A story from the Blockade, by Jessica Keyes

I felt anxious, yet excited to be walking out in the cold predawn of a December morn. Passing Mountjoy, I was aware of being alone, mulling over just why I was doing this, joining with others of my community to blockade trucks and diggers invading our neighbourhood.

It had begun as a slow awakening. A feeling that the world was changing and I with it. Many souls around the world were taking to the streets in their towns and cities demanding a fairer society. Gathering to cry with one voice for freedom, fairness and peace. I also saw that for the most part these gatherings were crushed by the mighty blow of the powerful, tanks, tear gas and tooled-up police forces trying to silence these justified cries.

Yet the people kept on coming and rising again and again. Awakened. We had allowed ourselves to be duped into making enemies of our neighbour, to become willing consumers with scant regard for how we acquired or to even understand that we lived upon a living planet that needed us to engage in a conscious way with her. And for what? To make a handful of others rich and powerful.

I now realised how psychopathic was the behaviour of those who hold power in politics, in religion, in banking. I now realised we were dealing with the unreasonable, the insatiable and with those willing to destroy the very planet our survival depends on – as if we had another one to go to.

This is why I was on that cold street in the early morn, walking to the meeting place to gather with others who for their own reasons had this same feeling that we were the change that was needed in the world.

***

John is a man that you may pass on the street and not look twice at him. That’s not to say he was ordinary, far from it, he just appears that way, hiding his light and power beneath a clever disguise of ordinariness. When you look into his eyes you get to see the man inside. His voice is soft when he speaks, but that softness belies that behind this quiet exterior lives a man with determination and courage to stand up for what he believes in.

I met him on our first morning out as we walked down to the corner of Montpelier Hill, accompanied by local councillor Eilis Ryan of the Workers Party. We were the three musketeers that morning manning our corner while others spread out around the seven entrances to the Stoneybatter.

It was almost magical standing there in the cold, misty morning with three strangers with breath of ice, speaking in quiet voices as to why we were there. ‘Its the unfairness of a double tax’; ‘ it’s our precious resource’; ‘ it’s all about privatising our water’; ‘I want to do this for our children so that they are not burdened with this bill that will rise and rise’ ‘ after six years of austerity I’ve had enough’ ‘ we have no more to give’.

The wonder of mobile phones and social networking meant we were able to keep in touch with activists at the main entrance to the area. It was up there that IW contractors pulled up in in large convoys. I will say straight out that I believe blockading is a legitimate form of protest. When you feel powerless and unheard it is a duty to speak out and do what you can peacefully do to counteract what you see as your rights being slowly eroded. Civil disobedience is a necessary tool when a large portion of society feel that they are not being heard.

After a time we saw a digger arriving followed by a truck loaded with barriers. Without knowing from where my courage came and with heart pushing through my chest, I stood out with John and blocked them on the road. There was a few moments where the road was blocked but we asked them to pull in to the side and these men did. I had no animosity for the men in the van and we would tell them so, we even had moments of fun, but to stop the diggers getting in was an achievement . On this morning around the area no IW workers got in. We had a visit from the police who said we couldn’t block the road but our lady counsellor spoke quietly of our right to protest in this way.

At this stage the Police seemed unsure of what we were entitled to do – there were various ways in which protesters were being handled around the country. There appeared to be gaps in the knowledge of the law with some of the police. Some situations were almost laughable as people were asked to move on by non existent laws and acts. I noticed that people quickly began to educate themselves about the law and our rights but these appeared to keep changing.

Scenes as above were replicated over the two weeks before Christmas. We began to have help from the people who had first stood against the installation of meters in their areas. They were working-class suburbs of Dublin that had felt the full cold blast of the austerity measures imposed by our present government. If it had been seen to be fair with each section of society shouldering these so called austerity measures I believe that people would have felt a togetherness and a willingness to work through this together as a country, but instead the rich got richer as the poor got poorer.

So these men and women of the working class were the first to stand up and attempt to block IW from entering their estates. As a consequence they felt the full brunt of the law. Videos emerged of a large police presence in these estates and scuffles and violent scenes taking place daily. It got so bad that the people of these areas took to protesting silently and with candles outside the local police station calling for an end to this type of policing in their areas and of what they saw as a complete waste of police resources. Years of work building trust between these communities and the Police had been destroyed by their deployment against the people in this way.

After a time IW pulled out of these estates and moved elsewhere. The police in Dublin at least, while still maintaining a large presence appeared to be less combative. In parts of Ireland this ongoing battle between residents and police is still occurring and a sense of both anger and hopelessness has seemed to settle into our communities. A division has begun to emerge between those that either agree with the government’s policies, those that don’t care and the thousands upon thousands that feel more alienated from their government than ever before. This for me has the most hurtful of all, this schism and split, this rent in the heart of our country and between us as a nation.

For me I will continue on this path, unsure of its final destination but knowing that we have yet to understand the full impact of these times upon us as a people.

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