What is solidarity?

25 May

Solidarity is viewing the action of blocking water meters as the same as boycotting a bill.

Solidarity is caring about the homeless as well as refugees.

Solidarity is not classifying abortions as “good” or “bad”.

Solidarity is standing with the Luas workers.

Solidarity is understanding that free legal aid should be made available when a case is in the Circuit Court.

Solidarity is calling for an end to deportations as well as direct provision.

Solidarity is opposing TTIP.

Solidarity is a Shannon Airport free from the US Military.

 

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Solidarity is understanding that not all faiths are treated equally in this country.

Solidarity is realising this country has 32 counties.

Solidarity is demanding the recognition of Traveller ethnicity.

Solidarity is realising your enemy are not striking workers but the bosses who are trying to change their conditions for the worse.

Solidarity is looking beyond erecting barriers around bodies of water.

Solidarity is seeing taking health, housing and education out of the hands of private interests.

Solidarity is protecting our environment over drilling for gas.

Solidarity is not seeing gaining experience as €50 on top of your dole.

Solidarity is not worrying about who is using public bathrooms.

Solidarity is personified in the Palestinian people.

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The Labour Party doesn’t care about Marriage Equality

3 Jan

This advert that the Labour party are proposing to use as election propaganda highlights two things:

1. The party has no real concern for the equality of gay people in Ireland. The marriage equality referendum was an easy bandwagon to jump on that allowed them to deflect attention away from their barbaric economic policies. The welfare of minorities is only ever considered in terms of winning votes for them.

2. The politicians represented in the advert expose how the Labour party has no understanding of where it lies on the political spectrum. It no longer has a principled politics. It’s anybody but them and right-wing Fine Gael. 3 of the 6 people being mocked are genuine socialists.

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Most importantly, they see the struggle for equality of a large section of our population as something that can be ripped out of context and used to ridicule their opponents. Using an image of two men getting married in such a way continues to “other” the concept, holding the door shut against the normalisation of homosexual relationships in popular culture.

#imnotracistbut

16 Sep

“how come they’re all young men?”

“sure they’re all from ISIS like”

“what about the poor people here though?”

….this is what you expect to hear when engaging in conversations about refugees. Gullible as anything, and tanked up on xenophobic myths; some of us chip into debates without a notion about what we’re quoting or claiming to reference. Pure ignorance. Cocky ignorance however. When your immediate concern on seeing the pictures of thousands fleeing, is what religion they are or, how old they are or whether they’re male or female….you seriously need to take a look at yourself. If that is your thought process then explanations are probably wasted on you as to why these people are fleeing. Why did I say cocky earlier? The blind prejudice is propped up on stilts by an irresponsible media that allows for itself to be selectively quoted to back up racist and outlandish claims. It’s rotten.

Why is it so easy to believe bullshit about young Aylan’s Dad needing to go to a dentist, yet it’s hard to wrap your brain around the concept of no borders? Why is it that our assistance has a price? People are outraged by the sight of refugees refusing to take food. Now that they’re in our fortress; have they given up all of their rights as autonomous beings too? Do we demand deference from these lesser beings for daring to shake us from our own chaotic lives? Ever thought that maybe the reason why they’re not taking food is because they’re unhappy? That they’re not just here for handouts, they’re not here to make you feel better about doing damn all to address the reasons why they had to leave their home countries in the first place. That maybe they are taking a stand against being herded like cattle here; they are standing righteously against border police and immigration officials who view them as mere numbers. They are people too. They want to make a better live for themselves. That’s why they risk their lives crossing dangerous seas.

In the land of a hundred thousand welcomes (well, if you’re white or a multinational company); there’s a dirty stink around debates on the issue. A stink that is made all the more vile by a completely irrational fear of a religion we have no experience of. Platforms are given to individuals who in any other context would be described as racist. It’s cast as a debate. What debate? Would there be a debate if thousands of Europeans had to flee this continent in search of a better life? No there wouldn’t be. You see, the life of someone with olive, brown or black skin isn’t regarded as the same as a white person. For those of us of colour….we have to earn that equal status. For those of us of colour and also fleeing war and absolute poverty….we’ll never achieve that status. As a result, any old gombeen can vomit their opinion on the livelihoods of refugees. Enter Darren Scully.

