- 23 Oct 19
A new call to arms – for the next 1,000 issues of Hot Press.
When I think of Dublin, I think of my Grandmother. I want to look away from the present state of the place and connect to this city through its past. Nano, one of 23 children, and a die-hard workaholic, cleaned for a living. She came of age during the Second World War. She earned little and gave away lots. When I think of this city, I think of her generosity, her ferocious endurance and her incessant gossiping.
I came of age under recession austerity. The boom years were my childhood normality. In my young mind, everything seemed like it was all made for me. In retrospect, I understand that Ireland was on an economic rager. We were running an economy that was entirely unsustainable and, yet, I was oblivious. My generation were encouraged to shake off our long history of being the poor neighbour, to believe that the sky was the limit and that everything we ever wanted was within our reach if we just worked hard enough.
THE FINGER OF BLAME
I’m currently renting a shared room with a bunk bed. Above me is an old school friend and actor. I’ve managed to secure the bottom bed, a small mercy. In saying that, the area is good and the company is first rate. Things could be much worse. I consider us lucky when I see reports of how many families are being made homeless each week. It’s shocking and I don’t want to become desensitised to it.
I don’t need to add my pointing stick to tell you how fucked we are and how wrong the housing crisis is, how monopoly capitalism has marginalised the vulnerable, and how our capital city is becoming a cultural wasteland.
If I could go back in time I would go to 2009, just after the crash, when the appalling financial malfeasance was revealed and the dawning realisation hit that the whole economy had no foundation. I would tell my friends that I have seen the future, that we have the collective power to make great change. I grieve that Ireland didn’t then have the momentum of populist outcry that was galvanised around the Water Charges, the gay marriage referendum, the abortion referendum, and extinction rebellion.
I wonder how different it would be now if those who had acted wrongly were brought to book under the pressure of effective outcry and if our rage had been galvanised at the ballot box. A generation that has come of age since is waking up angry, and has mobilised.
It got me thinking about my anger. As a writer, and admittedly an overly sensitive person, I am quick to passionate response. Anger is an essential energy that has shaken off the inertia. There is an intensity and a sense of empowerment that comes from the gathering consensus that the other, those in power, are wrong and I am right.
Beyond pointing the finger of blame, where do I put this energy? The answer is mostly into my music. But the excess? Either it consumes me or it drains me. I’m left with eco-anxiety, economic grief, a nostalgia for the past, and a yearning for my grandmother’s resilience.
My experience has taught me that to demonise something only gives over power to it. To shun something creates escape, but it usually reappears in another form. Exclusionary thinking gives us a comfortable distance from the problem but it absolutely separates us from the solutions. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “People who view with alarm never build anything.”
FRUSTRATIONS AND SETBACKS
It’s plain to see that we are in a crisis. We need to change and we need to act fast. So how do we take responsibility? It is likely that there will be a general election coming up next year, and if the European elections taught us anything, it’s that Fine Gael had no other option but to respond to our cries on climate action. The tide has turned.
We have to speak from the power of our conviction, but we also have to look at our individual responsibility in social change. We are being forced to question our values, our ambition; what we consume and how we consume it. Is it radical to think we should recognise that our shared future also includes our history transformed?
We have to believe that we can generate a new consensus and that our counterculture will become the norm. We have to stay connected to this collective action that we have found. Our future is not in the hands of the leaders, it’s in the hands of us as a whole. We are the sum total of our imagination, our individual conviction and integrity.
When I think of my grandmother, I think of her tenacity, strength of character and her altruistic nature. That is how I want to see our country. I thank the artists, activists, and ghosts of Dublin for their presence and resilience. Change takes time. My hope is that we have the stamina to endure long enough the frustrations and setbacks that will inevitably come.
“Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw said, “and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.”
And failing that, we can always start a riot.