, once again, that I am not a spokesperson for #OccupyDameStreet, that I am writing, as always, in a purely personal capacity. #OccupyDameStreet has no spokesperson, and yet everyone is a spokesperson in that while no one person can claim to speak for the Movement, everyone is encouraged to speak about their own experiences here, good, bad, warts and all. This is a tenet that I have embraced, allowing me to write freely about my own involvement on Dame Street without fearing that what I say reflects poorly on the Movement, but today I was confronted with the other side of this belief and had to deal with what happens when someone else in the Movement speaks out publicly in a way that I very much disagree with.

The Camp, and #OccupyDameStreet in general, has a very heartfelt policy on dealings with political groups and entities, embracing all those who would work with the movement as individuals, while leaving their political parties or groups at the door. The thinking behind this is that the Movement needs time to find its own voice before it invites other groups with more established and, perhaps, stronger voices to join in. So far the greatest test of this policy has been when external groups have come to General Assemblies, eager to share their experience but unwilling to speak as individuals, seeking to change this policy. This is an open conversation that will continue to run for many days ahead, but what happens when it is an individual politician who approaches the Camp and wishes to speak?

This morning the Camp was visited by Senator David Norris. The Senator has been campaigning in and around Dublin for the last few days as part of his Presidential campaign, but had not approached the Camp before today. Shortly after noon he walked up with a few journalists to engage with Camp residents and express solidarity with many of the things that #OccupyDameStreet are seeking to highlight. As he arrived he was asked, in the spirit of the #OccupyDameStreet policy of leaving one's political affiliations at the door, to speak with the Camp not as Senator Norris, nor as a Presidential candidate, but as Mr Norris, citizen of Ireland, which he seemed most willing to do.

Senator David Norris visits the Camp
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 19th October
Unfortunately there were some in the Camp who objected strongly to his presence, not as an individual but as the personification of a political process that they have no confidence in, ironically they themselves seemed unable to separate the man from the office. As no other Presidential candidates have visited the Camp, Senator Norris seemed to bare the brunt of some quite heated questions on the role of a President signing into law legislation that gave natural resources away to foreign corporations, and he bore these with his usual good grace. Our internal consensual communication processes failed us though, and one or two people were able to dominate the conversation in a way that I have not witnessed before, giving a very poor impression of the Camp and leaving me greatly saddened by it all.

For me the entire visit was a philosophical minefield. To begin with I greatly respect Senator Norris, while I believe in the radical transformation of or the utter abolition of the Seanad, to my mind no other Senator has accomplished so much with what little tools a Senator is constitutionally equipped with. His own personal struggle to simply get on the ballot paper is a shining example of how flawed our attempts at participatory Democracy are in this country, and his record on human rights is almost unique amongst Irish political figures. However I am very nervous about any external group or individual seeking to capitalise on the goodwill extended towards #OccupyDameStreet, and while Senator Norris may come to speak as Mr Norris, or David as he preferred, it is impossible to escape the fact that he is an election candidate doing a walkabout with the media in tow.

I would like to believe that as with his statement on the Keane Report this week his visit was simply an attempt to use the remaining time of his candidacy to highlight areas that he personally feels passionate about, now that he no longer is in serious contention and can more freely speak his mind, and if this is the case then the heated reception he received today was perhaps a missed opportunity for the Camp.

I was embarrassed by the way he was treated, I do not think that he was received with the courtesy and respect that anyone visiting the Camp should be entitled to as a bare minimum, and though others in the Camp may disagree with the idea of a Presidential candidate visiting, the fact is that he is the only one to date who has done so, a very brave move.

Senator David Norris visits the Camp
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 19th October
However, #OccupyDameStreet is a "leaderless resistance movement", and that really does mean that no-one is in charge. Over the last few days I have come to work shoulder to shoulder with people whose political views on certain issues are almost diametrically opposed to mine and while I do not agree with those views (and at times do not even respect those views, so opposed to them am I), as long as they do not seek to position those views as anything other than their own personal beliefs, then I have no right to criticise them for airing them, or attempt to prevent them from being aired. True participatory Democracy cannot simply be about the things I agree with, and then put back on the shelf when someone raises contrary views.

I may disagree with you, refuse to engage with you or ask you to approach what you are saying in a different way, but in Camp, General Assembly or anywhere that is part of #OccupyDameStreet, and as long as you are speaking from a genuine desire to make a positive contribution, I will never try and silence you.

I just wish it hadn't been an incident with Senator Norris that forced me to confront this issue in my own mind, having to defend the actions of someone who raised their voice at him makes me feel very uncomfortable indeed.

It won't be the wind, it won't be the rain or the snow or even the Gardai and the Central Bank, it will be our communication processes, both internal and external, how we listen to each other and how we engage with those outside the Movement, that will determine the success or failure of #OccupyDameStreet.

We can't afford to have more days like today.

Oh, and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan TD walked up to the Camp today, he had a look around the edges, didn't really talk to anyone inside, probably just as well really given what happened this morning.

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan TD shares an aside with Anthony Coughlan
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 19th October

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At 9:55 pm, Blogger Aidan said...

Dave you have sympathy.

It's very easy to build a consensus on what we are all against, it becomes much harder figuring out what you are all for, and how you all want to go about achieving it.

This reminds me so much of Indymedia meetings only yours are outdoor and cold.

The final straw for me in hindsight was the 2003 EU ascension summit, a rent a horde of wombles, wannabe wombles and black blockers from abroad bullying Irish activists about what their space should be about.

I spent a incredibly exhausting weekend trying to help manage what was supposed to be a media centre in the face of people who just decided to reject the consensus when it suited them.

I limped along with Indymedia with another year before being ground down by court cases.

I should add that Indymedia activists from Ireland and the UK were for the most part, part of the working towards the solution and weren't making things worse.

At 12:28 pm, Blogger lolo said...

i totally agree with you on methods of cummunication being a problem with the movement...i was at the march yesterday and when i got to parnell sq there was a guy f-ing and blinding into the mic...in my opinion this is not peacful protesting and it gives away power to those who want to comdemn the whole thing. it also threatens and antagonises the cops and creates a 'them and us' type situation which i am not comfortable with.


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