Catherine Durkin Robinson: Bernie Sanders and the Irish Easter Uprising

One of the things I like best about Bernie Sanders is how he won’t trade on what he believes in to become president. He’s not desperate.

Sanders holds fast to ideals he’s championed since the 1960s and is unapologetic about it. That’s his charm. And challenge.

Unfortunately, that’s also one reason he won’t become our candidate.

The Clinton campaign has used the same language against Sanders that they used against Barack Obama. Sanders isn’t “reasonable.” He doesn’t see “nuance.” We can’t “wave a magic wand to get these things done.”

But he’s inspiring and that counts for a lot. The establishment is as inspiring as this matzo I’m eating.

Established candidates have money, and voters aren’t quite as angry as they need to be. Plus the poor don’t vote like they should. Therefore, the inevitable has happened. Bernie Sanders lost a slew of primaries and is unable to secure the nomination.

Here’s why I’m not depressed.

History has shown us that sometimes we lose a battle or two before we win the war. I taught history to high school students for eight years. There are many examples with which to prove my point. I’m also Irish and a sucker for lost causes. That brings us to today, where millions of Irish and Irish Americans are observing the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising.

So let’s use that.

The British government mistreated, misused, and oppressed the Irish people from the late 1700s until the early 20th century. Catholics were discriminated against, starved and killed – all in the name of preserving the status quo.

Popular opinion was that the British were simply superior to the Irish and therefore they deserved to conquer and rule. Occasional pockets of rebellion and self-defense broke out — think Occupy Wall Street with whiskey and tempers. Nothing too serious.

In fact, when the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and other partner organizations plotted a larger uprising to take place after Easter 1916, very few in the public arena supported the idea.

Irish folks were frightened, others complacent and still others believed nothing good would come of it anyway. That’s typical and may even sound familiar to people involved in today’s political process.

Funded mostly by Irish-Americans, a small group broke from the IRB in Dublin and decided to fight back against British injustice. Their battle didn’t last very long, only six days, April 24 to 29. In the end, the British easily crushed the rebels.

The public even spit on them as they were led away to jail.

Fifteen rebel leaders were imprisoned and executed by the British government.

That’s when the Irish woke up.

Complacent, frightened and apathetic Irish citizens learned of this news and didn’t like it. The IRB had fought hard and impressed its fellow citizens with a nobility they hadn’t seen before. Women were treated as equals, both in proclamation and on the battlefield.

When brave soldiers were executed (one was so injured he couldn’t stand, so they shot him tied to a chair), waves of anger and disgust rippled through the Irish countryside.

The executions at the hands of uppity British types turned the dead into icons and survivors into heroes. A real revolution began, which led to the partition and 26 counties became a free Ireland.

It didn’t end there. For most of the 20th century, the IRB as the IRA continued to try to unite Ireland under one flag. Today we have peace in my grandparents’ country and the hope of a free, united Ireland is within our grasp.

The Irish uprising continues to inspire. Even here in Tampa Bay at our own Irish Republican headquarters, Four Green Fields. Recently, the pub’s owner brought in an Irish republican to talk about the lessons from 100 years ago and Ireland’s political climate today.

Our mayor, Bob Buckhorn, with a true Irish heart, introduced him.

This is a great reminder that sometimes, out of defeat, comes victory. Even if it takes decades to complete the job. Those of us who fight for equality, justice and the rights of a free people are sometimes comforted by the lessons of history.

When Bernie Sanders and his supporters talk about income inequality, the tyranny of big banks, an eroding ecosystem and the widespread killing and imprisonment of unarmed black men (its own kind of blood sacrifice), I see some comparisons. Not all revolutions lead to victory today.

But there’s always tomorrow.


Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes families for advocacy purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races and still feels the Bern. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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