17 November 2011

#OccupyDameStreet - Unkie Dave's Guide for the Perplexed

Back where it all began - The first General Assembly on Occupied Dame Street
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Saturday 8th October
As we sit here on day forty-one of #Occupied Dame Street, and forty days and forty nights have passed since I first stood outside the Central Bank and someone passed me a rope, saying "here, hold this", thus sealing my fate for the next five plus weeks, I thought it would be an opportune moment to pause and reflect on all that has happened, the ups and downs, the highs and the lows, and most of all the atrocious weather. And then I realised that perhaps I do far too much of this navel-gazing on a daily basis, trapped in the minutiae as one commentator suggested, and with this in mind I thought it might be more useful to expand our gaze outwards to the macro level, to reflect on the bigger picture of what #OccupyDameStreet is, how it came to be, and how folks can get involved and help shape it for the next forty days and forty nights.

What follows is something in between the micro and the macro, my own guide to #OccupyDameStreet that addresses some of the questions that I get asked asked by friends, family and strangers passing by on the street, not to mention the odd journalist. It is purely my own observations, is not endorsed by #OccupyDameStreet or anyone else connected with the Movement, and is something that I have come to call #OccupyDameStreet - Unkie Dave's Guide for the Perplexed.

What is #OccupyDameStreet?

#OccupyDameStreet is a physical camp of tents, yurts and pallets that sprung up at the gates of the Central Bank on Dame Street in Dublin on October 8th, 2011. #OccupyDameStreet is a Movement of people who are calling for radical change at a local, national and international level. #OccupyDameStreet is the Idea that society can be self-organised along fair and equitable lines. #OccupyDameStreet is a state of mind, a belief that things can be better, and the certainty that we the people are the ones who will make it so.

#OccupyDameStreet is all these things and more, and is definitely a work in progress.
#OccupyDameStreet is a people’s movement, which stands in solidarity with and is inspired by over 1,400 sister occupations in the evolving global movement initiated by the people of Iceland, Greece, Spain and the Arab Spring. We use tactics of non-violence akin to scenes of peaceful resistance in Tahrir Square and Wall Street. This is a diverse people’s initiative, unaffiliated with any political parties. We are the 99%. We stand together against political and economic corruption. We stand for equality and social justice. This is a “leaderless resistance movement” with people of many nationalities, backgrounds, genders and political persuasions

- #OccupyDameStreet October 11th Statement
Yes, but what does all this actually mean?

#OccupyDameStreet is basically a surprisingly disparate group of folks that have coalesced around the belief that the people themselves are the only ones who can make things better in Ireland, and have seized upon the idea of a physical camp set up at the side of one of Dublin’s busiest thoroughfares to serve as a catalyst for conversations, actions and radical transformations, to show that another world is possible and that anyone has the power to make this happen.

On any given night up to thirty people are camping out, with the number rising to over a hundred on some weekends. Over the course of the day these are joined by another twenty to thirty regulars who have been there since day one and spend a good portion of every day on-site. Evening General Assemblies often see a hundred participants and weekends see the numbers grow to anything up to two thousand.

These folks are all from a very diverse set of backgrounds, life experiences and philosophies, all brought together by a desire to do something positive and try to bring about actual and radical change.

For two personal stories of why individuals became involved, you can read Dr Tom Boland's piece in The Evening Herald or my own article on TheJournal.ie.

What does #OccupyDameStreet want?

Bound together by themes of social justice and equality, #OccupyDameStreet has made four key demands:

1) That the IMF stay out of the affairs of Ireland
2) That the burden of the private bank debt be lifted from the public sphere
3) That Ireland’s natural gas and oil reserves be returned to sovereign control
4) That a system of real, participatory Democracy be introduced in Ireland

These demands were made within the first days of the #Occupation and have been the basis for all further actions:
We reject the complete control of the European Central bank (ECB) in dictating our economic policy. Our demand is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stay out of our affairs. We do not want their influence or control. Our demand is that the private bank debt that has been socialised and burdened upon the population of the country who had nothing to do with it be lifted. We will not pay and let our children and their children pay for the crisis that private banks and bondholders have caused. It is their problem, not ours. Our demand is that the oil and gas reserves off our coast that were criminally handed away to private corporations be returned to sovereign control. Our demand is for real, participatory democracy - where the people’s interests come first, where the people decide what happens.

- #OccupyDameStreet October 11th Statement
But what does #OccupyDameStreet actually do?

The activities of #OccupyDameStreet revolve around The Protest and The Process. While the physical presence of the Camp itself is an ongoing protest over the political and wealth inequalities in Ireland, and the Movement has organised a series of Saturday marches from The Garden of Remembrance to Dame Street (the largest of which saw over 2,000 participants), many of those involved talk more about this being a Process, and not a Protest, that it is about initiating conversations amongst the people on what is wrong with our country, and more importantly how to fix it, and to serve as a catalyst and focal point for these conversations.

