I've been so caught up in this new movement that I haven't had much time
to write much more than tweets and facebook updates. I've been involved with
Occupy Dublin since the week before it happened and close to Occupy Philadelphia
too. I've been down at he Central Bank in Dame Street every day for 3 to
7 hours a day and for much of the time when I'm not there I'm online organising
Occupy University (like 60s style teach-ins) and trying to keep up with what's
happening elsewhere. I've spoken at a number of assemblies and given some
media interviews. Here is the text of a speech I gave on Sat at a big rally
after a march (about 1000) at Occupy Dame Street, which conveys my reflections
on-the-go on this movement in-the-making.
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
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
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
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%.
Professor Helena Sheehan
Dublin City University
Dublin 9 Ireland
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