Part 1: “Change is underway. Let’s be active in shaping and deepening that change. It’s time to get involved.” by Gerry Adams
I had the privilege of attending many of the debates and discussions which are a unique and vital part of Féile an Phobail.
I want to touch briefly on the remarks made by Terry O’Sullivan and Jeremy Corbyn at separate events, particularly on the importance of organising civic society. Jeremy, a former leader of the British Labour Party and Terry the General Secretary Emeritus of The Laborers’ International Union of North America are wonderful advocates for the imperative of organising social and political movements to bring about deep rooted and positive change. For all of the differences in their two countries the need to organise people is a common thread in their work. That and a fierce commitment to equality and social justice. And a love for Ireland. We are lucky to have them as allies and friends.
I’m a long time believer in the power of people, properly organised, strategic and strong in their beliefs and values. There are lots of current and historic examples of the changes brought about by such movements in Ireland and other parts of the world. Political change will be more meaningful, deep rooted and advanced if it is led by informed and committed citizens.
Shaping a fair society is too important to be left solely to politicians. Of course public representatives have an important role including the delivery of legislative and underpinned guarantees of peoples rights once those rights have been won. But they are unlikely to be won without popular struggle. Progress is dependent on that. Activism is central to this. And activism works.
Jeremy quoted James Connolly to make this point. In an article “The Economic Basis of Politics” Connolly argued ‘an effective political force’ had to have its origins ‘deep down in the daily life of the people, not in the brains of some half dozen gentlemen in parliament.’
For his part Terry O Sullivan told us that the ‘labour movement is once again on the rise throughout North America- a new generation of workers are beginning to understand the power of activism.’
He, like Jeremy, spoke of the importance of solidarity. ‘An injustice to one is an injustice to all’. He said: ‘The trade union movement is the single most effective anti-poverty programme ever devised’.
Féile An Phobail is a great example of activism and community empowerment. It is inclusive grassroots democracy in action. On all fronts. Cultural, educational and artistic. The creative arts for the many. And it’s enjoyable. Full of hope and colour and vitality.
So activism works. Creating a new Ireland means ending the union with England. There is now a way to do this. Activism is crucial to secure that goal.
James Connolly believed in the reconquest of Ireland by the Irish people. I believe in that too. So did Bobby Sands. Bobby wrote ‘The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for Freedom to show. It is then we will see the rising of the moon.’
So there is space for all progressives in the work to shape an empowered movement for a new shared Ireland. As Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘The planning, the preparation, and the consultation needs to take place beforehand so that people know what the choice is. What exactly is the proposition they are voting for? This requires serious and novel engagement.
Every available resource and expertise should be pooled. Citizens Assemblies, local forums and civic consultation should be utilised. That work will be done here in Ireland obviously.’
He went on to explain the role of people in Britain. Terry did the same in relation to North America. That is important. But few of us will have a contribution to make there. Our work is where we live.
And it is clear what we have to do here. Change is underway. Let’s be active in shaping and deepening that change. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to move beyond talking about it. Or leaving it to others. There is a role for everyone. It’s time to be an active citizen. It’s time for campaigning, organising, for democratic empowerment. Let’s do it. Be an activist.
Note: Part 2 will include a snapshot of some other events at Féile which were relevant to the Unity debate.