Got up at 8, heard the Occupy Dame Street camp had been taken down at 3 that morning. I got down there as quick as I could. First thing I noticed coming up through Temple Bar was that the plaza was saturated with water. Maybe they’d washed it clean after clearing the dense undergrowth of tents and huts.
Coming up closer I could see nothing in the plaza- no tents, no pallets, no banners, just 3 high-vis uniforms standing by the path. The wooden boards that wrapped around the trees were patched with brighter spaces. For months there had been stickers, posters, placards and pages taped to these boards, a riot of slogans and ideas. All that was left was a faint discolouration.
Then I saw over by the railings a small group of maybe ten people. Faces resurfacing from my memory of before Christmas when, in that enthusiastic few weeks before it started haemorraging momentum, the protest had drawn me down to Dame Street plaza every day.
A journalist was ducking around with a camera and talking to two girls. They talked of bulldozers. Two army cars with guns. Posessions in the tents just destroyed. The journalist asked were there photographs of last night. Some online, apparently, but not much. Phones had been deliberately broken.
The protestors had taped up a small notice on the railings saying “Occupy Dame Street, ride on.” A guard noticed, came over and , with two grabs of his gloved hands, ripped it down. We closed in a called on him to stop, but it was pathetic, the unifrom could do what it wanted. How easily the Guard could have pretended not to notice the little white square of paper. One last gesture of contempt at the broken protest: a tiny taped-on page is ripped from two railings by a half-smiling, silent Guard. Pages taped to railings? Not on, kids.
One last gesture of anger from the broken protest: two men start chanting “We all live in a fascist regime,” but it doesn’t catch.
A note of positivity: “Wait til six o’clock tonight,” says a girl. “We’ll show them then.” There’s gonna be a protest. I suggest maybe tomorrow at six, so there’s more time to build for it. Then a man in a camouflage jacket says: “We’ll have another one at six tomorrow so.” It takes me back four or five months. The Occupy attitude, provoking equal parts admiration and frustration.
“I couldn’t be here the last two days, cos of work,” says one man angrily to a woman who’s giving out to him. She wanders toward the benches talking about “Faces we haven’t seen for a long time comin back here now there’s a bit of drama.”
Don’t know if she was having a go at me or at others. Whatever. I hadn’t been there in months, like most of the early crowd. I was busy with more effective, important forms of resistance. 20,000 people have attended Household Tax meetings in every county in the state and non-payment is still over 90%. A “no” vote on the Austerity Treaty will shake the world under the feet of the billionaires of Europe. I’m building these campaigns, building my party, educating myself and politicizing other people. I have nothing to apologize for.
The Guards removed the camp for the most pitiful reason: they didn’t want it to spoil the St Patrick’s Day parade. This eleventh-rate former-colonial basket case of a bourgeois state! They’ll stamp out protest if there’s a risk the tourists and the (now semi-mythical) investors may see it. I remember seeing a poor bored Guard walking doggedly from lamp-post to signpost to lamp-post last April before the Queen of England’s visit, studiously tearing off all the anarchist stickers with his hands.
Remember also that the London protestors were turfed out only a few days ago. If ours is the last capital city left with a camp full of crusties in the middle of it, then in the eyes of our ultra-sensitive politicians we might be in danger of turning into that most terrible of things: “The laughing stock of Europe.”
But if this had happened in October or November it would be a different story. Occupy was only successfully evicted because it had in the meantime alienated itself from broad support. The state let ODS’ own weaknesses wear it down to the bone, then smashed the brittle remains.
What were these weaknesses?
If nothing is going on except camping and there’s no strategy except hoping that more people come along, well, people will always have better things to be doing with their time and energy and money.
With no elected leadership, there arose a de facto leadership composed of whoever had the least time on their hands and could spend most time down at the camp.
Consensus-based decision-making ensured endless debates with little activity to show for it.
There was sometimes a virulent, nazi attitude towards political parties- as if we’d all just fallen from the sky and were mindless machines bent on “proselytising” and hijacking.
Sometimes there were promising signs: huge demonstrations early on in the movement, a mighty echo from Wall Street resounding down from College Green. Like every protest movement without a strategy or achievable goals, however, this lost momentum.
Then there were reports of people moving to occupy NAMA buildings. It only really happened once, to my knowledge, down in Cork; they were isolated, turfed out and brought to court.
The Occupy movement had huge public support. I remember all the beeps of the horns as cars passed. I remember the crowds that would gather at 1 and 6. Its four demands were brilliant. But the movement, although it was lodged in plain sight of the world, was sealed off by its own assumptions. The self-sacrifice of many people who did give up other aspects of their lives to camp out on Dame Street was never going to be more than the choice of a minority, when the movement had no promises to make.
This idea of trying to build a new society in the plazas and squares had absolutely nothing going for it. It was an implicit admission that you couldn’t change society, that you had to quarantine yourself from it like it was contagious. As if by your lifestyle, you could attain a kind of holy transcendence.
The vast, vast majority of people are too concerned with work and family to “rise above” Capitalism. Humanity can’t cut itself off from the social system that puts food on the table and keeps the hospitals and schools running, any more than the slave can make his chains disappear just by wishing it.
However, the majority in society can be mobilized to defend our living standards in a direct way. The rich have stopped investing in society on a scale that is historic; our governments are looting our services and pay to make up the gambling debts of these same billionaires. We are on a trajectory toward leaving society as bare and sodden as Dame Street plaza is now.
People won’t accept it, though, not without a fight. Six months ago, if anyone told me that there would not be mass movements of a historic scale over the next few years, I would have laughed in their faces. Today it’s no longer a prediction, it’s a reality. The Household Tax campign, only two and a half months in, is spectacular, and it’s only the start.
For activists hoping to change the world, occupying a square is a good tactic- it’s a constant protest, a permanent invasion of the public consciousness. But alone, it’s not enough. We need to orientate towards mass movements, providing the organisation, the infrastructure and the financial support wherever needed. We meed to go to millions of doorsteps and hundreds of community centres, and tie thousands of posters to poles.
We also need to provide the politics. We need to help mobilize the working class in its own defence in a general way. This is the class that can bring society to a halt by witholding its labour, just as the rich are currently witholding their capital. Then when we’re organized and politicized, we can go on the offensive.
My worry is that the slowing-down and liquidation of Occupy Dame Street will demoralize people who are looking toward creating a more equal and rational world. But it is beyond possible doubt that in my lifetime there will be moments in which the seizure of power and wealth by the working class, and the democratic, equal reorganisation of society, will be possible. The only variable is what foundation the politicized, revolutionary layers of society are willing and able to build between now and then. That’s us, and that’s our job now.