15 March 2012

#OccupyDameStreet - Where do we go from here?

The Camp may be gone but The Movement lives on. The General Assemblies are back at ODS, sadly the letter "R" is still MIA.
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 14th March
There is an interesting OpEd in today's Irish Times by Vittorio Bufacchi, provocatively entitled Dame Street eviction gives Occupy chance to stay relevant, in which he writes:
"The Garda’s dismantlement of the Occupy Dame Street encampment outside the Central Bank in Dublin last week is the best thing that could have happened to the movement.

The camp had been in place for five months, and notwithstanding the admirable resolution of the protesters it was time for a change of tactics. A transformation was becoming increasingly necessary, not only to revitalise the movement and bring in new supporters with renewed impetus and fresh ideas, but also to remind us all that the fight against injustice has only just started.

When the Occupy movement raised its head in Dame Street five months ago, it made a spectacular political statement that drew much interest and press coverage. Five months later the encampment had become part of the urban landscape, so much so that passersby stopped taking any notice.

There is nothing worse than for the extraordinary to become commonplace, or for a radical protester to become predictable. That was the risk that the Occupy Dame Street movement was facing. Apart from a few disgruntled local businesses, no one else was interested in the rants of protesters outside the Central Bank.

The real problem facing the Occupy Dame Street Movement was how to reinvent itself while still keeping the encampment going.

To voluntarily take down the tents would have been seen as a mark of weakness, if not total surrender. And yet that phase of the movement had run its course, and time had come to regroup and move forward.

The dilemma facing the Occupy Dame Street movement must have been paralysing. But in politics one should never lose faith, and with almost perfect timing the gardaí came to the rescue. By closing the encampment, the Occupy Dame Street movement has not only resolved its dilemma, but it has come out of the affair with its honour intact – and, to boot, as the victims of an intolerant establishment that fears the cause championed by the Occupy movement worldwide, perhaps because there is a truth to what this movement stands for."
Since the Camp was dismantled a twenty-four hour vigil has been held outside the Central Bank and daily General Assemblies have taken place, which is a very positive development because to my mind no public assemblies had been held by #OccupyDameStreet since early January. Last night's Assembly was well attended, and a good few people who spoke said that they had been involved during the first few weeks, but once the wooden barricades had been erected around the site by the Camp inhabitants, they had felt excluded and no longer welcome. They expressed hope that with the dismantling of the Camp the Movement would return to the open and welcoming environment of its early days.

One speaker who had lived in the Camp expressed the belief that the Camp itself had been a hindrance to the success of the Movement, that because conditions were so harsh and so much of their energy was spent just surviving, there was no time left for any positive activities. I've written before about how I felt the Movement had become too insular, too inward-focused, and it was interesting to hear former Camp residents say the same things.

What was also heartening was to hear folks express a desire to acknowledge and listen to the external criticism that appeared online in the aftermath of the Eviction, to learn from it (without becoming obsessed by it) and to try not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

However on the subject of where the Movement goes next there was less certainty, with strong disagreement over whether the Camp should be reestablished post-Paddy's Day, or if the Movement needs to transform itself into something more virtual, like #OccupyWallStreet did after the clearing of Zuccotti Park. There did seem to be some considerable disagreement between those who have been maintaining a twenty-four hour presence and those who have not over the necessity of a physical presence tied to a specific location around which the Movement can be based.

More worrying to me last night were the reports from activists involved in the vigil of an escalation in the tactics used by the gardaí. One activist spoke of being taken off Dame Street late on Tuesday night by what can only be described as a police snatch squad, as a van pulled up without warning and the gardaí inside emerged to sweep him off his feet, bundle him into the van and take him down to Pearse Street Garda Station where he was held overnight and then released in the morning without charge. Actions like this will only strengthen people's resolve to remain in situ, the physical structures of the camp serving for them as visible resistance against what they perceive as an oppressive regime.

However Buffachi believes that returning to the Camp would be the wrong course of action:
"To fight for its space on Dame Street would not only be a mistake but a missed opportunity. Apart from the fact that the Central Bank today is not the bastion of social injustice in Irish society, the real challenge is to find a fresh way to deliver the message, and remind us all of why the Occupy movement is there.

The truth is that our society needs an Occupy movement, even if it doesn’t occupy Dame Street. We need to be reminded that the grotesque social and economic inequalities that we have come to associate with the years of the Celtic Tiger must never be repeated. But what we no longer need is an urban encampment that has turned into an eyesore while becoming politically invisible...

...Going back to their tents is the easiest option, but it would be a mistake that may well mark the end of a beautiful story. In this delicate phase, what is called for is courage, vision and creativity, not stubbornness, political staleness or intellectual monotony."
It's no exaggeration to suggest that the way in which this question is answered will determine if the Movement survives or not.

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At 1:21 am, Blogger g man said...

To return to putting the camp back outside the bank, would be repeating a mistake and would further isolate an already isolated movement. Move on, adapt and thrive. You risk losing the 1 percent of the 99 percent who is still interested in what you are doing.


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