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More than bricks and mortar….

I’ve written plenty about the emotional challenges of being single and the ups and downs of navigating life without being someone else’s priority. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. Nearly 6 months into Covid-19 restrictions, the ‘skin hunger’ that comes with lack of physical contact is taking a real toll on those of us without regular access to cuddles.

But now I want to talk about some of the more practical, logistical obstacles of being single, in particular as it relates to housing. Now, I love me a good rant about housing, as many of you will know. Renting as a single person in Dublin is not easy. One bedroom apartments are not pitched, or priced, for one person. It’s not news to anyone that Dublin rent is high. Stupidly high in fact. Very often, we are so grateful to have somewhere to live that we talk about being ‘lucky’,  regardless of how high the rent is. We don’t report breakages or problems to the landlord for fear of being evicted or having the rent put up. High rent has become so normalised that I have had had people say in response to my €833 per month rent ‘that’s not too bad, really’.

So, understandably lots of people would, ideally, like to own their own place, to get out of the cycle of rising rent, away from the power of landlords and away from the feeling of pouring money into someone else’s pocket. Due to the absolute lack of tenants rights, the only way to feel truly secure in housing in Ireland, is to own  your own place. I was evicted twice in a 15 month period; it’s no fun. Yes, there are deep seated historical wounds related to home and land ownership, but there is also policy and legislation that favours landlords and assumes private home ownership as the norm. It’s the expectation laid out by our entire housing infrastructure,  it’s the hallmark bestowed by society of having done everything ‘right’.

It’s not unreasonable to want to own your own home, to want to not worry about rising rents and evictions and exploitative landlords. Let’s say you want, or need to live in Dublin, for work, family and community reasons; again, all reasonable factors to consider. But to do this, you need 1) a deposit and 2) a mortgage. Under the current Central Bank regulations, you can borrow 3.5 times your income. Let’s say you make €45k, which would put you in the above average income bracket; the max you can borrow is €157,500. The average price of a house in Dublin is €379K. The average price of a 2 bed in, for example, Crumlin or Cabra, is between €230-260K at least (the two bed I got evicted from in Crumlin went on the market for €350k…until it was taken off the market after less than a month and re-rented….illegally. Yay). To buy one of those houses, you need a deposit of at least €23K. If you can somehow save that on your €45k salary while paying anywhere between €500-€800 per month in rent, you will still be at least €50k short in your borrowing ability.

I make a good wage, something I have worked long and hard for. Based on the max I can borrow combined with a deposit, the top end of my budget for buying is €200k. A recent Daft search for €225K across 15 areas in Dublin (note: I do not have a spare €25K floating around, this is more an exercise in proving a point) showed up 15 houses within that price range, and 5 houses within my actual budget. Now, I can already hear people saying ‘but just move out further’ or ‘move out of Dublin’. Community matters. Connections matter. I have learned over the past few months, more than ever, how important it is to have friends close by.  Why is my best option to move far away from my friends and family on my own? It is one thing to choose to move somewhere further out,  to do so as a lifestyle choice or with a view to raising a family. It is quite another to do it because it feels like your only choice. People ask me where I hope to buy, and I always respond ‘wherever I can actually afford a house’. Sure, I could buy in rural Kilkenny or rural Wexford easily, but then I would be isolated and, once Covid passes, facing a commute of 4 hours per day.(Note; there’s nothing wrong with Kilkenny or Wexford, they’re just random examples) In fact, I am not particularly married to living in Dublin long term. But right now it is where I need to be, for work, for my networks, for my folks getting older, for my overall well being. The solution to the housing is not telling people that they can’t live in Dublin (hotel, anyone?). A home is more than bricks and mortar.

All of the factors that contribute to a good quality of life, like commuting distance, community networks, support circles are swallowed up by the market like they don’t matter. But they do matter, they matter to everyone, and they matter in whole new ways when you are single. I would like to live in Cabra, Crumlin or Rialto, but even as someone on a salary that is above average, I am priced out of those places by at least €50 – €80k. No matter how hard I save for this deposit, my salary is what is what so my borrowing ability will not change. And unless someone has €50k  – €60k they would like to give me to bridge the gap, that situation will not change.

Here’s the frustration. If I was undertaking all of this with someone, there would be two salaries contributing towards the deposit, two salaries factored into the mortgage. If I was doing this with a partner, I would be more likely to be able to live in the places I would like to live in. Housing discourse centres around ‘young families’ and ‘young couples’. As a 40 year old single person, I am in neither of those categories and seldom hear myself represented in any housing discussions. Yes, young families and couples deserve secure, decent housing, and many struggle in similar ways and with similar issues to me.  But not everyone is in a family or couple. My housing security is not less important because I am single. But it certainly feels like it is deliberately placed out of reach, because I have done it ‘wrong’ on two fronts; I have not bought a home by the age of 30 like I’m supposed to, and I have not bagged myself a partner. DOUBLE RED MARK for me!

So what do us 40 something single renters do? Continue to precariously rent forever, hoping that this is all sorted by the time we retire? Take out a mortgage that won’t cover the cost of a house except somewhere that cuts us off from our connections? Grow a money tree?

I am acutely aware of my privilege in all of this. My salary means that I can pay my exorbitant rent of €833 for a room in a 3 bed house (the whole house is €2,350 pm), and save almost the same again towards a deposit. My parents live close enough that I can move home to go get over the last hump of saving if needed. For many people, saving is not an option because the cost of living in Dublin swallows all of their income. I do not have the thin end of the wedge in housing at all, but it has still been a source of nearly constant stress for me over the past 5 years.

The prospect of owning has been relegated to the realms of fantasy for thousands. We are stuck between sky rocketing rents and sky rocketing house prices, while increasing bills and cost of living eat away at our stagnant wages. I’m one of the lucky ones, and it is still fucking hard. For so many others, it’s just plain impossible. You can work all the hours in the week, never eat brunch again, deny yourself countless coffees and pints and holidays, and it will still feel like the city you want to live in does not want you.

And the government’s response? Get the deposit from your parents. Move in with your parents. All said while clutching pearls at any talk of state built public housing.  The assumption that parents will help out with deposits creates a hierarchy between people for whom that is possible and those for whom it is not. And none of this addresses the yawning gap between borrowing ability and house prices. None of it addresses the actions of vulture funds, the need for public housing, or the fact that NOBODY WANTS ridiculous co-living shoe boxes. The frustration I feel when I see another sign or hoarding going up celebrating new houses ‘starting at only €390K’ is matched only by the rage that accompanies the announcement of  co-living units priced at €1200 per month or, of course, another fucking hotel.

This is only my story, my experience with housing, which is a very privileged one. There are many other stories and experiences and struggles. The housing crisis is exhausting, it is draining people of their security and joy, it is damaging to mental health, it is causing real harm to people and in some cases it is costing people their lives.  It is robbing children of their childhood.  There are over 8,000 homeless people in Ireland, and 3,000 of them are children.  According to Focus Ireland, the number of homeless families has increased by 232% since July 2014. This does not include people who are couch surfing or moving around between friends and family.  It does not include rough sleepers. It does not include people who are dependent on food banks in order to make their rent.It does not include people who are living six to a room.  It does not include over 7,0000 people living in direct provision centres. What our government policies and negligence, along with broad societal complicity have created for more than 15,000 people (in truth we don’t know the real number, it’s probably well over 20,000) is a stain on our society. The government should be made to look each and every one of those people in the eye and tell them why their lives matter less than their beloved neoliberal ideologies and subservience to landlordism. Everyone who voted Eoghan Murphy back into his seat should be obliged to spend a week living in emergency accommodation.

Everyone deserves decent, secure appropriate housing. Everyone. That is not utopian, or idealistic, it is a fundamental human right. Even if your housing situation is secure and comfortable, surely you cannot think it is right that 3,000+ children are homeless, that people are spending over 50% of their wages on rent, that people are being evicted and that armed masked men often show up at these evictions? Surely, no matter our personal situation, we do not want to be that kind of society?

Thousands upon thousands of houses, including the one I live in now, were built between the 1930s and 1950s to provide homes to people who needed them. Is that something we regret as country? I don’t think so.

Our current housing crisis has been created. It is fixable, but it needs to be fixed on all levels, for everyone, with the tenant or owner at the centre, rather than the  landlord or developer.  Housing, as with everything else in society, needs to recognise that not everyone comes in a pair.  It needs to recognise that not everyone’s lives and circumstances are the same.  The government – whatever combination of FFG may be sitting in Leinster House – have zero interest in doing anything about any of this. They look for pats on the back for temporarily banning evictions during a pandemic; that’s the extent of their ambition. Their attitude continues to be that if you don’t own a home, it’s your own fault.  It’s probably because you’re not getting up early enough in the morning.

 

CATU is a community based tenants union, organising communities to fight back. Have a look at http://www.catuireland.org to join, or set up, a branch in your area.

MASI is an independent platform for asylum seekers in Ireland. You can find out more and donate at https://www.masi.ie/

 

 

 

 

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The boy who chooses….

TW: Rape, sexual assault and consent

There is an audio version of this long read available here https://soundcloud.com/user-886998287/the-boy-who-chooses

Consent

I started off wanting to write about consent, and in particular consent while dating. This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, but it’s messy and personal and we are still in the middle of a pandemic. But it is always important to talk about consent. I finished this around the time that Irish twitter exploded with brave people stepping forward with their experiences of rape, assault, abuse and manipulation. I decided to wait a while before publishing so as not to take up space. Reading the stories coming out was heartbreaking and infuriating and harrowing, as well as being an amazing place of bravery, reckoning and solidarity. I had that horrible sinking feeling of ‘here we go again’, bracing myself for what I would hear and who I would hear it about, while simultaneously being entirely not surprised by any of it. To everyone who came forward; I see you, I hear you, I believe you.

Once I started writing, I realised that it is impossible to talk about consent without also talking about wider, pervasive problems; of mens’ sense of entitlement,the widespread social pardoning of male behaviour, how the online dating world has given new oxygen to behavior that has always been inexcusable.

While I do reference the actions of individual men in this piece, it is more about men’s position in a patriarchal society. I recognise that working class men, men of color, disabled men, traveller men and trans men face their own systemic oppression, so you can take it that for the most part I am talking about white cis middle class men. I know men also experience violations of consent and sexual assault. I know women can also be predators and abusers. As ever, I am not seeking to represent anything other than my own experiences and perspectives.

My last three sexual encounters have all involved a problematic consent aspect and one involved attempted assault. These varied from ‘eugh, surely you should ASK before doing that?’, to ‘this doesn’ feel right, I might as well not be here’, to a deeply unpleasant and scary experience where a definite line was crossed. I hadn’t made a particular note of the first two until the last one happened.

The third of these encounters came at the end of a dry spell. It was a case of a few pints and why not, I needed to break the dry spell some time. I’m not going to go into the particulars of what played out, but my guess is that most women reading this will have some idea when I say that what he tried was something you most definitely talk about in advance. It wasn’t an exploratory ‘what do we think about this?’ type move, it wasn’t an ‘oooops sorry!’ move, it was deliberate and physical and aggressive. When I sprang away and yelled No, he stopped, looking like a deer in headlights. I yelled at him and threw him out of the house. Thankfully my housemate was here and she gave me hugs and whisky and rubbed my knee until I stopped shaking. He sent a sorry-not-sorry message and told me he only did it because he ‘thought I would like it’. I told him that one way to find out what I do and don’t like is to ask, and that he had made an assumption based on what HE liked and wanted. He doubled down and tried to gaslight me. He was more affronted with my reaction than with the fact that he tried to assault me. Fuck that shit. I blocked him.

