Sunday, October 16, 2011

Welcome home Occupy Dame Street

Today was a good day. Today at least a thousand people marched to Occupy Dame Street, and truly occupied the street. Today we'd been there a full week. Today it really reached people. 15th October was the Global Democracy Day of Action internationally and the organisation Real Democracy Now!, one of the main initiators of Occupy Dame Street, had spent the last two months planning a march, in synch with hundreds of other events worldwide. During a general assembly during the week we'd agreed to join with Real Democracy Now! in the march. Originally scheduled to finish at Wolfe Tone Square off Jervis Street, now of course it was planning to finish at the camp.  So this was a major event that we'd known about since the start, and it was the week celebration of the occupation. A big day but we didn't know how it would go, things had changed so much since it was planned.

It was a wonderful if slightly strange day, a day we'd been sort of building up to for the last few days but at the same time we weren't entirely sure how to be with it and weren't entirely prepared for it. The camp was expanded even further overnight, and was quiet when I arrived before 11a.m. Last night had been fun, musical and energised, and evidently some Sleepers were crashed out. Yesterday I felt so happy I could have stayed there all night, and coming back felt sort of like home. In the still warm and rain-free morning a few folks debated having an on-site meeting, especially as not that many people were around, and another meeting was going on in the main camp space. It's amazing we manage to do anything considering the space is so ad hoc, small and not protected from the rain, and it's constantly filled with people and random stuff.  Meanwhile a talk about alternatives to the EU started at the newly created Universal University space, lined with books, with the couch and chairs pulled around. I've barely attended any talks but those I've heard bits of have been great, and there's another schedule being planned for the coming week.

Eventually we had an on-site meeting with whoever was around. Mainly it had to focus on security, which hadn't worked that well the previous night, with same lads being left on double and triple shifts during the night, and various problems with the typical drunken Friday night city centre crowd. It's a constant difficulty and it's been the practicalities, not the philosophies, that have drained people. The coordination system had also broken down, with no coordinator on during most of the night or that morning. The meeting also had to plan who would stay at the camp while others went to the march. What we did put on the agenda but didn't really deal with was what would actually happen when the march arrived. It was thought that Real Democracy Now! had a plan with speakers and it was to be structured as a social forum. At least everyone got together and the key security issues were sorted, as well as some on food. And we made sure 4000 leaflets were photocopied - people are desperate for information and we could give out many more than we have the capacity to make.  It all sounds so mundane but without getting to grips with some of the logistics nothing would really work.

At 1p.m. we had a mini general assembly really just to tell people about the march, which a person from Real Democracy Now talked about. People had been making banners all week and all morning.


There was then a mini-march to the march, as all those planning to attend headed off from the Central Bank, en masse, with 'Occupy Dame Street' and 'We are the 99%' handmade banners. I stayed behind, though in two minds about going. It was eerily quiet and empty at the camp, with a palpable sense of anticipation. There both seemed to be a lot to do and very little. And various things that seemed fairly essential, like ensuring we had a P.A. system, or organising the space in case a large number of people showed up, got half done. But as we keep repeating, it's early days and it's a learning process for everyone. No-one has done this before, and Dublin has never seen something like this before.

In the lull before the storm I went to buy a sandwich. I've found when I leave the camp to do something normal like go for food or to buy something in a shop, I find it hard to decision and even to know how to do 'ordinary life' activities.  I started down the street towards one shop, then crossed it to go to another, then thought it was too far away, thought of another cafe, stood motionless on George's Street wrestling with this conundrum, then decided that I didn't want to go too far away or for too long in case by some awful fluke I'd miss the march arriving. So I went into the closest shop and got strange sandwiches of mashed potato, stuffing and cheese, and another with beetroot. I got back, and within minutes the noise of the march could be heard and then the line of it could be seen, stretching fully across Dame Street. As I looked out over the mass of people, it felt like, they've reached where they're meant to be, they've come home.


And then it was here. And it was incredible. There were so many people, so many more than we'd possibly hoped for. A huge cheer went up as the crowd gathered directly in front of the Central Bank, filling the street. Working together a huge group had done this, and I felt really proud to be part of it.  Everyone was chanting "We are the 99%", and "All day, all week, Occupy Dame Street." It was brilliant. We all stood wondering at it, standing in and near the camp, looking out at all these people.  It could have stayed chanting and cheering there for a long time. Relatively rapidly though the security moved the crowd around to the right of the bank where the P.A. was set up. It appeared there wasn't a very solid plan, and a kind of open mike set in. Most of the initial speakers were at least pretty involved with the event. Helena who had been involved with the talks programme read an excellent piece about the history and importance of the movement, it was both knowledgeable and inspiring.


Various folks were randomly getting up to speak and someone came up and asked if I'd say something, as we needed speakers from the camp, along with Lee who has been speaking frequently and very brilliantly to the media. I wasn't sure whether I should do it but someone had to. None of us really knew quite what to do. After some rather rushed discussion with a few folks I got up and spoke to about one thousand people. Which was nuts. And we were doing the human microphone so I'd say a few words and then most of the crowd would repeat them after me, it was an astonishing experience. The one thing I'd wanted and just about managed to say was "Welcome home, Occupy Dame Street." After a few halting statements off the cuff - funny how it's hard to find the right words when there is the expectant quiet of a street filled with people - I read the Occupy Dame Street statement, which we'd discussed at a general assembly during the week, had a group work on, and then discussed, modified and passed by consensus at another general assembly. Almost a model of the model we aspire to. It was quite amazing reading it and it lasted for a long time, due to the human megaphone. I felt very glad that The Unfortunately Loyal Boyfriend had found out about the demonstration last Saturday and that we'd both gone.

