Tradition is a word that is thrown about a lot. It’s used as justification for both good and bad deeds of the past and it’s a word that is often trotted out by hate groups throughout the world in an attempt to excuse their continuing and horrifying behavior. The KKK uses it as a recruiting tool. The Orange Order uses it as a weapon for blackmail and destruction. Other groups use it as well. Politicians use it to garner votes. Parents use it to pressure their children. But tradition is an outdated ideal that doesn’t exist anymore on many, many levels and it’s time to let some of it go.
Some time-honored things that have been passed from generation to generation are just plain bad. The world changes every day and societies change with it. Some things should and must be left behind in the past to ensure change and that is especially true when it comes to many traditions. Women have struggled for years to break free of traditional roles, yet still face old-fashioned misogyny every day. Black people have railed against the traditional racism they have faced for centuries and are still finding themselves discriminated against and slaughtered at a truly alarming rate. Residents in the North of Ireland have begged, pleaded, and fought against the chaos and the sectarian violence that returns with bonfire night and the Orange Order parades every year to little or no avail. And why do all of these things continue? Tradition.
The Orange Order insists that the parade commissions in the North of Ireland are stealing their culture and keeping them from celebrating their traditions, and you know what? In some ways they’re right. Keeping the parades from returning on their historical routes does prohibit their traditions but that isn’t a bad thing. These routes were designed to intimidate those who the Orange Order and their partners in the government were discriminating against. They were an in your face display of continued superiority and domination. The parade routes through Nationalist neighborhoods caused sectarian division, riots, deaths, arson, and more every year. Claiming these things as your heritage and wanting people to accept and defend them is ridiculous, but the Orange Order expects just that. The argument over their traditional routes is getting more and more contentious and expensive every year.
But just because something is longstanding and traditional, doesn’t mean it’s right and if you must degrade or dismiss others to celebrate yourself, it is safe to say that your tradition is a bad one. A heritage based on generations of power, superiority, and oppression shouldn’t be celebrated but if you must, do it with others who agree with you in your own community. That way the rational world won’t be bothered by your celebrations. You can pat each other on the back, raise your glasses, set your own houses on fire and play your drums without inflicting trauma on anyone else and your “culture” does not disappear. After all, no one should be forced to remember the years they have spent struggling under the boots of others. The abuse inflicted on entire races and religions by those in power has divided us all no matter where we live, and it needs to be stopped. Hateful traditions should not continue – and no one should be proud that they have existed for this long.
The Twaddell protest camp has cost the city of Belfast over £20,000.00 but that’s nothing compared to what is has cost the neighborhood. Residents have to deal with ongoing gridlock, trash, and protests all the time. It is an illegal camp that has been squatted in for years by loyalists and Orange Order members to put pressure on the city to allow their traditional parade routes to return. It doesn’t matter to them that the neighborhood doesn’t want them. It doesn’t matter to them that their route caused great strife and violence when it was allowed. They don’t even realize or appreciate that the very existence of the camp is a continuing example of the traditional ties that Loyalists and the Orange Order have always had with the government and the police.
The truth is that if the camp was populated with Nationalists, it would not have survived more than a day or two. Everyone in it would have been labeled a dissident and arrested within hours. The same would be true if the land had been taken over by refugees, the homeless, or Travelers. All the flags and banners would have been torn down, everyone thrown in jail, and life would have continued on as usual with very little interruption. Instead, this eyesore of a camp has been allowed to continue its nightly and weekly disruptions for over 1,000 days while costing the city and its citizens millions.
So the next time you hear someone complaining about how their culture or their heritage is being stripped away in the North, just point to Twaddell to counter their argument. The bonfires that threaten people, homes, hospitals, and the city itself are not restricted, even when they’re packed with tires and decorated with sectarian graffiti and political or religious effigies. The Orange Order still gets to march and parade all over the city with sectarian slogans, paramilitary banners, and confederate flags. They still frequently benefit from their traditional partnership with politicians and police and are well protected by those ties. Don’t buy into the sob story of a heritage lost – because it is still going strong.
In the grand scheme of things, a block or two means nothing. It’s time for the Orange Order to see that everyone on all sides has sacrificed something to maintain a relative peace and a barely altered route is a small price to pay for the freedom to do what they do. It’s time to go home and stop unnecessary conflicts. If there’s one thing this brutal year has taught us it’s that humans can no longer afford to tolerate those who would use tradition as an excuse for aggression, intimidation, or superiority for one second longer, no matter where we live. We all need to get involved. It’s time to bridge the gaps, not allow them to get wider. We must put pressure on our leaders to stop accepting the excuse of tradition as justification for ongoing and increasing problems. We need to force them to act, to disavow discrimination wholeheartedly, and we need to make some new traditions that involve every community equally before all hope for peace is lost for good.
We don’t have to do as others have done before us and we can do better. It’s time for the quiet consent of the past to become the strong catalyst of change for the future. The world is unbalanced and it will take people from every race, community, and creed generations to put it right again. Start now because everything is getting worse and this center cannot hold. The future is uncertain, but it can certainly be brighter than the bonfires of the present.