Occupy Dublin: Take back the world they have stolen from us


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Speech given after the October 15th march at Occupy Dublin, outside the Central Bank of Ireland, Dame Street

When you have lived a long life, you will find that the years blur together, but some years stand out. 2011 will be a stand out year.

For some of us active on the left for many years, we have been asking what would it take for people to rise up. There has been every reason to rise up. Every form of exploitation has flourished.

Redistribution from below to above has intensified beyond anything ever imagined. Transferring private debts into public ones as been an absolutely stunning move. Financial capital has attacked, not only the lives and livelihood of the working people of the world, but even industrial capital. Industrial capital at least produces something. Hedge funds, short selling and such financial instruments produce nothing and take everything. They are parasitic upon the only real sources of wealth: natural resources and human labour. They contribute nothing.

How could people just take this? How could they allow the 1% to rob and rule the 99%? Why has such stepped-up class struggle from above not been met by class struggle from below?

2011 has been the year when vast numbers came out and said no. They have come out, we have come out, to take back the world they have stolen from us. From Tunisia to Egypt to Spain to Chile to the USA and many places in between. Now here. Iceland and Greece, of course, were already out in front, shaming us. But not now. We are on the streets and squares of almost 1000 cities in 82 counties on 6 continents today. There is something happening here. Most of these are new people, people new to protest, although the old ones, waiting and working for this to happen, are part of it too.

So here we are at this international day of solidarity of this new global movement, this movement of the indignant, this occupy together movement. Here we are at Occupy Dublin / Occupy Dame Street. The immediate impetus to this occupy movement, which has spread like wildfire, has been Occupy Wall Street. Main Street stood up to Wall Street. They elected Obama to do that, but no sooner was he elected than he collapsed under the power of Wall Street and betrayed Main Street. I have been particularly buoyed up by Occupy Philadelphia, the place where my life of protest began. It’s been quite quiescent for so long. My new left friends continued doing progressive work, as best they could, but they had no sense of a movement around them. Now they have. Now we have.

It has been so powerful to see so many people coming together and to hear them asset over and over “This is what democracy looks like”, “We are the 99%”, “We are awake now”. People have awakened to the fact that there are so many more of us than there are of them and asked how they are so powerful and we are so powerless, how the few are so extravagantly wealthy while so many are so abjectly poor. People are stepping up to the G8 as the G7billion and saying it’s our world and we intend to take it back now.

So here we are all over the world, occupying spaces and making demands. There has been much focus on occupations and demands. Yes, this is about occupations and demands on one level. But it is not reducible to occupations and demands. Will this occupation of itself result in the IMF getting out of our affairs, in the removal of private debts from public encumbrance, in refusal to pay bondholders at the expense of our health, education and welfare, in taking back our oil and gas reserves for our own purposes? If it does, great. But I don’t think that it’s as simple as that. It will be a more complex process, a more protracted and difficult struggle. But it’s a struggle that we have begun.

These occupations have opened new spaces, literally as well as metaphorically. They have created a new dynamic in this struggle. They have transformed the terrain, physically here in Dame Street, but psychologically and politically as well.

How? Well, first of all, we’ve transformed ourselves. We have become the change we want to see. Those who have stepped up for the first time can never be the same again. You have discovered something new in yourselves. You have lived in a new way in these days. Food, shelter, culture, knowledge have been given and received freely in a way that was beyond the circuitry of commodification. This is participatory democracy, an experiment in the sort of society we want to create. It is building the new in the shell of the old.

Those who have been involved in other projects, even those of us who have been politically active for many years, have changed too. We have become part of something new, something bigger. We have formed new relationships and become part of the texture of each other’s lives. The bonds forged in common struggle are, in my experience, the strongest bonds of all. We are part of a new movement now. We have committed to each other. We have come to feel the world is on the move again in a way that is hopeful. The years without that has been a hard test of our resolve.

We are confronting the most formidable force ever in the whole history of the world. We don’t really know how to take power from the 1% for the 99%. It’s not like the old days of industrial capital, where there were those who worked in the mines and lived in hovels and there was the mine owner, who organised production and lived in a big house, and the mechanisms of exploitation and expropriation were clear. How to expropriate the expropriators now? We are trying to figure that out. We don’t quite know how to unravel the structures of political and economic power that exist today. They are so complex and out of control. That is why we have organised Occupy University here at Occupy Dublin. That is why progressive and thoughtful intellectual activity has stepped up all over the world. Actually it’s been impossible to keep up with all the interesting and provocative writing that has been sparked off by all this.

All over the world we have created a new sense of possibility, a new energy, to address power and to act upon it. Occupations alone will not do it, but they can be the impetus to do what needs to be done to take back the world they have stolen from us.

