From the personal journal of Basil Miller
YOU HAVE TO PREPARE FOR THESE THINGS.
That’s what I’m telling myself as I contemplate the mobilisation tomorrow.
Tomorrow is 10 December 2014. From the early hours, all over Ireland busses and trains are filling with people. Cars are crammed full as the pooling system set up by local groups gears up for the journey.
Banners are rolled, placards packed, supplies fill the backpacks. Cameras and fancy smartphones have been charged.
It is a truly momentous occasion. Historic, even.
And it’s all down to water. The true elixir of life, as essential as the air we all breathe. I tell myself, you could live for as long as 70 days without food — but with no water, you’d be dead before the week is out.
By now we all know the background. A simple notion that very few people would have a problem with in principle — that water should be charged for — has divided a people from a nation’s government as no other issue in the past six years of grim, grinding soul-destroying austerity.
I’ve paid water charges. I paid them in the Netherlands when I lived there many years ago. That was no biggie. I understood. In a country where much of it lies below sea level, and three of Europe’s biggest rivers annually threaten to overflow the system of dykes, it is very costly, and complicated, to ensure both flood control and clean, safe drinking water.
Water is so important in the Netherlands that it has its own many-tentacled organisation, the Rijkswaterstaat, and has had for centuries. It is seen as a state within a state, and one which no invader has ever dared interfere with or try to administer, so complex are its functions and so arcane its expertise. And the people trust it.
But here in Ireland, I will not pay a cent to Irish Water. Like hundreds of thousands of us, I do not trust this entity. I do not trust the motives behind it. I do not trust the government that set it up. I do not trust the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the Troika, or the vulture corporations hovering in the background ready to pick over our dwindling incomes when they can get their hands on Irish Water through privatisation.
In any case, I’ve paid for my water already. A lifetime of income tax. Special increases in VAT and motoring taxes which were, I was told, destined to upgrade, repair and improve our water supplies and their quality — but instead were diverted elsewhere.
And, with many others, I’ve even been forced to pay for the obscene costs of setting up Irish Water, with the Local Property Tax which was supposed to fund local authority services stolen by central government and diverted in barrowloads to consultants, to IW itself, and to dubious companies like Denis O’Brien’s GMC Sierra, awarded contracts without public tender or tax clearance certificate and even before they were registered with the Companies Registration Office.
I collect a few lemons from our fruit bowl and add them to my gear for tomorrow. For 10 December. Lemons?
Yes, lemons. It’s a precaution. The last months I’ve seen video footage of the Guardians of the Peace (Garda Siochana) using pepper spray on peaceful women protestors. I’ve seen thugs in uniform shove a woman against a metal bollard; drag a man across concrete on his face, setting off an epileptic fit. I’ve heard rumours that the ruling regime has mobilised the Army for tomorrow. That the Public Order Unit has been issued with tear gas. That undercover provocateurs will do all they can to start trouble.
So I pack my face mask, and my lemons to soak the fabric. The juice lessens the effects.
It’s just in case.
But the rumours won’t stop me going — they just inspire me to be prepared. Just like I learned as a nipper, in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland: Bí Ullamh. Well, I am. Ullamh.
And, as we all now realise, it’s not just about water.
A hundred or two hundred thousand citizens will assemble tomorrow — 200,000 citizens sick of austerity. Sick of cuts. Sick of carrying the can for the Seanie Fitzpatricks and the David Drumms, for all the bankers, for the British and German bondholders, for the consultants on fat government contracts, for the likes of Goldman Sachs and Mr Tepper.
A citizenry standing up. At last resisting the untrammeled and deliberate upward flow of wealth from those who struggle and suffer and scrimp and borrow, who fall into the hands of moneylenders to pay their utility bills or buy food — upward to the one per cent, the 1% who do not, God knows, need any more money, but who will if they can TAKE, and TAKE, and TAKE, and go on taking until we stop them.
“The great only appear great because we are on our knees — let us arise!” Well, James Larkin would be proud today. We have arisen. Paddy is off his knees, off her knees.
Just watch us tomorrow.
And guess what? The great don’t appear so great anymore.
The Kennys, the Burtons, the Noonans and Rabbittes and Varadkars and Howlins, the Draghis, the Merkels, the nameless bureaucrats who have imposed this neoliberal con trick and who would like to keep on doing that.
What do they look like to me today, the day before the revolution?
They look puny, they look weak, they look like dwarves. They look scared. They look like they’re on the run. On the ropes. Oh no, not great at all.
I put a little cushion into my pack. I might want to sit down for a while. It will be a long day.
Yes, we will be a mighty assembly. And — an assembly of people who have begun to feel their power. No longer at the mercy of the neoliberal gang.
People who, up and down the land, have organised themselves, who have resisted, who have said NOT A CENT and meant it, who have joined together and who have found imaginative and creative ways to stop the meter installers dead in their tracks, to stop the hundreds and thousands of police mobilised to aid those installers, and who have, finally and without intending it, set off a political earthquake which could change for ever and entirely the face of politics in Ireland, the entire political equation which has dominated this state since its foundation.
An earthquake which could rid us of this broken and corrupt political class once and for all.
I have a cup of tea. I watch the video of the four representatives of the Detroit Water Brigade. Their wonderful gesture of solidarity. I hear their wise advice, bitterly gestated in the horrendous experience faced by the people of Detroit, Michigan.
Motor City. A great and proud city brought low by Reaganomics, neoliberalism, globalisation and all the complex of economic policies designed for one purpose only — to beggar the working Jack and Jill of the world and aggrandise the super-rich.
Yesterday I visited the ‘guard post’ at a local estate where a group of water warriors sat in the cold round a brazier, ready to call out the residents if the GMC Sierra trucks tried again to invade. A couple of days back, I saw more guys standing guard at another estate. It’s been like that for weeks. No sign of anyone giving up, or being fooled by the government postponing the day of reckoning.
I’m amazed. I’ve been living here for 16 years. It’s Greystones! I never thought I would see this kind of thing in this town. And I never thought I would see 2,000 people march up Church Road and rally in the pouring rain at the harbour a few weeks back either.
Was that the first ever demonstration in Greystones? I mean, an actual march? I recall a rally or two against the harbour development, a picket or two on the Town Council — but never a march. And it’s a long time since the once regular Orange marches ceased — but sure they were what we call parades, not really marches anyhow.
“All is changed, changed utterly — a terrible beauty is born.”
OK, that’s all the stuff I need. Zip it up. Ready, except for the sandwiches and the soup in the morning.
A terrible beauty.
What is the biggest lesson? What is the secret of the last months?
Here’s my take. It’s that phenomenon, the movement behind the candle-lit vigils at garda stations, behind the neighbourhood patrols, behind the solidarity, the demos, the pranks and the music, the ability to defeat and stop the installers and their guardians.
It’s self-organisation. In every group around a brazier. In every event. In every demo, big or small. In organising the bus. In collecting the fares. In having the kids minded. In bringing down a can of soup. In hitting the phones.
In there is the seed. In all that. The potential for change. The potential for taking charge. The potential for displacing, for pushing aside, for collapsing, this rotten regime of Fine Gael and Labour and their like and the entire corrupt, broken, failed and treacherous political class which, instead of raising its people up, has brought only ruin and desolation and a heaviness of debt to burden even our great-grandchildren.
That is the seed. And that is why I like to think of it, of today, as the day before the revolution. Because that is exactly what could well begin tomorrow — 10 December 2014.
Let us all be there, right at the start.
Now, where’s that cap? And, just as well I thought of it — I almost forgot my little umbrella.