While Direct Actions on the streets of Dublin (from pop-up Soup Kitchens to flash-mobs) are an integral element, so too are the public General Assemblies where ideas are discussed, solutions offered and decisions taken and the open-air classes of #OccupyUniversity where academics, writers and others offer an alternative education to the conservative doctrines of the Academy, all of these bound together by a host of musicians, poets and comedians who hold concerts under the eves of the Central Bank.

After forty days #OccupyDameStreet is moving towards a new stage in its development, the conversations it has been calling for have been happening, and the outcomes of these conversations are now being brought back to a wider audience, and acted upon.
We say to the people of Ireland, if you have ever looked for an opportunity to engage in realistic change, this is a platform... We do not claim to have a complete list of solutions. We believe, however, that the process is just beginning. The more participation we can build the more power our decisions will carry.

- #OccupyDameStreet October 11th Statement
How did it all start?

On October 8th a small group of people gathered outside the gates of the Central Bank on Dame Street in Dublin’s City Centre. Calls for an #Occupation had appeared online, on Facebook and on Twitter, inspired by the Democracia Real Ya! movement in Spain and the #OccupyWallStreet movement in New York, that saw thousands of ordinary citizens take to the streets and protest over social injustices and political and wealth inequalities in their countries. No one person or group of people have stepped forward to claim responsibility for the original call to meet up at the Central Bank, though the group Real Democracy Now Ireland, in solidarity with events in Madrid, had called for a march to take place in Dublin on October 15th, and were supporting the meeting on Dame Street on the 8th as part of their publicity for the march. The first public meeting, or General Assembly, of #OccupyDameStreet took place just after 2pm on October 8th, and the first tents were erected shortly afterwards.

Why Dame Street?

Unlike previous movements where the political establishment was the target of the protest, many groups in the wider #Occupy Movement have targeted financial institutions as a symbol of the wealth inequality in their country, and the true power behind a weakened democracy. In New York the focus has been Wall Street, the financial heart of America, in London a camp was established outside the London Stock Exchange, and in Dublin the Central Bank of Ireland was chosen for both its role in enabling our economic crash and for being the home of the IMF representative sent to oversee our national budgetary process the same weekend that the #Occupation started. There are also very few other places in the City Centre that contain enough open space to be able to host a camp the size of #OccupyDameStreet.

Non-violence and peaceful resistance is at the core of #OccupyDameStreet. Although situated at the gates of the Central Bank there is a strict non-interference policy with Bank employees and visitors, and all entrances to the Bank remain unblocked at all times, as does the public footpath around the Camp. The plaza in front of the Central Bank where the Camp is located is private property belonging to the Central Bank, but to date there has been no request from the Central Bank made either directly to #OccupyDameStreet or via An Garda Síochána (The Irish police force) for the Camp to disperse or disband. To date there has also been no interference from, or confrontation with, either Bank representatives or the gardai. While #OccupyDameStreet is committed to peaceful resistance thankfully it has to date never been placed in a position where it must resist an oppressing force.

Who are the 99%?

We all are (unless you are Rupert Murdoch). The global #Occupy Movement has seized upon the terms “The 1%” and “The 99%” to refer to the vast gap in political and economic power in our societies, where a small minority of the population control a vastly disproportionate amount of both wealth and power, and the way in which this gap between the haves and the have-nots has increased at an alarming rate over the last decade or two. The “1%” refers to both the economic elite that control a disproportionate amount of this wealth and the political establishment that traditionally has made decisions that benefit the economic elite at the expense of the majority of the citizenry. The term “The 99%” is thus used to be as inclusive as possible to people from all backgrounds. We are all the 99%.

According to a report released by the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland on the 24th February, 2011, quoting data from a 2007 Bank of Ireland report: “the top 1% of the Irish population held 20% of the wealth, the top 2% controlled 30% and the top 5% disposed of 40% of private assets. Excluding the value of housing, the concentration of wealth mounts up to 1% controlling 34% of all wealth.” (source pdf - here).

In 2009 the progressive ThinkTank TASC launched the Hierarchy of Earnings, Attributes and Privilege (H.E.A.P.) Report that examined income inequality in Ireland. It noted that during the 'Celtic Tiger' boom years between 2001 and 2007 "poverty levels (before Social Welfare) in Ireland increased from 35.6 per cent to 41 per cent." The full report and accompanying poster can be found on TASC's website here.

Thus in 2007 we had a situation where 1% of the population controlled 34% of the wealth, and 41% of the population lived in poverty.

If you are reading this, you are the 99%.

Who is behind #OccupyDameStreet?

