DEMOCRACY 2015. IRELAND’S MODERN LOCKOUT

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By Eithne Hogan

Two buildings.

A pair of outstretched arms.

The lush of green against the cloudy grey of sky. A banner blue and blatant unfurled and billowing the window panes of time.

 

Past and present.

 

Stone and brick and fabric sailing in the August Sea…

The wind whispering…

Nature poised in the middle. Standing in compromise. Paradoxically proud and yet

Inexplicably precarious.

Standing in a place where history writes.

In a place where history was written.

In a place of process.

In a place where all is change.

 

CHANGE

No one can doubt the all-subsuming transformational change on this Island and the wider planet in which we live.

No one can doubt the rapid acceleration and ever expanding pace of technological and other-worldly change we constantly avoid or ignore or with open arms embrace and with optimism meet.

No one can doubt we are living through a time of tremendous, exhilarating, heart beating, racing and dynamic, heart-stopping process.

No one can doubt we are breathing through the living and dying lungs of transitional transformation.

Or that we can hear with attentive and vigilant listening the constant voices and demands for political reformation and/or radical alteration. These calls weave through the continuous cries and catalogues of the individual and collective voice.

For they lie in the web of enveloping despair and for many are scantily threaded in future hope.

In the hollowed out silence of suicide and death.

In voices no longer able to articulate; where hopes and dreams and aspirations are vividly clinging to the representative expressions of loved ones, their families and friends.

In tentative individual and collective stories of human and global process.

In the strength and mood of courage holding out under the terrorising boot of concrete or reticent fear.

In the tragedy of story.

No one can argue in threadbare integrity the absolute imperative and irreversible demand and need for so many kinds of simple and complex change.

No one surely can doubt that.

 

DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT AND THE NEED FOR REAL CHANGE

One of the words emblazoned on the Right2Change banner is the word democracy. Of all of the myriad forms of change required in this our transitional stage of being; rebuilding democracy is a key change required in the context of the Irish story.  Many will argue that capitalism has failed. Many will argue that capitalism would always fail. Others will argue that it is not so much that capitalism has failed but that the neo-liberalist agenda within capitalism has failed and that with huge effort and tenacity of purpose, a fairer more just form of capitalism can emerge and be restored and that capitalism should be tinkered with as opposed to rethinking it. There are theories evolving some in practice that approach this complex problem but many of the theories and projects are experimental and unquantifiable at such an early stage of their implementation. However, despite the different strategies or concepts approaching the ‘humanising’ approach to the capitalist regime; one thing is apparent:

As Frank Moraes asserts in his criticism of the book “The New Prophets of Capitalism, “the main thing is that the rich are not going to solve our problems with inequality and stagnant wages. I’m not saying that they couldn’t. But their approach is to ignore the problem that stares them in the face, and nibble around the edges. As Matt Yglesias used to say, “If you want to help the poor, give them money.” But that’s the last thing that any of these people want to do. Each one of these people has more money than they could ever reasonably spend. That’s the one thing they know about: their money. And they have no interest in giving any of it up. But when it comes to the advice they give out, they have very little knowledge. But they are very generous in sharing it. The book looks at four really rich people who see problems with our capitalist system and want to do something about it: Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Bill Gates (you know), John Mackey (Whole Foods), and Oprah Winfrey (Oprah). But none of them actually want to fix capitalism, because, as Chico Escuela would say, capitalism been berry berry good to them. So Sandberg, for example, doesn’t think that capitalism ought to do anything to help the family, but that the family should be more accommodating to capitalism. Moraes essentially contends that the rich will not fix capitalism.

 

And here is one of the key words associated with strategies and models of repair or reform – accommodation. Because whether you apply the humanitarian position and approach of ‘benevolence’ or the economic position of some form of reformist mild to moderate tweaks in an existing taxation mechanism; you still remain within the structures of a capitalist society. The outcome and impacts of change will ultimately depend on the nod and wink of the wealthy elite or corporations who may to a degree [and driven by their own imbalanced volition] aspire to sharing or distributing charitable donations but never to an extreme overhaul of their commodified and ‘oxygenated’ life system or to a total redistribution of their personal wealth. A distribution that inevitably intensely stings.

