Leaving party politics at the door of occupied Dame Street

A grumpy post, those of a nervous disposition or particularly sensitive to scenes of internal bickering, politicking or general moaniness should skip this one.

A slow and tough morning for Unkie Dave on Occupied Dame Street. Someone posted a comment yesterday that I make everything here sound so positive, and I think there may well be some spectacles of a rosy hue obscuring my sight at times. Everything has been such an adrenaline rush, and the feelings of positivity that action brings may well be the shot of caffeine my system craves but is no longer allowed to have.

There have, of course, been negatives: the drunken passers-by late on a weekend night; the online detractors who at times border on abusive; and those who actually come down to the camp at night to pick a fight with the hippies (and video the results), but to be honest these are few and far between, and the goodwill of the majority of folks far outweighs the temporary lows these incidents cause.

There has been one thing though that has been weighing heavily on my mind. I’ve touched on it before in previous posts but always tried to be as open-minded and inclusive about it as possible (something quite difficult for Unkie Dave who normally has a very low pity-to-fool ratio), and in an effort to try and give as honest an account as possible I feel somewhat compelled to take a moment and get it down on paper (or the ones and zeros digital equivalent thereof).

Before I do so it is important to reiterate that I do not speak for #OccupyDameStreet. I am not a spokesperson, and everything that I write is in a purely personal capacity - good, bad, indifferent all wrapped up in a bundle of atrocious spelling. Every opinion here is mine and mine alone. I’m participating in the movement, I spend most of my time in the Camp, but as the man said, “Hey, I’m just this guy.”

#OccupyDameStreet is just six days old. It’s a fledgling movement where even the folks camping under the Central Bank since Saturday don’t know all of each other’s names. We all recognise the faces, but when someone asks where Bob is, a sea of blank glazes is only navigable when you follow up with, “You know, the guy with the banana on his coat.” “Ah,” comes the reply, “Banana Bob, he’s in his tent.” And life moves on. (Banana Bob is a fictitious character used for illustrative purposes, no such person exists, do not ask for him at the camp.) Many of the participants have never been in a movement like this before (if there has ever been a movement like this); some of the folks you see on television had no intention of joining the Camp when they came down on Saturday and now here they are six days later making their mammies proud on national TV and radio. This is all very new for most people.

Now there have been seasoned activists in the Camp since day one, and the movement might never have coalesced without people behind it who knew what they were doing, but while they have brought their considerable experience with them to Dame Street, they have all left their political affiliations, parties or groups at the door, and the General Assemblies have asked everyone else to do no less. There are no flyers in the camp, no banners, no newspapers, no recruitment drives, no proselytizing, no leaflets or information for anything other than #OccupyDameStreet, and even those must be approved by General Assembly.

This may change though, for at every General Assembly the issue is raised as to how #OccupyDameStreet should work with external political parties and groups, and at times these discussions can get quite heated. What I’ve noticed however is that these questions often seem to be raised by the same core group of people, who arrive down to the General Assembly, raise the issue, and leave again as soon as the Assembly is over. This raises a valid concern that perhaps the movement isn’t being as open and welcoming as it thinks it is, that these folks don’t feel like they can stick around and contribute to life in the Camp if they are being asked to do so as individuals and not as the representatives of Political Parties that it is so painfully obvious they are.

While openness and inclusivity is a debate that #OccupyDameStreet must have, and have on a continuous basis, my greatest fear is that these party representatives are not interested in participating; they are seeking to lead.

I joined the movement on Saturday because it existed outside of the party system; it was affiliated to no group, no ideology beyond the international #Occupy Movement whose aims beyond the broad theme of “This stuff isn’t working out for most folks, can we try something else for a change?” are pretty nebulous, and I can tell by the discussions at General assemblies that a substantial majority of folks that are here on a regular basis feel the same.

It is the aPolitical (big ‘P’) nature of #OccupyDameStreet that I believe has also inspired a great deal of the support from the wider public - those who often write-off marching, chanting and the like as the negative acts of the Loony Left. The folks on Dame Street come from all backgrounds, and all walks of life and are united by a belief in the need for change, and this resonates with folks beyond Dame Street because basically, they feel the same too.

#OccupyDameStreet has struck a chord with the wider public and has received positive media attention in a way that no activist movement in Ireland has done since the days of Wood Quay or the Dunnes Stores Boycott, no doubt much to the consternation of existing political groups and parties who have been slogging away for years using traditional tactics in a spirited and passionate attempt to wake people up to the reality of the world around them. My fear is that these groups, so committed to their ideology, are seeking to capitalise on #OccupyDameStreet’s momentum and bend its will towards their own, as opposed to working together as partners to achieve whatever common goals there may be.

I had heard about the infiltration actions of certain political groups from those involved in community or single issue campaigns, but I dismissed it as the People’s Front of Judea vs Judean People’s Front recriminations and accusations that historically have plagued the Left and doused any notions of Left Unity, but these last few days I have witnessed it with my own eyes, and been horrified. As the party representatives have realised that affiliation is unlikely to be approved by consensus in the immediate term, they are now arriving at meetings asking for the consensus model to be changed. While it is not perfect and should be open to (as with everything) constant review, and #OccupyWallStreet operates (I believe) on a 90% Consensus model as opposed to the 100% currently used here, the motivations of some of those pushing for change alarm me.

I am the last person to espouse a philosophy of “can’t we all just get along” and group hugs; I am a cantankerous grumpy curmudgeon that sits at a computer and pontificates on a plethora of topics he knows nothing about, but I overcame my inherent pessimism and, dammit, I participated! Somehow I thought everyone else would do so as well.

If #OccupyDameStreet is taken over by an external political group and becomes little more than another of its hydra-like arms, a recruitment engine and a smokescreen for ulterior goals, everything that it has achieved in these last six momentous days will be tainted, spoiled or even destroyed. And I for one will have no part in that. 

The next few days will be a crucial time for the movement, shaping the form it will take for many weeks to come. It could be something truly revolutionary, or it could collapse under the weight of the imported external baggage of tactics and ideas that have failed before, and will fail again. The change being called for applies just as much to the actions of the Left as to those of the Right, and I hope we all have the strength to make that change.


*deep breath*

Unicorns and sparkles will return in the next post, assuming you all aren’t driven away by Unkie Dave nailing his grumpy colours to the mast (seriously, read more of my other posts, I really am a very grumpy person, I’m grumpy about art, I’m grumpy about television, I’m grumpy about my health, I’m even grumpy about unicorns and sparkles. I had an operation to remove my grump, but it failed. I just have to accept it and move on, and I hope you all can too!)

Originally published on David's site, boomingback.org.


Image top: infomatique.