Most Saturdays they stood outside the GPO in Dublin. People holding signs bearing slogans both contradictory and confused. “Fake Covid Virus.” “RTE IS the Virus.” “End Barbaric Halal Slaughter.” “Our Irish Catholic Heritage is Under Attack.” “End the Paedophile Cabal.” Weren’t many of them. Sixty maybe. Not enough to be taken seriously. No real threat. Nobody in government yet.
Seventy-five years ago, the world had said no to fascism. But now, empowered by America’s evil clown of a president, it seemed the right wing were making their comeback. On a global front, our world was at a precipice. It could fall towards the scramble model, one where while they were destroying the planet, the corporations created shortages, and by grabbing everything for a few, left the many to fight, amongst themselves, for whatever crumbs fell. Or to try and make a more equitable world, the people could dismantle those banks, hedge funds and large corporations which reward the greedy and punish the needy.
With their anti-racist placards, a couple of people would stand in opposition to the anti-maskers, on the island, in the middle of the road, facing the General Post Office, known in Dublin as the GPO, on any given Saturday. The anti-maskers would shout at the anti-racist crew, “Pedo Scum! Off our streets!” Sometimes they’d cross over the road, in order to physically attack the anti-racist crew. It made for a very unpleasant day. Manus resented that he had become embroiled in such an activity. It seemed so pointless. Just because a few people stood opposite them, the anti-mask, sectarian, and anti-immigrant crowd weren’t going to change their minds. So why the hell did he do it? He just found it hard to walk past and not say anything in response. Anti-mask conspiracy theories mixed with sectarian and racist rhetoric is dangerous.
Sectarian and racist views mildly couched, in that they weren’t necessarily anti-Muslim, but against the “Barbaric halal slaughter.” They weren’t anti-immigrant, just “Sick and tired of seeing Irish people homeless, while immigrants got housed.” They believed that in the Irish government, there existed a paedophile cabal. Anyone who opposed the anti-maskers was, by definition, also a paedophile. Loosely bound together by their angry frustration at the uncertainty of Covid-19 and its effects on their lives, they’d dox people who opposed them on social media, give out their names and addresses, and accuse them of paedophilia.
As a teenage Catholic male, one living in a Protestant area, during the sectarian insanity of Belfast’s 70s, Manus had often been harassed by other teenagers. Young males wearing tartan scarfs, those keen to prove their manliness through violence, would dunt into his shoulder as they walked past. Spit on him. Call him names. He was in the minority. They were the majority. There was already a sectarian cultural history and an existing sectarian state; so, the politicians who’d gained power and position through stirring speeches, those which also brought sectarian murders to their height, aren’t totally to blame. But neither should their part be overlooked.
Once, Manus was on the street with four friends when, headed in the opposite direction, two loyalist blokes walked past them. For the first time Manus was in the majority, and he dunted one of them in the shoulder. It’s a funny thing, the dunt. Technically speaking, it’s not quite a physical attack. You simply throw your shoulder into theirs, as though they weren’t there. As if, you refuse to acknowledge their right to occupy any available space.
“Did that make you feel big?” demanded one of his friends. An inquiry which, at the time, gave Manus pause. He didn’t harbor any ambition to imitate his enemies. He wasn’t out for revenge. What he wanted was to walk the streets without fear of physical or verbal attack.
And Manus now had to ask himself why he insisted upon standing in opposition against racist rhetoric. The anti-mask stance bothered him, but apart from thinking them foolish, he hadn’t given it much thought. No, it was the sectarian and racist rhetoric, so often thrown in, which troubled him.
The correct response could be a counter demonstration that via logic and rationale examined and pointed out the right wing’s flawed views. But for whatever reason, Dublin’s Left couldn’t muster a weekly counter-protest of more than half a dozen people. Manus could complain about the lack of organized resistance, but he himself was a solitary man, one who wouldn’t join two bits of string. Couldn’t have organized a piss up in a brewery. And without group organization, it seemed you ended up with half a dozen stood against sixty. With such bad odds, what was the point?
“To act as though you believe your actions have some effect is foolish. To act as though you believe your actions had no effect is cowardly.” He had read that, or something close to it, somewhere.
So now, it was Saturday morning. He sat at the backdoor drinking a cup of tea, and not having a fag, while his porridge simmered and settled. Apart from those anti-maskers and the couple of people who would stand to oppose them, there was also going to be an Assange protest today. Protest. Ha ha. Two, three or four people would stand outside the GPO from twelve to one with signs saying “FREE ASSANGE.” Manus hoped to be one of them. But again, he had to ask himself, what was the point? It might be nice for the protestors to see each other. Reaffirm their beliefs. But the effect it would have on the American, English or even the Irish government would be nil.
Most people on the street didn’t know about Assange. Those that did, didn’t care. Why should it matter to them? How would it effect their real world? One that consisted of going to work, paying their bills and buying the latest app or blockbuster. Just getting paid and getting laid. Funneled into a self-absorbed life style. Assange had attempted to inform people on the street as to what corporate-run governments were doing in their world. Democracies were being undermined or overthrown. Wars waged and climate destruction, all for the short-term profit of a few. But people were too busy consuming corporate media and goods to take much notice.
