ANYBODY feel like staying up all night? There will be music, dancing and plenty of stimulants. Or should I say stimulus, in the form of debate, discussion and something that’s completely absent these days — a vision for the future.
That might not be enough to entice everyone but, right now, I’d go a very long way for a bit of inspiration.
There hasn’t been too much talk of Nuit Debout, the citizen-led movement where people all over France have been gathering peacefully at night to talk about everything from tax evasion and inequality to work and the failures of politics.
I’ve found myself following on social media and welling up with an unfamiliar feeling — hope. At times, the hairs on the back on my neck stand on end, but then talk of a reinvigorated political landscape will do that to you in this government-less country.
Part of the surging emotion is seeing so many people gather in one place, united in their purpose. The fact that the nocturnal vigils began in Place de la République in Paris, where the victims of the November 13 terrorist attacks were honoured and remembered, has added to the emotional charge.
But there is more to this. The French are inveterate demonstrators, but this time it’s a little bit different. On March 31, the protesters who gathered to object to President Francois Hollande’s proposed new labour laws just didn’t go home.
They stayed put all night, despite the torrential rain. The next day, they came back for more. And they have been coming back for more than two weeks now: students, workers, parents with babies and pensioners have joined the ranks of a movement that has no official leaders and no official aim.
Every night, a microphone is passed around so that everyone can have their say. They said things like: ‘Politics feels broken’. ‘We want a society built on something more than just profit and money-making’. ‘Never before have I felt so involved in democracy’. It does feel like a living utopia and, yes, we have been here before. Remember the Occupy initiative in 2011, which brought together hundreds of thousands of people around the world in a call for global change? That movement illustrated clearly how difficult it is to harness the energy and enthusiasm of a mass protest into political action.
But sometimes the fever on the streets can translate into parliament seats. In Spain, for instance, the Indignados movement produced a new political party Podemos (We Can), which went on to win 46 seats in the 2015 Spanish general election. However, many say Podemos stopped working as soon as it joined the establishment and all the democracy-stifling trappings that goes with it.
Who knows what Nuit Debout will bring as it expands? At last count, there were more than 120,000 people taking part in 60 French cities and towns and the protests were spilling over into Spain, Belgium and Germany.
The French government is rattled — it has already announced €500m in subsidies to appease students and workers. The police are on edge too and, on Monday, they dispersed the crowd, but the crowd is not for turning. The gatherings continue to grow and with them the seductive notion that something might finally give.
And something’s gotta give. If there’s one word that captures the spirit of these nightly sit-ins — actually stand-ins is a better translation as Nuit Debout literally means Night Standing Up — it is ras-le-bol (fed-upness).
Now there’s a word that will strike a chord with just about everyone in Ireland. Who isn’t fed up to the back teeth with the pathetic attempts to get the 32nd Dáil up and running?
When — or if — a programme for government is finally agreed, will anything really change?
Some politicians claim to be able to read the recent election results — the electorate voted to boot out the Fine Gael/Labour coalition; they voted against austerity; they backed Fianna Fáil; they voted for change. In truth, if they can be read at all, the results show a deep level of disaffection and distrust which has left us with a political fragmentation and disparateness that we have not had to deal with before.
This new political formation calls for politicians adept at connecting rather than excluding. We need our elected representatives to come together and do business with people of deeply divergent views. That’s the problem politics is meant to solve.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to solve it any time soon. So what can we do?
I’d love to reunite the thousands of people who protested against water charges and pass the microphone around. Let’s hear from the anti-austerity protesters too. I, for one, would like to know what those people who came from all over the country to say ‘enough is enough’ have to say about what should happen now.
But, for once, why not take the ‘anti’ out of it — it’s too easy to go all Joe Duffy and say what you are against. It’s much harder to say what you’re for and how that might be achieved.
If we were to hold a night-time rally in Ireland — and let’s hope we do – there is one recent political movement that did much to inspire. The campaign to pass same-sex marriage last May was a unique moment in Irish political life: it united people from a range of backgrounds and politically motivated people, many for the first time.
Some of them are still politically active, working in some small way to invent a different kind of society.
There must be others out there too who want to try, at least, to turn that deep-rooted fed-upness into something positive. It’s easy to by cynical about those all-nighters with their high ideals and revolutionary slogans, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time to think about setting up a nocturnal movement here.
Eírí Amach na hOíche, perhaps? I’ll bring the bullet-proof coffee and the microphone. Any takers?