#OccupyDameStreet, while clearly a political movement, is not affiliated with any Political Party, group or individual. While members of any such group are welcome at Dame Street, they are asked to come as individuals and leave their party affiliations at the door. While the global #Occupy Movement itself is the clear inheritor of the Anti-Capitalist/Alter-Globalisation protests of the last decade and there are progressives, socialists, marxists, left-greens, anarchists and the like involved, there are many more who do not espouse any specific political belief or creed, and remaining outside of the traditional party political system is one of the core beliefs of #OccupyDameStreet.

Who are the leaders of #OccupyDameStreet?

#OccupyDameStreet is a leaderless resistance movement, and this really does mean “leaderless”. The movement takes decisions together collectively via a process called consensus decision making at public meetings called General Assemblies. Everyone is welcome to speak and put forward proposals at the Assemblies, and if the Assembly reaches consensus (a process of reaching agreement that does not involve voting) that proposal become official #OccupyDameStreet policy. The minutes of these Assemblies and statements approved by General Assembly appear on the official website at www.occupydamestreet.org/category/minutes.

More information on the consensus process can be found at www.occupydamestreet.org/consensus.

I heard someone on Dame Street say that giant lizard-people control the moon, how can #OccupyDameStreet believe that?

Just as there are no leaders of #OccupyDameStreet, there are also no official spokespeople. “No-one is a spokesperson and everyone is a spokesperson” is a phrase you will hear often, that no single person can claim to speak on behalf of the Movement and yet everyone involved is encouraged to speak out about their own experiences. As the Movement attracts a broad range of people, there are an equally broad range of opinions and ideas that get raised, but unless you see something appear on www.occupydamestreet.org, it has not been approved by General Assembly and thus is not official #OccupyDameStreet policy.

If somebody says something that you disagree with, speak out, whether it comes from an official source or not. This is your Movement.

How do I get involved?

#OccupyDameStreet is your Movement. There are many ways to get involved and you don’t even need to bring a tent.

Come to the Camp - Just drop in and have a chat. There is usually an information stand there from early morning until 9pm most nights (barring horrific weather), and even if there is no stand there are always people about who happy to have chat, share their experiences, and hear what ideas you have for how to make Ireland a better place for us all. For an idea of what is going on at the Camp on any given day, take a look at the Camp calendar at www.occupydamestreet.org/calendar.

Come to a General Assembly - These are the public meetings of #OccupyDameStreet where discussions are held and all decisions are made. They happen twice a day, five days a week, at 1pm Mon-Fri, 6pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri and 7pm on Thursdays, and on Saturdays if there is a March or other event, normally at the conclusion of the March. The afternoon Assemblies are general discussions, the evening Assemblies are the main decision making ones. This is a great way to see participatory democracy in action (warts and all) and be a part of shaping the direction #OccupyDameStreet goes. If you have an issue or idea you want to raise, just come along, there is always room at the end of an Assembly to raise new items, though if it requires a lengthy conversation then it might get added to the agenda of the following Assembly.

Come to an #OccupyUniversity workshop - #OccupyUniversity is a series of workshops hosted by academics, writers and others with a particular background, expertise, knowledge or interest in an area of relevance to the Movement. Normally an outdoor event, a workshop usually involves a 30+ minute talk on a given subject by the host followed by a facilitated discussion. Upcoming events can be found at www.occupydamestreet.org/occupy-university and #OccupyUniversity have their own blog at occupyuniversitydublin.tumblr.com/, and you can contact them through their blog if you are interested in hosting a workshop yourself.

Help out at the Camp - There is always work to be done, even if you can’t camp, simply coming down for a few hours will make a huge difference. Many of the activities that keep #OccupyDameStreet afloat are organised by autonomous Workgroups. These groups have been tasked by General Assembly to look after specific areas of Camp and Movement life, and include Security (standing watch over the Camp, one of the most essential jobs and almost always undersubscribed), Food (helping to source, cook and serve meals for the residents), Construction (helping to maintain the physical presence of the camp), Facilitation (helping to run the General Assemblies and facilitating the discussions that take place therein) and many others. Some do not even require your presence in the Camp, the Media group for example coordinates the writing of press releases, the design, printing and distribution of leaflets and the maintenance of the online properties (website, twitter etc), most of which could be done from the comfort of your own home. Members of each workgroup normally identify themselves at every General Assembly, so come along and speak to them afterwards, let them know what your skill set is and what you think you could do, or simply ask where you would be most needed. If you can’t make it down to the Camp send an email to occupydamestreet at gmail dot com and introduce yourself, say what you’d be interested in doing, and they’ll get back to you asap.

Donate stuff - If you want to make a donation of food, blankets, sleeping bags or other more esoteric items these are always very much appreciated, you can find a current wishlist of the things the camp needs at www.occupydamestreet.org/wish-list and emergency requests are often put out on Twitter and Facebook. If you bring items down to the Camp just introduce yourself to anyone on site and they will gladly take in your donation.

