Posts Tagged ‘Protest’

Merrion Square West, behind the Dáil, was filled with people. The closer you got to the stage, the thicker the bodies were pressed. To get around the corner to the other side of the square meant squeezing through a very slow human traffic jam. After trying, mainly to get a look at what kind of crowd was on Merrion Square South, I changed lanes and turned back. In front of me was a sea of people and a rich array of flags and placards.

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A guy later described to me how he stood in front of the stage and rang his friend, who was down near Trinity. Neither one, from where they stood, could see any end of the crowds. Many people stuck down on Nassau Street couldn’t even get to Merrion Square.

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The Guards and the media said that there were 30,000 people out on December 10th. We need to bury that myth quickly and securely. To be sure, 30,000 is a huge number of protestors. The student protest in 2010 was 30-40,000, and the one in 2011 was 20,000. Both were gigantic, awe-inspiring turnouts.

But there is absolutely no way that December 10th saw any fewer than 50,000, and to hear that there were 100,000 out would not surprise me at all. In other words December 10th was at the same point on the Richter Scale of protest as the historic October 11th and November 1st days that shook the government into making big concessions, cutting the water tax and delaying the bills.

The size of the demo is an extremely important question. The government’s U-turn was supposed to have satisfied everyone and ended the upheaval. December 10th proves that that has not happened. People realise that if we start paying, then the bills will sooner or later be hiked up and privatisation will be only a matter of time.

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So what were the Guards and the media at, saying there were only 30,000 there? It’s obvious: trying to spread the impression that the government’s u-turn has worked and that the protest movement has been whittled down. “The middle ground lost interest after our colossal u-turn,” as one Labour member put it.

Another coping mechanism for the establishment is to claim that the crowd on December 10th, big and all as it was, doesn’t really “count” because apparently it was mostly composed of Sinn Féin supporters and socialists. “There is a lot of Sinn Féin and hard left branding,” one Fine Gael member pretended to observe.

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I say pretended because I saw the demo with my own eyes and I know that’s nonsense. The “______ Says No” contingents were more numerous than Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party or People Before Profit. Most placards were home-made and improvised with clever (or weird) individual messages. The photos I took completely bear this out. But the Irish Times tells us that “[The] View from the stage was dominated by SF flags, socialist groups and unions.” Unless there was a huge concentration of such flags just in front of the stage, this is fiction.

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In any case, what are they saying? That Sinn Féin and the left can summon tens of thousands onto the streets at will whenever they want to have a “counterfeit” protest? Were these tens of thousands of people present at the last demonstrations (which the journalist Fiach Kelly has forgotten the dates of) or were those demonstrations composed only of “real”, “ordinary”, “reasonable” people? Surely if SF, the Socialist Party and PBP can now count their active members and close supporters in the tens of thousands, then that deserves to be a headline all on its own?

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This “supporters” myth, the legend of the counterfeit protest, is beneath contempt in terms of self-delusion. Maybe Fiach Kelly wants to believe it himself or maybe he spent more time behind Garda lines with coalition hacks than he did looking at the protest he was supposed to be reporting on.

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It was an awesome turnout, the mood was brilliant and the people marching were not all Shinners and lefties who sprang out of the ground. But the mood on the ground was not really matched from the stage.

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Place yourself in the scene. We all gather at 1pm, all fired up and anxious to hear some politics; at the highest pitch of enthusiasm Brendan Ogle, who is MCing, tells us a band is going to play. The band is OK, but we’re not here for a concert. And you can see people start to move in the first twenty seconds after the first note is played. In the crowd of tens of thousands, hundreds are moving away from the stage. Lines of people are trickling away. And you think: why the hell did they put on a band? Why do they always do this?

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A bit of music and poetry and spoken-word art can be good on a protest. But there was far too much of it, and sometimes it didn’t even seem to be political. Every time the music or the poetry started up, lines of people trickling back down to Nassau Street would appear amid the crowd. People went down to O’Connell Bridge to block traffic or to Kildare Street to have an aul push-and-shove with the cops.

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Speakers had come all the way from Detroit and from Greece to speak. By the time they got up there, 4 or 5pm, only 30% of the crowd was left, at the very most. This was still a sizeable crowd, but it was a sad remnant of the surging throng that had been there earlier. What a sickening waste. Next time, Right2Water need to front-load the politics and keep the poetry and songs for later on, or maybe for a short interlude in the middle of the speeches.

