When developing our Lessons for Change, our own organising never stopped but our environment in Ireland changed drastically.
Brexit; the decision to take us out of the European Union, made by a majority of voters in England and Wales and a minority in Scotland and the North East of Ireland, has thrown a curve ball at the establishment, the political parties and those campaigning for progressive change in equal measure.
In Ireland, Brexit has re-energised constitutional debates around independence, partition and the future of the island and the people who live here. All of the old issues which were parked by power to facilitate the ‘peace process’ are now acutely back in focus – equality, rights, the border, sovereignty, democracy, power, British Unionism and Irish Republicanism.
Stormont, the political administration in Belfast, collapsed completely. It was pulled down in the end by the second largest political party, Sinn Féin, under massive pressure from a largely Irish Republican/Nationalist voter base alienated by 20 years of failure to deliver on promises of rights and equality.
Martin Mc Guinness, the Sinn Féin deputy first Minister, resigned during a scandal centred on the other First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster. While unemployment and precarity deepened, welfare reform robbed the sick, disabled and unemployed of their only source of income and schools and hospitals were run into the ground by austerity economics, £60m in public funds was literally being burned in a scheme designed and signed off by the First Minister. Profit could be made through government subsidies by burning as much renewal energy pellets as possible. At the same time Irish language speakers mobilised in their thousands on the streets as An Dream Dearg, protesting the failure of Stormont to protect their rights in law and continued sectarian attacks by DUP representatives’, (including Government Ministers), on the rights of Irish language speakers.
The dysfunctional administration had long passed the time of tenability as voters switched off and much of the promises of equality and rights, hard fought for by people like Inez Mc Cormack, were already well hollowed out of the political agenda by the sectarian deal making which characterised Stormont. Assembly elections followed which led to a surge in support for Sinn Fein and ended the Unionist Majority in the state for the first time since its inception in the early 1900’s. Then the conservatives called a shock election in Westminster which returned only Sinn Fein and the DUP as the voter based polarised completely.
The shock result of the Westminster election saw Jeremy Corbyn running on a socialist platform catapulted into a position of real political power in a resurgent British Labour Party. This threat to the status quo has created a backlash which is teaching us all new lessons in power and politics every day.
The same election thrust the Democratic Unionist Party, a party to the right of the British far right mired in allegations of corruption in public office, straight into the centre of power. The DUP now prop up British Prime Minister, Theresa May’s significantly weakened government to form a coalition delivering the Brexit agenda.
The coalition government in An Dáil Eireann, the parliament in Dublin, fractured with division and allegations of corruption. At the same time organic social movements like the Anti Water Rates campaign, Home Sweet Home, Yes Equality, and Together For Yes changed the narrative to energise a new generation to stand up for change.
In Scotland, Brexit reignited what was considered a dead independence debate following a referendum where 45% of Scots voted to leave the ‘United Kingdom’. The power built by communities during the referendum evolved into campaigns which have driven human rights into the everyday language of the Scottish Government. Campaigners are hoping to see these commitments translated into meaningful change on the ground as they prepare for the final deal on Brexit before the next move plays out. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister has called for a second independence referendum following the Brexit deal, which the conservative government in Westminster are refusing to permit.
In England, much has changed but nothing has shocked more than the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It has changed everything for the people who survived and lost friends and family. We looked on in horror and anger as at least 72 people died in a preventable fire, in social housing, in one of the wealthiest councils in one of the wealthiest countries on earth. The destroyed tower block now dominates the skyline like a mirror on the grotesque social and economic inequalities and racist, imperialist legacies which define a deeply divided ‘United Kingdom’.
Everywhere, from Belfast to Brighton to Birkenhead and back again to Bray, the racism, sectarianism and bigotry that is so visible across Europe and America is gaining momentum with plenty of political cover.
Meanwhile, millions of Syrians, Iraqi’s, Afghan’s and Africans travel treacherous journeys to our shores, seeking refuge from wars and famine caused by European politics and economics, only to be met with imprisonment and criminalisation.
The outworking of the constitutional flux caused by Brexit and the ripples across Europe will have profound implications for the future. Everything is up in the air. Everyone – politicians, big business and activists of every shade now reassess, realign and regroup for what will follow. Uncertainty looms as the experts on everything are proven wrong time and again.
But of course, at the same time as we witnessed similar seismic events shaping South Africa and the USA, movements for change back home were gathering pace.
On Lessons for Change you can connect to some of the amazing people and organisation we work with and have encountered on our travels.
Listen to and learn from Joe Delaney and other activists and survivors involved in the Grenfell Action Group, many of whom remain homeless to this day as they fight for truth and justice.
Watch high rise activists like Heather in Edinburgh and Dan in Belfast to understand how they are developing effective campaigns for better housing provision.
Discover useful principles, tactics, structure and strategy in the ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ case study to learn more about the politics and power behind religious inequality in housing provision in Belfast.
Watch the action from Sipho and the Housing4All – refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Belfast opening doors to resources for people forced into destitution by state policy.
Connect to Craig and Denise and the sophisticated online activism behind Yes Equality; the campaign to legalise Gay marriage and Together for Yes; the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment which restricted and criminalised women’s reproductive rights. Both campaigns have transformed Irish consciousness by exposing the massive gap between the negative politics that governs Ireland and the positive potential of the Irish people.
Listen to interviews and connect with activists from An Dream Dearg, the grassroots campaign for the protection and promotion of the rights of Irish language speakers in the North of Ireland, born from the rubble of the Good Friday Agreement.
And connect through Lessons for Change to the dynamic organisers, activists and campaigns at Participation and Practice of Rights, where we continue to organise every day with brave people developing grassroots campaigns for accountability in public office, equality in the distribution of resources and the rights of people to participate in all aspects of decision making which affect their lives.
This website is of course limited by our capacity and the bias inherent in our interpretation of the people and environments we experienced. We make no apology for that. This is what we seen, heard and felt. You may think differently, and if you don’t you’re probably missing the point. There are no absolute truths but contained in this site is a goldmine of lessons which we hope anyone struggling to build power for equality, rights and dignity finds helpful. This site should be viewed as stepping stone to link you to the people and organisations we met to learn more directly from them.
Our learning was only made possible by the openness and honesty of those many inspirational activists who shared their stories while operating in dangerous and challenging environments, some who appear on this site and some who do not. This site is a thank you to all of you who gave us a place to stay, opened up your homes, families, hearts and communities to tell us what you know so that we can capture it and pass it on. This site is only possible because of you and we hope it is in some small way testament to the way you change the world every day.