Organise an activity - If you have a great idea for something #OccupyDameStreet could do, a Direct Action, a workshop, an outreach program etc and want to run it yourself, get in touch with the Camp or email folks at occupydamestreet at gmail dot com. This is your Movement, you don't have to wait for someone at the Camp to suggest an action or activity, drop by and bring your fresh ideas and a new perspective!

Become a Resident - come along and bring a tent, or if you don’t have one ask if there is a spare tent for a night or two. While #OccupyDameStreet is so much more than a collection of tents on Dame Street, those tents and the people that fill them are the core around which everything else rotates. If you want to camp remember that conditions on Dame Street are difficult, and there is a strict no drink, no drugs policy, this is not a Festival! The Camp's Safer Space Policy can be found at www.occupydamestreet.org/safer-space-policy, and shorter guidelines can be found at www.occupydamestreet.org/camp-guidelines-3, please read both carefully before you decide to camp and make sure you understand what types of behaviour will not be aceptable. When you arrive at the Camp introduce yourself to anyone and they will show you where to set up your tent, and help set it up if you need a hand. Once your tent is set up then find out how you can help out in the Camp, this is a great way to meet other residents and there is always work that needs to be done.

Set up your own #Occupation! - there are #Occupy groups in Belfast, Cork, Galway, Letterkenny and Waterford, and there is always room for many, many more. #Occupy your town, your village, your college, your school, your local bank or your local park. Talk to us, or #OccupyCork, or #OccupyGalway etc and get some advice, or just go out and do your own thing - there are no wrong ways to do this!

Support us online - Of course even if you are unable to do any of these things you can always join in the conversation online and make sure your voice is heard. You can keep up to date with all things Dame Street online at the following places:

On the website at www.occupydamestreet.org
On the offical forum at forum.occupydamestreet.org
On Facebook at www.facebook.com/OccupyDameStreet
On Twitter at twitter.com/#occupydamestr
Events are broadcast live on the web at www.livestream.com/occupydamestreet
Or email #OccupyDameStreet with suggestions, comments or concerns at occupydamestreet at gmail dot com

When will it end?

#OccupyDameStreet is an ongoing Movement and has no plans to bring the #Occupation to a close. While it has issued a clear list of demands, it is not simply a case of "Meet these demands and we will go away". The Camp and the Movement are a continuous catalyst, not simply a means to a fixed end.

Are there drumming circles?

On occasion, sadly yes.

Why the hashtag?

Blame Twitter. Blame the Americans. Blame the kids with their crazy haircuts and their loud music and their inability to use an apostrophe correctly in a sentence. Blame Apple for hiding the hashtag on their keyboards and making me use cut-and-paste for three months before I figured out the Alt 3 shortcut. Blame the hipsters, they probably used hashtags before they were cool. Blame Canada. Blame everybody but yourself, and if you are David McWilliams spend the next three years telling everyone you blamed them all along and then stay strangely silent when the dust settles and it turns out you were the one who advised the government to issue the bank guarantee. I've been blaming David McWilliams for years. Blame life. Blame a job. Blame a career. Blame a family. Wait, that's not right, that's been done before, besides I chose not to blame life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got hashtags?

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At 10:17 am, Anonymous K. Daniel said...

Outdone yourself with this one. Still having a nice chew on it before I respond with a bit more substance. In the mean time, thanks for the run-down with special thanks for the links/pdfs.

At 12:09 pm, Blogger RichardM said...

Great stuff Dave

At 12:13 pm, Blogger RichardM said...

By the way, I'm giving a talk this Wednesday at Occupy University with the rather portentous title 'writing in the age of networked occupation'. Would be great if you could make it, seeing as you're a prime specimen of the sort of thing I hope to be talking with people about.

At 1:02 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

Great post Dave. Really good to have a summary of things, and it does make it clearer to those of us outside it who can't get up there much.

That Tasc poster is pretty crazy. We are right down the bottom! As is probably everyone I know!

It's been great reading your blog - it's been a really good way of staying in touch with what's going on up there, even if I rarely comment! Keep up the good work.

(Do I get special points for correct use of the apostrophe?)

At 1:09 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@K. Daniel - thanks, and thanks for the encouragement to write this in the first place!

@RichardM - count me in for Wednesday, looking forward to it.

@Snag_Breac - cheers! I worry that I'm boring all the regulars with all this Dame Street carry on, good to see you are still finding stuff of interest. The HEAP Poster is crazy, TASC sent me out a hard copy and when you stick it up on the wall it really hits you just how unequal everything here really is (and they din't even have room to fit those at the very, very top on the chart).

Also, definitely bonus points for apostrophe use!


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