14 November 2011

#OccupyDameStreet - Who are the people in your neighbourhood?

How do we solve our Nation's woes? Answers on a postcard please...
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Saturday 12th November
Travelling back and forth between Occupied Dame Street and the Really Real World has been one of the stranger experiences of the last few weeks. There is a sign at the entrance to the Camp that says "if you can't afford to take time off to be here, you belong here", and on that basis I should have been in the Camp 24/7 these last few days.

By way of explanation let me digress for a moment and talk about Jury Duty. One of the concerns I've always had about the Jury System is that juries are not necessarily a representative cross-section of the populace, they are a representative cross-section of the populace that couldn't find a decent enough excuse to get out of Jury Duty. I have been called for Jury Duty twice, and both times was happy to serve believing it to be my civic duty (a somewhat antiquated notion in these highly individualized times, I know). For those unfamiliar with Jury Duty, a large pool of people are summoned randomly from the electoral register and gather together in the court buildings on an appointed day, each waiting for their name to be called by a clerk and travel into the court room to be selected for a specific trial. The prosecution and defense each have an opportunity to reject a number of potential jurors for a given trial, and each selected juror also has the opportunity to approach the judge and come up with a decent excuse for not being selected - on the two occasions I was called up the judge seemed to accept everything from "I have a heart condition", to "I'm going to Majorca next week", and given that a large swathe of professions are automatically excused from Jury Service, everything from doctors and lawyers, butchers, vets, pharmacists to teachers, lecturers and full-time students, you are basically left with a pool of people whose sole qualifications for service seem to be that they have nothing else better to be doing or are incapable of coming up with a vaguely plausible reason why they should be elsewhere.

Those who wish to criticize #OccupyDameStreet often level similar charges at our haphazardly-constructed gate, with the refrain "get a job" ejected from the slurring mouth of an intoxicated passer-by being as tired today as it was five weeks ago. With unemployment now at 14.4% the fact is that a sizable portion of the population are without work, and have been without work for some time, and as this is one of the core reasons why #OccupyDameStreet has sprung into being it is not surprising that many in the Camp are currently out of work. Being unemployed, however, does not mean being work-shy, lazy or a dole-cheat, quite the opposite in fact. If you talk to some in the Camp they will tell of the dark depression that comes with inactivity, of the drive to stand on their own two feet without the need for external assistance and the need to have something solid in their life as a basis for their self-esteem. While I disagree with the fetishisation of Work by both Capitalists and Marxists (Time being a much more important idea to my mind), there can be no denying that the lack of work weighs heavily on the minds of many in the Camp; one man there since the start said it best to me when he explained that in the last five weeks he has sent out over a hundred CVs while camping almost every night on Dame Street, and that if he got a job he would leave the Camp immediately, only to return again as soon as his shift ended for the day.

The long-term unemployed are only one component of the Camp though, with students, academics, workers, professionals and retired seniors all contributing to various degrees and the Movement being far more representative of Irish society than the average jury. Many will camp for a few nights each week, putting their lives on hold for something they believe so strongly in, others are unable to camp but still come down for a few hours each day to help out in any way they can. Still more are constrained by time or distance and can hardly visit the Camp at all, but still actively support the Movement online by maintaining the website and twitter feeds, designing the posters and flyers or drafting press releases. Everybody involved is sacrificing something to be here, they all have something else they could, or should, be doing instead, and this does not even take into account the (by now) thousands of members of the wider public who have taken time out from their days to drop by and donate blankets and sleeping bags, food and water or simply the loose change from their pocket and a kind word. In strong contrast to the drunken abuse from a tiny minority, the phrase, "I can't be here myself, but I'm so glad you are here for me" never, ever grows old.

These last few days I have found myself constrained by the realities of the Really Real World, my business partners and clients have all been very understanding for the last five weeks, but the fact is that if I don't spend some time with them I won't have the luxury of taking more time off later to spend on Occupied Dame Street (or alternatively I'll quickly discover the joy of being able to spend all my time on Occupied Dame Street). I'm still trying to get down for a few hours each day, and trying hard to overcome nagging feelings that I am no longer pulling my weight in the Camp, which possibly explains why I have agreed to facilitate this evening's General Assembly on proposals to work with the Dublin Council of Trade Unions on upcoming events. Wish me luck.

So if you are walking by tonight and feel the urge to castigate a bunch of lazy, feckless, lefty hippies, before you shout out "get a job", consider the fact that some of us have three and are still here, and others would give up all they have for just one.

Before you judge, stop and ask us, be surprised by what you learn and then join us.

We are all the 99%

(unless you are Rupert Murdoch. Highly unlikely, but there have been a lot of reposts of my blog lately, so you never know)

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At 4:56 pm, Blogger Uke Gnome said...

Totally agree, the fact is everyone can support and contribute in some way. They just have to ask themselves what they can do and then do it!


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