So 100,000 Workin’ Class people from all over the country flooded Dublin city with democracy all the way back in October. Nobody was expecting that. Not even Right2Water who only had a route planned up and down O’Connell St. Nobody was expecting such an intense expression of cultural identity, delivered with grace, determination and humour, unless of course you felt it. That age old feeling in the pit of your stomach. That feeling that the phrase “the people are rising” was invented for. It was no co-incidence that resistance to Irish Water was fiercest right where the FG communication clinic knew exactly what hand to play. Savages, thugs, lazy, sub-human, scumbags, scumbags who want to steal your water, then upload videos of themselves pouring it over a fixie from the iphone they just snatched.
The FG communication clinic played it well, who would want to be associated with estates like Kilmore, Edenmore in *whisper it* Coolock?
Ask most people in Ireland and they’ll tell you there’s no class system but ask them what class they are and how many identify as the squeezing class? The one’s doing the squeezing, never explicitly named of course, but then we all know who it is squeezing your middle. No class system just a middle class in waiting and an underclass when it suits the narrative. The squeezed middle, high net worth individuals and them, the other, skangers, knackers, scum, scumbags, us, the class they tried to bury in remote estates. They played it well, with just one problem, it isn’t true and it wasn’t scum who rose up, it was the Demos, that part of democracy they had hoped we had all forgotten about. We rose up with confidence and humour with one message: we are here, we exist and that mob you are so afraid of turned out to be a politically literate, democratically aware population, laughing at attempts to brand us leeches.
We should have run amuck, social exclusion policies are designed to be internalised. But then we understood that and implicitly and instinctively the power of moral authority was well understood and wielded with glee. That day was not just a show of force but of culture. Communities with shared experience, dialect, fashion, music even life expectancy, finally coming together after years of deliberate geographic isolation from each other and the shared experience of both social and geographic isolation from wider society changed the rules of the game forever once we felt the power unleashed that day. The real revolution is one of workin’ class legitimacy, that day it was all possible, no more pandering to middle class ego, pull em out by the ears and let us fix this. And now that day is a memory but a shared memory, a shared experience and one which contains a huge amount of power because that was the day we were proven right.
The thing is when you isolate large groups of people from wider society, they start to form their own societies. These societies from which when any art form or culture starts to emerge it is instantly delegitimised by the dominant culture. Whether we realise it or not, we all play our roles and for a classless society, the middle knows exactly how to protect its interests and privilege.
They tried to forget about us. Geographically isolated from each other and even further from wider society which let us know with every encounter just how uncomfortable our presence made the dominant culture. Security guards would chase us out, we looked poor and poor means more trouble than its worth. Of course once you expect that, you want to control the next encounter. If you’re going to get a chase it may as well be on your terms, run out of your own volition.
They tried to bury us and it worked for a while, my family landed in a social housing experiment you probably haven’t heard of it, Ferrycarrig but you’re probably aware of the estate across the road, Darndale, we were like their poorer cousin. Small enough to avoid attracting too many column inches. We were lucky our house didn’t look onto a row of houses facing down our row of houses but onto a green field, scorched by bonfires and cars, a pylon which we made multiple attempts to put a tree house on also served as a climbing frame, and dead saplings. The council would plant saplings, the kids wanted to climb trees, they never lasted more than a week.
6ft metal serrated fences surrounded almost everything teaching us a valuable lesson in all the places we could go. The local corner shop with bars on the counter, like an off license served a similar function.
Pennies first, then the jellies.
A dump to the left of the end of our row of houses hid a row of factories, and one of those factories was a cake factory, it made cakes. One of those adrenaline fuelled positive outcome memories is when me the skinny kid who could run and run fast managed to slip through the 6ft bars, managed to sneak over to where the trucks an trays were while the rest of the kids threw stones..then I saw it, a massive deli sized tub of toffee. I can’t remember the run other than the toffee pulling me back and my friends screaming ‘leggit! leggit!’ then it was over the fence in one move as I slipped through. I had that story retold to me a few years ago, in the local by someone who never left, and knew the details better than me, I pretended not to really remember at first but skinny girls rarely get to be the hero an Damo was getting pretty excited about the story, so I played it up a bit, he remember it better than I did, he had obviously learned a lot playing all the places we could go. I remember thinking to myself ‘They did it, they broke you, you’ve been buried in a million broken rules of no consequence’. Lovely guy though, and worked on the horse and cart carrying sacks of coal when we were only 13.
