This weekend was probably the best I have had since I have been here and possibly one of the most life-changing events i have taken part in. I spent my Saturday sleeping in a life raft tent at the Occupy Cork campsite and participating in their long-term demonstration in Cork City Center.
I had my reservations before visiting the camp that were related solely to being shy (yes, I am shy) and self-conscious. I had talked to some of their team members on a couple of occasions and was happy to see people actively standing up and I was enthusiastic to join them. I kept putting it off each day though. But, finally I knew I just had to do it. I grabbed my guitar and trekked out in the rain. I walked into the main tent where they house the kitchen and general living space. I was welcomed in, offered tea and cake and made acquainted with those present. And I immediately knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I have since been back as much as I possibly can and even spent the night. And it was the coldest, most satisfying night I have had in my life. It is almost addictive. Not just the community, but knowing that I am actively being a part of something that is globally important and so much bigger than myself. Being at the camp has really helped me put life into perspective and recognize even more starkly (as we all must be reminded so many times in our lives) the lines between need and desire. The Occupy Cork camp is living proof that what one needs to survive is far less than what we spend our time obsessing over and working for. One example of this is in how much spare food is donated to us by restaurants and local businesses. Several local food establishments donate regularly to the site and there is so much food that (regardless of how many people come and join us in our meals, free and open to the public) a good amount of it still goes to waste. And that is the left-overs of restaurants! Our society engages in so much consumption that even what is left-over cannot always be used before going bad. But the site is about so much more than the free food and really is only a product of the public responding to a global movement.
The Occupy Cork campsite has been called the most organized and well-kept site in Ireland with a full-time voluntary security team. It is a alcohol free, drug free, violence free space. There is no political party associated with the site and is run entirely by the people. There are all kinds of people there, all kinds of backgrounds, nationalities, creeds, race, religions, but we are all there for one thing and that is to return the power to the people.
The Occupy Cork site is established in a small public park in town center on South Mall Street where Grand Parade ends. It is in a place where many people walk by and see the demonstration. The Occupiers are incredibly friendly and welcome anyone to come in and have free tea, coffee, cake, ask any questions they have about the movement or simply have a nice chat or a tune on the guitar. Local establishments and citizens have been wildly generous with donating food, resources, supplies, specialized skills, time and emotional support.People are eager to help out in any way they can, even if they themselves are not available to be a permanent Occupant at the site. I myself took my guitar down and gave a small informal concert simply to give the Occupiers something to lighten their spirits, as they daily work against the elements and the misunderstandings and for the positive vision and hope they have for this country and the world.
The purpose of Occupy Cork as well as Occupy Wall Street and most of the worlds thousands of Occupy campsites, is to bring awareness to the fact and protest against corporate banks being bailed out with government money and cutting the funds of worthy institutions such as hospitals, schools, fire stations, support for the unemployed and disabled, special education, the list goes on. Private corporate banks have far too great a hand in the direction of today’s government and politics, they shouldn’t have a hand in it at all, in fact.
Happily, Occupy Cork has faced no violence from either the public or the Garda, unlike other Occupy sites, which have not been so lucky such as Occupy Oakland in California. But we are being watched. And that is, more or less, the point. The Occupation is a physical demonstration that the people, the ninety-nine percent being increasingly neglected by its government, still exist and we will not put up with being tossed aside so that Banks can be bailed out by the government for their own mistakes with the money we invested in their institution and the money we pay taxes for. We, as citizens in either Ireland or America or any country dealing with this dilemma, don’t see a cent of the bailout money. It goes into corporate hands. The Occupy Movement is important for all people across the globe who want change and want to see their money put to good use.
I chose to visit and participate actively in Occupy Cork not simply because I happen to live here, but because I am a citizen in a world that is being controlled by a small percentage of the earths population and that is not acceptable. I believe if one of us succeeds the rest will find hope in it, and a positive reaction will occur. Were I at home, I would be a part of my local movement. Were I in New York, I would stand in Wall Street. Were I near any of the thousands of Occupy sites around the globe, I would be there to support them and support the vision and determination to change this situation for the better.
Many misconceptions are out there about the Occupy movement. I commonly hear the phrase, “free-loading hippies” thrown around a lot. But, that is hardly the case. On any given day the site will be visited and inhabited by any number of people; from businessmen, students, families, the employed and the unemployed, musicians, teenagers to tourists. There is no limit on the kinds of people one will see in the camps because there is no limit on the kinds of people this issue has affected. Being there has helped me get a far greater perspective on the kinds of people involved in these things and they are intelligent, organized individuals, often splitting their time between home, work, school and the camp. Its not just a bunch of bums pitching a public tent. Though, I will say this experience has given me far greater empathy and understanding as to how horrendously difficult it is to be homeless. Some of the campers are in fact homeless, many of them recently and trying desperately to find jobs and showing up to camp in suits, coming from or going to an interview.
Personally, I am very proud to be actively a part of something I believe can make a permanent and positive effect on ours and our children’s future. Just this week a teacher took his class of seven year olds and their parents in to the Allied Irish Bank (AIB), which was given a 700 million Euro (around one billion America dollars) bailout, to teach the children what was going on and share in a demonstration. The Garda were called by the bank…simply because kids were in their lobby being educated about the bank bailout, which directly affects the funds going towards their education!! Luckily the Garda were friendly about it and simply asked when they would be leaving the bank. But, the fact that a bank can feel threatened and throw out a bunch of kids who are being given an education on financial proceedings in their country is outrageous and a sign that priorities do not lie where they should. This teacher gave these kids a great opportunity to be actively a part of a pivotal point in history and engaged in one of the most beautiful demonstrations I have yet heard of. If we can’t freely educate our children about what is going, then the government has lost sight of their purpose.
Whether or not you agree with the issue and what the Occupy sites stand for (and there is a ninety-nine percent chance you do agree), it is important that the people are free to stand up and protest peacefully in a public space, to speak freely and not be silenced. Occupy Cork is nearly one month old, Occupy Wall Street will be three months old on the 17th of November. These are great reminders that it is possible to peacefully protest and legally occupy public property, the citizens property, for long periods of time… “as long as it takes” say the Occupiers. The general public response has been supportive and curious. Many individuals have stopped in simply to offer their encouragement, their support and their enthusiasm. One old gentleman in a wheel chair joined us for general assembly to personally apologize for the state our generation has found his country to be in, for conforming to the Celtic Tiger and being greedy. He encouraged the camp to stay stubborn and, even if we don’t have the ultimate solution, to keep asking the question, “How could this happen and how will you, the government, fix it?”
Occupy Cork intends to do just that until the government addresses these issues in a way that is beneficial to the people. Daily assemblies are held at six for democratic and organized discussion of issues, camp matters and to plan further action to increase awareness. Individuals in camp invite and welcome individuals with specialized to provide free seminars in the camp Yert, open to the public. I encourage anyone and everyone, the 99% and the 1% to come and support this camp or any Occupy site that may be near you, educate yourselves and ask the question, “How can this be fixed?”
I am actually uncomfortable sitting here in my apartment now and have a difficult time tearing myself away from the site each time I am there. Not only is this a cause I desire to support full-heartedly, it is a community of loving and selfless individuals who are sacrificing their time and energy for a brighter and better future. There is hope in their hearts that burns like fire and a belief that this world should and can have a better future than the one that is currently being projected. I will be at this camp as much as I can until my departure in December. I know I will be sad to leave such a beautiful group of people whose passion has rekindled my own but, I will take that fire and share it with the world, as a beacon of hope.