Any of my women friends who have been single for any length of time reacted with sympathetic nods of familiarity. My men friends were appalled on my behalf,and one said in exasperation ‘i don’t know what the fuck is wrong with men. Why are they so fixated on pushing women into things they don’t want to do?’

Why indeed…..

Joining the dots

I was frustrated that I couldn’t just have a simple ride without a man pulling this kind of shit. That’s when it dawned on me that the last few times where The Ride featured were solely about the guy getting what he wanted, that they had left me with a distinctly uncomfortable feeling and that they had been endured rather than enjoyed. I went for a few long walks to think all of this over, shuddering at the horrible feeling of your body being treated like an object. As I recalled the last few unpleasant encounters, more and more unpleasant memories emerged. As a woman who has existed in the world I am no stranger to the male gaze, but this time something clicked into place. It’s not just about leery looks and catcalling; it’s about a broader sense of entitlement to our physical bodies. For a while, the thought of any man touching me in any way gave me the creeps. It was not all about that one dickhead (although fuck him), but rather the final straw in a lifetime of being told that I needed to mould my needs, my body, my mind to satisfy men. A lifetime of being told that my body exists first and foremost for male pleasure (lie back and think of Ireland, eh?), a lifetime of feeling like my body isn’t fully mine.

When you’re in a relationship, providing it is a healthy, functional one, there will most likely be ongoing conversations about consent (toxic, manipulative relationships are clearly something entirely different). Sex lives ebb and flow — trying new things, reverting to old favourites, there are things your partner will be more into than you and vice versa. But underlying all of this is trust, intimacy and connection. You know that your partner won’t hurt you. When you are dating, you don’t know this. You are not invested in each other, there is no shared understanding. You are just hoping that he doesn’t turn out to be a prick, because the fact is that he has more power to physically hurt you than you do him. That lack of trust, that rolling of the dice, can bring with it a profound feeling of vulnerability.

I know myself well enough to know what I want. I want trust, intimacy, connection and respect more than I want The Ride. It’s taken me a long time to understand this and be ok with it, because as a single woman it means having far less sex than I would otherwise choose. Which is a shame, coz I like sex. If my experiences had been different, maybe I’d feel differently. Or maybe it’s just part of who I am. Is it the chicken or the egg? Or is it the patriarchy?

A few years ago I went to an exhibition on Dublin Castle marking 100 years of women in public life in Ireland. Part of the exhibition sought to highlight the impact of De Valera’s Ireland on gender roles and expectations. Patriarchy is global, but the Catholic infused Irish patriarchy, so obsessed with purity, chastity and comely colleens dancing (chastely) at the crossroads, is its own unique form of fucked up. There were several magazines and booklets on display from the 1950s, one of which was called ‘Shall I become a nun?’. Another, presumably some sort of ‘How to bag a husband/wife in 10 easy steps’ number was entitled ‘For the Boy who chooses and the Girl who wants to be chosen’. The message is clear: women’s job is to be appealing enough to be selected, men’s job is to select. Women are passive, men are active. In fairness to the nun magazine, the woman was at least portrayed as an active agent in her own decision making, but only on a path that led towards a life of chastity. So when it comes to relationships, heaven forbid that a woman might have any agency in her decisions, because that might imply she has agency over herself as a sexual being — and we can’t be having that now.

That is the thing about patriarchy and misogyny; it is in our gendered upbringing, our gendered society, our gendered media and entertainment, it gets under our skin and into the fabric of our mind before we know it. Women are pitched against each other to ‘win’ the man. Men are told they are the most important and therefore that they have the control. Single women are to be pitied in their failure to bag a man. Single men are met with more of a ‘ah sure there’s no tying him down’. Bachelor is a term full of associations with freedom — ‘bachelor pad’ is a place for men to drink whisky and woo a steady line of women. Spinsters are sexless beings with lots of cats and spend their time furiously knitting. Let me be clear — I don’t think either of these tropes are accurate or fair, or do any justice to the nuance and complexities experienced by single women and men. Not all bachelors are footloose and fancy free. Not all spinsters can knit. But it does tell us something about how society views the sexes differently in this regard, and it is not hard to see the line back to ‘The Boy who chooses and the girl who wants to be chosen’. If you are a single man, society’s first impression is that you are choosing that lifestyle and don’t want to be tied down. If you are a single woman, society’s first impression is that you have done something wrong and therefore have not won your Man Prize. Both of these are crushingly unfair to people of both sexes who would very much like a partner, but somehow keep missing the stop for Loveville.

Boys will be boys

In a patriarchal society, men (particularly white middle-class men) are at the top of the hierarchy. They receive a lifetime of covert and overt messages that they are the most important, and that sets certain expectations around consequences. It subconsciously sets men up to feel that they should ‘get away with it’. Patriarchy tells men that women exist primarily to satisfy their needs and desires, and if they won’t do so willingly, then society will be lenient on them for taking what they want, by whatever means.

Boys will be boys.

How much did you have to drink?

Why were you wearing lacy knickers?

How short was your skirt?

Are you sure you weren’t leading him on?

Boys will be boys.

As women we are conditioned to consider other people’s feelings, in particular men’s. How often did we hear these kinds of things growing up: ‘Don’t make a fuss. You don’t want to get a reputation as a troublemaker. Don’t hurt his feelings. Don’t get yourself into that kind of situation. Don’t end up in a room alone with him, he can get a bit handsy’: All examples of how we are told that we need to adapt our behavior to manage men’s desires and feelings.

And what are we told about men?: ’He’s a nice fella really, from a nice family. He doesn’t mean any harm’

And of course:

‘Shout fire, don’t shout rape. No one will help you if shout rape’.

Victim blaming is still pervasive in conversatns around rape and sexual assault.The general tendency is to look the other way from a man’s behaviour, to make excuses, to shift the blame, to dismiss it as ‘just lad’s talk’ or boys being boys. The career and reputation of a ‘well known rugby player’ was widely considered to be more important than a young woman’s body. Brock Turner’s ‘promising future’ was widely considered to be more important than a young woman’s body. Why do their careers and futures matter more than those of the female actresses, comedians, academics and musicians who lost work when they spoke up about assault — assault in which they were the victims, rather than the perpetrators? Because society still fundamentally views men as more important and women as not to be trusted. These are high profile cases, but how often do they play out around us, day in, day out? How often do rapists and abusers think they have done nothing wrong because they don’t consider what they did to be rape or assault? How often do they know it was rape, but can be fairly confident that their story will be believed and that their consequences will be minimal?

Patriarchal structures set expectations for men’s behaviour at a woefully low level. The behaviour it seeks to excuse exist along an spectrum, with everything from sexist and demeaning comments, catcalling, groping, sexual manipulation, not seeking consent, all the way to rape and sexual assault. Far too many women experience rape and assault. Every woman experiences microaggressions and low level assault at some point during her life. So yes, not all men, but enough men for this to be the case.

This goes beyond the behaviour of individual men. It is a deep seated societal problem that makes men think they can act with impunity and do serious and lasting harm to women in the process. When they are called out, it is everyone else’s fault but theirs. Regardless of whether individual men act in this way, they are still part of the same system.

Not including the previously mentioned attempted assault and general gross experiences, it’s not hard for me to think of fucked up stuff that’s happened throughout my life. Below just scratches the surface. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

I was in bed with a guy I was seeing and he tried to start sex without a condom, something I told him was off the table for me due to a previous bad experience regarding exposure to an STD. He didn’t stop when I told him to. When I eventually pushed him off, he said ‘you don’t understand what it’s like to be a man, I can’t help it’. His (apparently untameable) manly passions were more important than my physical fear. Some men who were doing work in our house when I was a teenager wrote ‘slut’ in black nail varnish on my bedroom mirror. A guy who I broke up with called me a whore in front of a room full of people (I was one of several women he was sleeping with at the same time). When I was in primary school, we were told not to walk home down a particular laneway because a man regularly flashed school girls there. Let that sink in — primary school-age children were being asked to adapt their behaviour to manage the actions of an adult man. A college professor tried to get a classmate to invite him back to her place after a Christmas party. I lost count of the number of men who used the pro-choice movement as their own personal dating/sex pools.

I’ve been groped countless times in bars, pubs at festivals and on public transport. I yelled at a guy at a festival for grabbing my ass. His response was ‘what do you want me to do when it’s right there?’. When I told him it was not ok to touch me without my consent he called me a cunt. Countless other times when I swatted a guy’s hand away, I was met with either ‘what, are you frigid?’ or ‘fuck you, you slut’. As a teenager and in my early 20s, there were numerous situations where I didn’t know how to express my discomfort with something. I was worried that if I didn’t do what they wanted that the situation could turn. So I went along with things that were, in hindsight, definitely not ok. When I was in school, some of my friends who were 16–17 at the time had sex with men who were in their 30s. Looking back at my teens and early 20s, none of us had the language to talk about any of this, to name our own experiences, to support each other in doing so, or to identify predatory behaviour. Even if we had, we knew deep down that people would be on the side of the guy, that somehow it would be made to be our fault.

Yes, this piece is meant to be hard on men, but it is also intended to be hard on the patriarchy and what that does to men. Men who are unsure of themselves, who are struggling with their own pain, are not given the tools to process and move past that pain because that they are supposed to be the ones in control. It is unfair and damaging and at some point along the line it is almost certain that women will become collateral damage in that man’s pain (Laurie Penny has written brilliantly about this in Unspeakable Things). It expects much less of men than they are capable of, making it all too easy for them to engage in a ‘I can’t help it’ attitude rather than actual learning and growth.

Great expectations

In her most recent show ‘Douglas’, Hannah Gadsby says over and over ‘we are not preparing our boys for the real world’. I think men are capable of far more than what society expects of them. The expectations placed on women by society are exhausting, and even more so for women of colour, trans women, and working class women. The standards are set so high that it is basically inevitable that we will fail to meet them.

I think it is only fair that men up their game so women can put down just a tiny bit of the load.

I had to explain to the guy who attempted to assault me that what he did was wrong, and he still wouldn’t accept that he fucked up. He could have done a lot fucking better on all counts to save me the physical trauma in the first place, and then the added emotional labour of having to explain the basic concept of consent to him. It’s not that he didn’t understand consent, he just chose to ignore it. He chose to dodge responsibility by trying to gaslight me.

The patriarchy is a fucker. It fucks us all up. It tells men that vulnerability is a weakness rather than a strength. It tells them they need to be powerful, dominant, strong, to suppress their feelings and to maintain a place of primacy. It gives zero space for men to talk about their abusive relationships or experiences of assault, because it tells men that that ‘shouldn’t’ happen to them. It gives men zero space to talk about insecurities, because men are not supposed to be insecure.

It fucks women up through the exhaustion of existing in our bodies, through the constant overt and covert dismissal of our talents, knowledge and agency, through the constant questioning of our experiences, through being talked over, through the assumption that everything we do or wear or say must be to impress a man, through having to constantly be hyper aware of our surroundings. And it fucks us up even more when we come into contact with men who cannot see past their own entitlement or deal with their own pain, because they expect us to validate their decisions, make them feel better, and submit to their desires.

