Monthly Archives: February 2019

Tenants Groups Coming Together in Dublin

Dublin    From the bus stop in central Dublin until we reached the upstairs meeting space in the pub, we seemed to be on a tour of one housing struggle after another.  We had our pictures taken by the inspirational statute of a famous labor leader on the main boulevard of Dublin.  We had a mid-afternoon Irish breakfast at a spot across from a long occupation where buildings were squatted for quite a time after tenants were evicted.  We passed apartment blocks being built by private companies for students on public land in a massive giveaway, while social housing was not being built for lower income families in the city.  Nick Ballard, ACORN UK’s head organizer and the primary driver of the ACORN Tenants Union in England, and I were excited to finally be getting the full picture of all of the tenant groups and their activities in and around Dublin.

Seamus Farrell of the Dublin Central Housing Group had sketched out a map for us earlier that gave us the geography that various groups covered.  Several worked in north Dublin with a smattering of groups in the surrounding counties as well as other activity in the south and southwest.  The Irish Housing Network provided support for groups around Ireland.  We already had a sense of the housing affordability crisis in the country.  Many of the groups were active in eviction defense and handled casework for tenants trying to get them through the excruciating procedures in the civil and housing courts to win their rights or deposit returns.  Seamus told us about their outreach for the meeting, expecting perhaps twenty of the key activists.

We started on the stroke of 7pm to a receptive crowd of forty representing all the various tenant groups in the area.  This was the third straight night for us to deliver the ACORN one-two-punch after great experiences in Limerick and Galway, but Dublin was the heart of tenant organizing and action in Ireland, so we were anxious to get to the questions and see where people might take the discussion.

These were veterans. They knew the housing issues.  One question after another indicated that they wanted to grow.  They wanted to know how to big bigger and involve more people.  When they recounted their experience, one after another listed the number of activists between ten and twenty and members or followers rarely ranging above one or two hundred.  They were hungry to create the impact that a mass organization could bring.  Over and over they asked pointed questions about how to build an organizing committee, how to approach people and issues, and how to replicate an ACORN organizing drive.

The singular advantage that many in the room shared was their experience in doorknocking.  Several teams were going out to hit the doors as we approached the meeting.  They were not afraid to approach people, they just didn’t know how to glue everyone together.  They wanted to see the diagrams on structure in Nuts & Bolts.  They wanted to see how conflict was handled and diverse people turned into a collective force.  It was an exciting dialogue.

Towards the end when asked how they could become a part of ACORN, I replied that first they needed to come to a consensus among themselves after this meeting that they wanted to be part of ACORN.  The threshold to join was low, but it required them to decide – through voting or consensus – that they wanted to be a part of ACORN, either singly or collectively.  For ACORN’s part, we were excited about Ireland and wanted to be a part of their success and support the process in every way possible.

Three days in Ireland, three great meetings, and we’re sitting next to the phone and glued to the computer screen, listening for their call to build a tenants and community union in Ireland that can take the next steps in the great march so many have already begun.

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Galway Housing Support Group

Galway        We woke up in a graveyard in Limerick in the shadow of a castle.  Well, not actually in the graveyard, but along the church wall separating us from the graveyard maintained by the Limerick Civic Trust along with the church which had been in steady operation since the mid-500’s and renovated 200 years ago, though abandoned now.  This morning our surprise was different.  We woke up hardly 100 meters from the water’s edge.  If we could see far enough across the Atlantic, we would be peering into Boston Harbor from Galway.  Both days were gorgeously sunny and spring-like, so as far as Nick Ballard and I would know, it’s always bright and cheery in this area of Ireland.  Listening to our new friends and colleagues, we disabused of that notion when many told us our visit coincided with the first time they had seen the sun in months.

We met in the dimly lighted cellar of a pub in the central part of Galway with a serious-minded and committed group of ten hardy young men and women who had organized the Galway Housing Support Group in recent months.  Early in the meeting they unfurled their new banner for the first time to some excitement.

This group had some experience in the field.  Almost all of them had been on the doors, largely as part of the extensive canvassing effort leading the seminal victory for Irish women to finally be able to vote, overwhelmingly supporting the right of women in Ireland to choose an abortion in this heavily Catholic country.  The huge scandals in the church over oppressing unwed women in the laundries before putting their children up for adoption as well as the abuse of children and others by priests were all early comments in conversation with us.  These victories made some argue that it seemed they were at a tipping point for progressive changes in Galway and Ireland, if they could make a plan going forward.

All of which became the topic of their dialogue with Nick and me about ACORN’s work.  This session was less about the local housing issues that we had heard in Limerick, but more about how to make a plan.  Several spoke of frustrations in breaking out of smaller collectives of activists and friends who had united to take on some projects and deal with community issues to be able to build a larger and more sustainable organization, so we talked a lot about the nuts and bolts.  We answered questions on the organizing model, the door knocking rap and its structure, how to collect dues and how much they might be, and the ways and means of dealing with local leadership.

Heading out after the mandatory post-meeting pint, Nick and I both were encouraged at the commitment of this the Galway team and hoped we might be able to help them breakthrough to the other side and build an organization out of their hard work and resolve.

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