Dame Street eviction gives Occupy chance to stay relevant

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OPINION:THE GARDA’S dismantlement of the Occupy Dame Street encampment outside the Central Bank in Dublin last week is the best thing that could have happened to the movement.

The camp had been in place for five months, and notwithstanding the admirable resolution of the protesters it was time for a change of tactics. A transformation was becoming increasingly necessary, not only to revitalise the movement and bring in new supporters with renewed impetus and fresh ideas, but also to remind us all that the fight against injustice has only just started.

When the Occupy movement raised its head in Dame Street five months ago, it made a spectacular political statement that drew much interest and press coverage. Five months later the encampment had become part of the urban landscape, so much so that passersby stopped taking any notice.

There is nothing worse than for the extraordinary to become commonplace, or for a radical protester to become predictable. That was the risk that the Occupy Dame Street movement was facing. Apart from a few disgruntled local businesses, no one else was interested in the rants of protesters outside the Central Bank.

The real problem facing the Occupy Dame Street Movement was how to reinvent itself while still keeping the encampment going.

To voluntarily take down the tents would have been seen as a mark of weakness, if not total surrender. And yet that phase of the movement had run its course, and time had come to regroup and move forward.

The dilemma facing the Occupy Dame Street movement must have been paralysing. But in politics one should never lose faith, and with almost perfect timing the gardaí came to the rescue. By closing the encampment, the Occupy Dame Street movement has not only resolved its dilemma, but it has come out of the affair with its honour intact – and, to boot, as the victims of an intolerant establishment that fears the cause championed by the Occupy movement worldwide, perhaps because there is a truth to what this movement stands for.

So, what next for Occupy Dame Street? Time will tell, but one can only hope that its next move is imaginative rather than reactionary.

To fight for its space on Dame Street would not only be a mistake but a missed opportunity. Apart from the fact that the Central Bank today is not the bastion of social injustice in Irish society, the real challenge is to find a fresh way to deliver the message, and remind us all of why the Occupy movement is there.

The truth is that our society needs an Occupy movement, even if it doesn’t occupy Dame Street. We need to be reminded that the grotesque social and economic inequalities that we have come to associate with the years of the Celtic Tiger must never be repeated. But what we no longer need is an urban encampment that has turned into an eyesore while becoming politically invisible.

Perhaps the protesters of the Occupy Dame Street movement should take the advice of one of history’s great political strategists, Niccolò Machiavelli, who wisely said that a virtuous prince knows how to exploit to his advantage the opportunities offered by a crisis.

Fortunately for the Occupy Dame Street movement, this crisis was precipitated by the external intervention of the Garda.

Going back to their tents is the easiest option, but it would be a mistake that may well mark the end of a beautiful story. In this delicate phase, what is called for is courage, vision and creativity, not stubbornness, political staleness or intellectual monotony.


Vittorio Bufacchi is lecturer in philosophy at University College Cork, and the author of Social Injustice: Essays in Political Philosophy(Palgrave 2012)
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