Casual damage

Before this next part, I want to say clearly that sexual assault is in no way the same as general shitty behaviour. That would undermine the pain, trauma and strength of survivors. But to have a proper conversation about consent, the sense of entitlement and expectation of being able to dodge consequences that props up the position of, in particular, white middle class cis men, has to be considered across the whole broad, awful spectrum. The underlying attitude that makes men think it’s ok to systematically treat women like shit, is right next door to the underlying attitude that makes men think they can sexually manipulate, abuse and assault women. While at very definite opposite ends of the spectrum, they are all rooted in the same sense of entitlement and superiority.

Plenty of lefty men who would proclaim themselves to be feminist allies have treated individual women appallingly; the last week or so has reminded us once again of this fact. They hide their terrible behaviour and abusive actions behind a thin veil of wokeness; ‘I can’t treat women badly, because I’m a feminist’. Calling yourself you a feminist does not make you immune from engaging in toxic or abusive beahviour, nor does it give you a permanentt pass from engaging in some self-reflection and accountability.

How many microaggressions have you enacted on a woman? What kind of emotional abuse, manipulation or irresponsibility have you enacted on a woman? How often have you systematically avoided recognising the harm you did because you are too busy protecting your reputation as a ‘good guy’? How often have you assumed that women will be into the same things as you in bed rather than asking them? How often have you systematically dismissed women, or even pushed the blame onto them, in efforts to rationalize your behaviour? How often have you expected women to assuage your guilt about past actions towards other women rather than owning them yourself? How often have you thought to yourself that none of this was a big deal because you’re not ‘one of those guys?’. Guess what? Not being a rapist or sexual predator is a pretty fucking low bar.

How often have you engaged in the crazy ex-girlfriend trope? How often have you used ‘I didn’t mean to’ as a way to rationalize your casually damaging behaviour towards women? Beyond the general human desire to not be seen as a bad person, what is really behind those thoughts and justifications, and what does that honestly say about how you view women? Believe me when I say that all of this is part of the same awful hellscape.

An oft-used line in break ups or sorry-not-sorry messages, one that has certainly been used on me and on several of my friends is: ‘What do you want me to do?’. Seriously lads, figure it out for yourself. If a woman is hurt and upset and angry, there’s a reason why. Figure it out for yourself and stop expecting us to spell it out for you, only to be met with a ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ response. You are capable of more than that. Stop gaslighting us when we hold you to account for your actions. Stop falling back on lazy ‘crazy ex’ tropes when someone makes you feel uncomfortable about your actions. You are capable of more than that.

The online dating world has given new oxygen to a wide range of bad behaviours. Dick pics, aggressive messages, ghosting and stalking are not new behaviours, but online dating apps have given their perpetrators new and conveniently distant targets.

The anonymity of dating apps enables responsibility to be dodged, as there will always be a new group of women to swipe on, who will be oblivious to someone’s previous behaviors. There is no reason to fear consequences when you can simply mess someone around, act like a dick, ghost someone and then disappear into the mire of dating apps and a whole new group of women to swipe and talk to. It creates an impression of a bottomless ocean of opportunity. The consumerist model of swiping exacerbates disposability and apathy. I was certainly not the first woman that guy who attempted to assault me tried that shit on, and I will certainly not be the last. Thinking that he has access to a pool of unconnected women enables him to continue with that behaviour, believing that the problem is with the women and their reaction rather than with his actions. That pervasive feeling of disposability and apathy is one of the reasons I have left all the dating apps, as well as the abovementioned realisation that I am bone tired of the vulnerability that comes with the constant rolling of the dice. It is increasingly harder and harder to trust my instincts around a ‘good guy’ as the casual misogyny, empty justifications and dismissive behaviour appears to be so despairingly pervasive. Increasingly, it seems many of the ‘good guys’ still engage in casually damaging and irresponsible behaviour towards women.

But if the last week or so has reminded us of anything, it’s that women talk. And we are no longer willing to be the only ones bearing the consequences. So hopefully, not only will abusers and predators finally have to face consequences, but the world of online dating will also hopefully become less of a place for men to hide their true colors.

I am so tired. I am tired of a system that tells men that it’s ok to let women do the deep emotional work while never being willing to engage in it themselves. I am tired of seeing vivacious, smart, brilliant women worn down by men who simply will not try. Women who have their feelings destroyed because men are too afraid of their own feelings. I am tired of feeling disposable. I am tired of the fact that my sisters have to be so strong, all the time, how they have to speak up over and over and how easily they are not believed. I am tired of seeing survivors being re-traumatised and triggered. I am tired of knowing there will always be another story, another trauma, another set of pathetic justifications. I am tired of knowing that we will never stop hearing ‘me too’.

Please stop making us collateral damage in your entitlement and your pain. If you are an abuser, recognise that you have caused immeasurable pain to another human. Say sorry unequivocally, and commit to never doing it again. Do not expect women to make you feel better. Don’t expect there to be no consequences.

If you are thinking ‘none of this applies to me because I have never assaulted someone’, ask yourself if that is really how low you want to set the bar for yourself? Look at how you treat women, look at what you expect of them. Look at how you respond to being challenged by a woman. If you constantly expect women to accept your perspective and prioritise your needs over their own, if you systematically dismiss womens’ feelings and opinions, if you are more concerned with your own reputation than with facing the casual damage you have done, if your go-to justification is your ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’, you are part of the problem. If you consistently expect women to accept your apologies while never altering your behaviour towards them, you are part of the problem. If you expect to get away with it, whatever ‘it’ may mean to you, you are part of the problem. If you continue to hang out with and pardon known abusers, if you don’t challenge predatory behaviour, misogyny and damaging patterns in others, then you are part of the problem. Recognise that just because you don’t actively abuse and assault women doesn’t mean you don’t do damage. You are not immune from being part of the whole fucked up system.

This is probably uncomfortable reading. It is meant to be. But it will never be a fraction of what women deal with on a daily basis.

To all the men who have done the work, who treat the women in their lives with care, who are loving, supportive and brilliant partners to my friends, who are wonderful parents, uncles and friends, who listen and learn and own their shit — thank you. Now please encourage the men in your life to do better. Existing as a woman in the world is exhausting enough. We can’t keep speaking up, calling out, explaining over and over why something is not ok. We can’t always be the fixers.

As a single woman, I still have hope of meeting someone I spark with, someone who makes me laugh, of a date that goes on for hours without noticing the time passing. There are genuinely good men out there. I still want partnership and intimacy. I still have that hope, but I do despair. I despair at how much men expect of us compared to how little they expect of themselves. I despair of men who shout for women’s rights yet treat us individually as disposable objects. I despair at the hurt and damage caused to my sisters, at how strong we have to be all the fucking time.

Ask for consent; what you want is not the default. Hold yourself to higher standards than the patriarchy does. Accept that women do not exist to fulfill your needs. Ask yourself the uncomfortable questions and sit with the uncomfortable answers. And then do better.

1

Love(less) in lockdown

In what felt like the blink of an eye, our lives are on hold. We are hibernating, hunkering down, waiting for the storm to pass. Whatever plans we may have had for the next few months, we have been forced to press pause. Some of us are in this alone, some with a partner, some with a family. Some people are trying to juggle work and home schooling, finding distraction and activity for their kids where they can. Parks and greens have become sacred spaces. All of a sudden, we are hyper aware of how close other people are to us. 

 

On some level, we are also contemplating our own mortality. Grief and loss creep closer and closer to us, and we watch people in our lives grieve without the usual rituals and community support. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are taking stock of our lives, thinking about what we truly value. We are contemplating being sick, being really sick, dying. We are anticipating our own grief. We are not aware of all of this all of the time, but it is ticking away under the surface. The first few weeks of all of this was heavy with existential dread for me. I wasn’t afraid of heading into this on my own; after all I had very little choice. But I will be 40 by the time we come out of this, whatever ‘out of this’ may look like. That in and of itself doesn’t generate dread,  but months are precious things at this age when it comes to future relationship prospects, and when the window for having children closes a little bit more every month. That is a personal sprial laced with existential anxiety. The prospect of living without ever knowing solid, beautiful, riotous, joyful love that builds into a supportive and loving partnership, is pretty terrifying. 

 

I really miss physical contact. I am a tactile person, and while I haven’t had a partner for a few years, I hug my friends, my niece and nephews. I find myself dreaming about hugs. It really rattles me when I think that I don’t know when I can next have human touch or contact. It might be a month. It might be 6 months. I really don’t know when I will next have intimacy, when I will next have morning cuddles or hold someones hand while watching Netflix. I haven’t known that for a while but the last few weeks have put all of this into even sharper focus. At a time when we all want to be held and to have someone tell us it’s all ok, I have no idea if or when that might ever happen again. Twitter and instagram is full of people talking about how much they miss their partner, how the first thing they will do when this is all over is run to their partners arms. I fully get that. I would give anything to have arms to run to when this is over. 

 

In the last few months, in ways, I have never felt more loved. In other ways, I’ve never felt so unloved. Yes, we are all ‘alone together’ but some of us are more alone than others. 

 

My friends are great. They are so supportive, and this whole experience has brought us closer. We check in with each other more, we have video calls and phone conversations. My friends are exceptional people, but I am not their priority. They have their own priorities; partners, family, children, they are all grappling with their own changed circumstances. I am important to them, of this I have no doubt, but it is not the same as having A Person. The expectations we have of A Person in terms of emotional and practical support is different than what we expect from friends. A Person is obliged to listen to your shit; your friends are not. This is one of the hardest aspects of being single long term; the knowledge that you are not someone’s main priority. This can be as mundane as someone messaging you to ask how an important meeting or presentation went, knowing someone will champion your latest piece or writing or art or music, knowing someone will check in with you during a night out, knowing that someone knows exactly how you like your tea in the morning. It is knowing that if you really need someone, they will be there. It is having someone to look after you when you’re sick, having someone to lean on when you’re stressed, having someone to plan adventures with for a time when we can once again have adventures. Ultimately it is knowing that you have someone who will stand by you, who will visit you in hospital, hold your hand, and be there as you get old and grey. It is knowing there is someone who will both put up with your shit and call you out on your shit, and love you regardless. 

 

My friends are truly wonderful people; but at the end of the day, I go to bed and wake up alone each and every day. When people say ‘oh but you’re not alone’ I always think of this; I am very much alone every night, and every morning, and that has been my reality for quite a while. When there is a family or a workplace stress, I feel very much alone. There is a shared understanding that you and A Person will share each other’s burdens, will borrow and share each other’s strength as needed. I am well able to carry my own burden and draw on my own strength, but it would be really nice not to have to do this all the time. It would be really nice to have another option available to me. .When people tell me I’m strong, I always think ‘well yes I am, because I have no choice’. There is no one there to prop me up in my weaker moments. 

 

At a time when we all need a little kindness, the lack of daily small acts of kindness that come with a supportive and loving partnership are a little sharper in their absence. I was telling another single friend about a lovely gesture someone’s boyfriend had made during the week and she said ‘God, imagine having someone be that nice to you’. If you are tearing your hair out with your partner in quarantine, please try to focus on the little acts of kindness and gestures of affection. Believe me, you would miss them if they weren’t there. In a time when love is the most important language we can speak, having unspoken words of love buried in a box in your chest can feel very heavy indeed. 

 

I’ve written before about wondering how circumstance has led me here. I had a tarot reading earlier in the year, that very clearly laid out that I am built for relationships. I am good at them. So it’s no wonder that I feel the lack of intimacy keenly. I don’t mind being single but I would really like a partner, and I know I bring alot to a relationship.  It takes alot of work not to spiral down the ‘but why not me?’ rabbit hole. I know this can be hard to grasp for people who have not been single for a long time, or who have never really been single.

