Sunday 17 October, the Irish event marking the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty was held in Custom’s House Quay in Dublin. The theme for this year’s event ‘Its Time to Change and End Persistent Poverty’ was inspired by condensing the international theme “Building Forward Together: Ending Persistent Poverty, Respecting all People and our Planet” and focusing on its core message – which we interpreted as – the radical need for ‘change’, now more so than ever. We visualised this as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The concept of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon stemmed from the idea of us emerging from the lockdown better and more hopeful than we were before. The cocoon represents the trap of being caught within the cycle of poverty and the words engraved into it e.g., discrimination, stigma, trauma, debt etc. represent the strict barriers forced upon caught within this trap. The butterfly on the other hand – represents the transformative opportunity that exists in creating a fairer, greener, more beautiful world.
The preparations for this year’s October 17th event were undertaken by the 17 October Committee and ATD Ireland over a number of months who collaborated together to decide on the theme and visuals, the running order, the mc, common gesture and to help organise the testimonies- the most central aspect of the day.
The event, which was also streamed live on zoom for those who could not attend in person, began at 11 am on a beautiful sunny morning. This year’s master of ceremonies was Fr Peter McVerry who did a fantastic job of guiding the audience through each part of the event and who excellently articulated the message of what needs to change in society to help people to emerge from poverty. His words remind us that poverty is not inevitable- it is the result of policies and systemic structures that thrive on inequality.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland began with an insightful address to the crowd, setting out the importance of the 17 October and explaining the concept behind this year’s theme and butterfly visual. The 17 October Committee greatly appreciate the Lord Mayor’s attendance at the event.
Music on the day was provided by the very talented Cathal and Aine Holland. This music provided a lovely and calming backdrop to all of the proceedings.
“When men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights are respected is our solemn duty”
The message on the human rights and poverty stone was read out in French; by Fanny Dufour from ATD In English; by Nessan Vaughan and as Gaeilge; by Brian O’ Toole.
The president Michael D Higgins, as always, wrote a thoughtful and inspiring letter for the 17 October booklet, which on the day was read out by ATD community activist Andrew Kelly.
“On this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, let us resolve to join forces to seek a better and authentic engagement as citizens of an interdependent world, united in a determination to voice and action the values we wish to see placed at the very heart of a shared, ethical and democratic future, an ambition we cannot afford to lose”.
The most central part of the event were the testimonies based on lived experiences of poverty and discrimination. This was an opportunity to hear personal experiences of poverty from people who do not often get the chance to have their voices heard. These were graciously and bravely shared by Roselin Blessing Makumba from Dominican Justice Office, Pa Reilly from Pavee Point, Sandra from SAOL Project and Christina Powell and Anne- Marie Fay from ATD. These testimonies uncovered real life experiences of homelessness, addiction, discrimination, direct provision and educational inequalities. It is through really listening to heartfelt and impactful stories such as these will we begin to understand the changes that are needed to create a better society for all.
“There are 17 sustainable development goals, as you all know. And number 4 calls for good education. I am an example of what happens when there isn’t good education. When little 12-year-olds get left behind. Let’s not leave any more children behind.”
“Well addiction ran through our family 8 out of 9 went on drugs it was a sad, lonely life on the streets.”
“I didn’t have the best start in life as I was moved from home to home until I finally got what I thought was my forever home. I loved being with this family. I felt like I was at home and I was safe. But as the years went by and I became a teenager – my troubles started.”
The SAOL project wrote a new song ‘NO NEED’ to commemorate the 17 October and to highlight their campaign. SAOL’s powerful performance reminded us of the basic human needs that are denied to many. SAOL’s ‘no need’ campaign is in direct reference to six of the seventeen sustainable development goals such as ‘no need for poor health’ and ‘no need for gender inequality’. SAOL also handed out badges to the crowd with these statements, and used larger ‘No Need’ displays as an opportunity for social media posts and further highlight their campaign.
The dramatic presentation on the day was used to highlight the campaign to have socio- economic status recognised as the 10th ground of discrimination in the Irish Equal Status Act. 9 people donning white masks held a jigsaw piece each representing a different ground of discrimination. However, one individual wearing black and a red mask held a jigsaw piece stating socio- economic status. The Jigsaw pieces represent the interconnectivity between the grounds, and the missing piece represents the need to extend the Irish Equality Legislation to include a 10th ground.
The group walked up from the famine statues displaying these jigsaw pieces to the audience, while Cathal and Aine played a rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the wind.’
“Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”
The 17th October event was also an opportunity for ATD to do a soft launch of the Lockdown Liberties book, a writing project undertaken during the early days of the pandemic to keep connected with one another during those difficult days. Andrew Kelly recited “A mother’s fear” written by his wife Lorraine, a powerful poem describing the devastating impact poverty can have on young families. Jimmy Powell recited “Black 47” calling back to the tremendous poverty felt during the Irish potato famine written by Philip Kenny, particularly poignant given the location next to the famine statues.
“A mothers fear … Christmas is getting closer each day. What can I say to those big eyes … sorry but I think Santa has just one surprise…”
“The crop is bad. The plague is here.
A sigh and tear. For hunger and fear.”
At the beginning of the event, the audience had a moment to write on colourful card butterflies what they believe is needed to change. Towards the end of the proceedings these were used for a common gesture led by Maurice Hurley. The crowd all crouched down before raising up together holding the butterflies up high, ending with a chant of:
“It’s time to change
It’s time to change
It’s time to change”
The event ended with an empowering and uplifting performance of “Something Inside So Strong” by the SAOL project.
“Because there’s something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me, so wrong
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong”
Although we unfortunately could not gather together at Liberty Hall this year due to Covid- 19 restrictions, refreshments were provided afterwards and people had an opportunity to greet one another. Overall, the atmosphere at the 17 October event this year was of solidarity, unity – and a renewed hope for change. ATD Ireland and the 17th October committee would like to thank everyone who came to the event and played a role in putting everything together and made this such a wonderful occasion. We would also like to thank everyone who made a generous donation and showed an interest in the Lockdown Liberties book. Thank you also to Dublin City Council for their assistance in putting the event together. ATD and the 17th October Committee would specifically like to thank the Department of Social Protection for their support in making this event possible.