Having had his porridge, Manus went to the toilet, and then seeking some self-awareness, he sat for an hour, practicing some techniques that might help him get through the day. At eleven o’clock, he went out onto his own street, to help with the monthly community clean up. He hoed weeds. At the end of an hour, he found himself outside Fergus’s house, where the two discussed pros and cons of weeding.
“The bees need the weeds and the dandelions, I know people say they’re just weeds, but they’re pretty!” said Fergus, to which Manus agreed. He didn’t mind weeds, and anyhow, hoeing them down only encouraged them. It wasn’t like he could get at their roots. And scraping them away just made deeper ruts for them to grow. Still, it got him out with his neighbours, on the street, and jokingly he added, “As they would have said where I grew up, it made the place a bit more Protestant looking.” Clean, tidy and weedless. He kind of half stalled when he said this, realizing that Fergus was actually a Protestant and had probably faced sectarian shit throughout his own life. Not on the same level as the North yet still Manus figured the man had experienced sectarianism and could have been a little put out by a mocking Ulster colloquialism. But it was ancient history and Fergus just laughed.
Manus didn’t stay to have coffee with his neighbours, but before he left, received praise for his weeding. It was nice to have neighbours, though the others on the street owned their own homes. He just rented. It made a difference.
He’d be twenty or twenty-five minutes late to join with Peter, Ruthy and possibly John who were going to try to make people aware that Assange was facing life in prison for exposing the horrendous crimes of corporate governments. It wouldn’t do much good but it wouldn’t do any harm. They were unlikely to take much abuse too. That was always a positive factor these days. They’d been standing from one o’clock to two o’clock, but the yellow vest, anti-immigrant, anti-maskers and the counter demo had put them off. So now Peter had said they would meet at twelve. Manus had fallen out with Peter the week before.
Peter had said he was anti-mask. Because of their racist overtones, he wouldn’t be standing with the anti-maskers, but as a rule, he didn’t agree with masks. Said something about “the herd immunity and how we would never get it because we were stopping the spread. And how diverse approaches by governments made no real difference, the virus had a life of its own.” Peter claimed he had “A background in Science.”
The fact that such views had caused the death of thousands really angered Manus. He respected Peter for protesting about Assange, but his anti-mask stance made him look, at least to Manus, like a conceited, childish fool. Still, you work with the tools to hand, and Manus made every effort to set differences aside when it came to their common protest. Julian Assange getting imprisoned for exposing corporate government crimes stood out as important. How would we even know about the horrendous crimes committed in the name of oil and power, if we allowed whistleblowers to be imprisoned? But today, there was no one at the GPO at noon. Peter and Ruthy must have cancelled.
Though there were lots of cops on O’Connell street, Manus just walked on by. He bought a samosa from Govinda’s. The same pretty woman served him. He had often wondered about her. She’d been serving him samosas for over a decade. But they’d never had any real communication. Thoughts were as far as his contact with her ever went. He had to take it on board that he was old. He’d lost two front teeth and whatever remained of his boyish good looks had gone with them. All that boy/girl or man/woman stuff was over for the likes of him. No longer did the wild dogs of lust pull him violently any which way they chose. And even if they still nosed around, they’d need some sort of signed statement of avowal, before making a move.
In spite of Govinda’s seeming a reasonable enough place to sit, he decided against that and exited, samosa in hand, to eat it on the street. His daughter phoned him. She’d been with her mother for the week, and was meant to meet Manus later in the day, but suggested that since she was in town, they might cross paths earlier. She had not only changed her name to Sawyer, but also her gender, to nonbinary. Until his little tranarchist, Comrade Sawyer arrived, he had coffee in the Train Café by the Brown Bull. Amongst others, Sawyer had been part of a black block action that had run into the “Irish National Party” protest and stolen their speaker and microphone one week. However, this week, because of Covid, and because the violence at last week’s counter-protest had put them off, The Left were going to stay away from any counter demonstration. The Dublin Left were such wusses.
Sawyer texted her mother. Was it all right to stay with her father? But Mom complained she’d seen little enough of Sawyer that week. So, Sawyer said she’d be back in the evening. Hence Manus walked around on his own. Seeing not a soul he knew, that is until he spotted Aisling and Veronica having coffee. So, he stopped beside them.
“It’s the fuckin’ hard core!” Is what he said. And it was true. They were the hardcore of resistance who stood, every Saturday, against the racist sectarian speeches being made on O’Connell street. They’d both taken lots of grief for their almost constant counter-protests. Both had been subjected to physical and online abuse. They both looked skinny as sticks with worry, but they kept going down on a Saturday to stand on the road island opposite the GPO and take a stance against racism.
More comrades, Gina and Martin, joined them. Manus was useless at figuring age or for that matter, relationships. On the relation front, Gina and Martin could have been lovers, friends, or both. On the age front, he figured they could possibly be nearly as old as him. Veronica and Aisling were younger. Caroline, the youngest at twenty-nine years of age, also turned up.
