We were on the road again to Shannon on a fine bright Saturday morning. We listened to music, chatted and passed around copies of the newspapers. On the front page of the Irish Times we saw the photograph a couple of privates in camouflage erecting a wall of razor wire taller than themselves. It was an impressive picture and a fine example of how the State had been buying into the hype generated in the last week over the plan to tear down the fence. As I looked around at the bus at various people sleeping, tuning into walkmans, eating sandwiches or openly chuckling as they looked at the Irish Times it illustrated to me how naÔve the State is when it comes to who we are. For the most part the bus consisted for young people who want to do more than march for peace and listen to speeches telling them why they are against the war. This bus rolling towards Shannon had people on it that wanted to be involved in an action which brought attention to the fact that since the massive display of opposition to the war the government had done nothing. Bombers were still being allowed refuel at Shannon. Bertie had tried to convince people that he was against the war at the same time as allowing this pit stop of death to continue operating. We however weren't waiting for Bertie. Following our announcement of our intention to take the fence down, two other airlines had announced that they would not use Shannon due to concerns over 'security'.
We pulled into the designated stop at the Leix county hotel. There we met up with the other buses organised by the IAWM. Once again we gave out leaflets explaining the planned action that we would take at Shannon. We were laughingly referred to as "trouble makers" and I explained to someone how I intended to chop though the razor wire with my teeth. If your going to be stereotyped by one and all you may as well play up on it for laughs.
On the bus we had a discussion of how exactly we would go about the action in Shannon. There were a number of people who volunteered to take the white flags. The original plan was to march up the road towards the terminal and then link arms and walk towards the fence remained in place. We decided if this for some reason proved impossible then we would implement two other possibilities. Our delegates were to liase with delegates from the other buses coming for this Grassroots action.
Once we got past Thomond Park we were waved though our first guarda checkpoint. However a little further down the road we weren't so lucky. One of the IAWM buses was already stationary at the side of the road and we pulled in behind them. The police boarded our bus and they started to search bags. I saw one walk off the bus with an armful of spray cans. One Garda asked me what was in my bag and I told them books, cd's and a salad. He was unimpressed to find out I was telling the truth but didn't go as far as to search the salad for wire-cutters.
Finally after a little over 3 hours on the road we pulled into Shannon and disembarked at the assembly point in the car park outside the supermarket. Immediately people with the white flags assembled at one corner. We decided to march out of the car park towards the airport and to have a meeting further up the road. We pulled out shortly after two o clock and I was surprised to find about half the people in the car park follow the white flags. We marched and chanted our way down the road. Shortly before the round about we pulled into some ground on the left, planted the white flags in the ground and had an open-mic meeting on the megaphone. The assembled crowd were aware of the plan (and it had been discussed on the buses from Dublin and Cork.) It was re-iterated here that we would march towards the terminal ? white flag people first and then we would turn at one point and go towards the fence. The garda hadn't shut the road off towards the terminal so we were going to be allowed up it. The white flags moved out first and we linked arms and began the chanting "1 2 3 4 we don't want this bloody War. 5 6 7 8 this is not a US State." As soon as we got past the roundabout we could see a good twenty or thirty riot police in full gear beside the fence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there was a huge number of police there. They?d formed a wall of yellow that stretched out in front of the fence. As we marched up the wall of yellow followed us. There were cops on horseback behind us, a platoon of riot police to the left of us, and this large highly visible yellow wall of gardai in front of the fence. On top of that there was a media army who as we marched into the airport stuck microphones in our faces and asked us if we thought there was going to any violence.
It had been made clear to everyone that this was to be a non-violent direct action. The message hadn't reached all in attendance and one young marcher who had put some considerable amount of time into his outfit marched with metal plating, and a balaclava. Needless to say the Sunday Tribune couldn't resist taking his picture and ran with the ironic headline "Marching for peace."