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The second point of criticism: when are Right2Water, Brendan Ogle and People Before Profit going to cop on and start talking about non-payment? Is the alliance with Sinn Féin more important than the key tactic that can bring down the water charges? Non-payment should be front-and-centre. We need to maximise the numbers who don’t pay. That is the key struggle right now.

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The guard grabbed the protestor’s head in two hands. Then he smacked the lad’s head into the wall so hard an electrical socket came out.

This happened at the South Dublin County Council building two nights ago when the guards went in heavy. Twenty or thirty people were disrupting the council meeting in protest at the Property Tax, something that sickened the Fine Gael and Labour councillors with their suited-and-manicured, right honourable douchebag understanding of democracy.

RTE news interviewed some of the excited councillors outside one part of the building and they described their ordeal. It must have been around the same time, around the other side of the building, that lads were being led out in handcuffs just for taking pictures on their phones, one of them semi-conscious from a vicious beating.

Power makes assholes

When people heard about this a lot of them would tell their own Garda story. It made me remember some old stories myself. I used to believe that generally speaking “the shades are sound”. Of course not every guard is arrogant or thuggish. Maybe even the majority are grand. I don’t know, and the question is irrelevant. It’s an institution that puts a small number of men and women into uniforms and demands that they watch, regulate, discipline and punish most of society, primarily the poor and turn to non-white-collar crime, and also those who try, through organisation and protest, to end poverty.

When a person is put in a uniform and told to regulate and to discipline another, the one in the uniform naturally develops a contempt and hatred for the one in civvies. Look up the Stanford Prison Experiment.

The state gives the Guards power so they can contain the chaos that inevitably flows from inequality and the unaccountable power of big business – and under austerity policies, it gives them more powers as it takes away their resources. The job becomes more frustrating and the Guard has more scope to vent that frustration.

And of course, the state needs its solid core of pure assholes, heavies who like violence. The other night the most violent guard was a huge bald lad in a blue hoodie. He was in plain clothes and was utterly unrestrained.

Police Stories

I want to keep these general comments to a minimum because someone with more inside knowledge of the Guards would probably laugh at me if I tried to be too insightful about something I don’t know loads about. What I do know is what I’ve seen and heard, and I’m fairly sheltered to be honest.

A year or so ago, a lad I know was picked up with a tiny bit of weed on him. He says the guards threatened to lock him up if he didn’t start informing on the various political groups he was involved with. He refused and he says they hounded him then, arresting him anytime they saw him on a protest, until he eventually left the country.

Another lad I know was driving in his van in his own estate. Two Guards stopped him and started demanding to know what he was doing there. He was after dropping his Dad home, that was all, but he reckons the Guards thought he was a traveller, and for the guards it logically followed that he was up to something. When he got sick of their questioning and reached for his keys, he got pepper=sprayed in the face then smacked on the top of the head.

A guy I know gave some money to Sinn Féin in the early 1990s. The Guards showed up at his house when he was at work, plainclothes lads, just to creep out his wife by talking to her and showing her how much they knew about the family.

There was some minor trouble down at Occupy Dame Street in October 2011, when the protest was still of a decent size and somewhat exciting. A guy climbed a tree and said he was going to jump. When he finally came down the Guards suddenly piled in, shoving people, grabbing people and throwing them around. You got the feeling they’d been watching this camp for weeks now, just looking for an excuse to charge in and batter someone.

Back in November 2010 there was a massive student demo – 30 or 40,000 people came out protesting against fees. Twenty or so of them tried to stage a peaceful occupation of the Department of Finance. The cops came in and turfed them out of it and a crowd gathered. A big solid line of Guards in horses closed in on the crowd. Some eejit threw a placard at the horses. Then it started. The Guards, or horse and on foot, imposed a collective, violent punishment on everyone who was squeezed into that narrow street. Passers-by were just caught up in it. The Guards slowly beat their way through the crowd then charged, Lord of the Rings style, down the top end of Stephen’s Green, big dogs on chains following them.