Though not all of us were buried, we’d tunnel out at night and if it was raining spending entire days escaping through tunnels of words, we were extra lucky, we had books. Books which made far more convincing arguments than our church approved material, I wasn’t supposed to know about evolution, or negative numbers, ironically enough these pieces of knowledge led to punishment in school but it gave me a role to play. Challenge the teacher and get in trouble, it was one way to break the rules.
This is characteristic of the new breed quietly nudging the charge and reaching out with honesty, engaging honestly and holding all authority and power to account. Why are we difficult? Because we are holding emerging power structures and ourselves to the same democratic standards we are demanding.
From day dot we were told by society that we weren’t wanted, what do you do with bags of scum?
We’re the punchline and we don’t expect your legitimacy, we’ve started to receive that from each other, ourselves and the pull of our moral compass.
This makes us dangerous, we don’t expect the dominant culture to grant us legitimacy, left or right. We don’t expect to be accepted. Something which was once a source of frustration, being shown and told a version of reality which we knew was not true a vision of reality which did not include us as fully autonomous human beings. Market reality. Which places greater value on the the life of somebody who can afford health insurance as opposed to people who can’t, if you can’t afford that 15 euros a week you just don’t deserve that life saving time sensitive scan as much as somebody who can pay 15 euros a week.
This is pure ideology one with fairly nasty consequences,manifesting itself from homeless spikes on the ground to a dismantled welfare state. If this is the dominant culture, I and many others want no part in it. Being frustrated by this cultures lack of approval has become a badge of honour. Everything we’re supposed to internalise becomes a source of great power and strength, forget what RTE says what do the 100,000 people taking over Dublin on the 29th have to say?
Growing up most of us looked poor, some kids didn’t look poor like my neighbour Sandy. Sandy was built like a tank, just like her ma, and just like her ma she was being toughened up to enter the family business. When you are young enough you don’t put names or moral judgements on these things, they just are. This is the world. This is normal. One day I called into Sandy ‘Is Sandy coming out to play’ it was her auntie an not her ma who rushed me into the kitchen, ‘wait till ya see this, tore strips of her she did’…’she was in a scrap?’..’yeah she was in a scrap an look she reefed the head off her’ proudly pointing to the lump of hair of the mantle piece. Scalped her. Needless to say myself and Sandy were best friends from that day on. This is an example of the violence of poverty it manifests in hundreds of incidents designed to make or break you, if you have glasses you need toughening up it’ll be tested an eventually you learn. When I saw the clump of hair I felt sick but I laughed, hiding anything but pride. This was one of the breaks from the oppressive claustrophobia destined to find expression in a seemingly random act of aggression or violence. Worst of all was the waiting, the pressure building, small isolated communities with high unemployment, high drug and alcohol problems, on long days the air would crackle with anticipation. Preparing you for a world where you are going to have to fight, every encounter crackles with the possibility of violence. Years later after my ‘We all partied’ jaunt around South East Asia I was walking home from Northside shopping centre, through Kilmore past the top of my old estate. There was a beautiful young girl sitting in her front garden, about ten with the sun glinting through her hair. I held my gaze a second too long, “What the fuck are you looking at you stupid fuckin’ cunt”, the default fight or flight mode came back at me. I had to laugh in appreciation and sadness the same feeling a month or two later after starting ‘Pre-University Science’ in Colaiste Dhulaigh, was walking in the main entrance, past three secondary school lads. One of them went as if to punch me, I didn’t flinch and instead went to punch him back, he flinched. His two mates shouted ‘faggot’, knocked him over then punched and kicked him. You learn, like riding a bicycle, and I did feel bad, I would have just gotten some abused hurled after me.
This world prepares you for a society which hates you, nowhere is safe, for us it was my da, a soldier who drank but it was the 80’s who’s da wasn’t? This meant a chaotic environment, both inside and outside the home, nowhere was safe, no rules or punishments were consistent. You want to know where our deep rooted sense of injustice comes from? It’s because we were steeped in it.
This is how social exclusion policies are supposed to be internalised, a near 24/7 hyper awareness broken by whatever inevitable acting out of the rage and injustice expression of the oppression felt by all but never given name.