So picture it like this; you’re at a party. It’s busy, there are people everywhere,  dancing and having a great time. You notice that everyone is talking about this place called Love City. You were there a few times a while ago. You’d really like  to go back there but it’s hard to find on the maps. You wonder how everyone else managed to get there so easily. Maybe you’re reading the map wrong.  At the start of the night, there are lots of people to dance with. As the night goes on, you notice that the dance floor is emptying as people split off into pairs, and you realise that you are the only person left dancing. You keep dancing anyway, but start to feel a bit awkward. People start to leave in their pairs, telling you that they have an early start to drive to Ballyweddingplans or Los Houseviewings. You ask who is around for next weekend’s party, but it turns out everyone has other plans. You watch from the window as everyone heads off in the direction of their other plans. You hope they have a lovely time, and smile to yourself as they melt away into the night, hand in hand. You look back at the empty room, strewn with signs of other peoples happiness. You look out at the sky, knowing that it will get light soon, knowing that you will watch another sunrise, sitting alone, while everyone is busy going elsewhere. 

0

Remembering Repeal

The tides of history

There are times when it truly feels like we are living through history. Times when we know that  in years to come, these moments, these decisions, these actions will be discussed, analysed, beamed out on screens and on airwaves. Now is such a moment, in April 2020, as Ireland, along with the rest of the world, tackles Covid-19.

 

The other time when I felt like I was walking in the tides of history was during the Repeal campaign. History is remembered as it is told, and if there is only one narrative then there is only one version of that history. Revisionism, selective memory and collective remembering (and forgetting) means that the richness of a history, of a story can get lost and distorted. For something like Repeal, it is essential that as many stories as possible are told and recorded, that the whole breadth and depth of the campaign is written down. It is our history, our moment, our change, and it is up to us to make sure it is written in a way that will do the campaign justice in 5, 10, 50 years time. 

 

I’ve been thinking for a while about writing at length about my memories of Repeal. Now that I have some time on my hands as we are all on lockdown during March and April  2020, this seems as good a time as any to actually do this. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for months, adding dates and memories and prompts for myself. It is useful to be able to think about something other than Covid 19, to reflect on positive change, to remember the power of the collective as we move through these uncertain, anxious times. 

 

These are my own personal recollections and perspectives. They are in no way intended to be representative of the whole campaign or of the experience of anyone other than myself. Only  I can write my own story, and only you can write yours. If you haven’t already, I hope that you do, I hope that as many people as possible write down and share their stories and memories. They are all part of the puzzle. 19,000 people canvassed in 2018, hundreds were involved in HQ and countless others supported in different ways and through different organisations. There can never be a definitive account because it was a collective campaign with no singular perspective or experience. I am fully aware that the perspective I am writing from is that of a white, straight, cis Irish woman who lives in Dublin, and that this is not representative of all of the people involved in the campaign. 

 

This is a personal reflection,  not an analysis or critique of campaign strategy or approach. I want to capture the minutiae of what it meant to be involved with this extraordinary campaign in the months leading up to a referendum being called and the months leading up to the vote. I can’t write about anything before February 2017 but I am fully aware of the many strong and mighty shoulders I stepped onto in 2017, of the tireless years of work that preceded me even going near the ARC office. To those exceptional humans; you have my respect, love and gratitude always. I fully recognise this account will not mention all of the amazing groups or people who worked tirelessly on this campaign. Such a thing would not be possible, because it was so huge and that’s what made it so exceptional. It is an attempt to honestly tell just one recollection of one part of what was a long and collective struggle. 

 

There are already several different accounts of the campaign on official record, and it is important that as many of us as possible keep adding to that. The co-directors have told their story of how the campaign was set up and implemented at that level in ‘It’s a Yes!’.  Leitrim ARC crowdfunded their book ‘LARCs Larks and other lovely things’ MERJ’s book ‘We’ve come a long way’ was published in 2018, ‘After Repeal’ was published in 2020. Limerick Together for Yurt produced a podcast about their experience, and How the Yes Was Won is aiming to tell a comprehensive history of the struggle for reproductive rights in Ireland. I’m sure there are plenty of other blogs, articles, art,  and prose, that I am missing. So if you have the time and the will, write down your story. Write about how your group organised, the challenges you faced, the highs and lows. If someone Googles how the 8th was repealed in 50 years time, I’d hope that they will find rich and varied accounts to tell the story of what happened over 35 years but in particular from 2012 onwards. No one else will, or should, tell your story for you.

 

First steps

My pro-choice journey began in school, through dogmatic statements from teachers, being shown The Silent Scream, and handing over £2 for little gold feet without any real idea what it meant. It began through growing up in an Ireland where the horrors of the Magdalenes and of clerical abuse were beginning to unfold, an Ireland where being pregnant and unmarried was still considered to be a scandal, an Ireland that told me, quite firmly, to remember my role in the world. I may not have been aware of it at the time, but growing up under the shadow of the 8th shrouded my body in shame before I knew what abortion was. 

 

I stood outside the Dáil after Savita died in October 2012, surrounded by silently weeping women, and became aware of a simmering anger underneath the sadness. I marched down O’Connell Street a few days later. I went on my own, and walked beside a woman pushing her baby along in a buggy. A woman brandished a plastic foetus at us and called us baby killers, another held up a crucifix. I went on the March for Choice in 2015 and remember watching the speakers, the stewards, the organisers and thinking ‘how do I do that?’. I was always paralysed by lack of confidence when I thought about getting involved in any sort of activism. This was rooted in fear of being found lacking, of not being radical enough. This was coupled with a lifetime of   media narrative about ‘professional protestors’ and the consistently biased and classist framing of movements like the Glen of the Downs, Shell to Sea and anti-water charges. My political awareness was not developed enough in my teens or twenties to analyse what was going on with that framing. While I was always driven by a sense of justice and an interest in global structures of inequality, I had until that point directed that feeling into working in NGOs and viewed activism as something other people did. But as the horror story of Miss Y unfolded and as I did more reflecting on my core values and worldview, I realised that I could not in good conscience sit around and do nothing any more.

 

I met a few of the founding members of ARC during 2016 and while I was pretty intimidated by their amazingness from the outset, I also realised that they were sound and decent people. The fears I had about being cast out of a meeting for not having whatever fictional credentials I had created in my head vanished. I went to my first ARC open meeting in January 2017. The room in Outhouse was packed, there was a film crew there from TG4.  I can’t really remember what the discussion was about, but I remember talking to Sarah, who was the Partnerships and Outreach (P&O) rep after the meeting as I felt that my experience in training and facilitation could be useful for that group. Everyone was smiley and welcoming. I went to my first P&O meeting the next week, and again the next month. To be honest, I didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t know what all the acronyms meant, I didn’t know who the people were whose names were being thrown around. I mostly sat and listened. I think I made a cringeworthy suggestion about needing to involve men more, which I find pretty hilarious now. But I was determined to figure it out. Once I commit to something, I do it 100% and ARC was one of those things. I was all in. 

 

That spring, I had my heart spectacularly broken. It was pretty bad. Never underestimate the potential fallout of a bad breakup. It’s not ‘just a breakup’. It can be a foundation shaking, head fucking, core splitting, grief ridden experience. At a time when I needed distraction, focus and community, ARC was there. I began to fully realise the healing power of female solidarity,  the comfort of being in feminist spaces where you are valued and challenged in equal amounts. These were people I had just met, but they didn’t bat an eyelid at how much of a fucking mess I was at times. The strength and solidarity I found within the ARC community wrapped around me like a comforting blanket while I was getting my shit together. From getting to know other women within ARC, I realised that while we were all bound together by being pro-choice and wanting change, ARC meant something much deeper to each of us in different ways. 

 

One of the first events I went to with ARC was a “train the trainer” workshop organised in May 2017. It was one of the first times I was in a room with people who spoke candidly about their abortion, and it was also the first time I got to really explore how deep seated my own stigma and judgement was around abortion. One of the most incredible things about those first few months in ARC was being given the space to learn, to develop my politics and my feminism. I never felt a pressure to get everything right, and knew that if I fucked up I would be challenged in a way that was constructive rather than destructive. Being allowed that space ultimately meant that ARC radicalised me in many ways. 

 

At that point in 2017, Angela and Caoimhe were co-convenors and Sarah and Deni were P&O reps. I was blown away by how committed everyone was, many of them spending three evenings a week or more in the ARC office. At that point, I think there were maybe about 6 active Dublin-based P&O members  -Ber, Niamh (who was called Niall at the time and later transitioned. She has given permission for this to be published in this way), Ciara, Cathie, me and Sarah with Deni based in Sligo. The focus at that time was very much on the regional groups, who were sprouting up all over the country. Some of the groups had existed for a few years and had a strong membership base, others were a few months old with a small but mighty membership, and others were just starting out. Some groups had experienced activists, other groups had members who were totally new to activism, some groups were organising around urban centres, others were in vast rural areas. Finding meaningful ways to support such diverse groups was a significant challenge, and continued to be even more so as the referendum campaign built.  Sarah and Deni had done amazing work on a regional toolkit, which was basically a ‘how to start an ARC regional group’ step by step guide. The regional groups were out most weekends running information stalls, collecting petition signatures (these were in the days of the petition to repeal the 8th) and building visibility. This grassroots local work was so vital and became even more so as the referendum got closer. I will forever be in awe of what those groups did, often in small communities where they were targeted with abuse and harassment. I remember getting emails from women who wanted to organise locally but were afraid of repercussions for their children in school or for their own jobs.  By the time we got to March 2018, there were more than 20 groups around the country and they became the backbone of the referendum campaign. Challenging the idea that repeal was a liberal Dublin construct was essential to building momentum nationally, and the network of local groups were vital in the Yes campaign being able to mobilise so quickly in every corner of the country. 

Everyone in the regional groups and everyone in ARC in Dublin was a volunteer, finding time around busy jobs and lives to join conference calls, go to meetings, pack badges and t-shirts, make media plans, write policy documents, organise stalls  and deliver workshops. Of all the things that have stayed with me, the commitment, resolve and grit of everyone I encountered along the way stands out the most. In the midst of personal grief, health ups and downs, families, relationships and the everyday stresses of life, they showed up and were extraordinary, over and over. I became increasingly aware of being part of a huge collective movement that stretched back years, decades, that echoed with the cries of generations of women wronged and wounded and abandoned. I became more and more aware of the shoulders we stood on, the women who had stood up and spoken up, who had worked and organised and sacrificed and built those foundations without which none of us would have been able to take our part at all.  It’s one of my favourite things about feminism and about the pro choice movement – the feeling of being part of something so much bigger and wider, the feeling of the collective, the historical links and the links to the future.

 

The next point that stands out for me during that time was the EGM July 2017 in Wynnes Hotel. It was over 2 days and the thing I remember most is the knot of anxiety that twisted in my stomach during the intense discussions on referendum options. At that point, it was extremely likely that the legislation and possibly the referendum question would be very restrictive. We discussed the possibility of a replacement clause limited to rape, incest and FFA, of repeal followed by legislation limited to the same. In one of the more bizarre coincidences, the  Rally for Life was happening outside the hotel, featuring a double decker bus with massive sound system interspersed with American bagpipers, statues of the Virgin Mary and more than one set of rosary beads. That EGM also featured the first of many pints in the Hop House afterwards, and was the beginning of many friendships. 