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He quite proudly put his name to a letter calling refugees idiots for trying to get away from war zones. Why does he matter? He’s only a Fine Gael Councillor. He just so happens to be a Fine Gael Councillor who doesn’t want to represent black people. His reasoning for this? The same generalising, back-biting, knuckle-dragging mess that feeds the current racist rumour-mill. Notice how I said “Councillor”? He’s still in Fine Gael.  Will he be removed for this recent cock-up? I sincerely doubt it. “Ara sure he’s only saying what some of us think, like.” That’s it. Sure it’s not like these prejudiced statements are being engendered somewhere.

You’d be mad to connect the sudden flourishing of racism with the divide-and-rule tactics of the Government; or the horizontal blame meted out by the media. “What about the homeless?” Yeah, what about them? Tell me everything you know about why there is a housing crisis in Ireland. Learn me good about the never-ending social housing waiting-lists, rising rents, massive drug and social problems….go on, fill me in. More importantly, tell me where that tear of concern for the homeless was before the media started to bother shining the spotlight on the tonnes of dark people dying in the water? It didn’t exist, did it? These fake concerns, these irrational fears…they’re borne out of ignorance. A collective ignorance, cajoling us one way when the powers that be get a bit frightened, permeating every strand of our social, cultural and economic lives.  A massive inferiority complex…we only feel superior when we can look down on others. When individually, we can place ourselves above someone else. Collective superiority? Christ, that would mean challenging the rotten institutions that are moulding us into this inward-looking, neo-liberalised muck of a nation. That would mean questioning the authority of a religion that actually does affect our lives on a daily basis; not ignoring it. But sure it’s easier to join the hysteria against the religion that’s practised by the darkies. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll pretend it’s not that we hate them because of the colour of their skin, it’s coz of Islam. And sure ISIS and Islam sound the same anyway.

“Now, i’m not racist, but….”

The US Government doesn’t care about Black people

30 Aug

It was probably the only time Kanye said anything decent. Speaking of saying things, it was the use of certain words at the time that helped this natural disaster expose the institutional and structural racism at play within the American political and military system. Various different bureaucratic and planning decisions intertwined to result in New Orleans being almost wiped off the map. There was only one definite conclusion – the African-American community affected were at the bottom of the food chain, for being black and for being poor.

People displaced were referred to as refugees – seen as a burden on other states. The national media played up the efforts of rich people from other states , almost expecting the mostly black survivors to be grateful for another chance. One top political figure was heard to say that the lives they were living post-Katrina were better than those they had lost. The concept of acceptable and unacceptable “looters” was introduced. Like in the aftermath of the London riots; we were plagued with so much fake moralising about people taking items from shops that they didn’t need. For some reason the effect of mass media commercials and a culture of having things we don’t need were two paradigms not applied to the actions of those who were desperate. Those in power didn’t want any context put on the disaster left by the hurricane.

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The engineers of the US Army, the people who built the levees, were never going to take responsibility. Nor was responsibility going to be taken for the drying up of the surrounding wetlands due to oil extraction. The fact that the majority of people who lived in the affected area were living near the poverty line with very little money being put into local schools – and this was before Katrina hit – was ignored. A part of America, rich with culture and music, had been devastated by a natural disaster and now the vultures were circling. Property developers and insurance companies knew the rebuilding process would involve gentrification.

Ten years on and the crimes committed by the US Government and the organs of the political and justice system against Black Americans is getting worse. Since Katrina we have seen how even a Black President operates in the interests of the rich – mostly white. The critical media has finally turned its spotlight on the killing of innocent black people by the police; something that has been happening in that country for many years before Ferguson. The working class African-Americans are seen as cannon fodder. Economically forced into the army to meet a certain death, and at home, the places they live are the least protected from natural disasters.