Meanwhile another massive squadron of mounted cops came down to Leinster House where there was a peaceful sit-in of one or two hundred students in the middle of the road blocking traffic. This time they didn’t need to draw any blood because news had come of what they’d done to the others. A few hard cases grabbed the cops’ own barriers and dragged them across the street to block the cops, but there were only a few of them and they were grabbed.

A woman I know took a clumsy turn on the road, was stopped by the Guards and, even though she’d just had a hot whiskey and was way under the limit, they cuffed her and brought her in, locking her in a cell for a while. When she protested they told her to sober up. The next day the incident, skewed to make it look like the woman had been arrested for drunk driving, was on the front page of three or four newspapers. This woman was Clare Daly, the ULA TD. A few weeks earlier, she’d exposed abuse of the penalty points system by Guards. For months she’d been a very prominent pro-choice activist and legislator.

There’s a video on Youtube of Guards beating, chasing, batoning and tormenting a busker in Temple Bar, for no apparent reason. There are stories in the papers about cover-ups of hit-and-runs, of Guards beating people senseless in their own homes. I have never made it down to Rossport but anyone who has can tell you some stories.

Don’t let them get away with it

To most people from other countries reading this, you’d probably shake your head in wonder that I’m even bothering to mention these incidents. They’re tame as hell by the standards of most of the world. In Greece last year a few young anarchists were arrested, tortured, beaten, stripped naked, photographed and threatened by pro-Golden Dawn cops. Americans would probably kill to have only relatively mild Irish cops to deal with.

But that’s exactly my point. Let’s keep em that way. Let’s march, protest and make legal complaints whenever they step over the line. We need to hold that line, or else they’ll shift it. What seems shocking today might be everyday stuff tomorrow if we’re complacent about what we let the guards get away with.

The state is acting as a kind of a colonial agent for banks and finance houses, bleeding us dry through cuts and new taxes to bail out a system that was never going to work. There has been resistance and there will be more developed and widespread resistance. The guards are trying to create a new normal for vicious behaviour, which will weigh against us in future struggles if we let them get away with it.

The morning after the violent eviction of Occupy Dame Street in April 2012. This solidarity protest was the biggest Dame Street had seen for months- the movement had long since run out of steam, with only 5 or 6 protesters left for the Guards to drag out. After this protest, it fell again into oblivion. We need to assess the weaknesses of Occupy if we want to reclaim the energy and enthusiasm it released at the beginning.

1. If we want to fight the state and the corporations without becoming like them, we need loose, informal organisation, without leaders. 

The trouble with having no formal leadership is that an informal one will spring up- you get unaccountable unelected busybodies or people with no merit except the fact that they have lots of time on their hands, and that becomes your leadership.

Especially with Occupy, you’ve got those who have time and energy to spend at the camp taking de facto control. People with families, people with jobs, people who are dedicated activists- these are excluded.

In reality, some tasks need to be delegated to a minority. That’s the only way things can work and the Occupy movement proves that. The only choice is whether you want these people to be elected or self-appointed.

2. We need to work on the basis of consensus, where you move forward only when 100% of people agree, not on the tyranny of the majority. 

This sounds great at first.

What you get in the end are long, pointless debates that suck all the time and energy out of the movement. What you get is the dictatorship of the minority- frankly, one idiot can hold back the whole movement from actually doing anything.

Instead of everyone’s voice being heard, you get dissenting views silenced. Nobody wants to be the one to stall the meeting yet again- so they just pretend to agree, and no real open debate takes place.

Meanwhile everyone’s gone home because it took too bloody long and nothing was done.

3. I don’t subscribe to any “ism”. I think political labels are inherently limiting. I am neither left-wing nor right-wing. 

OK then, stop using the wheel and come up with something else.

Labels and “isms” are not comprehensive and I’m sure none can fully convey the nuances and complexity of your individuality. But chances are your views are generally in agreement with a lot of people who have previously explored these ideas and left behind a “label” for the convenience, not for the oppression, of others!

4. I think for myself rather than blindly follow any idea or thinker.

Outstanding revolutionary theorists and activists like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly and many others left behind excellent writings with vital lessons for today.

No-one is “blindly” following anyone, just engaging critically with their ideas. The real blindness is an ignorant, egotistical refusal to do so.

