Where next for Occupy Dame Street? The momentum of the early days has long faded. Go to the website and you see that there have been no meeting minutes published since the General Assembly of the 7th of December. The Twitter hashtag #occupydamestreet never really went anywhere in terms of participants at the site or beyond involving a wider audience in the event. This video below, which has been shared on the Occupy Dame Street Facebook page, shows signs of a camp disintegrating into complete political incoherence:
Let me focus on one small aspect of this footage (which goes on for an agonising 15 minutes): the ‘coffin’ draped in the Irish tricolour. There’s nothing wrong with using imagery associated with death in a political demonstration, as the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope back in December showed, but unless it articulates something coherent- then all you have is death.
The overall picture emerging for an interested but remote onlooker is not great. I listened to a recording of a Philip Boucher-Hayes slot on RTE Drivetime just before Christmas, which featured several voices from the Occupy Dame Street camp (who were all male, along with the presenter and the two parliamentarians brought along to speak their piece). Even if we recognise that the item was shot through with both the patronising smarm and the antagonism disguised as sympathy that are hallmarks of whenever RTE deigns to speak to social movements, the participants did not convey any message that might compel people to believe Occupy Dame Street was or even could be an agent or a catalyst for significant social change. In fact, I get the feeling that if mainstream media outlets are now paying attention, it’s because they get the impression that the site has been adequately decontaminated of any ingredients that might produce any kind of social revolt, and seek to highlight Occupy Dame Street as the exception that proves the (fabricated) rule that Irish people have an in-built aversion to any sort of politics that requires confrontation.
Perhaps the perspective of those down at the camp day in day out, and night in night out, is radically different. Maybe experiences on Dame Street lead the people involved in them to conclude that the occupation there is really going places, and maybe, as a very infrequent visitor, I am completely disconnected from them.
Nonetheless, leaving aside the fact that of late the site seems to have become a music venue of some note (an excellent achievement, to be sure) I don’t see signs of any major public interest in what is going on these days, or of any material or activities that might stimulate such an interest. I know Occupy University is planned to return with renewed focus come the new year, and that will restore additional sense of purpose and continuity to the wider occupied space, but Occupy University in and of itself can’t be expected to generate the political momentum that might make Occupy Dame Street a people’s movement -which is what it claims to be- worth talking about.
It is revealing, I think, that there hasn’t been any statement from Occupy Dame Street further to the one released in early October.
So, whilst ODS rejects the ‘complete control’ of the ECB in dictating economic policy (which leads one to wonder: would it be happy with partial control in dictating economic policy?), it has had nothing to say to the wider public about what the ECB has done since the beginning of October. For instance, a $600bn present to the European banking sector at the expense of the European population.
Nor has it anything to say about the IMF’s call, in its latest report, for ‘efforts to strengthen active labor market policies’ (i.e. harrassment of welfare recipients) or ‘a carefully designed program of public asset disposals’ (i.e. fire sale privatisation).
And it has nothing to say about how there are certain constituencies in Ireland who find common cause with both institutions. It has had nothing to say about the planned introduction of the Household Tax, which is one instance of how, as per the ODS statement, the population of the country are burdened with socialised private bank debt, nor of the campaign against it.
It has had nothing to say about what it might take to nationalise the Corrib gas field, or just what ‘sovereign control’ might mean and entail in the context of oil and gas reserves.It has had nothing to say about the transfer of effective control over national budgets to unelected European authorities and what the consequences of this might be for ‘real participatory democracy’. But it is not simply a matter of releasing statements: the whole point of occupying public spaces, or at least one of the most important elements, is so that you create a space for conversations about matters such as the ones I mention here to take place, because no other such spaces exist. And then, following on from that, you establish common alliances identify specific actions that might be taken. I mention all this not to whack occupiers at Dame Street upside the head with a laundry list of things it has failed to do, as though it could be reasonably expected, of the people maintaining the occupation at this moment, that they should have done all these things or are entirely responsible for them not being done. But it does show, I think, that the talk of “revolution”, which I heard on the Drivetime show, is not only utterly detached from reality, but thoroughly disempowering: one of the major propaganda successes of post-war capitalism is to trivialise the idea of revolution, so that it doesn’t mean the overthrow of the existing political and economic system and the introduction of a new one but the release of a new domestic appliance or a cheaper private healthcare plan, or maybe just people out on the streets carrying placards and shouting things.
The course taken by Occupy Dame Street -observed from a distance- has been fairly tortuous so far. If the occupation has not been able to articulate its political convictions effectively, neither has it been able, unfortunately, to demonstrate just how hostile an environment the space around Dame Street is for the people occupying it. The initial general assemblies were consumed with the question of alliance with the Enough campaign and then participation in the Dublin Council of Trade Union march.
What this meant, apart from fostering a fair amount of enmity, was that the degree of public conversation and deliberation that one might have hoped for from such an occupied space did not materialise. That, to my mind, is a major shortcoming of the process thus far. How, in Marxist terms, can you expropriate the expropriators if, in daily life you are expropriated of any capacity (in terms of space, time, language, access to information) to talk about how you are being expropriated and what you can do about it? It strikes me that the answer to this question is not, nor should it ever be: “well let’s hold another protest march, and find out then”.
The outcome of these assemblies seems to have been a loss of support and sympathy from people in the labour movement and on the left, whom a detached onlooker might have expected, at the outset, to play an active role. Also, for many, there seems to have been a discrediting of the consensus decision making process. For my part, I don’t think the fact participation in the DCTU march was blocked can be said to discredit the consensus decision making process, any more than the particular actions of a trade union at a given juncture can be discredit trade unions. But no matter: it strikes me that if Occupy Dame Street is to live up to what it sets forth in its initial statement, if -a massive if- it is to operate as, or spur on, a people’s movement, there are probably bridges to be rebuilt on account of all this.
They are hosting a Dark Side of the Moon meditation in the Occupy Dame Street yurt on New Year’s Day. Though I’ll be out of town that day, I would sooner attend a waterboarding session (well, not really, but I am not a Pink Floyd person). My own meditation amounts to this: Occupy Dame Street should start focusing on the Dark Side of the Camp, which is to say, the massive building towering over the yellow kitchen. ‘Occupy Dame Street’ is fine as a nod to ‘Occupy Wall Street’, but Dame Street isn’t Wall Street, nor is it Ireland’s financial district.
But the camp is parked right outside the Central Bank. The Central Bank ‘is responsible for maintaining price stability in Ireland through the implementation of ECB decisions on monetary policy’, which is to say, it is responsible for keeping wages depressed through the implementation of decisions made by unelected stooges of the European banking lobby. Thus it is a key instrument in the inflicting of austerity on the Irish population.
Therefore, it is presently an instrument of class war. Shouldn’t the occupiers start thinking about that, and telling people about it? One of the virtues of the occupation outside the Central Bank at Dame Street is that it impinges visually and conceptually on the terrain of the state. And if the demand is for ‘real participatory democracy’- shouldn’t that entail democratic control over the banking system? What, we might ask, is the point of demanding sovereign control over oil and gas and not demanding sovereign control over banking? Shouldn’t real participatory democracy entail collective decisions over what to invest and how to invest it? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get the public involved in discussions about these things right down at the site of the Central Bank?
What there is with the occupation at Dame Street is a weird variation of that old Irish joke about the man who goes into a pub and asks for directions and the publican says “well sur, if I was going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here”: Occupy Dame Street started off at the right destination, but seems to keep looking for somewhere else to go instead. How does ‘Occupy Central Bank’ or ‘Occupy Central Banks’ sound? Provided people don’t think that ‘Occupy’ is now passé, I think it’s worth a shot.