The amount of lives and property destroyed by Hurricane Katrina greatly outweighs any of the effects of the September 11th attacks. Those of us outside the US are all too aware of the 3rd, 4th, 5th 6th and now 14th anniversary of 9/11. Few of us will be aware that a decade has passed since Katrina wreaked havoc in the Gulf Coast. It just doesn’t fit into their commemorative agenda.

Who let the dogs out?

12 Feb

So these past few days we’ve seen how the Irish state and their protectors – the Gardaí – react to political protests: dawn raids, arresting minors and attempting to disgrace the only few credible politicians that represent us. This has come as a shock to many people in Ireland as few expected that the Government could be so hypocritical in daring to call water charge activists, anti-democratic. There will be more arrests, there will be more accusations of “violent” protest, but we know one thing, we must be doing something right. What I want to share with you here is the levels our police force will go to, to shut down our democratic avenues of disapproval.

In April 2012, people across Ireland were mobilising to oppose the introduction of the household charge. A protest was called to coincide with the Labour Party conference in Galway with over 1000 people attending on a Saturday afternoon. What I want to draw attention to is the night before that demonstration. A few student activists, including myself, decide to check out the security measures that were in place on the campus of NUIG to deal with the upcoming protest. We walked around the grounds noting the amount of barriers and security already in place. Once we’d done a full lap of the area we headed off, walking a route we all regularly used as students of NUI Galway. It was while we walked near the river on the campus that an unmarked car stopped us and two plainclothes Guards approached us.

We were immediately informed that we were being searched under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Naturally we were all massively confused and some of us refused to comply. I was arrested and brought to the car after a minuscule amount of cannabis was found in my tobacco pouch. Whilst in the car, both Guards present made thinly veiled threats about informing my parents and workplace of the situation I found myself in. I’m usually never shy to open my mouth, but in this case, I stayed quiet and looked at the floor. On entering the station I was finger-printed, but not in the usual way; every single patch on both of my hands was mapped and I was informed that I wouldn’t be there for long so I didn’t need a phone call or legal representation. It’s what happened next, that to this day, leads me to never trust the Gardaí.

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I was brought into an interview room and told that there were no cameras present. Both detectives produced their phones, switched them off and placed them on the table. I was told to take out my phone and was given a phone number to take down. I was then informed that this number is for me to contact once I leave the station. It was put to me that I am involved in a lot of protests around Galway and that therefore I would know what would be happening at the demonstration planned for the next day. It was reiterated that my family and my managers at work wouldn’t be too happy with me being found with cannabis on me so it was in my interests to comply. I was then asked to be a tout, an informant if you wish; they wanted me to give them information on any upcoming protests and any political groups I was involved with. It was made clear to me that any charges in relation to the possession of cannabis would be dropped if I worked with them on stifling genuine democratic grassroots opposition to Government policy. The number I was given was for me to contact in the coming days and weeks if I didn’t feel like giving information at present.

The two Guards told me not to bother telling others about this episode as it would be a case of their word against mine. They said that when I left the station I was to just give out about the Gardaí as I usually do but to not mention this conversation in any respect. I was obviously never going to comply, little did I know the consequences for me as a result. I left the room and joined my friends informing them of the incident. We decided that I move on  and act as if it never happened. The next day I was pepper-sprayed at the protest along with many others. In the weeks and months that followed I received a number of summons to my parent’s house in relation to assaulting the Guards (I spat the pepper-spray out when it was used on me), public disorder (I cried out loud and swore when the pepper-spray hit my eyes and mouth), criminal damage (I was apparently seen on CCTV standing beside people doing political graffiti on an empty building in NUIG) and of course possession of cannabis. All of these went to court and they were dragged out for over a year until the end of 2013. As a result my life was severely affected which played a large part in me moving to London for 6 months in 2013. In the end I avoided any charges by paying the Gardaí over €1500 in compensation and providing the court with a book of references from lecturers, politicians and previous managers. It was the process of being dragged through the court system that they wanted to impose on me, and they succeeded.