 

I did my first public event for ARC in September 2017, which involved, amusingly, facilitating a panel as part of a youth festival in Smithfield (I was 37 at the time). It lashed rain. Four people gave up their Saturday afternoon to come and sit in the rain with me and talk about what motivated them to be involved with ARC. The organisers got abuse for having us there. I had moved house the day before, driving all my stuff from East Wall to Rathmines, doing all my unpacking in a day. The house I had been living in had rats and bad memories, so I was happy to shut the door and never look back.

 

Helpful men and training plans

I helped out a bit with the planning for the March for Choice in 2017 but knew I would be away for the march itself. I went out putting up posters having rolled home from Jigsaw at 5am, with a hangover so bad that I couldn’t go up the ladder for the first hour (thank you Clare for the hangover solidarity and understanding!). While putting up a poster, a man offered us some ‘helpful’ advice on the number of cable ties we were using while he ate his brunch. A few weeks later, another ‘helpful’ man tried to supervise my cable tie snipping by holding the end of the cable tie and looking quizzically at the angle of the fruit shears I was holding. I pointed out that we had already successfully removed several posters without his supervision. Needless to say, these were the first of MANY helpful men I would encounter over the next few months. 

Poster assemblin

Assembling posters for the 2017 March for Choice in the ARC office

I watched the photos and videos of the March from a beach in Thailand, crying uncontrollably with pride and love and, to be honest, with the overwhelming anxiety that I was dealing with at that particular time. Through the cloud of anxiety I watched the speeches and crowds and everyone looking determined and gorgeous in the sunshine, and I thought ‘We are going to do this. How could we not?’

 

I delivered my first training for ARC in Limerick in October 2017. There were supposed to be two of us doing it, but no one else was available. I was nervous about doing it on my own, nervous I would mess it up and let ARC down. I said something along these lines to Sarah who replied with something like ‘you’ll be great, you’ve got training experience, now get on with it’. I remember being on the road to Limerick at 8am on a Sunday morning and thinking that if people like Sarah had faith in me, then I should get over myself and get on with it. ARC was pretty exceptional at empowering people to step up and this was one small example of that for me. I don’t remember much about the workshop. I remember reversing my car into a bollard while attempting to park. I remember singing out loud on the way home to keep myself alert because I was knackered. 

 

September-December 2017 was a difficult time personally for me as I had pretty crippling anxiety. This peaked when I woke up from a nap one afternoon to angry red welts all over my stomach, arms, legs and feet. I was in the house alone and was convinced I was dying (very rational, I know). After crying down the phone to my Mum, I drove myself to the Swiftcare clinic where a very kind doctor told me this was a stress reaction. This was a strong message from my body that the levels of stress and anxiety I was carrying were unsustainable. I was pushing myself physically and mentallly, filling all my time, running from A to B in an attempt to keep my anxiety at bay. What I was really doing was running myself into the ground. Some steroids sorted out the rash within a week, and I started to listen to my body a bit more. I was still running around and staying busy but I started paying more attention to how I was actually feeling, even if that was not always something I wanted to face. 

 

I became P&O rep in November, when Sarah and Deni became co-convenors. At that stage, we were really focused on training and Niamh took responsibility for coordinating the various training requests that were coming in from groups around the country. We booked dates for canvassing training in Cork, Galway, Sligo and Dublin as a starting point, with plans to deliver training in other areas as requests came in, even though we didn’t have materials at that stage. We had been waiting for materials and training plans to come from other sources, and when it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen we decided that we would go ahead and do it. That was ARC all over; getting shit done. 

 

I was also involved with the fundraising working group that had set up a few months previously, so at that stage I was in the office 2-3 evenings most weeks – others were there pretty much every day. It was around this time that the Joint Oireachtas Committee was considering the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly. We knew a referendum was coming but we did not yet have the details. A unified campaign was being discussed and worked on but was not something I knew a lot about at that stage aside from some references in meetings. Messaging research was ongoing and we were getting updates on the outcomes of the focus groups and research. There was a huge amount going on, and I was only aware of a fraction of it. But I knew at every level in every way that extraordinary, capable, smart and driven women were doing all they could to make sure the once in a generation opportunity to repeal the 8th amendment would not pass us by. 

 

Myself and Niamh co-facilitated a public Conversation about Choice workshop, which was an adapted version of the IPAS Values Clarification training which aimed to give people the opportunity to explore their own internalised stigma and judgements about abortion,  in early December. A friend of mine attended who was mostly pro-choice but had some issues she wasn’t sure about. After the workshop she said how important it had been to have the space to have the conversations and consider the issues in a wider context. We used to do an abortion timeline exercise as part of those workshops, and I always found it fascinating to see Ireland’s long and messed-up history with reproductive rights laid out as one.

 

I organised the Choicemas fundraiser in the Cobblestone that December. This was a great night, culminating in Angela playing I Want to Know What Love Is to a rapturous reception. I think I may also have engaged in what I thought was sexy dancing with a fur stole. The event raised about €1,200. Given the scale of fundraising that happened during Together for Yes, it’s important to remember the slog of fundraising that ARC had done for years to make sure there would be funds available when we got to a referendum, especially through the Workers Beer Company.

 

By this stage Deni and Sarah Mon, the co-convenors,  were spending basically all their time on ARC work. I’ve no idea how they did it. ARC strives to be non-hierarchical but it’s hard to express the amount of work that the co-convenors do. They are inevitably pulled into difficult conversations and situations, they attend  most meetings, and at that time they were also engaging in the highly pressurised and difficult negotiations and conversations that pre-dated the formation of Together for Yes (TFY). Sarah N, our heroic treasurer, and the Board were navigating the difficult space of compliance, governance and legality. This was a  time when anti-choice campaigners and the mainstream media were dying for us to mess up, dying for any excuse to discredit us, a habit they kept up until May 2018. I can’t remember the detail of steering group meetings at this time, but I do know they often ran until 10pm when we were kicked out of Outhouse, and that there could be up to 15 people online joining from different groups around the country. I remember the feeling of almost manic energy in every meeting, of the overwhelming amount of activity that was happening, and of the ever present feeling that it could all get pulled off track, that so many people were just DYING for an excuse to tear us down. 

 

2018: The year that lasted for 50 years

New Years Eve 2017 I drank most of a bottle of gin on my own and cried for about 2 hours. I woke up the next day and thought ‘right, enough of this shit’. It’s just as well, because ALOT was about to happen. 2018 turned out to be the year that felt like both 5 minutes and 50 years. Three days later about 8 of us met to talk about canvassing training. We mapped out a day long canvassing workshop to cover messaging and canvassing logistics. We started a document for a canvassing guide based on a  ‘Ask me Anything about Abortion’ document that Cathie had started a few weeks previously. Over the next 2 weeks or so, we developed the template for the canvassing workshop and finalised and printed the canvasing guide. Working on the guide gave me a chance to get used to the messaging. It was based on the outcomes of the messaging research that the Coalition to Repeal the 8th had commissioned. It did involve a shift for alot of us, but it was clear from the get-go that the messaging was not for convinced pro-choice voters. It was for all the people we needed to vote yes who were not yet engaged or certain about how they might vote. It was for the ‘concerned centre’, or rather people who had not yet taken up a firm position or maybe had not even really thought about it up to this stage. It had to resonate beyond the pro-choice commnity, beyond feminists, in rural and urban settings, across all ages. Some people didn’t like the messaging, some people actively hated it. 

 

Training, momentum and endless meetings

Early in January myself and Niamh went to Kilkenny to deliver a workshop with members of the Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford groups. It was a Conversations about Choice training as the canvassing workshop wasn’t ready yet, but it took a real effort to stop people talking about canvassing! Between January and April 2018, ~10 ARC members delivered  ~30 training sessions, mainly on canvassing, around the country. I can’t remember all the locations but some that come to mind are Sligo, Galway, Cork, Donegal, Clonmel, Wicklow, Dublin, Meath, Kilkenny and Waterford. Countless other sessions were delivered by people in regional and local groups who had attended an ARC training, or people who delivered their own training.

One of the things I am most proud of is this training and the canvassing guide. 

 

The first canvassing training was delivered in Dublin on a Saturday at the end of January 2018. We set up an Eventbrite for registration and there was a waiting list within a week. We had just got access to the GMB (which would become Together for Yes HQ)  so were able to use one of the big rooms which would hold about 40 people (in which many of us would spend sweaty, airless hours in the months to come) for the workshop.At that point the GMB was pretty bare, and over the next few weeks there were requests for people to bring cutlery, pens, plates, mugs and stationary. 

 

I arrived late to the canvassing training,  as I had been in work for the morning. The room was so full that most ARC members were out in the corridor. I sat on the floor and looked at all the faces, most of whom I had never seen before, furiously taking notes. My heart pounded as I realised the power that was behind us. On the steps of the GMB during a break a few people who lived in Fingal got chatting and so Fingal ARC was born. Things moved quickly at that time, safe to say! A  few weeks before we didn’t have a workshop or a canvassing guide and now we had a room with over 40 people and a beautiful colorful canvassing guide. Arriving that afternoon to a packed room was one of my favourite moments of the whole campaign. We went and drank a million pints in Toners afterwards, and not for the first time I thought what an incredible group of women I had found. 

 

I delivered canvassing training in Cork, Galway, Wicklow and Dublin during February and March 2018. Given that I had never canvassed before, I felt like a bit of a fraud but was also very aware of the need to get shit done. Louise O’Neill came to the Cork training and I had to work very hard to not fangirl wildly at her.  Any doubts I had about my credibility as a trainer didn’t find any oxygen; the momentum had already taken over. 

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The cover image of the ARC canvassing guide, produced in January 2018

By this stage there was so much going on at every Working Group (WG) in ARC and in every Regional Group (RG) around the country. Once we had access to the GMB from January 2018 I remember some steering group meetings going on for over 3 hours, and I know the Board were there until after midnight on several occasions. There was energy and drive and stress and a fair dose of fear. We had endless conversations around security, around what we would do if we were hacked or infiltrated, on being more careful with our phones. We analysed every decision around finances because we knew that the anti-choice groups and the media were on high alert for us to make a mistake . I deleted my work details from LinkedIn, changed my passwords on everything (and subsequently locked myself out of most things) and have had ever present anxiety since about USB sticks.

 

In January  I applied for unpaid leave in work. There was a flurry of messages in the various ARC whatsapp groups and slightly hysterical discussion about the best chunk of time to take off, with much anxious guessing of referendum dates. Some people took 3 months unpaid leave, some booked annual leave in a block and some in staggered periods. It was a risk to be forward about my intentions in work. I could be open with my manager and a few other people but had to be vague with many others. I was lucky to have a supportive manager but it could have gone the other way, and ultimately being openly pro-choice in work did rear its head during a promotion process a few months later and has continued to do so sporadically ever since. People all over the country were taking gambles and making compromises with their jobs, families, health and relationships because they were putting the campaign first. I know for me, it was about everyone who lived in Ireland who had ever and might ever need an abortion, for whatever reason. I was acutely aware of how hard everyone was working, and I would leverage every bit of privilege, skill, time and energy I had to play my part in the collective effort.  I remember my Mam saying to me ‘please don’t lose your job over this’ and thinking that if I was going to lose my job over anything this would be it. I know more than one person did very nearly lose their job during the course of the campaign. It should never be underestimated how seriously people took their commitment. 

 

I arrived home after the P&O meeting one evening  in January 2018. I was thinking to myself how I was finally feeling settled in the house. My housemate came out of the sitting room looking shook, and told me the landlord had been around and that he was selling. I had been in the house for 4 months.

