Last Wednesday I spent a night on the tiles near Temple Bar in Dublin, a night on the tiles with a difference – these were the cold stone tiles outside the Central Bank. Having been there for its inception on the previous Saturday, there again on the Sunday morning, I joined the ‘Occupy Dame Street’ protest for the night, threw myself down for a few hours in a tent.
For the most part the protesters are young, idealistic, a few old fogies like myself in the mix. There are people from the left, from the right, from the centre, but all politics are left at the door, everyone united in this one aim – end the bank bondholder bailout. There are other grievances, all outlined in their own mission statement, but this is number one – time for the Irish people to stand up for themselves.
Initially, on the Saturday and Sunday, there was an air of chaos as the protesters tried to organise themselves. The high winds didn’t help, the various small tents being blown around the place, a large tarp that was draped over the central area threatening to sail away over Dame Street and take a few of us with it.
Eventually, however, order prevailed and when I returned on the Wednesday, my bundle on my shoulder, everything was ship-shape. Committees had been established with responsibility for all the various elements of this new life under the stars; Food, Cleaning, Media, Security, Information, etc., each had its own dedicated group, volunteers taking their turns in four-hour shifts.
The food was coming from all angles, several restaurants in the area donating hot meals, various passers-by dropping off cakes, biscuits, milk, tea, coffee, some staying for a while, others making their apologies – ‘I have to go to work, sorry, but felt I had to contribute something’ – and dashing off. It wasn’t just the protesters being fed, however; many of Dublin’s homeless drop by, all are offered food and a beverage. No alcohol, however, a strict ‘no drugs, no alcohol’ policy in operation.
Cleaning is big, a major effort made to keep the encampment as clean and tidy as possible at all times, in full cooperation with the Dublin Corporation workers in the area.
This being the Temple Bar area, THE Dublin hot-spot and thus the focus of much late-night revelry, security is a major concern. Four people on duty through most of the day, increased to six during night hours to protect against any hassle, all wearing high-visibility vests.
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The police are proving a major help; on day one, the Saturday, there was a presence of three uniformed officers, all friendly, with an old-style 6’6” Superintendent observing affairs from his great height, politely but firmly fobbing off all attempts at banter by a few of us protesters. By the Wednesday, however, the police presence was reduced to just the occasional passing foot-patrol.
They have given out their numbers for emergency call-out, and did respond very quickly on the one occasion we needed them on the Wednesday. Nothing serious, just a passer-by who had had too much to drink and became a little too rambunctious for us to handle.
By that Wednesday, and despite their best efforts (pardon the pair of ‘ultras’ here, but everyone is being ultra-careful to be ultra-democratic, and for obvious reasons – this IS a protest against the hijacking of democracy, after all!), leaders were emerging at the OccupyDameStreet protest
At a set hour a couple of times a day there is a group assembly at which anyone can voice an opinion/make a suggestion, but agreement is by acclamation, a minimum 90% needed for any such suggestion to be acted on. Seems a bit ambitious but for the most part, and because on the major issues these are like-minded people, that agreement is forthcoming. As with most groups also, however, there are the talkers and there are the doers. People are known only by their first names, and the ever-smiling Fergal, Stephen the Younger and Stephen the Elder, Robin, Mark and the very hoarse Finbarr all fall into the latter category. Looking after us all, like a mother hen, is Spanish Monica, from the Real Democracy Now movement.
From Monica there is the occasional cluck of disapproval but always, an eye on what’s needed.
Those assemblies are worth noting. It was the first time I had come across what’s become known as the People’s Microphone – someone shouts ‘mike check’ and immediately everyone within ear-shot repeats the call; attention grabbed, from there the speaker has every phrase (offered only in very short bursts) likewise repeated, so that everyone hears what’s being said. I had often wondered how Daniel O'Connell had made himself heard by the hundreds of thousands who attended his mass gatherings in the 1800s – could this have been his method also?
The night on the tiles was rough, I won't pretend otherwise, tough on these worn old bones but very survivable nevertheless, and without question, worth the effort. This is now a worldwide struggle to take back what’s been wrenched from us, a struggle to return to the original ideals of modern democracy – liberty, equality, fraternity; government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Read any of those who were there for the birth of an independent America and see where it says ‘the banks shall be first and the people shall be the last’ – you won’t find any such statement, any such sentiment, but across Europe, in the USA, that’s what’s happening.
This wrong continues only because we allow it to continue, only because we are not making enough noise in protest. Do it now – with over €60bn in Irish bank bonds still due over the next three years, it’s not yet too late. Let those bank bondholders suffer their own pain, as we are forced to suffer ours.