I’m going to be honest, I feel a bit wary publishing this. I ended up making a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman but to no avail. In the complaint I included how I was told that I was “easily distinguishable” by the Guards, in relation to my mixed ethnic background. However the casual racism is nothing compared to the level of intimidation I had to face over that period of time. From being stopped on the way to a meeting in a Local Employment Service Network, to being grabbed and thrown into a bush at a protest in the middle of these events; I was punished for not informing. These are just a few of the things the people of Ireland will have to face for daring to organise or attend protests at the current time. I’m still active, i’m still organising and i’m still making my views heard; but this episode will stay with me for the rest of my life. The Gardaí are not on our side and in times of unrest, they are the State’s armed wing and they will pull out all the stops to damage those involved in giving the people a voice in their opposition to austerity.

Something happened the other night….

13 Jan

So there we were, a wee crew of us making our way from a Jungle night to a house party on a Saturday night in Galway city. Grabbing a taxi was becoming a task due to the amount of people out, so we ventured to the main taxi rank in search of a lift out of the madness. There were crowds of drunken folk all over the place; stopping cabs in the middle of the road, jumping the queue, the usual craic. We spotted a taxi pulled up near the bus stops so headed over to check it’s availability. On arriving we suddenly realised that a pretty tense situation was developing.

A young Irish man was standing beside the taxi in a defiant stance while the African driver argued with him. I decided to ask what the problem was and was informed by the driver that the fella had taken his car keys. The passenger was babbling about where he wanted to go, clutching the keys behind his back. We asked the man to return the keys and he acknowledged us but continued to ignore the driver. It had become apparent that the fella was refusing to pay his fare because as he saw it, he hadn’t been taken to where he wanted to go. The driver informed us that the man was very drunk and just didn’t want to pay. The indignation with which this young white lad stood there was astounding; arms crossed, announcing to the world how this black man had done him wrong. However this wasn’t the case, the passenger was just hoping we’d fall for his lies so he wouldn’t be expected to cover his fare. So many racist myths about African drivers not knowing the area and overcharging are spread around, why not spout the same lies in order to get out of handing over a tenner. Unfortunately for the young lad, the crowd that had begun to gather due to our intervention was heavily on the side of the driver.

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The driver’s frustration at not being able to do his job was motivating us to get the keys off the lad and to diffuse the situation. He resisted any attempt we made to rectify things, and continued to shout about being hoodwinked in order to feed into this racist diatribe that is propagated by those who view black taxi drivers as lesser beings. This isn’t without context; the taxi situation in Galway is awful and has been for over a decade. African drivers are racially abused and assaulted on a nightly basis and passengers will publicly skip a line of drivers in order to get into a car with a white face behind the wheel. I was fortunate enough to be involved with a report a few years ago that uncovered the racist attitudes that existed in Galway amongst Irish taxi drivers and passengers, and the findings were not in the least bit comforting. We have taxis with the tricolour emblazoned across the side clearly denoting that they’re not black, as well as certain companies that refuse to employ African drivers.

The situation is made all the more worse by the way the Gardai intervene. They often take the approach of “your word against theirs” in relation to racist incidents; leaving African drivers with no resolution and feeling even more alienated. A close friend was told by the local law enforcers that he was “greedy” for giving a lift to a customer who refused to pay as he should have known that he wouldn’t have retrieved his earnings. It has resulted in most drivers refusing to engage with the Guards and led to the setting up of African-run taxi groups and companies in order to overcome the racial bias on the ranks. This was how the situation at ended – the Gardai arrived and we headed off. As usual they didn’t address why this belligerent fool was preventing this man from doing his job; they just asked him to return the keys and ignored the concerns being raised by the taxi driver. We got out of there because we knew we’d be taken to task for ganging up on the racist fella, it’s not expected of you to challenge racism on the streets in Galway, you’re meant to just put your head down and walk on. I’m glad we didn’t, however it’s of no real solace to the driver involved – this was just one of many incidents he has to go through that just happened this time to get a bit of attention. Efforts must be made to stop this situation getting worse and it starts by challenging the racist myths head on and questioning those who skip black drivers on the rank. Not on our streets, thank you.