 

Towards Together for Yes

In early February 2018, there was an emergency steering group meeting where Aoife, from the ARC board, presented on the proposal of a joined-up campaign and asked us to vote on whether or not to bring this to ARC members in an EGM.  Again, I don’t remember the details of that meeting. I remember being in the meeting room in the GMB for hours, I remember the old familiar knot of anxiety, I remember thinking ‘holy fuck, this is happening, and happening fast’. Each of us there had questions and concerns and personal perspectives, and I do remember there being a certain amount of unease, but we all agreed that it needed to go to the members for discussion and a vote.  To be honest I personally didn’t think much about unified campaigns or split campaigns or where my own personal politics sat in any of this. I just thought that we had to do whatever would give us the best chance to win. We already knew what would happen if we didn’t win; people would suffer, people would die. It was for all people in Ireland who had ever been or might ever be impacted by the 8th amendment. It was for all the suffering and misery it had caused. It was to move out of the shadows of the past. It would not be a magic fix, it would not end misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, abortion stigma, classism. But it would be progress. And we could win.  

 

Based on the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee we knew the proposed legislation would not be free, safe, legal but it was better than where we had thought we would be 12 months previously. We had concerns and questions, but all agreed that while the 8th remained, nothing would change, for anyone. The members had to have a chance to consider ARC’s role in the referendum campaign and vote on it. There was very little time –  this was all happening in early February 2018. I knew all sorts of machines must have been turning behind the scenes, at furious speed. I fully trusted Gráinne and Sarah, who were set to be co-director and co-executive respectively in the proposed campaign structure, to do what was not only best for ARC but what was best for people in Ireland past and present. They were knowledgeable, experienced, driven, committed and highly capable. We were all making compromises and sacrifices but what those two women did, what they took on, will always be a source of awe and inspiration to me. 

 

ARC had to fight for a chance to have a place at the table. We had an activist base and a fighting fund, but we were still not taken seriously. The book ‘It’s a Yes!’ goes into more detail about how TFY was formed, and the process that was involved, and this is worth a read to understand more about that aspect of the campaign and the perspectives of the three co-directors on this process. 

 

ARC members had an EGM on 8th February 2018 in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce to vote on whether or not to join NWCI and the Coalition in forming what would become Together for Yes. We were asked for our buy in, we were asked to put our weight behind this. It was a question, it was not a given. That’s one of the great things about ARC, it really was the members’ decision. If we had rejected the proposal that day, that would have been the decision. Yes, there was pressure and urgency but that’s because the clock was ticking. If we were in, we were in. The anti-choice campaigners and the media had long relished in saying that the pro-choice side didn’t know what we wanted, that we were disjointed and fractured. We knew how important a unified campaign was, not just because of resources but for public perception. In my head, from that moment we stopped being the audience and the wider public became our audience. People like my Mam and her friends, who wanted to do the right thing but were not sure what that was, who were cut from the cloth of Catholic and conservative Ireland.

 

I arrived late (again), coming straight off a train from Belfast where I had been visiting a friend. That old knot of anxiety was back, this time about the members’ vote and what would happen if there was a split within ARC. The meeting was clear about the campaign structure, the leadership, the need for hierarchical decisions during the speedy pace of a campaign, the research outcomes and what that meant for messaging.  There would be leadership, and therefore there would be leaders. None of us could have known exactly what any of this would involve but we knew it would not be as non-hierarchical or as intersectional as we usually strived to be. It was a single issue campaign in a non-single issue world. Referendums are binary and awful and winning them involves having to operate in that restrictive and binary space. They are not activism as usual (nor should they be). They force compromises because they are so binary and timebound.  Our job was to get 50.1% of voting people, and ideally more, to vote yes. That was what this unified campaign would exist for. I question whether any referendum campaign of that size, delivered in a tiny timeframe under immense pressure can have a structure that isn’t single-issue and hierarchical.

 

The discussion went on all morning and into the early afternoon. Concerns were raised and discussed, but in the end the vote passed unanimously. We all went to the pub and got locked. We were excited, terrified, focused, relieved. 

 

Together for Yes 

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The Revolutionary Women walking tour of Rathmines, February 2017

I was still living in Rathmines at the time, and had discovered that Countess Markievicz and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington had lived only a few metres from where my house was. It was around the time of the centenary of suffrage for (some) women. I ended up putting together a walking tour about the feminist activists who had lived around Rathmines, and worked with the Actions WG to do a short tour on Constance Markievicz’s 150th birthday. It was a great excuse for me to talk about history and women and to look at some lovely houses, all the things I enjoy. 

 

We had planned a weekend meeting in Athlone of all the regional groups for the start of March. We knew it was important for us all to get together before the campaign really kicked in, and that it was important for this to happen outside Dublin. But the Beast from the East had other ideas. The snow was a small blessing in disguise as it meant a few days where we couldn’t do very much! It also delivered some great Repeal Snowpeople content.

 

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the Coalition had planned the Votes for Repeal March. It was a few days after Storm Emma and it was absolutely freezing. We gathered with the ARC banner, bundled up in hats and scarves. This was the ‘soft’ launch of TFY so we were up front with the ARC banner with the other two organisations. We started marching, looked at each other and said ‘eh, it’s very quiet’. There were no megaphones. So we just started yelling. We roared our heads off all the way to the Custom House, and stood on the steps in the freezing cold while the speeches went on (and on…and on). A guy with a sign about murder stood in front of TFMR, many of whom were visibly upset after their member’s speech. A few people tried to block him until Lynn Ruane marched up to him, took his sign and walked off with it. 

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On the 2018 IWD Votes for Repeal march with Helen and Sarah

The internal TFY launch happened on March 10th in the Teachers Club. Again, I don’t remember much of the detail except alot of nervous energy, people wanting leaflets and a man (helpfully) explaining why canvassing was important. The Rally for Life was on the same day. I went outside for some air at one stage and noticed that Clare was smoking. ‘I didn’t know you smoked’ says I ‘I don’t, but I do today’ she answered. That was the first time I saw the TFY logo. I had heard the name before, possibly as part of a massive Basecamp (ARC’s internal organising platform) thread where various, mostly ridiculous, campaign names were discussed. Initially, I didn’t like the name or the logo. It did grow on me over time as I saw it do what it was designed to do. We went to the Hop House afterwards and got locked, I dragged Ciara to a 50th afterwards where we sway-drunk danced for a while. Despite my drunkenness, I woke up to discover I had taken several photos of Christchurch looking lovely at about 2am. In hindsight, I’m amazed my liver survived 2018 at all. 

 

Together for Yes formally launched on March 23rd in the Pillar Room in the Rotunda hospital. The room was packed, there was a media crush around Simon Harris, everything looked so professional and put together. I took two badges, a Yes and a Tá and got in trouble for taking two; badges were a very limited resource at that stage. Parents for Choice members bounced their babies on their hips, three Grandmas posed with giant Yes letters. I got choked up listening to the speeches. It all felt so hopeful, so surreal and yet so very real. I walked back to work thinking ‘We are going to do this. We have 62 days and we are going to do it’.

 

Volunteer Coordinator

I agreed to take on the role of volunteer coordinator some time in early March. This made sense as I had a background in volunteer management, but honestly I would have done anything to be useful. I was working full time until early April, so did TFY work in the evenings and at weekends. I had two full days per week for TFY through unpaid leave from early April into May and then the final two weeks off full time. I started pulling together systems for volunteer recruitment and management, but quickly realised that things could not move at the pace I was used to. Sarah told me that we needed people immediately,  so the lovely shiny systems I was diligently putting together had to work much more quickly than they were designed to do. I had never worked in that kind of environment or at that kind of pace before, but it was the easiest job in the world in many ways. I already had a list of ARC members who were ready to go. In the early days, it was ARC members who started to fill the GMB. Linda, Ellen, Emma, Leness, Clare L, Claire B, Dairíona, Ashling ,Eoin, Lute, Ciara, Nem, Niamh, Helen, and many others, and of course Sarah and Gráinne. People came and went around their working hours or else were there full time, all on a voluntary basis.  ARC was the foundation that I built the volunteer base on before I even had an online system in place. In the end, 1,000 people signed up online to volunteer. I had to take the form down as I couldn’t keep up with the demand. Mostly we told people to contact their nearest group and get involved with canvassing. The original online form was pretty clunky and didn’t have a drop down for constituency, so myself and Sarah TM had to manually go through the lists, filter people out and then forward their details to local groups. The more refined canvassing tool towards the end of the campaign automatically put people in touch with their nearest group.

 

 We needed lots of volunteers for the online shop, especially during the first few weeks when there was a backlog of black repeal jumpers as well as the initial merch surge to work through. There were 3 shifts per day, and the people who helped out and ran the set up were absolute heroes.

 

 It was really amazing and humbling how many people got in contact saying ‘tell me what I can do to help’. The team leads contacts and connections kicked in very quickly and the building was suddenly full of people. It was like all these skilled, dedicated and amazing people just appeared out of thin air. There were probably 50-60 people in the building each day, especially when the online shop was in full swing. I mostly had no idea who anyone was, people just seemed to appear, get on with it, and reappear again the next day. Ellen was basically there all the time, Deirdre would arrive early, leave in the late afternoon to put her kids to bed, and then come back to the GMB. Gráinne and Sarah were there what felt like 24/7 If there were more hours in the day, those women would have spent them in the GMB.

 

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The GMB with its building wrap

In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, we underestimated where we needed people most in the early days. We needed far more people to work directly with regional groups as an assigned contact point for example, and long term volunteers could have been better built into some of the team structures. Trying to match the availability and skills of people who wanted to help with what was needed practically was not easy. I’ve gone back and forth as to whether there are better ways to have approached this, but I keep coming back to the pace of everything and how usual planning and organising very quickly goes out the window once the great machine is in motion. A lot of the time, we needed people 3-5 days per week and of course not everyone could commit that kind of time. We also we needed people with quite specific skills who could get on with things with minimal supervision. Things were moving at such a fast pace that it was pretty much impossible to take stock of anything, or even to have a conversation with the team leads about what support they needed. So I mostly just let it all happen, funneled people into canvassing groups, and as the weeks went on put my time and energy into other ways I could be useful. I helped out a bit with the Get Together for Yes tour which visited every county, and the Get out the Vote strategy which focused on ensuring people turned up to vote and that we maintained high levels of visibility in the final 2 weeks.

 

Right up until the last few weeks, people connected to ARC kept showing up and being amazing, putting their shoulder to the wheel wherever they were needed. People just kept showing up and doing whatever needed to be done, transporting boxes, driving materials and people wherever they needed to get to, covering reception, appearing in videos, taking photos, helping in the shop. People brought us homecooked dinners, sent us donuts and dropped in cookies. It was really quite remarkable what happened in that building on any given day. Most people were spending up to 16 hours per day in a windowless room, skipping meals and stretched to their limits, but somehow there was always an air of energy and positivity.

 

Self-care and collective care

I set out thinking that we could help people look after themselves during the campaign, and it was something we talked about from the formative days, of how difficult this was going to be for everyone and how we needed to foster self care and collective care. We did put some measures in place like the IFPA helpline for campaigners which we shared with all groups, and the amazing Miriam who offered 15 minute chair massages, or chasing Sarah Mon around with a sandwich. But I realised very quickly that there is no way to support thousands of people with their wellbeing, especially during the intensity and pace of a referendum  campaign. The campaign was hard on everyone, but in different ways and for different reasons, and the scope of it all meant that any efforts to make it better could only ever be minimal and quite localised, and not necessarily what someone might have needed at a given time. I did check in regularly with people when I could, but everyone is different in how much or how little they want to talk. I know some of the local groups who I spoke to during GOTV appreciated just being asked how they were. People were exhausted, and feeling the pressure and burden from all angles. I certainly felt a constant pressure as a woman, of how I was seeing myself represented (or misrepresented) as a uterus first and foremost, my life and body and agency being discussed and debated. There was the creeping realisation that this was how my country had always viewed me; as a uterus first, and a person second. The shame and stigma that had hung over me my whole life as a woman in Ireland slowly came into focus. It was a deeply personal campaign in that way.