Socialists also agree on the outcome of socialism as a preferable way of ordering society but like other political strategists and other ideologies, may not always agree on approach to the problem, the way to get there or the exact format of what socialism when achieved would look like. Socialists would maintain that progressive legislation and social welfare or for that matter any improvement in the lives of the people have been won by popular struggles, and were never or would never be easily offered gifts or presents from above. Some Socialists also perceive or have expressed the need for people empowerment and active and meaningful involvement in political governance.

When asked the question, what criticisms he had of the Dáil as an institution, Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit party responded:

“The basic problem is that the Dáil is not accountable to people on a day to day basis and we need a democracy which is much more direct and participatory, really I think ultimately a democracy where we don’t have professional politicians so much as you people who are organically representing the working class and ordinary people – where people could be accountable on a weekly, even daily basis for what they do and can be replaced if they fail to implement the policies that they claim to stand for.”

[Richard Boyd Barrett: On Being a Socialist in Parliament]

 

Some interpreters such as Noam Chomsky perceive that capitalism and democracy are impractical bed partners and totally contradictory and that the principles of capitalism and true democracy are fundamentally incompatible. Others view that the type or form of democracy will if not dramatically change the social order or structures in which we live but will certainly improve our lot and alleviate our struggles. Ireland’s form of democracy as a representative democracy is either critically applauded or acutely condemned. In recent decades and most especially since the collapse and recession with all that it entailed; demands for a fairer more just form of participatory or direct democracy have grown in voice and strength across the world in general and more specifically in Ireland. Whereas the counteracting voice seeks reformist or tweaking measures dismissing the democratic deficit; Participatory Democracy seeks to overhaul at the root of the system itself. Analyses of successes are cited and projections claimed:

“The system of Participatory Democracy was used as an experiment in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil many years ago. It was so successful and popular amongst their people that it is no longer an experiment but is the form of government that they use. It has greatly reduced the gap between the wealthy and poor as everyone gets to participate. During his time in the Catalonia region of Spain, the author George Orwell observed the system of Participatory Democracy in use there and in his book “Homage to Catalonia”, he describes it as the fairest system of democracy that he ever witnessed anywhere in the world.”

[Ken Smollen – Irish Democratic Party]

 

“Because that’s what direct democracy does. It puts YOU in ultimate control of the politicians you choose to implement your wishes. Direct Democracy. It really is the ONLY democratic future for Ireland.”[Direct Democracy Ireland]

 

These solutions are pitted against the problems identified in the current system as addressed by the 1Yi; a campaign to return the Power of Public Veto, and People/Citizen Initiatives back into the Irish constitution.

 

WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?

According to 1Yi:

There are three major reasons why our political system is failing:

1) Misrepresentation

The Irish political system used in Ireland is known as Representative Democracy. This means the power and decision-making process is entirely in the hands of representatives who are elected by the people once every five (5) years. However, this system also allows governments to make decisions against the will of the same people who elected and entrusted them to manage the country on their behalf. Promises are made to constituents and then when elected, governments renege and implement policies and laws irrespective of the views and against the will of the people of Ireland. The problem is further exacerbated by a whip system that requires an elected representative to vote according to the party of which they are members. They do this regardless of the will of the constituency they were elected to represent.

2) Accountability

The Irish political system allows politicians to make decisions knowing they won’t be held accountable for their actions.

3) Citizen Empowerment

The Irish political system restricts and limits citizen participation in making decisions impacting the lives of Irish citizens. At present the Government appoints people to manage institutions and public bodies on their relationship with the present government and not based on their qualifications for the position. This means that a person who is unqualified and inexperienced could be given a responsibility to manage matters of social, economic and environmental importance at the detriment to our society as a whole. A person may be given this responsibility just because they are a talented orator or have the right political connections even if they have a proven track record of being unable to manage large projects effectively and within budget. Ireland is a modern society with an educated population who are capable of making the best decisions in regards to matters that affect them and the Irish people as a whole. {1Yi: One Year Initiative.]

And here we meet it.

 

DEMOCRACY 2015. IRELAND’S MODERN LOCKOUT.

“In countries subjected to the Troika Terrorists, their bankster/corporate buddies and willing national governmental cronies we see huge transfers of wealth from ordinary people to the enormously well off. They get large interest payments and commissions via perpetual debt servicing and also get their pick of national assets at knock down prices (to also pay down bankster debts foisted onto ordinary citizens) and then charge folk a premium to use those same assets.

In Ireland conflicts of interest, scandals, statistics and blatant arrogance by ruling politicians prove this beyond a doubt.”[Concerned Blogger]

So questions need to be asked.

