Off the fence
They might not be gaining much media attention but there are now three encampments in Ireland inspired by the #occupywallstreet protest in New York.
#occupycork, #occupygalway and Dublin’s #occupydamestreet are now home to hundreds who just want to do something, their ranks swelling in daylight with less-hardy souls. They claim to represent the 99 per cent, the silent majority who control little of the country’s wealth.
The diversity of participants, united in protest of the status quo, the economic and social destruction wrought on the country by the banks, the bailout, and the supplication of our government, is unusual to say the least. Young, disenfranchised, unemployed people rub shoulders with established businessmen; people in negative-equity purgatory with political activists.
This is not simply a dander-and-chant-before-pints protest, it’s a movement for change, a forum for the intelligent debate of ideas where all viewpoints can be represented. It’s a new way of doing things. Rejecting standard practice, there are no leaders, there is no voting, the views of all participants are equally important. Every decision taken at the daily General Assembly is taken by consensus. Diversity of opinion is embraced, compromise is crucial.
But their lack of leaders has not prevented them from being organised. The GA has made many decisions. There is a no alcohol, no drugs policy. Party political affiliations are left at the ‘door’. Working groups have been established to look after food, on-site construction, cleaning, security and dealing with the media.
It reminds me of Belfast’s Warzone collective, a small but committed group of young people who so distrusted the ‘leadership’ in their communities in the ’80s that they came together, left religion at the door and organised themselves by consensus. They raised money, rented a building in central Belfast and turned it into the Giros centre, a safe space in trying times housing practice rooms for bands, a very popular not-for-profit vegetarian café and library, a performance space, a printing workshop, a recording studio, a crèche and more.
After 18 successful years, a major funder wanted them to elect officers in the traditional committee structure. The group decided against it. Their commitment to a leaderless, consensus-based approach forced them to close. The establishment wouldn’t work with them, even though everything they created was open, inclusive and socially positive.
I hope the Irish #occupy movement can follow in Warzone’s footsteps, rejecting the ‘normal’ way of doing things, developing new ideas to stay inclusive and independent. Ireland has suffered greatly in recent years from poor political leadership, corruption at the highest levels and a whip-based parliament that is no more than a rubber-stamp for government policy. Our leaders – predominantly tribal big-men – and our collective decision-making process have let us down.
Isn’t it time to stop squabbling and try something new? Isn’t it time for all the people to #occupyIreland?
Fergus Kelly is a Westport-based media and communications consultant. He is former Head of IT and Design at The Mayo News.