“There’s jobs out there, you just have to find them…”

13 Nov

So you’re looking for a job, you’ve about 5 different CVs on the go,  registered with every recruitment firm…and someone says you’re not looking hard enough. It’s like jobs are some sort of magical creature that only come out at night, invisible to the naked eye. Just keep repeating – there are 25-32 people looking to fill any one position that becomes available. “Sure aren’t there advertisements for jobs in the local paper every week?” – yes, the majority of which are either extremely specific and therefore most likely already filled, or they’re commission-based. If you can’t manage to land yourself a paid position, there’s always the lucrative position of earning €230 for a 40 hour week through JobBridge. Some of us have no choice but to accept these internships, others just can’t afford the risk.

I was unemployed for 14 months after returning from London last year. I had no idea it was going to last that long. In that time I completed a Diploma in Community work and gained skills and experience in various different areas, but no job, no stability. I got a number of interviews where I was told I’d get bored and that this was their reason for hesitating to hire me. How do they know what I want? I applied for the job because I want to make money, what happens inside my head is of no concern to them. However, it seems the human resources departments of many businesses around Galway are better judges of personality than the jobseekers themselves. This forced me to leave my qualifications off my CV; which in turn put me in the difficult position of trying to explain why I had so many part-time jobs; which resulted in them thinking I couldn’t hold down a job. It’s a lose-lose situation.  We’re told to be entrepreneurs; I advertised myself as a philosophy and law tutor and had students return to me for more help – will I get an award for being “innovative”? I sincerely doubt it. Passing on knowledge isn’t profitable. I did workshops on various different areas of grassroots activism…still no sign of being asked to appear on The Apprentice. You see, when they say to us that we need to be business-minded, what they are basically saying is we need to be completely selfish to the point of negatively impacting the lives of others around us. I ain’t into that.

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Then I got offered the dream position. A role that combined community development, social media, international human rights and grassroots activism. A role that was a JobBridge. In Dublin. Where the average rent is twice that which I was struggling to pay in Galway. I accepted the offer and started to dream about the endless opportunities that could start opening up for me. Then I realised I’d be earning €238 a week in Dublin….I’d probably have to live rent-free for a few weeks before I could even consider putting together a deposit. There are too many stories to tell about the current housing crisis, let it just be said that it was the issue of shelter that ultimately saw me turn down the position. Another time maybe, when’s it a properly paid role. It’s not the organisation’s fault, their funding has been stripped because they dare to question the status quo – their outlook isn’t commercial enough. There are those who can up sticks and do such an internship. You need to have an amount of cash to fall back on to do any such thing. There’s far too many of us who have so such cushion at all.

After 14 months I finally got work in a medical devices firm. Working nights, carrying out the same action hundreds of times a day….but hey it’s clearing debt and paying the bills. I’m in my late 20s, I’ve 8 years of college behind me  and every path that I want to take to further my career is blocked by economic factors. There is no other option but to try and make as much money as one can in any old position, and then get out of here as soon as possible. My dream has always been to train to be a barrister – I need €13000 for that. I want to take the skills I’ve learnt in the various different disciplines and fields I’ve operated in, and put them to use in areas where they would be most beneficial. Travelling costs money, accommodation costs money, stability costs money. So the plan is to plough through with this job, make as much as I can, and see if it gives me the financial security to make the decisive next step in my academic career. It’s like we’re punished for wanting to focus on areas that are not commodified. How dare our interests lie outside the realm of business. I see it on the faces of my colleagues every night. Working to live, living to work; in pure survival mode – keep the head down, make your cash and go home. Atomised and full of disillusion; we move from a feeling of worthlessness on the dole to a state of constant unease once in work.

I know that every off day I had whilst unemployed and every bad day I have now with a job, has been experienced by others around the country. The solution is not an individual one, it can only be collective. Let’s change the narratives with a few tales of our own.