 

 I think the ARC crew did a good job of supporting each other as best we could; Clare and Sarah sent care packages to the regional groups for example, and we all checked in with each other when we could. But some days I would come back from a day of HQ and canvassing, my head racing with the stories I had heard that day, my heart heavy with the worry and fear of what would happen if we lost, my body aching from all the walking, and the entire spectrum of emotions charging around inside me.  I’d pack it all away because I needed to do it again the next day. It was only months afterwards that this caught up with me. I think a version of this was true for anyone involved in the campaign. We all walked away with different wounds and for different reasons, but we were all wounded none the less.

 

The countdown begins

 

On Good Friday, aka 55 days to go,  we went for pints after the GMB because it was the first Good Friday where pints could be had. A little bit of history, and part of the growing tradition of #pintsforyes. That Sunday I leafleted around Croke Park with the Dublin Central and Dublin North West groups. The Belfast Rape Trial had been unfolding over the previous few weeks, and I had been at a few demonstrations in solidarity with the young woman involved. It was so horrific and the media discourse so misogynistic. I actively tried to not think about how much society hates women. I actively tried not to think about the memories that this all brought up. I sat with friends as we recounted our own experiences where our consent was not sought or respected. I packed all of this away because there was a job to do and if I thought too much about this I’d never leave the house again. That day, while leafleting, two young men walked past me laughing and said loudly ‘I hear Paddy Jackson is in town, you better watch out’. Another man yelled that I should have been aborted; not the first time I’d hear that one. It was freezing cold, and people were mostly disinterested or mildly aggressive. But there was the odd wink or thumbs up or ‘fair play to ye’. Easter Monday was my last canvassing training in my home town. It was a special one because one of my oldest and closest friends came along. Gaye and Gerry Edwards were also at that workshop, people I hugely admire and respect and who I felt entirely ill equipped to train in any way at all! It was a lovely way to round off 3 months of intense training.

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With Ber at the Wicklow canvasing training, March 2018

March was challenging as the campaign was still being set up. We didn’t have access to all the materials as yet. People were anxious for posters and badges and materials but we just didn’t have the cashflow to get them, or the systems to distribute them effectively. The No campaign got out of the traps early with their posters, and this did understandably spook people. We knew it was too early for posters, and we knew that we had a plan for rolling out the materials and what needed to happen first for that to be effective It was stressful knowing how stressed everyone around the country was, but equally stressful knowing that we were doing our best and couldn’t make the logistics move any quicker or the finances work any more smoothly. There was a fair bit of tension as the stress and frustration of campaigners all over the country landed on the shoulders of a few women in HQ (not mine) who were all doing their absolute best but who were not magicians. 

 

April 2018 is a total blur. I was still working full time for the first week or so and spending my evenings in the GMB. I went to a wedding in West Cork at the start of April. Myself and my friend Janet, who was involved with the Dublin Central group, were sharing a room and we agreed that we would try not to talk about the campaign. We lasted until just after the hangovers wore off the day after the wedding. 

 

The crowd fund for posters rolled out that week, the same week that Pat Leahy published an article in the Irish Times  about how TFY had no leadership, no strategy and were generally a mess. During the first day, we all watched with excitement as the numbers crept up towards our €50k target within the first few hours. Every so often someone would pipe up across the office ‘we’re at €80k now….we just passed €95K….”. This continued as the target was increased and the donations poured in. The messages under the donations were heartbreaking, inspiring, honest and occasionally hilarious. Reading them made me realise with a stark clarity just how many people were affected by the 8th amendment in so many ways, how many people were telling their story for the first time, how much people wanted to be part of this change. They were tough reading but they were the drive to keep going.

 

Four days later was the launch of Autonomy, a poetry and prose collection edited by Kathy Darcy from Rebels for Choice. I had two pieces published in Autonomy and had agreed to read at the Dublin launch, so I spent most of that day wanting to throw up with nerves. Sinéad Gleeson and Angela Carr were also reading at it, so my imposter syndrome was out of control. My lovely friends showed up with big smiles, hugs and flowers so I got through my reading without vomiting or crying. We went from there to the launch of the first pop up shop at Meltdown Café which Ali was running. The crowd fund was at around €499,980 at that stage so a few of us stood around anxiously and repeatedly refreshing our phones. When it surpassed half a million we cheered and hugged and cried and Niamh bought all the prosecco behind the bar. It broke all kinds of fundraising records. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Pat Leahy. 

 

I woke up the next day with a thumping hangover, packed my stuff into a van and moved house. By that evening, I had unpacked and was on my way to a fundraiser in the Cobblestone, where I think I harangued people from the stage about canvassing. That weekend typified so much of the campaign for me; multiple things happening at once, high emotion, a sense of solidarity and momentum,  joy, love, drinking too much, not sleeping, and life things happening in the middle of it all.  

 

There were 41 days to go.

 

Canvassing

Because of the house move and of the intensity of things in HQ, I didn’t do my first canvas until mid April. I was quite nervous and despite having delivered the training, I still wasn’t convinced I’d be much good at canvassing. Throughout the process of writing the guide and the training, we had thought of every possible question, every difficult situation. I had thought about it to the point of exhaustion but I still didn’t know how it would play out on the doors.

 

There’s something a bit magical about canvasses, about a group of people showing up for a common cause and I realised that despite all the worry and agonising over the best way to approach difficult questions, that it all just comes together in the end. My first canvas was in Inchicore on a sunny Saturday. The first door we knocked on, a woman came out with a toddler on her hip. She smiled and said ‘oh yes, we’re all voting yes!’. By the end of the canvas I was doing doors on my own, and realised I was quite good at it. I was able to ask open questions, talk to people about their doubts, read when someone needed to be pushed or when someone needed patience, and I was totally fine with walking away from someone who was a clear no.

 

 I generally did about 3 canvasses a week, depending on how much time I had in the evenings. I had a few aggressive doors, a few frustrating doors, a few weird doors, a few upsetting doors, a few wonderful doors. There were some challenging questions, mostly around the 12 week limit, but nothing on the level that I had been anticipating. The most common ‘concern’ I heard was about ‘young ones’ who would supposedly  “take advantage” and have multiple abortions. It was condescending and misogynistic. Having existed as a woman in the world, I knew that every day sexism and misogyny existed, but I was taken back over and over during the campaign at how deep seated and pervasive it truly is (I wrote a bit more about this here )There was plenty (really, plenty) of unsolicited ‘advice’ from men, agressive misogny ‘(‘fuck off you slut’), casual misogyny (‘but who will advise the women on what is best for them?) and everything in between. The amazing people around me kept me from losing faith as I realised on whole new levels how much people distrust, dismiss and in some cases actively hate women. 

 

There were enthusiastic yeses,thumbs up, winks and smiles. There was an older man who opened the door and told me they were all voting yes; his adult son appeared behind him and put his arms around his Dad, grinning at me and saying ‘we’re a yes house all the way’. There was a woman who ended up telling me about her miscarriages. There was a woman who told me about her adult son who needed round the clock care and how angry the disability arguments from the No side made her. There was a woman with a newborn over her shoulder who seemed so delighted to be having an adult conversation that she kept me there for about 20 minutes, including telling me about the first time her and her partner had sex after the birth. (Me: Eh….ok…so can I leave you a flyer?’) There was a young woman who told me excitedly that this was her first vote and she ‘couldn’t wait to vote yes’. There were polite Nos and angry nos. There were men of all ages who would tilt their head at me and say ‘I’m not going to vote love, this is nothing to do with me’. There was the time a fellow canvasser started yelling at a woman  on her doorstep and then started yelling at me when I tried to get him to stop. There was the time a woman asked me ‘are you going to eat that baby?’ while pointing at the baby being pushed by one of our group. There was an entire laneway in Kilmainham who came out of their houses to clap and cheer. There was the young lad who approached me on a leaflet round at Christchurch with the opener ‘So, say you and I had a baby…’.(Me: ‘I’m going to stop you right there’.)

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In the Old Royal Oak pub after a Dublin South Central Canvas in April 2018

 There was the guy at Heuston who called me a Nazi and the other guy at Heuston who roared at me about being a disgrace who wanted to ‘legalise paedophiles’. There was the woman who chased us away from her door, screaming that I was a disgrace to my sex. We were called sluts, whores, murderers. An exceptionally angry woman, also at Heuston ( I’m starting to understand why my shoulders still get tense whenever I’m in Heuston) told us ‘you couldn’t even find a good man to have a baby with you’, which to be honest was kind of prophetic. The same woman yelled at one of the guys ‘you couldn’t even have an abortion, unless you were gay’.I intervened on seeing a woman with a toddler being followed by a woman who was literally yelling at her about fire and hell and how she wanted to murder her own child. When the yeller clocked my Yes tshirt (I had stood between her and the other woman who was marooned waiting for the traffic lights to change) she launched into a very elaborate rendition of what was waiting for me in hell and kept pointing at the toddler, asking me why I wanted to kill him. There was a woman who bought us croissants, a lovely old man called Cecil who we saw every morning at Heuston who told us how much he wanted change, how ashamed he was of how Ireland had treated women, a woman who stood at the door with her kids, explaining to them what canvassing was and how important voting is (she didn’t have a vote herself), the guy who opened the door wearing a yes tshirt leading to us both spontaneously cheering (I met him on a canvas a few days later). 

 

Canvassing was brilliant, but it was also exhausting. I found myself having to bite my tongue, to nod and smile and stifle my annoyance, because every door was a potential yes, and my job was to get the person at the door to vote yes. But standing on a doorstep asking for someone to agree that me not dying shouldn’t be the minimum standard takes a toll. Asking someone to acknowledge that I do actually know my own mind and my own body takes a toll. Gritting your teeth and smiling over and over is exhausting. Thousands of women stood on doorsteps and listened to people’s opinions on whether or not they should have been allowed to make a decision that they had already made. Seeing my body, my life, my agency, and the bodies, lives and agency of my friends, debated and discussed and disregarded every day was emotionally exhausting in a way I am still understanding. It was a small insight into what many people experience each and every day of their lives. 

 

I’m glad I got to canvas, because I got to see how the campaign was landing with people. I got to see how the messaging was working, and was reaching the ‘concerned centre’. I got to hear the tallies at the end of a canvas, got to see the amazing work and organising that was going on, got to see the camaraderie, and I got to meet some really sound people. There were people who showed up to every canvas, and people who dropped in and out. There were younger people, older people, people from all over the world, people who were attached to political parties, people who were not. I was not involved with the organising and logistical side of canvassing, so other folk are far better placed to talk about the challenges and successes of local organising.  

 

As I had just moved to the area, I also valued  the chance to get to know the locality. I got to explore hidden corners and see some gorgeous houses that I otherwise would not have known existed. I got to chat to people in Ceannt Fort in Kilmainham and the CIE estate in Inchicore, houses I shall covet in the house porn corner of my brain forever more. 