We are the 99%.


7 Responses

  1. k.s.parthasarathy

    October 17, 2011 4:46 am

    I am an admirer of Prof.Shehan! It is a carefully optimistic talk. We have seen the World Social Forum ..jow it remains a debating forum and is infiltrated ..but they ofcourse claimed in the beginning that much only and now may be they would say OWS movement is a logical extension of their efforts. Now also there will be attmpts to infiltrate but this movemnt ows is yet in the making..inspite of infiltration World Social Movement did father other moments..no body can preveent the dynamic of the situation from moving in its logical directions..do we need a structure for it..guess each national situtation should shape its structure, keeping its connection to an international centre..the proposed International center should take somewhat similar role Marx took during the Civil War in France. Prof. Shehan says this when she talks of Occupy Universities. we need intellectual input towards organisation ..ideologically everything is available sufficently. Let us think how we do this? From a gandhian point of view from India, I suggest we need an intensive civil dis obedience movemnt and “fill the Jail” slogan..mass indefinite hunger strikes…perfectly structured some imediately realisable /slogans/goals…it is important it should be non violent..rioters infiltrating in Rome could be an infilitration by the establishment..the civil disobedient movers would demonstrate before the residences and offices of every legislator/legislature with demands that he should vote for them in the house..extract promises publicly for policies demanded from every contestent in elections..surround parliaments..so on…

  2. David Q

    October 18, 2011 8:32 pm

    A great speech, as you’d expect from Helena — so thoughtful, far-ranging yet focused even in the heat of the moment. I think a key point is: “We don’t really know how to take power from the 1% for the 99%. It’s not like the old days of industrial capital … We don’t quite know how to unravel the structures of political and economic power that exist today.”

    Numbers won’t do it, any more than a billion ants (as far as I know!) could not take down an elephant. I hope that people with more political nous than I have can find the weak spot, the Achilles heel.

  3. Helena Sheehan

    October 20, 2011 10:22 am

    Thank you both for your encouraging comments and for your provocative thoughts about this new movement.

    Yes, KS, I think we need to learn from movements of the past. I would certainly see the World Social Forum as a precursor. I think we need many forms of resistance, but I am against hunger strikes. In fact, I think that those who are most committed to resistance should take particular care to eat well and to be healthy to be fit for the struggle.

    DQ, that elephant and ants image has been playing on my mind. It really captures the challenge.

  4. David Q

    October 25, 2011 11:04 pm

    Concerning “We don’t quite know how to unravel the structures of political and economic power that exist today”, it’s a good start to pinpoint that power structure (identify the enemy) as specifically as possible. So that New Scientist report is useful — here’s the gist of it, for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

    “As protests against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters’ worst fears. [fears??!] An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy…. the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power….

    “When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a ‘super-entity’ of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. ‘In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,’ says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.”

  5. Robert

    November 4, 2011 9:49 pm

    As one of the now tens of thousands of recent but now and how so quickly forgotten emigrants to London to ‘go to work’ I have watched and joined for a while the protest at St Paul’s. The viciousness of the mainstream press in particular the Evening Standard (which is a free and very clever subtle form of brainwashing) is a sight to behold.

    What is interesting for me is that I get the RTE News headlines every evening on the internet and I have not seen any reference to the Occupy Dame Street March. Now why might that be?

    While the scientists above may have discovered a sinister web of a few very powerful institutions who basically control everything (eat your heart out Dr No…where is James Bond when we need him most?)the elite who control and pull the strings in Ireland’s mainstream media are the ones we need to confront.

    Matt Cooper (Denis O Brien)
    Independent (Tony O Rielly)
    RTE News (Irish Government, Pat Kenny and Miriam O’ Callaghan. Ryan Turbirty is just a prat and Joe is just Joe…)
    Irish Times (don’t know except it aint left leaning) Irish Examiner(Maybe a little left leaning?)
    Sunday Business Post (Not a bad paper)
    Irish Left Review (who runs it?)

    Anway…if had not subscribed to Irish Left Review I would have never heard about the Occupy Dame Stree March…!!!

    And Michael Noonan…I read in tonites RTE headlines that the 8.6% reduction in the deficit is sacrosanct Why the f*&% is it sacrosanct…abla bla bla Well thanks Micheal you aint going hungry tomorrow…
    Thanks Micheal and Enda, and Bertie and Brian Cowan (what is he doing these days an dif he has joined the board of some bank Arghhh)
    And poor Brian Lenihan (may he rest in peace)and all the rest of the political shisters that have robbed our wee country…thanks for propping up the 1%…hope ya’s enjoy tucking into your just deserts..