The half dozen counter-protesters went round to the GPO. They stood where the anti-maskers usually stood. Today the anti-maskers were at the RTE buildings, and going to march from RTE to the GPO. The counter-protest group knew there would be a large crowd of anti-maskers. Some of them very keen on violence. The counter demonstrators were sick and tired of being massively outnumbered, threatened and abused. They decided not to stand against them today. They left chalk messages where the anti-maskers would stand. “No place for Islamophobia! No place for transphobia! Anti-maskers are conceited fools! No place for racism! No place for hate!” Not much of a counter-protest, but what can a half dozen people do? Gina and Martin went off for a pint. Caroline, Ashling, Veronica and Manus went off for coffee. No one felt good about letting racist and sectarian shit be spewed on the street, unopposed.
The anti-maskers had their march on live stream, so Caroline and Veronica kept looking to see how far the march had got, and what they were up to. The sound of the marchers’ live stream coming out of Veronica’s phone gave Manus the heebie-jeebies. He explained that he couldn’t even listen to mainstream media and why righ-twing media made him physically ill. Manus went on to describe how when he was a kid, he regularly had to walk past groups of young men like the anti-maskers. Almost immediately he found himself filled with regret for making the reference. Too long ago. Too difficult to convey. Big loyalist rallies with people like Paisley calling for defense of their Protestant loyalist heritage against the papist hoards. They used words like “cleansing and liquidation.”
Did they really say things like that?
Yes. Yes, they did and afterwards the thugs on the corners would be emboldened.
After coffee. Caroline decided to go on home. Manus, Veronica and Aisling couldn’t help themselves. They went back round to the GPO. Gina and Martin had come back too. They all laughed at their earlier statements, that they weren’t going to stand here today. It was like being horrified by a car accident, but unable to look away.
So, there they stood. Five against a hundred, or more. Veronica held her battered cardboard sign. “No to Racism! No to Homophobia! No to Islamophobia! No to Hate!” Aisling had one too. “No to Racism!”
The anti-maskers have signs “Our Catholic Faith is Under Attack!” “RTE is the Virus! “Fake Covid Virus!” “Stop Barbaric Halal Slaughter!’ Some of them cross the road to the island where the five counter protestors stand. One woman and her son (who reminds Manus of Trump’s kid,) cross over brandishing a banner saying that “The Rosary is the Answer to Ireland’s Problems!” Manus called to the sixteen-year-old boy. “Go on, the Virgin Mary’ll give ya a blow job when ya die.” Manus wasn’t proud of his words. It was just the kid seemed so smug. As he turns to threaten Manus, his saintly little face changes. Aisling kept putting her little cardboard sign in front of their larger banner about the holy rosary. The police tried to move her but she didn’t budge. One of the anti-maskers snatches her sign off her, and they started chanting, “Pedo Scum! Off Our Streets!
More of the anti-maskers crossed to the island. One man came for Manus. Looked like he was in his fifties. Manus tried to understand the man. On a personal level. Like, wasn’t he a bit old for this type of behaviour? Why was he going for Manus? What did he believe and why was Manus a threat to that belief? The man was staring at Manus. “You and me.” He was saying. “Come on.”
Why was the man there? Okay, he didn’t believe government or the media. Understandable. But to think both government and big media could cook up an imaginary global virus? Well, that was going a bit too far. The truth was no longer incontestable for this man. And in the absence of incontestable truth, you can just cherry pick facts at random to make up any reality of your choosing. The truth is whatever you say it is. Our earth is flat. Holocaust never happened. There is no virus.
Or perhaps he’d not proved himself a man, back when such concepts were proved by physical violence? Did he hope to prove it now? And Manus? Why was he there? Had he, as a kid, run too often? And now figured he was in safe territory? At a place where he could and should make a stand? There were Gards all around them so, Manus saw no reason to engage with this man. Not on his level of “Come on. You and me.’
Inflamed to violence by the mere sight of Manus, the man didn’t care about repercussions. He was a hero for his cause, and lurching forward, made a swing. Fist connected with neck, but Manus didn’t hit him back. Not that he was a pacifist, but multiple experiences with law enforcement officers, who tended not to be left-wingers, had led him to believe that should he hit back, it would be Manus arrested.
As the Gards stepped in, the anti-masker’s friends pulled him back. “He’s just punched me, and I want him arrested for assault!” Manus declared but the Garda did nothing. He repeated his statement and another Garda engaged with him, if only to order he “Move over there.” “No!” replied Manus. “Maybe racism is acceptable to you, but it’s not to me.” At this, the Garda turned his back. Another bloke on the island made a beeline for Manus, who touched a female Garda on her arm to say, “Excuse me, but that man is about to punch me. And when he does, I’ll hit him back. So, don’t arrest me afterwards.” The Garda came between them. Identifying Manus as a cause of disturbance, one big fat Garda dunted him out of the road. The counter-protestors parted before the protest had ended. Touching elbows with them, Manus said, “Good to see you comrades!”
When he got home, he was weary.