Lots more people spoke, many very powerfully, most without notes, and ultimately the public discussion open mike went on for about an hour and a half.  It was great to have that space and that energy. I was so excited and felt quite emotional and could barely take in what people were saying. But the positivity was palpable. At some point I had to leave to deal with logistics and things were quietening down when I was called back. We announced some basics about the camp and had people from the various working groups talk quickly and invite volunteers. We just about wrapped it up about 5pm and the music started booming out, which was great. People were grooving under the Central Bank overhang. It was over and it had just begun.


It looks small but it wasn't. 
Then and only then did it start raining, the first real rain of the entire week. If one was of a superstitious frame of mind (and I'm not) one could have said the universe was on our side, and after enjoying sitting out in t-shirts and even getting sunburned during an unheard-of October week, many people were saying just that. March over, within minutes it was lashing. We all piled into the camp, sheltering under the sagging makeshift tarp, with everyone getting soaked, as the rain intensified. We grabbed more tarps and started holding them up ourselves above our heads, making our own roof. Poles from the gazebo - in fact two gazebos mixed together, making it impossible to put them up properly - were used to hold it up, or just our hands. As the tarps moved they sluiced water down on to people, notebooks, food. Ah it was messy but quite fun. Lots of people were photographing this comical scene from the street. After a little while of watching many things getting soaked because they had been left outside during the unseasonbly mild weather, and getting pretty wet, myself and a couple of others suggested that anyone not holding the tarp up move to under the Central Bank canopy. Later I regretted this as it was a lot of fun being packed together in the ridiculous weather, minutes after the high of the crowd at the assembly. We didn't manage much improvement but the rain almost stopped and trusty construction 'group' Richie rigged up another tarp. Some tents, not properly taut as they could not be pegged in, were soaking inside and out. The camp seemed totally different in the wet. But we'll find a way to manage it.

There were millions of people participating in events around the world, maybe a million in Madrid alone. Most passed off without any incidents although the media seemed to focus on the one or two that had problems. Meanwhile in Ireland another campaign had rather obtusely rescheduled a march from last week for an hour before ours today, finishing at government buildings in Kildare Street. Apparently around 100 people attended. Speakers there went on reference the Occupy efforts worldwide, and were covered by Irish media as if they and not us were in fact Occupy Dame Street. Hopefully soon some willingness to work together will be found, and we can focus on what is shared rather than what people like to split over. Meanwhile no mainstream television crews covered this march. Their loss. Michael Moore retweeted (what a word) Occupy Dame Street, so that was pretty cool. And most importantly the independent and citizen media were there in spades.

Afterwards things went almost back to the routine of dealing with minor crises, trying to fill security and coordination rotas, and chatting to interested supporters, but with the emotional and energising euphoria of the afternoon sustaining us all.  We didn't have our planned general assembly at 6p.m. as we'd just had the lengthy open mike and so the evening went free form. There was plenty of music, including live bands and freestyling rap, a passing trumpet player and general merriment. I didn't get to hear too much of it but sort of managed a short break when my sister-in-law arrived. Other friends have been calling by all week and I've felt bad as I've barely gotten to speak to any of them. But that's just how it's been. Later we got pizza for everyone as for once hot food wasn't donated by a local restaurant. Music continued for quite a while. By 9.30p.m. it felt much later. It was quiet and somehow satiated, with a great vibe throughout the camp. Town seemed much quieter than last Saturday night.

After hanging out with people quite a bit I decided to finally sort out the misnamed 'security' tent, where basically everything that is donated except food keeps getting thrown. It also houses things that we use daily so it is in chaos all the time. Sleeping bags are mixed up with pliers, flyers and wires, paper plates and art materials are mixed in with extra socks. Last night there was a large drum in it, today it had actually filled up to the roof. Things can't be found when they're needed and are frequently lost entirely. Two hours later I was ridiculously proud of the results:


Quiet but happy I left camp about 1.15a.m. It had been an amazing day. Yes we perhaps could have done more, made more of that moment, had more of a plan for when the march arrived, there are those aspects, but I refer to my earlier statement about early days and learning processes. It was great. Truly amazing to be part of. And the next march will be even bigger.  It's astonishing to think about what has happened in this last week: open public discussion twice a day on a busy street in the centre of Dublin, and thousands of people responding positively, getting involved, donating time and resources. It's opened up a conversation that has been absent for too long in this country. And it's made people see, things can be different. And most of all a directly democratically run, non-violent, peaceful camp has been set up and endured in the city centre, practising its principles, demonstrating that another world is possible, another way of living, another way of being, and that it can be positive and educational and fun and fantastically energising. It's hard to believe how normal it seems when it's actually extraordinary. Thank you everyone who has made this happen, which is everyone, from those watching online at home, to those holding a tarp over my head on Dame Street. Thanks for making this a reality. It's good to be home.



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