It had been a long holiday day, no school, these days were the best and the worst. Sometimes it ended in a game of rounders with all the kids playing on out street beside the green, or bulldog, two rows of kids, one runs and tries not to get caught by the other side. The garda wouldn’t follow a stolen car in, the boys would do tricks while we listened into discussions on who the best drivers were, good days ending in victory. Then the older girls would burn the car, at the pictured car graveyard. I feel a strange sense of pride knowing that the car graveyard is still smouldering.
Some of the lads on the road played a game; dog fight, they’d form a circle, one kid standing in the middle, the rest on their hands and knees, laughing and pretending to snarl, then the kid in the centre would point, you and you, the two snarling kids would crawl towards each other, circling each other within a circle of laughing, snarling kids. Then they would fight like dogs, dog fight.
Except that evening we weren’t going to play dog fight, we were going to play one of the many reasons for dog fight.
There were some areas back in the 80’s which just weren’t policed, Coolock was one, and Dardale was the estate.
I was sitting on my garden wall when the riot vans pulled up around the house at a 45 degree angle away from mine. A few kids ran across the road to Darndale, memory isn’t the most trustworthy thing ad I’m sure my ten year old mind blew it slightly out of proportion, but I remember the roar and the flood of people from all directions.
It was late on a hot summers evening,not 6 in the morning when you’d usually raid a gaff. The area wasn’t short on building supplies, it was one of those ‘in progress’ estates. The crowd quickly surrounded the Garda, my ma, alone with four kids under the age of ten and a husband in the Lebanon tried to hurry s inside. But we managed to stay out. Special branch pulled up fired a few shots in the air and the Garda made their escape. Sans drugs but with reason enough not to return least they provoke the locals. The vans left, the crowd kept going, running up and down the back lanes breaking windows or ma tried to keep our heads down but we wanted to look out. Cars were burnt out, anything that could burn was burnt. Nice one lads you wreacked our own area, and nobody cares.
Nobody cares because it’s not important, we’re not important. Two generations is what the English learned about breaking a people, treat them as inferior, take away their sense of culture and identity and infantlize them. Two generations before a people will internalise the underclass status.
After the riots my ma bought the house under a scheme at the time, we managed to sell it and move fifteen minutes down the road to the private estate.
My families experience of that route would be fairly typical, my da worked two full time jobs, my ma raised four kids, did a part time degree and did an almost full time job. We all worked hard. Every family did.
At the worst of times there was a sense of community wherever we lived, when someone’s husband was away serving the kids would go to different houses for breakfast. When we moved to the private estate there was a sense of pride in keeping it nice. The da’s even did the community watch.
These communities have seen everything we’ve worked for gradually disappear before our eyes. When the Gardai came in acting as private security for Irish Water, not making eye contact, speaking to us as if we were children “Do you understand all those words? some of them are a bit big for you”.
They were pushing every button which is designed to induce a violent reaction, but it didn’t work.
We hadn’t internalised these things and we knew that if this was allowed to happen a very dangerous line would be crossed, and nobody was sure what happened next. Where the next line would be. One phrase that stuck with me was “We need to do this now, before it takes an armed rebellion.”
I don’t even live there anymore, but something in me recognised what was happening. The government had dusted off these old social exclusion policies sometime ago, this was either the next step or the first on a road to nowhere good.
When you’ve a shared cultural experience of the Gardai refusing to police your area, walking past burnt out cars or queues of addicts on dole day. And over the course of the past few years experienced the return to never ending stress, the panic at the complete absence of all safety nets, the narrowing of the spectrum of allowed behaviours, the haunted, desperate look of families food shopping. The Gardai pushing women out of the way to install an austerity measure represented a return to those days. To being the warning for wider society, play along or you’ll end up out there, one of them.
Wider society just can’t seem to get their heads around why we don’t want to play along and go back to being the imagined sub-human scumbags roaming, turning on each other and tearing each other apart.
We were never going to turn on each other, this is society making a last stand, this is society defending itself, societies immune system. We can see what is coming while you are fretting about eating gluten with your lunch.
Because when the Gardai pepper sprayed the young women in the crowd, wider society was kinda cool with that, maybe that was because wider society had already fallen into step with social exclusion policies.