Barnard drives a Black Taxi. It's a means of travel developed in the north of Ireland because normal public transportation has long abandoned war zones like West Belfast. Barnard is anxious to engage American passengers on the subject of September 11th. He remembers where he was when he first heard about the attacks. In a pub known as the Felons' Club on Falls Road. His brother called to tell him.
We quickly get to the impact of being attacked on your own soil. "I've grown up in Belfast," Barnard says. "I was a big lad, and I was always being harassed by the British. Every day, stopped, frisked. I used to think that it didn't have any effect on me. Now I understand the damage it did. There isn't anyone in the north who hasn't been touched by the Troubles," he tells me. That same day I read a newspaper report about how people in the north are prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers 75% more than in England.
No Justice, No Peace
There is no peace in the north of Ireland. Since 1998 there has been the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), a pact by all the major players meant to promote justice, equality, and peace. Much progress has been made, but as a long-time Irish American activist explains, it's even harder to score when you're close to the goal line. There have been hundreds of recent attacks by Loyalists on Catholic people and neighborhoods; so many in fact that they aren't reported in the international press. These beatings and pipe-bombings are designed to derail the peace process, but they haven't worked.
And then there was last week's killing of a Protestant construction worker by the so-called Real IRA (not the real IRA, the guerrilla army that has maintained a five-year cease-fire that has paved the way to the GFA). It followed the murder by a loyalist gang of Gerald Lawlor, a young Catholic man whose crime was wearing a green Celtic sport shirt. The responses to both deaths were significant, culminating in a large mid-day rally protesting the killings. The event was called by Belfast Mayor and Sínn Féin leader Alex Maskey. Every church and every trade union was represented.
Plastic Bullets, Italian Waiters
There is still much to do in order to achieve a just society in Ireland. I attend a vigil against the use of plastic bullets, a supposedly non-lethal police weapon that has caused many serious injuries and the deaths of fourteen men, women and children. Relatives For Justice co-founder Clara Reilly hands me a poster as I join the line on Falls Road in front of the Andersontown Barracks. It's a forbidding structure with high walls, barbed wire and turrets. She shoos away the local photographer, joking that the paper will soon be called the Reilly-Town News. Further up the Falls, Relatives For Justice hosts the Remembering Quilt, with patches made by the families of people killed by loyalist and state violence.
Evidence of the will to create change is everywhere if you look hard enough. A local Catholic Church announces that it will publish an ad in their bulletin for the Apprentice Boys fair, a Protestant event that in past years would have been a provocation to violence. The West Belfast cultural festival features dancing, and music. There's also street theater by performers dressed as Italian Restaurant waiters, accosting tea drinkers in the local café with mad patter and appalling plates of phony food. I give them a tip at the end of their performance and they're delighted. The "wine steward" sneaks back and asks me to donate the money to a local charity.
Body Surfing to Freedom
In the south of Ireland, activists struggle in many ways on many fronts. In Dublin, local global justice organizers have been mobilizing anti-capitalist actions as far away as Genoa, Italy. Today when I drop in on a meeting (upstairs from a pub) they are showing a video about Woomera, the desolate Australian detention camp that has held Afghan and Iraqi refugees for up to two years. A protest by about 500 Aussies turns into a jail break; the detainees squeeze through the metal fence, leap over the cops and body surf through the waiting crowd. They are all eventually captured and returned to the camp, but not before they tell their stories to the world. [See the indymedia stories on Woomera]
The meeting then gets to the matter at hand. Racist attacks have been on the rise in Ireland. This once-homogenous society has seen an influx of immigrant workers and refugees. A Japanese woman, recently attacked simply because of her race, says a few words. The assembly, led by Heather, Grace, Joe, and other Globalise Resistance organizers, decides to organize an anti-racist march and carnival at the end of September, calling on a broad base of Irish population to stand against the growing bigotry. [You can contribute to this effort by e-mailing Homefront]
There's Power, and Then There's Power
At Dublin City University, an international group of women and men gathers under the auspices of War Resisters International for their triennial conference. Ariel, a young Israeli conscientious objector, talks about spending months in jail for his stand. Siva from Sri Lanka talks about being recruited by the Tamil Tigers. He felt powerful at first, he tells us, when he picked up his Kalishnakov rifle. But he realized that feeling was replaced by the constant anxiety of being a target precisely because he was carrying weapon. Then he helped develop a mass organization that was explicitly non-violent. He felt that same rush of power again, only this time it didn't fade.
Among the featured speakers are Jacinta and Ian from the Glencree Center for Reconciliation. They're based in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. A few of us play hooky to visit them the next day. The Center is located in a restored army barracks built two centuries ago to maintain the British control of Ireland. The Center provides services to those damaged by the Troubles, both the family members who have lost loved ones and ex-combatants alike.
Ian grew up outside of Belfast in a "proud and prejudiced" family that identified itself as British. He took part in sectarian activities against the Catholic minority. But he fell in love and married a Catholic woman, and that changed everything. Forced to move south, he tried to become a Republican, but that didn't fit either. Now he serves as a bridge between the two worlds.
Jacinta joins us just after taking a call from the BBC. They want a speaker for a program being produced about survivors dealing with September 11th. "It's like "rent-a-victim," she says in a disdainful tone. But she knows it's an important chance to get the word out.
Glencree's work is supported by both sides of the conflict. Sinn Fein leaders will be speaking at during the summer school program. So will F.W. deKlerk, the former leader of South Africa's racist apartheid regime. I am floored when I read the notice about deKlerk on the bulletin board. I ask Ian about it, and his answer is simple and profound. "We invited him up here to talk with the Protestant Unionists, to let them know that when change comes, it doesn't have to mean the loss of their culture and identity."
Glencree is about reconciliation, Ian and Jacinta tell us. There's no scapegoating. It may not be possible for participants to forgive each other, it's about giving up hate. "Forgiveness might not be possible," Ian says. "That's a personal choice. Ultimately, though, our work is about justice."