Friday, March 09, 2012

Occupy Dame Street ends after five months


The camp at Occupy Dame Street is gone. It feels a little sad and strange and slightly circular that this phase has ended five months to the day since it began. A tent was daringly thrown up during the first General Assembly on 8th October 2011, and this morning at around 3.30a.m. on Wednesday 8th March 2012, over 100 police descended on the campsite, broke it apart and evicted the 12-15 residents staying there. The 12 or so wooden shacks, the large wooden kitchen, the pallet fence, the donated equipment, tools, clothes, books and food are all gone, as if they were never there.

I happened to be at the camp a lot last night. With a co-facilitator I ran a facilitation training workshop that had been planned for a a couple of weeks, it was very well attended and everyone there seemed interested and to get quite a bit out of it. Two good hours of learning and exchange of ideas, and definite interest from participants in another workshop, soon. It was good to feel I was passing on some skills, the workshop was something I'd wanted to do for the last few months and which helped me feel better about my lower level of involvement in Occupy, recently and, in theory, going forward. It also seemed to help normalise things a little at the camp, highlighting again the necessity of organising events, talks and training as part of the occupation - there is an appetite for these activities and they bring in new people.

After the workshop and some feedback and reflection I dropped in and out of the Active Participants Meeting (APM). It focussed first on discussions with the producer of a BBC3 documentary whose presenter was going to come and spend a couple of days living and participating in the life of the camp. This has been approved at a previous APM. People seemed happy enough with the producer's answers to various questions and after she left the meeting moved on to discussing, at fairly typical length, a proposal to have music and entertainment at the camp during St. Patrick's Day.

Much of the previous week or more at the camp had been taken up with a letter from the Gardai saying that they wanted the camp dismantled for Paddy's Day, and the camp's response to this. Camp representatives had met with the police and offered to try and meet their safety concerns, including shrinking and consolidating the camp and erecting high crowd-control barriers for the duration of the St. Patrick's Day parade, which passes right by the camp. However the police had not seemed satisfied with this, or even willing to discuss or negotiate with the camp about it. The letter had requested a response by Friday 3rd March, which the camp ultimately agreed only on Sunday 5th March. But the response had been made in writing as requested, reiterating the people's right to protest, willingness to cooperate with any safety issues from the Gardai or parade organisers, and openness to further discussion. It also should be noted that the camp had been working continuously with the city's fire marshals over the previous months, and particularly recently, and had taken various actions, including separating the sleeping shacks to their safety specifications of more than 2 metres apart, which had necessitated an expansion of that area of the camp. The fire marshals had stated that they were the only authority in terms of fire safety for the camp, and not the police. Nothing more had been heard from the police after their letter, meetings held with them and the camp's written response.

As last night's APM began, talking about music and other light topics for the upcomimg festival, I assumed that the camp must have already addressed in the week's earlier meetings serious issues such as a coordination plan in the event of an eviction attempt. As the meeting progressed however, I began to wonder if this planning had in fact taken place. I mentioned communications, security and the importance of preserving vital information about the history and participants in the movement, contained in log books on site. A couple of other people brought up related issues, and it appeared that these hadn't been agreed. After some time a proposal was accepted for fairly quiet, family friendly and environmentally themed music and entertainment just for the morning of Paddy's Day, before the parade. An eviction plan had not been discussed, but it was thought at this stage that any move by Gardai would follow formal informing of the camp, and wouldn't happen until the following week. I was concerned at the apparent lack of preparation for a serious threat to the camp's existence, but could do no more myself at that stage to help the camp make the plans it needed to come up with.

As I left around 9.30p.m. I snapped a few photos of the camp as it was then, kitchen, fire-compliant shacks and all.


Little did I know it would all be gone six hours later.

Alas it seems there was no communications plan and it was a call from a friend that alerted me around 7a.m. this morning that the eviction had already happened. Meeting people shaken and sad at the barren site in the early morning, the night had been traumatic. It certainly sounded like the police approach had been as one person put it 'disproportionate and unnecessary'. Without warning at around 3.30 a.m. over 100 Gardai had surrounded and begun to break apart the camp. Many were in SWAT gear, clad in padded black. Most residents were asleep in their shacks and were woken by banging and, for some people, by metal hooks smashing through their shacks while they were still in them. No-one was given any warning or caution, and only a few people received any written form about what was happening. Residents were dragged out of their shacks in some cases by the head or legs, and no-one was allowed to retrieve personal belongings, including phones, laptops and even clothes, leaving some people shivering in tshirts in very cold temperatures. While the protestors remained peaceful, the police made the process needlessly upsetting, disrespectful and disorderly, and certainly dangerous, verging on the brutal and potentially illegal.

The Gardai had cordoned off both ends of Dame Street and the other entrances to the site, and the only arrest was made when someone associated with ODS walked through the cordon from outside to get back to the camp. This person was later released with a caution. Residents were forced to move away from the camp site, and prevented from returning to it. Attempts by some residents to peacefully resist by sitting down were met with force by the police. Again, residents were not allowed to gather up any personal belongings, even medication.