If you’re a revolutionary you should engage with an ongoing debate, rather than being like those idiots who come barging in half-way through a discussion, ignoring what everyone else has already said.

 5. I don’t want to subsume my individuality into any political party. 

We want you to join a democratic organisation and maximise your impact by working alongside others.

If you’ve got some incredible insight or ability that will be damaged by you doing that, then please, please share it with the world.

6. I was occupying that square for so long I got frostbite! And where were all ye Socialists in the meantime? Just dropping in now and then when it suits ye. 

We were busy doing things that are a hundred times more important. We were empowering thousands of people through mass civil disobedience campaigns. We were organising protests and meetings on a huge range of issues. We were building our organisation and selling our paper. We were discussing ideas constantly between ourselves and with others.

The Occupy protests were an inspiration to the world- but they ran out of steam because they couldn’t be decisive and take the struggle forward. Those of us who have jobs to go to and families to feed couldn’t really take part. Of course we would have made sacrifices and tried to come to every General Assembly, but after the first few weeks it was clear there was no real point.

7. The environment is more important than the economy. 

Climate change is the most urgent problem facing the human race. But we can’t save the environment without getting rid of capitalism. It is just not profitable for any individual capitalist, let alone the system as a whole, to make the required investment in green energy. This demands a Socialist plan of investment.

Moreover, the switch to a green economy would displace possibly hundreds of millions of people from their jobs. There’s no way people would accept that.

Under Socialism we could retrain all those workers and re-equip all those factories on a planned, coordinated basis without chaos or unemployment.

8. If you’re so much against capitalism, then why do you use money, live in a house built by capitalists, work in a job where a capitalist pays you and buy goods and services from capitalist companies? 

Because we’re revolutionaries not hermits. If you can live a more ethical lifestyle, then good for you. But it’s not going to change the world.

All our officials are on the average worker’s wage or less and none of our members live the high life. But at the end of the day we don’t look for the perfect “lifestyle” but for an organic connection, in workplaces and communities, with the working class, and a basis for struggle.

We are not concerned with “saving our souls” or being cleansed of the system.  Our goal is to unite the majority of the people and replace the system.

9. We want to leave the movement broad, inclusive and open, so we don’t want to tie ourselves down to any ideas that might alienate people. 

The Occupy Movement kept itself too broad, too uncommitted. It appeared indecisive and vague. It appeared not to do anything.

In fact my local Occupy was so “inclusive” that there were neo-fascists camping there.

Debate on a programme was impossible because of consensus-based decision-making. Demands were set out, but it was not explained how they would be achieved.

If Occupy settled on a programme and course of action then of course some would disagree and might leave the movement. But with nobody sure what the movement stands for, and no victories being won, why would large numbers of people bother joining the movement in the first place?

10. We are against politics and parties entirely.

Socialists, despite the fact that we’re organized in parties and are of course political, see this as a healthy attitude.

By “parties” people mean the cynical establishment parties which are just self-interested machines for managing, not destroying, our messed-up society. We can’t look to them for solutions, we have to organise ourselves.

By “politics” people mean the scams, lies, privilege and corruption that characterise the way society is run under Capitalism.

11. All political parties are cynical and want to hijack our movement.

The establishment parties didn’t want to hijack Occupy, they wanted to destroy it.

They succeeded at least partly because of the paranoid, sectarian attitude of some people in Occupy who were hostile to other groups and parties who were fighting for the same goals.

12. But you’re as bad as any of them.

We’re the same as you- angry as hell and determined to do something about it. But we’ve been at this a while, and learned a few important lessons.

We organize ourselves not as an occupation of a city square but as a party, just as stubborn, just as determined, but infinitely more flexible.

We organise democratically- we elect members to branch, regional and national committees. We work on the will of the majority, with the minority free to argue their case and to continue to do so after the vote is taken.

We run in elections, and our members speak to thousands of people on the doorsteps. Our deputies and Councillors and MEPs use their positions to fight for ordinary people. We don’t think we can change things through electoral politics, but we see it as an aid to the real work in the streets.

A revolutionary party has all the self-sacrifice, defiance and energy of a makeshift tent-town protest in a city square.

But it can’t be destroyed by one night of police violence. It can discuss with full openness and give air to all ideas. It can state its message clearly. It can then act with unity, determination and organisation.

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.