Tuesday 26 March 2019

Together, we can all show Trump what we stand for

Ireland should show its opposition to the US president with 'monster meetings' of protest, writes Eamon Ryan

Donald Trump was greeted by a singer and harpists when he arrived at Shannon Airport in 2014
Donald Trump was greeted by a singer and harpists when he arrived at Shannon Airport in 2014

Eamon Ryan

I truly hope Irish people will turn out in huge numbers to march for peaceful international co-operation when the US president arrives in November. We are not just demonstrating against Trump, we are demonstrating who we are and what we stand for.

Some say ignoring him will send a better message, but I do not see how that works. Others point out that previous presidents have also done things that deserved condemnation, but Trump's erratic leadership brings risks that are off any historic scale. It is true we have to get our own house in order by tackling our health, homelessness and climate crises, but that does not mean we stay silent on the world stage. We just need to lace our demonstration with humility and a willingness to heed any criticism that comes back in return.

This is not an attack on the American people. They understand that political protest has a role to play. We have a duty to call Trump out on his treatment of refugees. He cannot be let off over tearing families apart. Some others say we should stay quiet for fear we might upset US companies but we cannot afford to ignore the trade wars he is now starting with our own EU. The cutting of their aid budget to pay for an ever-greater military spend says it all. What he is doing could come back to haunt us all some dark night. We cannot let it go uncontested.

Turning over in bed and pulling the pillow over your ears will not keep at bay the fear he brings. At some point, you will hear a news headline which makes you wish things would stop. It is at that moment you will be glad you stood up this autumn and marched for what was right.

If we do so in sufficient numbers, we send a message that his way is not the norm. Our call is for a return to a saner, more collaborative world.

It will not be an easy thing to do because Trump has a special gift for turning public protest to his own advantage. He either blindly ignores protesters, derides those who take part, or else welcomes demonstrations because they stir up further hatred between people, which swells his own support. The challenge is to turn up while not falling into that trap.

We have one great advantage because Ireland is a long-time home for big public rallies. Daniel O'Connell showed how to do it in the ''monster meetings'' he organised in the 1840s in support of Catholic emancipation. They were peaceful demonstrations choreographed from start to finish. He used locations such as Tara and Clontarf so people knew they had the weight of history on their side.

We should take up that model, using historic references and having a ''monster meeting'' when Trump hits town. We could choose our locations with the same due care, marching to O'Connell Street in Dublin and assembling between his monument and our own Alamo at the GPO. At a pre-arranged time, people could meet under the statue to O'Connell in the centre of Ennis town, and at other centres around the country.

The Dublin parade could come from all four points of the compass, starting in Parnell Square, where we have worn a small groove in the road with all the assembling we still do. The Lord Mayor could head from the Mansion House in his ceremonial carriage. It was first rolled out in 1791, just weeks before the first amendment to the US Constitution was agreed, guaranteeing the right to peaceful assembly, the freedom of religious expression, a free press and free speech.

Rights of Man by Tom Paine was published in that same year. It was on sale in Grafton Street only a few weeks after it came out in New York. The queue to buy a first edition stretched right down the street. It was a new enlightenment that belonged to both sides of the Atlantic. Now is the time to remind our visitors of that shared constitutional tradition, which respects individual rights and puts a check on those in power.

Another student column could start from outside the Edmund Burke Theatre in Trinity, reminding US Republicans of his line: ''When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.''

From Dame Street, a banner could come with the words carved into the base of a statue to Thomas Drummond in City Hall, telling that ''property has its duties as well as its rights''.

Those are all historic male connections but this march will have women at the front. I can see Patricia King of the ICTU leading a big band of trade union members across Rosie Hackett Bridge and up O'Connell Street. I hope Mary Robinson could lead out the environmental pillar.

We have every right to demand the US rejoins the Paris climate agreement, because it is our common home that they threaten by leaving it. At her side would be the members of every religious congregation who support the Papal encyclical Laudato si, which called out such reckless acts.

I can also imagine Ursula Halligan or Olivia O'Leary walking at the head of an off-duty press corps. The media is threatened more than anyone else by what Trump is doing. If you let his ''fake news'' comments go and fail to march, then you are yielding the stage to confusion and lies.

Last but not least, I can see thousands of young women and men who were engaged in our own recent referendum campaigns, coming out again to do their bit. They have already learnt that turning up, canvassing and being part of something big is both fulfilling and important.

Those campaigns were sometimes divisive but on this occasion I think we could get people from every side to unite. Friends say that I should be careful using the term ''monster meeting'' for fear that not a lot of people will turn out. But I think the risk is worth it.

We all have two months to think about it and prepare for the visit. By turning up in numbers and using the tactics which O'Connell perfected, I think we can win the day.

Eamon Ryan is a Green Party TD for Dublin Bay South and leader of the Green Party

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