In two hours everything on the site had been broken apart by police assisted by corporation workers, and large digger/crane attachments had scooped the broken wood and mixture of personal and collective belongings into trucks. While personal belongings were at first carefully sorted by corporation workers, including artworks such as murals, some of these later got dumped into trucks together with broken construction materials. While the communication hadn't reached many camp supporters during this night raid, video footage on the news and reports in the papers indicated that the media had been there pretty promptly.

When I arrived the empty, grey plaza was a shock. The camp which had endured two floods, the drunken crowds of Halloween and New Year's Eve, the cold weather, the internecine fighting, the descents into chaos and the repeated attempts at reinvigoration, had disappeared.




There were very few people around, fewer than 15, which at times during the morning dropped to three or four, as dazed residents took breaks to recuperate in nearby restaurants or bars, including the ever-supportive Sweeney's. While a couple of local businesses have criticised Occupy Dame Street, Sweeney's and others have remained steadfastly supportive and glad of the extra business brought in by campers and supporters.

There was quite a lot of media attention, with interviewers and film crews occasionally, as in the early days, outnumbering the number of activists available or willing to talk to them.


More and more people began to arrive and throughout the day information was gradually put out via text and internet. There were between two and four Gardai present throughout the day, mainly quite easygoing. The police seemed allergic to banners and signs being posted or hung on the fences of the Central Bank, and confiscated any that anyone tried to attach. But we still managed to capture the flavour of more carefree days, in the company of Christy Moore's bodhran:


The initial statement that had been on display since October had been torn down.


At one point a few people threw up a tent.


This was immediately met with a harsh police reaction and the tent roughly removed, as visible in this video:

Early on it was decided that a General Assembly would be held at 6p.m. The scene was reminiscent of day one.


By the appointed hour at least 150 people had gathered on the plaza.


It was great to see so many people there, including many familiar faces from earlier days of the occupation. At the start of the General Assembly a well-worded statement was read out.


The G.A. alas was not well structured and after the assembly generally became a difficult-to-hear open mike. There was a lot of energy and a supportive crowd, but little attempt was made to have a discussion on what to do next.


Suddenly a proposal was made to go en masse down to Pearse Street Garda station to reclaim the personal belongings removed that morning. In a matter of seconds this 'proposal' was suggested, a call for consensus made and with everyone too taken by surprise or simply intimidated by the developing mob mentality the proposal was accepted. The first time I've been strongly tempted to use the block but I too felt unable to speak up in that moment, and it probably would have made no difference. In moments the entire crowd of over 100 people at this stage swept off down the street. We worked for five months to continuously maintain a symbolic presence in this space and in one minute it had been abandoned unthinkingly, by the largest group we'd been able to gather there in a long time. Myself and fewer than ten others did not join the mob and stayed in the plaza to continue the occupation. As we stood almost alone on the grey cobbles below the hulking, untouched Central Bank, while the 'movement' moved away down the street shouting violently about a fool's errand, I felt Occupy Dame Street end for me. Five months, many amazing people, struggles, successes, much learned, much lost, much more to do, but tonight this phase at least of this unexpected and unique adventure came to a close.

We stayed there, dwindling further in numbers. One activist had the great idea to use chalk to decorate the space and we created a large circle on the ground, proclaiming as ever 'We Are The 99%'.


One of the initial organisers appeared, five week old baby in tow, a baby that had been a pregnant bump throughout many of the early months of Occupy. Occubaby!


Meanwhile there were reports of altercations with the Gardai on Pearse Street, and photos came back of dozens of police with linked arms facing down and shoving protestors in the street. I didn't want to leave, it seemed wrong to simply wander away and abandon the plaza to its fate.


Nearly two hours later forty or fifty people returned, gathering around the chalk circle, fairly energised and filled with adrenaline.


A couple of shouted accounts and a plan to have another General Assembly tomorrow at 6p.m. with a bigger, family-centric one on Saturday at 6p.m. At least it was some kind of plan, although where it leaves the movement now I've no idea. Things quickly wound down.

Someone mentioned that Occupy Cork and Galway had been served with eviction notices. Some people planned to stay the night. The odd person came by with a donation of food or clothing. Amazingly someone had salvaged the original Occupy Dame Street Ireland sign that had graced so many photos in the first few days, and we took 'family' photos of all of us with it. The people here were what made this something worth pursuing, and the movement does continue in some way in all of us. The full moon shone down, by the clock we'd checked so often standing on the plaza in all weathers, at every time of the day and night.


With so many of the initial occupiers around, it felt almost like that first warm, hopeful evening in October. But it's much colder now and five months is enough history to hang heavy in the air. There was confusion, hope, infighting, friendship, politics, economics, the desire for a better world, and no real idea what to do. In other words, there was Occupy Dame Street. Goodbye.


Getting on for a thousand photos of Occupy Dame Street over the last 5 months.
Or see the rest of my ODS blog posts.



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