Alan and I have been posting stickers all around Dublin to advertise our magazine. Over the past couple of weeks, we'd been noticing other stickers placed around the city advertising something called "Reclaim the Streets". Some stickers said things like "Free Party. No Cops. Repetitive Beats....etc." This "free party" was scheduled to happen in front of the General Post Office in Dublin on May 6th, at 2:30pm. Alan and I were curious and decided we'd check this thing out and see what it was. So we woke up on Monday, remembered it was the day of the event and decided to walk on down to the post office and have a look.
When we got there we saw a few hundred people hanging around on a traffic island; a few were playing drums and dancing around, but the rest of them were standing around looking as confused and curious as we were. All of them were very alternative looking, sporting dreadlocks and hippyish clothing, and the majority of them were very young. We hadn't had lunch yet and decided to grab some sandwiches and return in about half an hour. When we did, the entire group of hundreds of people had disappeared! There were a few police officers patrolling the area, and Alan asked a few bystanders if they knew what happened to the group. One young man said that he didn't know, but assumed they'd been ushered along by the police; an older man giving away newspapers said that they seemed to move along of their own accord.
We were completely baffled.
We wandered around, trying to figure out what happened to them, and eventually were lured by drumbeats to a quay off the Liffey. There they all were once again, dancing and jumping around while the majority of the group was simply watching in amusement. They had blocked off traffic on the entire block, and police were standing around making sure that things didn't get out of hand. It was obvious that the entire point of the rally was to block off traffic. The group wasn't actually saying anything themselves, but there were papers being passed around which expressed disgust at the fact that our cities are infiltrated by roads and office buildings, etc. We stood and watched for about 45 minutes; during that time, the peaceful party had turned into a protest. Police seemed to be itching to arrest someone, and took beer cans out of the hands of anyone who was drinking. At this point they appeared to have arrested one or two people, for reasons that are unclear. Two men walked past me, one of which was on a cell phone and muttered to his friend about the rally: "It's all a bit pointless, really..."
Things did started getting a bit out of hand. There were a couple of young boys walking around with masks over their mouths and carrying cans of spray paint. They were going around breaking windows and spraying messages like, "No peace for the homeless" on the windows of office buildings. A large amount of the group had migrated to a side street where red smoke was rising up. We figured it was a smoke bomb. Police were rushing over there and it seemed like a fight was about to break out between them and the party-goers. Alan was still curious, but I said that I thought we should get out of there. It seemed to me that things could only go downhill from where they were at the moment.
So we left and went to a cafe, where we sat and talked about what we'd just seen. A woman was sitting next to us who seemed to be quite popular; she knew almost everyone who walked into the cafe, and struck up conversations with them. Each of the first three people who came in had been to the rally and were telling her about it. The first two came in together, a guy and girl, and briefly summarized the events before leaving. The next person to come in was an enthusiastic young man who told the woman all about the rally and how it was an anti-globalization event. The woman looked up from the leaflet he'd handed her and with a coy smile asked, "Why?" The guy just kind of shrugged, mumbled something else and quickly left.
Alan told the woman that we'd also been there, and we told her that it all seemed a bit chaotic. We all agreed that events such as this should have a clear focus. The stickers they had placed all around the city had been ambiguous; nobody stood up and explained what the objective of the event was; there were different people there for different reasons; and so the end result was a mass of people assembled in a small area, with one thing in common: they were all riled up and wanted a cause to fight for.
On the way home we noticed that the group had moved on once again, this time to Dame Street right in front of Trinity College. We decided to cross the street and observe what was going on over there. It seems we got there just in time; only a few minutes later, the group of a couple hundred angry teenagers and young men and women were assembled in the traffic island. They immediately moved onto the streets to continue their plan of blocking off traffic and causing havoc in the city. They danced and waved their wands and flags around, until the police moved in once again. First, they attacked a heavyset man right in front of us, dragged him off to their car and shoved him in. Alan says he also saw the police attacking people who were simply standing around; they seemed to be going after anyone who appeared "dodgy" in any way. Eventually the police lined up to form a blockade at the end of the street and weren't letting anyone through. I turned to Alan and said, "Shit, we're trapped in here too." As the police continued to go after innocent people, the younguns were shouting, "Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!" and "Police brutality! Police brutality!" Other observers were passing us by, making remarks like "They're all about twelve years old", and a man on a bicycle turned to me and said "Mad, eh?" to which I replied, "Beyond."
The police eventually forced everyone off the streets, and the group moved on away from the direction of Trinity. We decided to follow behind them and see what they were up to now. People were peeking their heads out of apartment windows, and shopkeepers were standing on the sidewalks, bewildered and curious. One yelled out to a friend, "The hippies are riotin'!"
The group stopped again in the vicinity of Dublin Castle, and the protestors were shouting insults at the police. Some of these insults I thought were fair, such as people shouting at one officer "Where's your number? Where's your number?" It appeared that a lot of the officers had taken off their numbers. Gee, whyever would they do that? One of the officers was keeping traffic going, and not allowing any pedestrians to cross the street for some time. The group eventually moved on once again, their next target being the civic offices. We followed slowly behind them, observing the spectacle of angry youth with no idea what the hell they wanted to say. The best part of the whole thing was an old man who straggled behind the rest of the group; he was walking his scraggly dog and muttering in a deep voice marred by cigarettes and booze: "Fuck the system.. [The voting system doesn't work because I'm drunk and that fucks it up.|fuck the system.."
We watched them gather into the enclosed private property for a few minutes. Alan said, "I don't like this. If they're going to have a protest, they need to keep it in the streets. They shouldn't be in here like this." So we decided to leave because it all seemed pretty freaky at this point. A gathering of people had morphed from being a peaceful group dancing in the streets, to an angry bunch of protestors with one cause in mind: get the police all riled up, and hopefully some of us will get arrested. Alan and I agreed that without the intervention of the police, the rally never would have gotten so out of hand; however, it seemed quite clear to me that the protestors really really wanted to piss the police off. "It's all a bit pointless, really."
We passed the police station on the way home, and there was a group of a few dozen people hanging around outside. One girl who looked about 15 was drinking straight out of a wine bottle. Alan whispered to me, "What is this, a vigil?" As we walked passed, Alan overheard something that a few of the people were talking about. He told me that they were trying to file complaints, but the police weren't listening.
So I guess my point is: if you have something to say, then say it. If you don't have anything to say, then don't say anything; or at least figure out what it is you do want to say before you gather a group of hundreds of people together for no reason. The police were wrong to go after random people who weren't doing anything wrong, and they definitely should have kept their numbers visible. Neither of the groups acted appropriately, and I can't really take sides. I just think the whole thing was a big mess, and it made me very upset.