In Ireland, of the 99%, who speaks against this when even some of the government is complicit?

In Ireland, of the 99%, who is listened to when grievances are raised?

In Ireland, of the 99%, who really matters and moreover who benefits?

And should we really need to spell it out and ask the pertinent question?

In the middle of these conflicts of interest, scandals, statistics and blatant arrogance by ruling politicians in this OUR democracy, YOUR democracy, who speaks for you, your family, your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren?

Shouldn’t it be easier than this? Shouldn’t the answer be simply YOU do?

But do you?

Not yet. Because you are currently a victim of Ireland’s modern lockout.

And although history never moves in a straight line, sometimes history is proven to repeat itself.

 

Lockout: 1913

For seven months the Lockout affected tens of thousands of Dublin’s workers and their families, with Larkin portrayed as the villain in the Irish newspapers.

The Lockout eventually proved too much for the poverty stricken workers. Most workers many on the brink of starvation went back to work. But the situation had changed dramatically. Workers began to realise that there was strength in numbers and that events like the 1913 Lockout would never happen again.

The legacy of 1913 is in fact a marvellous victory drawn from the jaws of defeat. The trade union and labour movement was soon to become an essential and important part of the new state. [Margaret Brown]

 

I am not comparing our current plight in Ireland with the harrowing experience of the people who suffered and died in the 1913 lockout. It would be inappropriate, insensitive and anachronistic. I am equating the mood felt by the relative impact of economic terrorism and the odious onslaught of austerity in recent years to the mood of the people in 1913. We all hold a shared experience of regulated and limited aspirations and dreams, heartfelt and justifiable anger and frustrations, and the oppression and curtailing of the individual and collective will when measured on any scale of that designated term.

It is a different form of suffering with the similar result of expectation, demand and need.

The Irish of 1913 with the physical and psychological deprivation of their lockout shares the same similarities with our democratic deficit of 2015. Since we are ultimately and resolutely locked out of democracy.

And we have a Right2Change.

So we can rebuild this new democracy. Strip what we have to the bone. And start afresh.

Remember – Workers began to realise that there was strength in numbers and that events like the 1913 Lockout would never happen again.

And out of that decimation and hope, James Connolly stepped up to the stage and the battle continued.

 

THE SYMBOLISM OF IMAGE

“To be successful, political messages must create a robust emotional response.”

“Images and symbols tend to exemplify causes and campaigns. Farwell delves into the ways colors, architecture, and art have contributed to effective communication throughout history. Examples include the Phrygian cap of the French Revolution, the Iwo Jima flag photograph of World War II, the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union, and, most recently, the iconic multi-tone “Hope” poster of Barack Obama. These images, or “brands,” and their representations of people and movements typify political discourse and symbolize the narratives of people and events. They have played a major role in shaping policy climates worldwide, from local government to the United Nations, and in writing history one movement at a time.”

[Extracted from Ryan O’Hollaren’s Review of Persuasion and Power, The Art of Strategic Communication, James P. Farwell]

 

RIGHT2CHANGE DEMOCRATIC REFORM

What has been identified as the most popular movement since the creation of the state is now primarily encapsulated in the Right2Change movement. Its mission is “to have a government by the people, for the people”, Ireland’s own preferred and historically rooted democracy. Other strands and groups have also emerged and strengthened from the protest movement where political will is simultaneously channelled in a diversity of community led grassroots formations but many of these unions still operate under the umbrella of the Right2Water and the Right2Change banner; the banner depicted in the photo heading this discussion that is symbolically and emotively draped in a location of mass historical significance and under the eye and in Big Jim Larkin’s direct view.

