Home Sweet Home: activists & artists push for better housing in Ireland
A tale of how creative activism - in this case, focused on homelessness in Dublin, and the Irish government's complacent housing policy - can effect immediate and rapid changes. There's a striking historical parallel at the end of this excerpt, on the relationship between artists and activists:
The Home Sweet Home (HSH) story broke on 16 December 2016 when the campaigners squatted Apollo House, a large vacant office block in Dublin’s city centre.
Empty for years, Apollo House was another vacant remnant of Ireland’s housing boom. Like many hundreds of other Dublin buildings Apollo House was managed by an Irish government agency called the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). NAMA had sat on the property for years while private capital circled overhead. Vulture property funds waited for the right price to pounce.
2016 marked the centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. 100 years ago activists and celebrities also combined forces. Celebrity involvement gave HSH activism access to the conservative mainstream media. Activism on homelessness doesn’t play well in the Irish media where photos of overpriced housing fill weighty weekly property supplements, but media has an addiction to celebrity. Combining celebrity with a canny social media strategy and you have a winning combination. HSH has had an extraordinary impact in a very short time.
100 years before, a secretive organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) used many similar tactics to drive political change. The IRB spawned Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and brought Dublin headlong into bloody revolution that was an abject failure but eventually led to separation from the British Empire.
HSH too exhibits a winning blend of artists and non-violent activists. Their occupation of prominent city centre buildings and their ability to self publish gives them visibility but culture was key. In 1916 the cultural element was provided by live theatre, in 2016 the medium was video. The IRB also published daily bulletins and hand-printed proclamations. HSH used Facebook and a Youtube channel. Poetry and political theatre have long been absent in Irish activism; Home Sweet Home welcomed them back to great effect.
From Open Democracy