On 8 October 2011 the Occupy Dame Street camp was established. But the next five months made it clear that such a disorganised (or “non-hierarchical” to use their term) protest would not be effective. On 8 March 2012 An Garda Síochána dismantled the camp and any campers that had remained were gone for good. But the campers had certainly generated public debate around the issues they had raised. Officially (in the context of Occupy protests, this term is used very loosely), the Occupy Dame Street (ODS) camp had four central demands:i) to keep the EU and IMF “out of Irish affairs”;
ii) to cancel the bondholder bailout;
iii) to bring natural resources under State control;
iv) to create “a real, participatory democracy” in this country.
At the time of writing there are over 8,800 people who still ‘like’ the ODS Facebook page. My question is: What are those people doing now? What are the people who were camping or regularly visiting the campsite doing now? There is so much that 8,800 people could have accomplished together on those issues in the months since the camp's removal. There have been other groups campaigning on those very same issues that could have really used the help of thousands more people. I will discuss three of them.
I won’t discuss the natural resources issue, because personally I think it was a tactical misstep to include that as a core demand. The other three points are closely inter-related, more relevant to the Financial Crisis and would have been more likely to gain broad public support. The natural resources issue has merit but it’s divisive, abstract and complicated. There are so many complex economic, environmental and technological issues to consider in developing our fossil fuel resources (if we even have that many) that the protesters just got bogged down talking about it.
With regard to the injustice of bailing out the bankers, Anglo-Irish Bank is still having its bondholders repaid with billions of taxpayers’ money. Anglo: Not Our Debt is a group with a straightforward demand; that all remaining payments to Anglo-Irish & Nationwide are cancelled. They staged a protest in June outside the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire, where Bank of Ireland’s shareholders were voting to take on one of Anglo’s promissory notes. I was there. Overall there might have been around 20 people there protesting. Where were all those people who were involved in Occupy?
With regard to the anti-democratic direction the EU is heading in, the Fiscal Treaty referendum should have been a huge opportunity for a protest vote. The No side could have ran a much smarter campaign, instead of letting divisive political brands like Sinn Féin, Libertas and the socialists take up all the air-time. One group, For a Better Europe, was trying to make a rational case for a No vote but had very limited time and resources. They could have used the help of all these people who were so vocal months earlier. Where were all those people who were involved in Occupy?
In terms of creating “a real, participatory democracy” in this country, if we could reform our dysfunctional political system we could solve so many of this country’s problems. One method of citizen-led political reform that has been successful internationally is to hold a citizens’ assembly to reform the constitution. This recently worked well in Iceland, for example. The Government are holding a Constitutional Convention, but it is a deeply flawed one that is being hamstrung by a narrow range of relatively minor issues and a Government veto on its recommendations. 2nd Republic has been campaigning for a real Citizens’ Assembly that would be free to give our political institutions a much-needed shake-up. If they’d had the backing of thousands, perhaps the Government would have been more willing to consider their proposals. Where were all those people who were involved in Occupy?
Those are three organised, credible, non-partisan groups that are struggling to raise awareness about three of ODS’s core issues. Each of them could have used the support of ODS’s supporters in the months since the camp was dismantled. For argument’s sake, let’s roughly shave the 8,800 figure down to exclude people who are living abroad, people who ‘like’ Facebook pages willy-nilly and other pages that simply represent other groups or Occupy camps. Let’s say there are roughly 6,000 people, living in Ireland, who felt strongly about ODS’s key issues. Each of those three groups I mentioned could have accomplished more with an extra 2,000 people behind them. But these people are nowhere to be found now.
Forget about the camp. The camp was never going to change this country. Where are the people? I thought the idea was that they still could.
Image top: reclaimedhome.