Video: 'We’ve got to stay on the streets'

Former civil rights leader Eamonn McCann has said the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s provided a glimpse of how a fair and just world might one day be achieved.

Addressing a ‘Civil Rights for the 21st century’ Rally outside the Guildhall on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march of October 5, 1968, he said the civil rights movement did not “deliver a revolutionary change of society” but provided a “glimpse of the way the world and our part of the world might look if we did have justice for all”.

Eamonn McCann with Michael D. Higgins.

Eamonn McCann with Michael D. Higgins.

During the course of his remarks he paid tribute to some of the organisers of that time, remarking that as a young radical from the Bogside he had never had far to search for inspirational leaders.

“The first thing I’d like to do in remembering the October 5, 1968, march is to mention and remember those who were involved in organising it who are no longer with us,” said Mr. McCann.

He said he remembered the civil rights leaders of that time with great affection.

“I never needed inspiration around that time from any famous figures from the past or of the wider world.

“I only needed people like ‘Red’ Mickey Doherty, Seamus O’Kane and Cathy Harkin, Johnny White and others, most of whom were forgotten. They were brilliant people and this city is in their debt,” he said.

One of the organisers of the original civil rights march of October 5, 1968, Mr. McCann said the movement still inspired him and he knew it inspired “hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

The People Before Profit Alliance activist and writer said the struggle for justice and for a fairer society needed to continue and that October 5, 1968, showed the way to deliver change was through the “sound of marching feet on the streets,” not that of bombs and gunfire.

He said these were the real lessons to be learned from the campaigns of 50 years ago.

“If we do that, if we learn those lessons from October 5, 1968, then we’ll have taken a mighty step in cleansing the world, beginning by cleansing our own little patch of the world of all evil and ugliness and injustice. If we do that we can rightly say ‘job done, we can stop marching.’

“It might take another 50 years but get there we will because what we got on October 5 and the Civil Rights Movement was not a revolutionary transformation of society, we got a glimpse of the way the world and our part of the world might look if we did have justice for all,” said Mr. McCann.

The civil rights veteran said the events of 1968 showed what can be achieved through mass protest.

"We’ve got to stay on the streets. We’ve got to tell them that we don’t have to listen anymore solely to guns shooting and bombs exploding. Listen to the sound of marching feet," he added.

Mr. McCann said the men and women of October 5 were still an inspiration today.

“It inspires me to this day. I know it inspires hundreds of thousands of other people, not just here, but around the world,” he remarked.