We stopped at a specific point up the road and turned towards the fence. We linked arms. I looked down the line and saw at least 250 or more people who were now linked together. Together we advanced as one towards the fence. The gardai concentrated their numbers in front of us. It became obvious very early on that we were not going to go though them and they were not going to let us get to the fence. One man repeatedly touched the fence and finally aggravated a senior officer so much that he was arrested. We chanted at the boys and girls in yellow. One character walked up and down the no-mans land between the two lines playing a bodhran and raising the spirits of those on both sides of the standoff. He even attempted to tap out a tune on a riot shield. People from Food not bombs walked up and down the line handing out tasty bread and sandwiches. We chanted some more. One garda made chicken noises, as he attempted to provoke us into moving forward but he was ignored. Someone suggested we do a huge river dance spectacular but there appeared to be few skilled in the art of "ain do tree." Then finally sponantious, we began to dance the can can It was at around that time that the IAWM march passed on their way to the airport terminal. I was on the megaphone encouraging people to join in this dance off against the State. There were few takers. A couple of marchers from the IAWM came over to berate the active dancers for being violent. I have been around protests for years but this sight still had to rank as one of the most surreal moments that I have ever witnessed. Here was a line of over 200 people dancing in front of an army of police in front of one of the most care about fences in the history of the state and for that they were being scolded.
At this stage lines of communication were not very clear. Eventually we decided to make the cops work a bit and moved the line up alongside the fence. This appeared to be a fairly good tactic. When we reached a part of the fence that cut more into the airfield a few activists flung some grapple hooks over the fence and started to pull on ropes. Quickly a number of scuffles and tug a war broke out between activists and the police. It was at this moment in time that the Gardai decided to swoop in and arrest the people they'd been itching to nick since the start of the day. A few scuffles broke out as other activists attempted to de-arrest those who had were being carted off into the back of a paddy wagon. The movement up along the fence stopped and after the paddy wagon pulled out we were back into the stand off with the flustered cops who'd had to do something to earn their overtime for at least a few minutes.
It was decided to march back out of the airport keeping the activists as tightly together as possible so as to not present the law with the opportunity to arrest any more people. We marched out of the airport chanting and once again had a brief open meeting at the far side of the round about. People came forward and most of the speakers talked of coming back with greater numbers. Names were passed onto organisers of those people that had been arrested. In all 10 people were arrested and charged under the convenient Public order act. A house in Shannon was used as a focal point to ensure legal representation for those lifted.
We walked back to car park and met up with the bus there. We said goodbye to our friends and comrades from Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast, Derry, and Clare. Back on the bus we listened to the news reports. 2FM reported that 10 arrests happened whilst Richard Boyd Barrett was reported as saying that the IAWM would not participate in any demonstrations with people who were intent with violence with the cops. I found out later that he'd unfortunately been misquoted in the press.
The next morning on Newstalk 106 I tried to make the argument that there was a home for a diverse number of tactics within the anti-war movement. The presenter, an indignant Rodger Green decided he was having none of that and claimed that the day was a "damp squib" and at the same time an "incitement to riot." It's hard to rectify these two ideas but you can when you are a mental midget in the media who is more concerned with the 'tax-payers money' and a 'fence' than an actual debate or the facts.
The day action was non-violent a great success. The Grassroots Network against the War proved that it was possible to organise non-violent direct action. The precious fence didn't come down but two airlines pulled out of Shannon and state was forced to spend huge amounts of money keeping this garage for the US Air force open for business. We can and will build on this and in a few weeks time when the daisy-cutters are raining down on the innocent people who have the misfortune of living under a dictator, there are going to be a lot of people wondering why they were so worried about a fence. I think that the State should know that we will be back, and there will be more of us. '?d even hope that the Irish Anti War movement would be marching with us as opposed to separated from us. Next time we might get to see their razor wire that they went to the trouble of photographing.
DS (in a personal Capacity)
See also To the next time