With the continuing popularity of ‘Occupy’ protests across the world, Evan O’Quigley takes to the streets of Dublin for some firsthand experience
On Saturday the 8th of October 2011, several hundred people gathered outside the Central Bank of Ireland on Dame Street for the latest of several ‘Occupy’ events. This now global phenomenon began with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest in New York City last month and has since spawned many copycat demonstrations. However, many wonder what the actual aims of the demonstrations are, and what the agenda of its organisers is. What exactly was ‘Occupy Dame Street’ and what were they looking to achieve?
According to its Facebook group, the event sought to “show solidarity with those [abroad] and express a growing sense of frustration with social inequality and corporate greed among the people of Ireland”. Having spoken to protesters at the event, it would appear that this description of their aims is relatively accurate.
“It’s all about togetherness” says Tom, who requested that only his first name be used. “I feel the aim of assembly is to bring people to gather in a public area, and see what it is that comes out of that.”
Sebastian Van Ooijen, another volunteer, agreed with Tom but felt the protest could go further still. “First of all I think awareness. To share our ideas, share our knowledge about what’s going on,” Sebastian stated before explaining that in his view, the biggest problem is the European Union’s involvement in the country’s financial affairs. “We need to get out of the EU, not just Ireland but other countries too, so we can control our own money.” No matter what they manage to achieve, he emphasised that the demonstration in Dame Street aimed to “serve the rest of the people, not just to serve the wealth of a few bankers and corporate elites”.
The event was not publicised in the traditional sense, and relied on word of mouth and social networking. “I’m familiar with the assemblies internationally, it’s a transnational movement,” says Tom, before continuing that word being spread by ordinary people was what gave the event its “popular legitimacy”.
In a similar vein, Sebastian discovered the event via Facebook and was motivated to join in after “watching the protests in the United States, in New York, the police were spraying [the protesters], there were a lot of things going on that were not being reported in the mainstream media.” Despite Gardaí presence on the day, there were no problems in this regard.
Beyond national laws, there were three self-prescribed rules for the protest. These were that no political party or trade union banners be represented at the march; no violence be allowed; and no alcohol or drugs may be consumed. The gathering is purely independent and, to ensure it is truly for the ordinary people, has no affiliations with political parties or organisations.
Tom agrees with this apolitical sentiment. “What’s happening over the world is people are gathering around the same banner, and generally that being an apolitical banner. We’re setting aside previous sectarian identities and freely associating as people, and I consider that in the world, [to be] historically important.” Neither he nor Sebastian are involved with any political parties or organisations, as the online event page suggests. However, this has not stopped some organisations, such as the ‘Enough Campaign’, trying to get involved.
While over seven hundred people clicked ‘attending’ on the Facebook event page, it appeared that only half as many actually turned up. Nevertheless, Tom remained positive. “Many protests such as this start off small” commented Tom. “The important thing in a lot of countries is that it has gone beyond a narrow chasm of activists, primarily essentially leftists, but this is a movement that welcomes all regardless of politics.”
Sebastian also felt the demonstrations were likely to create a positive outcome. “I think it will be a [success in the] long run. It needs to [gain] momentum but once people realise that this is a global thing that’s going on, and not just confined to Ireland, I think we will see not just an Irish revolution, or a European revolution or an American revolution, but I think we will see a worldwide revolution.”
Before this can happen, Sebastian believes that the public need to reassess their priorities and understand what the real issues in our societies are. “People … need to start self-educating. Most people pay attention to Coronation Street, or rugby, football, The X Factor. This is not helping us; this is distracting us from the important issues.”
Occupy Dame Street, while not quite being the revolution that some were hoping for, does reflect a growing apathy with mainstream politics and a demand for change. After years of politics focused on parties and individuals, it is somewhat refreshing to find Irish people who are willing to put personal politics aside and stand up against what they believe to be a common injustice.