26 January 2012

#OccupyDameStreet - What is it going to take?

Taking a break during the Carnival of Resistance
Former Anglo Irish Bank offices, Stephen's Green, Dublin, Monday 23rd January
RTE Six-One News, Wednesday 25th January. €1.25 Billion had just been paid to holders of unsecured Anglo Irish Bank Bonds, €1.25 Billion that would literally just disappear with the click of mouse, the equivalent of all the cuts announced in last year's austerity budget to Health, Social Protection, Education and Overseas Aid vanishing into the ether, never to be seen again. In between the twin smokescreens of a partial return to the bond markets and the arrest of a bilocating phone-loving Senator, RTE illustrated public outrage against the bond-payment with footage of two dancing pigs on Merrion Street.

Two dancing pigs.

Less than one hundred meters away around the corner forty people had chained themselves to the entrances of the Department of Finance since six am that morning. The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, TV3, 4FM and many others had all run with the #OccupyDameStreet protest as one of their main stories during the day. RTE showed two men dressed as pigs, dancing all alone on the street.

On the other side of the Dáil, on Kildare Street, four hundred farmers protested over septic charges. This RTE Six-One dutifully reported. Four hundred people outraged that the government would dare to ask them to ensure that they are not polluting the land with their own human waste. Four hundred people, ten times the number of those protesting the theft of €1.25 Billion a hundred meters away, angrily proclaiming that a €50 charge would destroy their way of life.

On Tuesday night at the first public meeting of the 'Anglo: Not Our Debt' coalition, I sat in front of a journalist from the Financial Times. He wanted to know why the Irish people weren't protesting. He talked to two women in their late fifties, who then left the meeting during the coffee break, muttering that it was "just another talking shop". The first half of the meeting saw Tom McDonnell explain the history of the Anglo bailout and the apocalyptic effects that ongoing payments of the promissory notes will have on the country, the second half was a call to arms asking the audience themselves to identify ways to resist the payments. The two women who left seemed unwilling to make their own contributions, they wouldn't even give the journalist their first names. They wanted something to be done, they wanted action to be taken, but they wanted someone else to do it for them.

For three days a Carnival of Resistance was held outside the former Anglo offices on Stephen's Green. The Anglo name may be long gone and its business transferred to Burlington Road, but the shadows of the Anglo sign can still be seen on the ESB International building and for many it remains a potent symbol of all that went wrong with our country. From early Monday morning and continuing on until nearly 10pm on the night of the bond-payment itself, bands played and speakers rallied on the pavement, children danced and drew pictures with chalk on the ground, passers-by stopped, listened and engaged with writers and academics from the #OccupyUniversity program, artists, musicians and, most importantly of all, each other. Outrage was expressed but the message was one of positivity.

As I stood on the street uploading pictures from the Carnival from my phone, I saw a series of comments from a member of Dublin's underground Street Art community decrying that it all looked "a bit amateur", that the public would never respond to a bunch of guitar players and home-made signs, that no movement could succeed without a strong and visible leader. He believes in action, but not in protests, "Protest in Ireland was kidnapped years ago, rendered harmless and pointless. It's all a token" he said.

#OccupyDameStreet activists locked-in to cement filled barrels
Department of Finance, Merrion Row, Dublin, Wednesday 25th January
For seventy-two hours I resisted the Anglo bailout. I stood on Stephen's Green through sunshine, rain and dark of night and bent the ear of any passer-by who stopped to listen, and when the speakers and musicians had packed up for the night I swept the pavement clear. I educated myself and attempted to educate others, I attended meetings and publicized them to all and sundry, live-blogging from within for those who could not be there in person. For the day of the bailout itself I stood outside the Department of Finance with forty Dame Street activists who had chained themselves to concrete-filled barrels and watched Alan Dukes walk by, eyes firmly fixed ahead to avoid any contact with the cold harsh reality of the situation.

I have done everything in my power to resist what I believe to be an act of heinous injustice, and the feeling I am left with today is what was the bloody point?

Dancing pigs on RTE. Self-interest more likely to bring people onto the streets than public calamity. A wider population eager to highlight the problems but unwilling to get up off their own backsides and do something about it themselves. The radical underground telling me we need hierarchies and leaders.

I don't mean to criticize the two costumed performers, they are to be wholeheartedly commended for the effort they went to. Similarly the septic tank charge is a serious issue, yet another stealth tax like the Household and Water Charges that will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, imposed by a Government bent on taxing the marginalized to bail out the wealthiest in our deeply unequal society, and while some sectors of the street art community may not believe in the effectiveness of current protests, others actively engage in their own protest as shown by CANVAZ on the city's walls at the start of the week.

What depresses me though is that there were only two pig performers, not thousands. That RTE treat the bailout like the "and finally" story of a water-skiing squirrel at the end of the news. That the people only take to the streets when they can feel their own money being taken directly from their wallet. That it is fifty quid they shout about, not €1.25 billion. That it is one wall, on one street saying "Not Our Debt", and not every wall, on every street, in every town and village in the country.

Where are the people? Where is the anger? Where is the action?

What is everyone waiting for?

"We do not have the resources to mount a national campaign" said 'Anglo: Not Our Debt' on Tuesday night, "but we will give you all the information you need to mount your own". The information is out there for people to educate themselves, why must they wait to be told what to do? For nearly a year the villagers of Ballyhea have been staging their own weekly protests, come rain or shine, they didn't wait for an external group to organize something, they didn't wait to be given permission, they just did it, and they haven't stopped. For three weeks a small group of activists planned to blockade the Department of Finance on the day of the bond-payment, none of whom had ever done anything like this before. They reached out to others with more experience and learned how to make lock-on barrels and passive-resistance techniques (not that they were needed in the end). They had an idea, commitment and educated themselves, then they took action.

Just before Christmas Vincent Browne visited the #OccupyDameStreet camp and for twenty minutes he asked the Occupiers, "Why aren't the Irish people protesting?". On Tuesday night the Financial Times asked me the same question, "Why aren't the Irish people protesting?". I had no answer then, and I have no answer now.

All I know is how sad it all makes me feel. What is the bloody point?

Four months ago I was a passive observer. On October 8th everything changed. I stood on Dame Street, skulking in the background, snapping pictures and trying not to be noticed, then someone handed me a guy rope and said, "here, hold this", and suddenly I was protesting.

When will the rest of the country have their own Dame Street Moment?

What is it going to take?

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1 Comments:

At 5:42 pm, Anonymous Coralie said...

A good and honest analysis Dave, thanks!
I wonder if Passivity has become the reverse side of Freedom?
Coralie

 

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