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%.
Latest posts by Helena Sheehan (see all)
- To the Crucible II: A Further Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left - July 29, 2013
- To the Crucible: An Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left - January 21, 2013
- An Aisling for Our Age: Socialism or Barbarism - February 23, 2012
- Occupying Dublin: Considerations at the Crossroads - January 19, 2012
- Occupy Dublin: Take back the world they have stolen from us - October 16, 2011