There is another photo; one among thousands taken in the events of the last two years or more, one that has now become written into history as a representative symbol of the water and now the against austerity protest movement in Ireland. The shot spills over with sentiment and meaning for anyone involved or for anyone in remembrance of their Irish history and cultural identity. It is so deeply embedded in consciousness; you don’t even need to view it. Undoubtedly as a political message, it creates a robust emotional response and an additional sense of transcendence. Tens of thousands of people, culturally diverse and ranging across the spectrum of age and societal context cram the streets of Dublin to gather as before at the GPO. These particular streets as they were throughout our history are the place where the greater populace flock in their thousands to stand among the heroes and fighters who braved adversity to win our national and Irish sovereignty and democratic freedom. Words alone do not capture the significance and thoughts and feelings of the people who walk and march these streets. Since the power evoked and stimulated lies too deep in the Irish consciousness and is an infinite warrior in time travel. And in the modern democratic lockout of Ireland 2015, the hopes and dreams, demands and expectations flood the quays and sidewalks in the corridors of time and in the “trumpet-tongued call” for change. Not token change or let’s pretend change. Not vague and obfuscated change or the change hovering on the selective and manipulative wings of a frivolous promise. For as Brendan Ogle correctly says in the Right2Change presentation and in his delivery of the Right2Change roadshow; the people are soldiers. They are warriors. Gone way beyond water warriors also. And they are not seeking out meaningless or clouded tweaks of reform and ‘recovery’. The people standing in their droves irrespective of the journey or the weather are seeking their sovereignty as agents in their own home. Primarily, they are rethinking democracy and their political role and are not fictitiously re-tweaking it.

I agree with Brendan when he stands poignantly at the podium and points at the photo of the people gathered at the GPO and refers to them as the 99% in our current plutocracy and under the oppression of expanding corporate rule. I agree with him when he renounces this rule as a barbaric form of economic terrorism with a sociopathic source and agenda. I agree with him when he says that the 1% is winning but we are still fighting. But when he points and holds the fingerprint of all of our struggles and encourages unity; I for one would like him to ponder over one small thing.

Just one…

I would like him to view the picture once more that he addresses. I would like him to identify and contemplate the soldiers in that photo. The voices that off their knees call for change. The voices coming out of stark destitution, anger and frustration and despair, out of evictions never seen since the famine, homelessness, state abandonment, sheer negligence and absolute neglect.  The voices that call for real and meaningful change. Brendan dramatically asserts that “the 1% can’t win against that!” [As he confidently refers to the crowds at the GPO] He asserts that as soldiers, as warriors the 1% are outnumbered by the will and voice of the people. But that’s not exactly the case Brendan. Because as you say, they are winning. And we are losing. And there is a better chance of us losing completely if the vast majority of our people are locked out of a democracy that does not serve us, where there is no accountability and no recourse to meaningful engagement and participation. In other words Brendan, there are thousands of soldiers on the ready. But you will never form an army if your regiments are locked out of the barracks and left defenceless.

The Right2Change organisation has now embarked on their roadshow around the country, with the further opening out and discussion of their “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government”. This is an excellent opportunity to embrace and incorporate the three pillars identified as members of the movement. It is an excellent, well organised presentation with the potential to truly deliver, with the determination and resolution of political will.

But coincidentally, I have just viewed another powerful image. It is a posted cartoon of the Greek situation in Athens post-election. Two men, in poverty and dishevelled are walking down the street and one is speaking to the other in bewildered confusion: “I keep voting against austerity but austerity keeps voting itself back in again.”

Change for what purpose? Change to whose design? Who benefits? How?

This political outcome in the long term as depicted in the cartoon cannot be the Irish story or political outcome of the Irish upcoming general election. We need at minimum to go some degree in changing our lot. For as Noam Chomsky eloquently explains:

For radicals, progress requires puncturing the bubble of inevitability: austerity, for instance, “is a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes.” It is not implemented, Chomsky says, “because of any economic laws.” American [Irish] capitalism also benefits from ideological obfuscation: despite its association with free markets, capitalism is shot through with subsidies for some of the most powerful private actors. This bubble needs popping too.”

But we need to open the doors and let these soldiers in.

Participatory Democracy does not exclude cleaning up capitalism. It compliments it.

Participatory Democracy does not exclude socialism evolving. It broadens the power base, empowers people and labour and compliments it.

Participatory Democracy even on its own is the fairest democracy anywhere in the world and compliments Orwellian observation and critique.

And what of our very own inspirational Larkin:

“…He talked to the workers, spoke as only Jim Larkin could speak, not for an assignation with peace, dark obedience, or placid resignation, but trumpet-tongued of resistance to wrong, discontent with leering poverty, and defiance of any power strutting out to stand in the way of their march onward”.[Sean O’Casey]

So in times like this, with drums beating wild beneath the windows of O’Connell Street and across from the GPO; the banner of change is a stark symbolic reminder that Ireland and its people will move on in truest Larkin style with head held high, trumpet-tongued of resistance to wrong, in defiance of any power strutting out to stand in the way of their determined and democratic march onward.

And somehow, they will find the key.