This November I think the Irish people will turn out in huge numbers to march for peaceful international co-operation, and against the divisive politics which Donald Trump represents.
Some say ignoring him will send a better message but I do not see how that works. Others rightly point out that previous Presidents also deserved condemnation but his erratic leadership brings risks that are off any historic scale. You have to go back to George iv to find a suitable reference point. I also acknowledge those who say 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 a bit of humility and to be open to heeding any criticism coming back the other way.
This is not an attack on the American people. They understand that political protest has a role to play if it is done right. We also have every right to demand they rejoin the Paris Climate agreement, because it is our common home that they threaten by leaving it. We have a duty to call out his treatment of refugees because human rights are for everyone and you cannot legally tear families apart. Some say we should stay quiet for fear we might upset US companies but I think we cannot afford to look the other way as he starts trade wars with our own European Union. His switching of their aid budget to pay for an ever bigger military machine could come back to haunt us all some dark night.
Turning over in bed and pulling the pillow over your ears will not keep such fear at bay. 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 to say at least I stood up and marched for what was right. If we do so in sufficient numbers then the world will see we did not accept this way as the new norm. We called for a return to a more sane path.
It will not be an easy thing to do because President 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 which stir further hatred between people so he can swell his own support. The challenge is to turn up while not falling into the trap of allowing him play that card.
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 1840’s in support of Catholic emancipation. They were peaceful demonstrations coreographed from start to finish, in locations such as Tara and Clontarf so everyone knew who had the weight of history on their side.
We should take that model and have a ‘monster meeting’ when Trump hits town. We could choose our locations with the same due care, marching to O’Connell Street and assembling between his monument and our own Alamo at the GPO.
The Parade could come from all four points on the compass, starting in Parnell Square where we have worn a small grove in the road, with all the assembling we still do. The Lord Mayor could come from the Mansion House in his Ceremonial carriage. It was first rolled out in 1791, just weeks before the US congress agreed the first amendment to their constitution. It guaranteed the right to peaceful assembly, the freedom of religious expression, a free press and free speech.
The Rights of Man by Tom Paine was published 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 us both. That’s carriage could be our version of the London Trump balloon, a visual icon for the parade, so US visitors can recall we share such a long and rich constitutional tradition, respecting individual rights.
Another student column could start from outside the Edmund Burke theatre in Trinity to remind 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. Then down Dame Street could come a banner with the line carved into the base of a statue to Thomas Drummond, reminding people that ‘property has its duties as well as its rights’.
Those are historic male connections but this march would have women at the front. I can see Patricia King of 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. At her side would be the Sisters of Mercy and the members of every other religious congregation who stand up for Laudato Si.
I can similarly imagine Ursula Halligan or Olivia O’Leary walking at the head of the Press corps. They are threatened more than anyone else by what Trump has defined as fake news. If you let that go and fail to march then you are yielding the stage to just 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 along. They learnt during those campaigns that turning up and being part of something big is both fulfilling and important. Those campaigns were divisive in their own way but on this occasion I think we could get people from different sides to unite.
Friends say 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 and returning to our historic tradition I think we can win the day.