The “Spanish revolution” saw thousands of young Spaniards embark on a week-long series of anti-establishment demonstrations, with tactics including Twitter calls-to-action and the setting up of a “tent city” in Madrid’s central square, Puerta del Sol. Spanish protesters, dubbed “los indignados” (the indignant), want jobs (Spain’s youth unemployment rate is around 45 per cent), better living standards, fairer political processes and changes to their government’s austerity programme.
This sounds familiar.
And yet despite the parallels in the economic plights of both countries (overheated property market, youth-concentrated unemployment), sustained and co-ordinated protests, youth-led or otherwise, have yet to take place on the same kind of scale in Ireland. This is much to the dismay of Irish activists, who wish their compatriots were more visibly angry about the extent to which external, unelected bodies have assumed the power to dictate social and economic policy here (via the usual method of debt enslavement).
Independent TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, doing the loudspeaker thing at a Spanish solidarity protest in Dublin last Saturday, declared that Irish activists “want to see the Spanish revolution imported into this country”. But why do we have to import it? Why can’t the Irish be more like the Spanish? Without degrees in psychology, sociology, economics and European history - and a field study in both countries – that is not a question I am going to attempt to answer in a mere blog post. Oh no. But here are some possibilities.
1. The answer lies in the numbers: Some 27 per cent of workers aged 20-24 in Ireland are unemployed (as of the end of last year), while almost half of 18-25-year-olds in Spain can’t find work. Could it be that somewhere in between lies the tipping point between tolerable and intolerable?
2. The Irish media are innately conservative, promoting political consensus and a heads-down attitude to life… On the other hand, there’s nothing a home news editor enjoys more than a mass protest, what with its reliable capacity for producing a bumper crop of page-filling pictures of crowds bearing strong, witty placards – some of which manage not to be Father Ted references.
3. Irish people are lazy.
4. Irish people are not lazy; they just don’t feel very much like marching for an hour, then waiting at the bus stop for the same length of time.
5. Irish people are not lazy, just waiting for the summer. Boyd-Barrett has named July 16th as the date on which “the spirit of Spain” will be brought to Ireland by way of demonstration, which gives Ireland’s Indignados plenty of time to figure out how to erect their tents.
6. Irish people are righteously indignant, but it’s much easier to RT an online petition than it is to mobilize.
7. Irish people are more cynical than the Spanish about the effectiveness of political protest when it comes to changing law and government policy, and are less likely to value benefits such as the fuzzy feeling of solidarity, post-chanting catharsis and the opportunity to flirt self-deprecatingly with fellow protestors.
8. The Spanish protesters were partly objecting to Spanish government austerity measures and its all-round handling of the economy, while Irish people are resigned to the idea that the Irish government has already ceded control of both of those things to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
9. The Spanish political establishment isn’t as good at divide-and-conquer as its Irish counterpart.
10. There aren’t any encampment-friendly open spaces in Dublin city centre that are equivalent to the Puerta del Sol… on the plus side, for “boutique” demonstrations, the Spire is a foolproof meeting point.
11. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by protesters, putting people off attending.
12. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by Gardaí, putting people off attending.
13. Media coverage of demonstrations makes protests look boring and protesters look cold.
14. Media coverage of demonstrations is all about logistics such as road closures that might possibly crimp the extremely important day of people who are not actually marching and have no intention of ever marching, while giving comparatively little attention to the “ishoos”.
15. Television news coverage of protests patronises protestors by constantly congratulating them for being “peaceful”: You know, it’s almost as if they’re disappointed when there isn’t a massive rumble followed by an all-day kettling.
16. Irish people don’t know any good protest songs. “This is what democracy sounds like”, indeed.
17. Young Irish people would prefer to rant about the state of the nation from the comfortable distance of Scruffy Murphy’s pub. Which, last time I checked, was in Sydney.
18. There have been plenty of decent-sized protests in Ireland, including the snowy outpouring of November 27th, 2010. Where have you been?
19. A combination of the above.
20. All of the above.
21. None of the above.
22. Other _________________