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Extinction Rebellion protest last week. Sam Boal/

Lynn Ruane Uniting movement groups in Ireland could lead to long-term change

There is common ground among different movement groups in Ireland, writes Lynn Ruane.

PROGRESSIVE CHANGE WON’T just happen because we would like it to, it requires a movement and a consideration of who is involved. 

Although change inevitable, its direction is not and there are plenty of conservative and progressive movements currently ongoing. 

The first port of call for any movement is to look at who is involved. Who is here and who is not. If there are big gaps in diversity in the movement and the strategists, change it and change it quick.

The aim of social movements first and foremost must be to ensure they do not reproduce the same old power structures and inequalities that they’re seeking to change. 

All collective action and social movements must have a cross-section of society represented.

Intersectionality must not just be an idea, a goal or a philosophy, it must be present and evident in all activities. Otherwise it is just another sea of privilege rising high over those who are impacted the most by an issue and its policies.

People who want to be part of that same change can feel completely unseen and unheard by both movements and the political powers. 

There are always opportunities for new movements to ensure that intersectionality is at the heart of policy making and any radical movement that wants to achieve this must do so from the offset.

Success relies on a public mandate – movements will fall flat if large portions of society are not represented at the centre of the movement at every stage of planning and action.  Hegemonic movements only serve those already in power and lack the crucial ingredients for a mass movement of all the nations’ people.

If you look around the room and you are missing the travelling, working class, migrant communities and people living with a disability then you risk the movement losing a broad appeal.

Radical activism is often a target for criticism and scrutiny. Even its name is designed to create fear.

Radical? Is it radical to think that a single income household should support a reasonable standard of living and offer the pathway to social mobility? I don’t think so.

Is it radical to want to save the planet we all share from rising temperatures? Most definitely not.

As outlined in an article about political squatting in Prague after 1989, the politics of demand recognises the dominant position of the state.

Uniting movements

We could look to movements like Take back the City (TBTC) and Apollo House as serious examples of creating alternative types of demonstration.

However, I think they were two different things – Apollo House was all about making demands of the state, whereas TBTC was at least partially about creating alternative community and defying the landlord class, rather than asking the state to intervene.

The failings in providing adequate housing, real climate action and an end to austerity can all be linked to economic structures. The legitimacy of the demands to address all of these, I feel, lies heavily in the intersectionality of the members of each movement.

We are stronger together and there are vast amounts of common ground among the different movement groups in Ireland. Everything from Right2Water to Extinction Rebellion has massive potential.

The creativity, the skills, the passion, the knowledge and the fight that could exist from these groups in a larger intersectional movement would be an example of politics in demand with real potential to demand structural change.

Social Class matters in protest. One paper has claimed that protest has become normalised and demonstrations conventional.

The fact that this same paper highlighted that you are more likely to protest if you have a university degree seems to be in conflict with the idea that social movements are increasingly mirroring the make-up of society or maybe that higher education doesn’t lead to social mobility.

The research on this varies across scholars. Just as we can we attempt to split movements up into politics of demand and politics of act, we can also see a blend of what is considered old and new social movements.

However, new social movements mainly demand things of the state. Only very few radical anarchist groups do otherwise – old movements generally being referred to as trade unions in the literature.

In a paper from the Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden it says that the mix of old and new social movements has emerged in resistance to neo-liberal politics.

Street demonstrations in response to neo-liberal politics have taken a number of forms – water protest marches in Ireland and the Occupy movement around the world a few years ago.

We could say that the water charge marches were mostly working-class, whereas Occupy was more middle-class (though not exclusively so). That is, water charge protests showed that when working class people mobilised and protested in an inclusive movement, they can win.

Occupy, while empowering to many, was more policed in its tone and achieved very little.

The study from Lund University in assessment of the research in the area of class and protest felt that it was reasonable to claim that a form of political participation that earlier were—at least in parts of Europe—primarily associated with the workers’ movement and the mobilisation of the working class, is carried out mostly by a well-educated middle-class today. 

Maybe it is for that very reason it has become more conventional in the eyes of Western society to demonstrate. The more affluent classes control both the political offices and the political demonstration spaces, so it’s seen as normal.

For me, this is why inclusivity is crucial for legitimacy of movements and demonstrations. Otherwise the rest of society does not see itself represented in the status quo or the push for change.

I think in looking at the literature it is fair to say that we can look back through history at movements and identify many that were led or least dominated by the middle class. It is safe to say that they controlled the telling of that history, even if there were strong working leaders.

 Just like we are challenging the lack of diversity and inclusivity in all spheres of life, protest and demonstration is not exempt from the same standards we are demanding elsewhere. 

You won’t make the comfortable uncomfortable simply because you demand it. It is time to pull from all our protest spaces and bring them together for real long-term change in Ireland. 

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator.


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