Leaving an age of apathy

30 11 2010

History is my blood, in truth it’s a part of all of us, but since the day I began borrowing books from my small local library in north Wales the majority of them have been history ones. This love continued and I went on to study history at university. However, unlike a lot of my class I would doodle and daydream when the teacher talked of kings and queens. I didn’t care for royalty or the famous, I loved to hear about the lives of the ordinary folk, I was always wondering what would I be doing if I was born 100 years before.

I grew up watching footage of events in programmes chronicling the 20th Century and remember scenes of people standing up for themselves and making change – whether it was the civil rights movement in the United States, the Vietnam war protests or the students protesting in France in May 1968. I wanted to be there, I wanted to be a part of history, a part of change, change for the better.

My first opportunity came at 16 when a group of about seven of us protested the cut in courses in our college. The next was a protest against the building of holiday homes in my area which were to be built on a site of special scientific Interest. However, none of these really changed much – the college decided not to cut the courses anyway and planning permission was never given for the houses.

University is full of protesting potential, but not in my case. It seems I was there at the wrong time. While we were the first students to pay tuition fees nobody kicked up a huge fuss. We were given easy credit –banks filled the fresher’s fair hall and they gave us as many credit cards as we wanted (with a free gift of course). So we spent, and spent, and spent. By the end of the first year we were comparing how in the red our bank balances were while eating in restaurants we paid for on our cards.

I craved action and signed up for classes on the Spanish Civil War, the civil rights movement, even one on  The Great Cat Massacre (not ideal for a lifelong cat lover). I became head of the history society and organised talks by veterans of the international brigade, but while I soaked up the stories of the people involved in change my own generation was apathetic and could hardly muster enough energy to vote.

The only opportunity to be a part of something big came on February 15th 2008 when I marched on the streets of London against the Iraq War, but as most of my contemporaries said “It won’t change anything.”

So this is why I have to admire the students who are making their voices heard, wherever they may be. I know people who let a little bit of snow at the weekend stop them showing their anger about one of the biggest events to shape Irish history. This is my generation

So, I’m happy to see a new generation coming through who won’t sit quietly and do as they’re told.  Perhaps we’re finally leaving an age of apathy and entering one where the people shape history.

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Why I took to the streets of Dublin

29 11 2010

I love Ireland. It’s a part of my heritage (my mother is Irish) and I spent much of my childhood in Dublin going to school in Walkinstown for a year and spending my summers with my grandparents.

Since my first journey on the ferry from Holyhead I took as a baby I have seen Ireland change: the years when women sold lighters on Henry Street “four for a pound”, the opening of the new shopping centre in Tallaght, the switch to the Euro and later the boom years.

I moved to Dublin in 2007 to further my education. The city was doing well, but had lost much of the identity I remembered from my childhood. The women selling items from prams were gone, some of the Irish shops we used to frequent were replaced by big name retailers selling clothes at higher prices than the UK and the small corner shop with the family name was boarded up.

But in the years since I arrived things have turned again and you can see the changes all around you, from the closed shops to the increase in homeless people on the streets.

When I finished my course in 2008 I got a minimum wage job and tried to make ends meet. I could just pay my rent, but had little money for nights out or for trips back to Wales.  I got another job so I could have extra cash and ended up working from 9am to 11pm and arriving home at midnight. I have never been so tired in my whole life.

So when I heard the government plans to cut the minimum wage I was disappointed.  I can understand that there are people who are already struggling to make ends meet and now they’ll have to cut back even further.  I am angry that the Irish government’s methods of saving money attacks the people who can least afford it and doesn’t take enough from the overpaid fat cats who partied during the good times and don’t want to pick up the bar tab.

That is one of the reasons why I was one of those who took to the streets on Saturday to make sure the government know and the rest of the world can see that the people think that this is not acceptable.