A few people throwing rocks doesn’t make a riot…
For those who don’t know: Last weekend, Dublin was centre to a load of EU-related activity. The leaders of 25 nations – the fifteen EU members and the 10 ‘accession’ states – signed up a ‘new Europe’. Security was high, and the gardai and government, as well as the media, were warning of street violence from ‘anti-globalisation’ protestors. This was a chance make Ireland the rioting capital of Europe. Oh, the humanity.
With full-scale riots promised, shops and pubs had closed down. Some business had nailed plywood over their windows. Street furniture was removed.
Nothing much, anyway. I was in town on Saturday afternoon. A rag-tag bunch came up Leeson St., and onto Fitzwilliam Square. It was all very playful, and black-and-red flag waving types were laughing and joking with the extremely friendly gardai.
Suddenly people started swarming over the railings of the private park that takes up the centre of the square. Some lads playing football got quite a surprise… but the gardai didn’t seem to mind, and chatted away as dozens of unprotesting protestors spilled into the woods.
I did, however, get accused of being an undercover cop by one hippy couple. I looked down at my black combats and ‘UN Blue’ t-shirt. I told them I might be one. They weren’t prepared for that kind of logic, and failed to appreciate my stab at humour.
The irony of the situation – while protestors were making the private park public, by scaling the railings and opening the gates… the gate on the other side of the park was open all along.
A sort of low-food picnic formed in the park, with a few stout gardai chatting on the sidelines. People in silly clothes ran around, speeches were made, someone shouted ‘They can take our lives but they can’t take our freedom’ (they ain’t got my life either, matey). One bright spark had brought an old record player, which was belting out jazz tunes.
I was in and out, round and about, chatting, even talking to one garda. She’d come off a 13-hour shift, had seven hours off, then was back out herding us around Dublin 2. She was gasping for a pint, and her bed.
Later, the crowd moved on, leaving rubbish and disarray. One skinny young lad, a baby anarchist, in black loose gear, hoody up over his black military baseball cap, was warning people to leave immediately. ‘It’s a private park’, he whispered, and if the gardai isolate any small groups of people, they’ll arrest them for trespass. I glanced passed him, to where a a grey-haired, portly gardai was lying back on a bench, sunning himself, eyes closed.
I took off out of there, I needed food, and the march rolled on towards Merrion Square, where the member nations had showcase marquees erected. The march was supposed to move on to O’Connell St., and then head for Farmleigh House, in the Phoenix Park, where the EU summit was being held.
That night, I was in Wexford, watching the footage of protestors clashing with Gardai. It was happening at the Halfway House roundabout on the Navan Road, about 200m from the Phoenix Park’s Ashtown Gate.
Out of the two thousand or so protestors that had bothered marching all the way out of town, only a few dozen were causing problems.
It struck me that the militant types that seemed to be causing the trouble were caught up in very old-fashioned military techniques. It had the hallmarks of a pitched battle. They had marched right up to a wall of gardai, with high walls each side of them.
What was the objective? Media attention or Farmleigh? The got the former, but not necessarily in their favour.
If Farmleigh was the target, they should have send a dummy group up the Navan Road, to distract the gardai. Better again, send three separate groups from three directions, as there was only two water cannon trucks deployed. Meanwhile, under cover of darkness other protestors could have scaled the Phoenix Park Walls using ladders, and vanish into the undergrowth. Some might have been caught, or shot, but what of it? If it’s not worth sacrificing for, it’s not worth doing, right?
They could have reconvened in the woods at the back of the Ordnance Survey offices, from where they could launch a protest, or even fireworks. Another group could infiltrate in the media village, and do impromptu interviews on Sky News.
It was the lack of imagination that amused me. Want to get media attention? Get 2000 people to strip naked and throw wet sponges at the gardai. Hang banners from every bridge. March on RTE, not Farmleigh. Hijack catering vans and sneak in that way. Come into the park on hang gliders, paragliders, unicycles (or as someone has pointed out to me – naked hang-gliding?). Refuse to confront the police. Walk backwards into them. Dance to ceili music, instead of rioting. I could go on. Imagination, people, imagination.
Really though… I felt that the troublemakers are ill-informed losers, who know no other solution that to cause aggravation, entrenched in some outdated militant rhetoric. And they were a small minority amongst peaceful marchers.
That’s not to say I don’t agree with some of hardcore types, in principle, on how national, international and global issues are handled. I agree with the need for direction action. But I disagree with the form language and action they use. It’s the language of people who believe they are already beaten, and need to rise up against their ‘oppressors’. I think they’re mostly a bunch of whiners, foundering in dead metaphors. They don’t know real defeat, or oppression. They’ve created it for themselves, out of some sort of middle-class guilt.
But the problems – the so-called war in Iraq, immigration, and so on – it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Things are far worse than they think… but these matters are also less black and white than they think. These protestors are locked in a fantasy of good guys and bad guys, good and evil, right and wrong. It’s never so simple.
I don’t need to ‘reclaim the streets’, because I think that while I’m not necessarily happy with how, e.g. the city is run, I’m fool enough to believe that the city already belongs to the citizens ( though I can see how this might be viewed differently in the City of London). I’d prefer to leave the running of the country to a corrupt democracy than to anarchy – either utopian or dystopian.
Why rise up against our oppressors. Why rise up now?. Some of us never lay down in the first place. Personally, I feel empowered, and I feel challenged by very people that are supposedly oppressing me. And the way to empowerment is to think faster, act faster, and more fluidly than whoever it is that’s hassling you. Well, call me an optimist (and no, I don’t sell prescription sunglasses). I think I’m a realist, with a dash of optimism.
People in power are afraid of losing that power. In a democratic country, they need to be kept on their toes, made to feel accountable. What the ‘riot’ on Saturday did, if anything, was to reinforce that position. Regardless of anything we say here, or on Indymedia, Bertie humourless probably did not lie awake in fear of rioters, following the damp squib on Saturday night.
On the other hand… look at something like last week’s e-voting fiasco. I’m not saying that the turnaround is due completely to direct action or public lobbying, but this is a huge embarrassment to the government – a loss of power. Now that’s something that’ll keep Bertie awake.
Indymedia Photos »