AS I STOOD on Occupied Dame Street for the seventh in a series of remarkable days, a grandmotherly woman approached me as she passed by and said, “Aren’t you very good, now, for camping out here all night, but why are you down here?” Or words to that effect.
At first I was taken aback, “Madam,” I thought, but of course never said, “I slept in my bed last night, I had a shower this morning, I ironed my shirt before coming here today. Do I look like I’ve been camping?” My dislike of camping is rivaled only by my love of ironing, I take it very seriously indeed – I even brought a travel iron with me to Burning Man.
But her question gave me pause, and while my reply was hopefully better than “hurrrungh-capitalism-bad” after seven days of answering it, it did make me think that today would be a good day to try and properly articulate my reasons for participating in #OccupyDameStreet with something more substantial than a media-rich and content-free soundbite.
While the details of my life may indeed be inconsequential, a bit of background context here may be helpful. Starting from first principles I must acknowledge the sheer random good fortune of being born a white male in Western Europe, with all the access to education and health care that this entails. While I may have seized every opportunity life has presented, an accident of birth gave me access to more of these opportunities than most of my fellow global citizens will ever know.
‘Not many jobs for consulting theologians’
I was fortunate enough to go to University, though in the days before “free” fees, and so worked full-time in retail throughout. After graduating I, like so many others in the late nineties, ended up working in a call centre (there not being too many jobs on the market for Consulting Theologians), and over the next ten years I worked in a succession of managerial roles in the Communications and Internet industries in Ireland and America, before striking out on my own to advise early-stage Start-Ups on strategic planning. I am a Company Director, the proud owner of a ridiculous mortgage and am currently languishing in the wrong end of my thirties.
If this all sounds like the introduction to someone on Dragon’s Den (or the start of their Presidential campaign), that is the impression I’m going for here. I want you to understand that I am no practitioner of class warfare, I do not see things in terms of workers and bosses, I am no dreadlocked New Ageist or juggling trustafarian, and, as I believe I have mentioned before, I detest drumming circles. On paper I am the very model of a modern Celtic Tiger cub, and yet here I am, on Occupied Dame Street, every day since this began for up to sixteen hours a day.
Everything for me revolves around the ideas of social justice and equality. There is a vast imbalance in this world, where the wealth of nations are not shared equally amongst the citizenry, with the richest 1% of the population controlling a disproportionate amount of this wealth, and those on the margins paying a higher price for survival than can ever be morally justified. I do not believe in discouraging people from working hard and making the best of what they have, but I do believe that there is certain level of comfort and security that can be reached beyond which further accumulation of wealth is not only unnecessary, it is obscene. The policies of successive Governments in this country have been aimed at not only supporting such obscenity, but actively rewarding it, and as a result the gap between the most privileged in our society and the majority of the population is greater now than at any time in our nation’s brief history.
‘The economic system is stacked’
This inequality is often justified as the natural consequence of Capitalism, that those who work hard will reap the benefits and those who do not prosper are lazy. But the events of recent years have highlighted how the economic system is stacked in the favour of a tiny minority of people, rewarding risk rather than effort and cushioning their spectacular failures with the lives of the heedfully industrious. The gains of the 1% were protected from the masses by tax loopholes and tax havens, but their failures have been all too eagerly shared with the 99% of the population who had no involvement in these doomed enterprises, stood to gain no reward from their success, and now are burdened with €25,000 of debt for every man, woman and child in this country.
The mechanism by which this 1% enriches themselves while impoverishing the nation is that which passes for our Parliamentary Democracy. Ireland is a very small country and we have a remarkably high level of public representation; with a population of just under 4.6 million, we have 166 elected TDs in the Dáil, each TD representing approximately 27,600 constituents. A UK MP represents roughly three times as many constituents as their Dáil counterpart, a French Député four times, and a US Congressperson over twenty-five times as many. Despite the apparent closeness of our Deputies to the electorate, the level of true Democracy is negligible.
The Party Whip system ensures that most TDs are, by and large, just seat warmers, wheeled in to vote and then let go again to spend the day sending form letters to constituents claiming credit for work the County Council does, or auto-dialing Reality Shows. Debate in the Dáil is meaningless as the outcome of every vote is a foregone conclusion and the cynicism of the system is shown each time the camera switches from a tight shot to wide angle and reveals only three bodies in the seats behind the Party Leaders, the rest of the chamber empty. The dynastic nature of Irish politics means that those seats are handed down from father to son, or husband to wife, and the gender imbalance is an embarrassment to us all.
‘At every stage of the political process the citizenry are excluded’
The Seanad is an unelected joke, a holding pen for those rejected by the electorate until sufficient time has passed that old sins are forgiven and they can have another tilt at the Dáil. The citizenry are prevented from nominating their own Presidential candidates, suggesting their own laws, or even proposing changes to the Constitution, the document that is supposed to bind the nation together with a set of agreed upon principles on how we wish to live with one another. At every stage of the political process the citizenry are excluded, bar one, and once elected the Government then becomes unaccountable for up to five years, free to wreak whatever havoc they may wish and then walk away without facing the consequences of their actions, pensions intact while the nation sinks under a ocean of misappropriated private debt.
I have educated myself, worked all my life since I was able, for others and now myself. I moved abroad and yet came back when I realised I could not bear to live elsewhere, bringing knowledge, skills and, in the subsequent four years, a hundred jobs back with me and now have dedicated my time to helping others create solid and sustainable employment opportunities that will themselves spawn further opportunities. I have paid my taxes and asked no accountant to find me loopholes, and I have voted in every referendum, and every local, national, European and Presidential election that I was entitled to and present for since the day I turned eighteen. I have food on my table, a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in at night, all the result of my own hard work.
And yet I lie awake at night painfully aware that for all these things that I am thankful for, there are so many more of my fellow citizens who go without, and that they go without so that those who hold themselves as our economic elite can enjoy a wealth and privilege that is staggeringly obscene.
That is why I am here. That is why I am on Dame Street. That is why I am proud to call myself one of the 99 per cent.