 

For the folk stuck in a windowless room in HQ for 16 hours a day, they never got that kind of interaction or confirmation. Yes they got donuts, but they also got streams of abuse and no chance to engage face to face with the people who they were working so hard to reach. I loved watching the Instagram stories of groups in towns and villages all over the country, groups of 10 people, 20 people, 50 people, all out for the same cause. I know from friends who were canvas leads in their groups how much work is involved. The campaign would not have been what it was without those groups and without everyone who turned up day after day. 

 

 I feel very lucky to have been able to see, even on a superficial level,  all the different parts of the campaign at work, from the canvassers, to people packing jumpers, compiling instagram stories, writing press releases,bundling leaflets, writing strategies, dealing with politicians, sending out leaflets, analysing data, holding street stalls. Whether in a windowless room or on a windswept rural street, each and every person was doing their absolute best for the result we all wanted.

 

‘So I tell them to go fuck themselves…’

Two of my favourite canvasing moments happened in Balbriggan. It was my birthday, a week before the vote, and myself and Clare went out to join Fingal Together for Yes for a super canvas. It was a gorgeous sunny day and lots of people were out in their gardens. We stopped to talk to one woman who was pottering in her front garden:

Us: ‘Hi there, have you decided what way you’re going to vote next week?’

Her: ‘I have yeah. Ah god, did you see her dress? Wasn’t it gorgeous?’

Us: ‘Eh…..so are you voting yes next weekend?’

Her: ‘Do you want to come in and see it? You can see it on the telly? She was gorgeous!’

Us’ ‘Sorry…..what dress? Who?’

Her: Meghan

Us: Who?

Her: Meghan! Meghan and Harry!

Us: Who???…….oh right! Eh no thanks. Please vote yes next week (internally screaming I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT HARRY AND FUCKING MEGHAN!! THERE’S A FUCKING REFERENDUM NEXT WEEK!!!!’)…. Enjoy the rest of your day’

 

Towards the end of the canvas I walked past a door where someone was already chatting to an older lady, well into her 70s. As I walked passed I heard her say’ of course I’m voting yes. Those fuckers up there with their pink balloons, they think they know about me and my life! They think they know what I’ve been through in my life?! Well I go up there and I tell them to go fuck themselves’. That woman is my hero. 

 

Myself and Clare got ice creams and were standing outside the shop chatting when a man, who had been trailing the group earlier roaring at us that we were murderers, appeared beside us. ‘You’re murderers’ he said calmly. We ignored him. ‘Do you not hear me? Do you not know you’re murderers?. We moved away, as he continued to shout down the street about murder. 

 

Canvasing was always interesting, sometimes frustrating, and undoubtedly one of my favourite parts of the campaign.

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At the start of a canvas with Dublin South Central, April 2018

Pints, crying and jumper frenzy

On the May bank holiday, I went for pints after a canvas with Damo, who was one of the canvas leads in Dublin South Central,  and ended up going to meet Janet and Ber in Smithfield. I hadn’t seen much of Ber as she was so busy with Dublin North West, so there was much chatting and catching up. As happened alot during the campaign, the intention to have 2 pints turned into about 8 hours of drinking. I remember hugging Ber in the beer garden in Delaneys and both of us being like ‘Ahhhh I really needed that hug’. We were often carrying so much physical tension and stress and not having someone to hug was…hard. (I wrote about what it was like to be single during the campaign here).  Ber came back from the bar with an auld lad in tow: ‘I’ve just been telling him about my abortion so now he’s voting yes’. Campaigning truly never ended. 

 

As the night wore on, someone offered me their opinion on the posters. Someone else offered me their opinion on the get out the vote plan. Someone else complained about badges. Someone else told me that everyone in HQ was having a grand old time of it and wasn’t doing any real work. In the taxi home I burst into tears at Damo. Every so often I had to open a valve and let out some of the tension and stress, usually by crying, often on a kind friend. It wasn’t anything in particular about that day, or that night, or about any particular thing, it was just that the whole thing was exhausting and everyone has their limits. I was spending alot of time worrying about other people, checking in with other people, trying to support people (which was realistically impossible most of the time), and not having A Person i.e being single, meant that I was carrying alot of that with me without having someone to lean on.  I was fucking mortified the next morning though, as I didn’t know Damo that well at that stage. He was very sound about it all. I guess sometimes solidarity looks like letting someone have a cry. 

 

The Repeal jumpers had become something of an icon since their launch in 2016. The relaunch of the black jumpers in March/April 2018 had sold out rapidly and it took a huge volunteer effort to work through all the orders. There are some stories to tell about how some people reacted to a delayed jumper delivery, but that’s not my story to tell. The Temple Bar pop up shop had launched in May, and was selling the colored Repeal jumpers. Clare and Ali had taken on alot of the running of the shop. I arrived that evening to hundreds of people queuing outside. I didn’t actually want a jumper, I was pretty sick of looking at them after helping to move a bajillion boxes during the week but I wanted to be there for support. 

 

It was….alot. People queued for 2 hours and more. A few of us huddled on the stairs watching people buy armfuls of jumpers. Niamh and Gráinne were bringing additional stock from HQ in a taxi. The taxi pulled up, and the only bit of Gráinne that was visible were her arms as she sat under a mound of boxes. People just kept arriving in their droves. It was great but also quite surreal. We went for pints afterwards….probably.

 

Get Together for Yes and Get out the Vote

During May, the volunteer side of things had dropped off, as in we had most of the people we needed and the giant machine was in full swing. It continued to amaze me how people appeared and got stuck in with whatever needed doing. In the last 2 weeks there must have been up to 100 people in and out of HQ each day.  I helped get Get Out The Vote packs ready and I worked as part of a group with Aoife C, Aoife D, Caoimhe, Claire and Aileen to call a number of local groups every day during the GOTV phase. Again, this was a great opportunity to hear about what was going on on the ground for people, especially in rural areas. By this stage everyone was exhausted and feeling the pressure, full of hope but barely daring to hope too much. I could hear it in the voices of everyone I spoke to. I found that the people I was speaking to in the groups were grateful to be asked how they were, to have a chance to vent or offload. I seldom gave advice – everyone knew well what they were at – but did my best to listen, to reassure people, to encourage people. The reward for this was getting messages from these groups on the day of the result as they watched their work pay off and getting to share, just a tiny bit, in their relief and elation.

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With an early morning GOTV crew at Heuston Station, May 2018

The Get Together for Yes tour visited every county in Ireland. This took a huge amount of work to put together, and was an impressive logistical feat for the team involved; mainly Laura, Mar, Niamh, Claire,and Michi. It was important to get to as many towns as possible, to recognise that this truly was a national effort. There were of course limits to how much this could achieve in that sense, and I know that at times the folks on the tour were met with frustration and anger. But they were often also met with positivity and gratitude. I joined the tour for a day in Galway. It rained (alot) but there was so much energy and enthusiasm. I talked to alot of tourists, mostly Americans, who told us that they’d be watching the result closely and that they were crossing everything for us. In the afternoon, we went out to meet the Connemara group who had a stall set up by the sea in Spiddal. They were delighted with the 250 Tá badges we had brought  – ‘it’s so lovely to have some visitors’ one of them said. Someone from Radió na Gaeltachta showed up and stuck a mic in front of myself and Niamh. Cue hysterical laughter as we both fumbled over our rusty Gaeilge. I headed back to Dublin the next morning while the others went on to Mayo (I think). They were wrecked. They’d been on the road early every morning for over a week, engaging with people round the clock, supporting people and listening to people as best they could, liaising with media and organisers, driving hundreds of kilometers, and doing it all with a smile. 

 

The Claire Byrne shit show happened around the time. This was one of three scheduled TV debates. I’m not going to talk about it in any detail only to say that the presenting and management was terrible. Representatives of the No campaign were given free rein to tear into the Yes representatives, mainly Dr Peter Boylan, without being challenged. Friends who were in the audience were properly shaken, telling us how people hissed, and booed and mocked. It really showed the worst of how some people on the No side behaved and how they truly view women.  If you hiss at the mention of a dead woman’s name, you need to take a long hard look at yourself.

 

The last two weeks

The final two weeks were focused on GOTV and visibility canvasses. I lead the group at Heuston every morning from 7am-10am. There was always a great crew, and we always outnumbered any No campaigners who showed up, by about 5:1. A few mornings I had to send people up to Smithfield because there were too many of us. Back at HQ, lunch and dinner was ordered every day in a bid to keep everyone standing. Everyone was exhausted, the kind of tired where you feel loose in your skin. We were hopeful and focused, but I know I had a constant low level simmering fear. Badges had replaced posters as the focal point. Badges were great in many ways, they enabled people to connect with each other, they built visibility, they gave a sense of momentum. In areas where the No side kept taking posters down, they couldn’t take badges off people. I never tired of seeing a yes badge on someone’s jacket. People took them off me in fistfuls at Heuston and on canvases. 

 

I used to sticker lamposts on my walk home. I was locked in combat with someone who would constantly peel my stickers off one particular traffic light pole. Every day I would stick one on, every day they would peel it off, every day I would stick one back on, and so on. When I walked past it on May 26th, they had left it on. 

 

As we got closer to the vote, we had to limit how much stock we were ordering so badges became a bit of a limited resource. People were MAD for badges at this stage, it was like the colored repeal jumpers on steroids. I still feel a pang of guilt when I find the odd stray badge in a bag or coat pocket, remembering the wheeling and dealing that went on for ‘just 500 more badges’.

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The weekend before the vote was my birthday and also my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I deliberated on whether or not to wear a badge to their party. I knew my immediate family were all voting yes but I was conscious of wider family members and neighbors, most of whom were older. But at that stage I figured I had nothing to lose. So on the badge went. Over the course of the day, people squeezed my arm, winked at my badge, told me their own experiences of the 8th, some of which were pretty traumatic. 

 

When I arrived in HQ on Monday morning of voting week, Ciara was packing boxes in the hallway (where she was often to be found). She said ‘happy last week!’ as I came in and I thought ‘holy fuck, it’s the last week. We’re nearly there’. There were daily briefings in HQ, which I often missed, but I was at a few of them during the final week. During one, Gráinne told us that Outhouse had been wrapped with the poster: ‘A person you love might need your yes’. I immediately welled up, thinking of the countless hours people had spent crammed into the tiny ARC office in Outhouse over the previous years, of the meetings and planning and conference calls – and here we were, a few days away from the vote. It was also great to see trans inclusive language in the Outhouse poster, something that was important to all of us in ARC. 

 

In the last few days before the vote I joined Dublin South Central for postcard drops. By this stage, like everyone else, I was half demented with tiredness. On the last day one of the canvas leads tried to send me home because I was so wrecked. I nearly bit his head off: ‘I CANT GO HOME! I NEED TO DO SOMETHING!!’. He relented pretty quickly. In one of the last houses I went to, a woman came out and shoved the postcard back at me ‘G’way ye bold thing, you’re not supposed to be here’ she said, presumably referring to the media moratorium.’That only applies to the media, I am allowed to be here’ I said.  ‘I’m voting No anyway’ she said, her voice laced with contempt. I was so fucking tired. ‘That’s fine’ I said ‘Have a nice evening’. By this stage I had walked to the house next door ‘NO ONE LIVES THERE!’ she roared at me. I bit my lip hard and walked away. It was the closest I came to shouting back at someone, because I was so spent. But I didn’t. I got through the whole campaign without losing my rag at anyone (in public, anyway). I found other ways to hold my ground and make my point. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of that woman briefly on the day of the results, with an internal ‘fuck you’ ringing in my head.

 

Things got pretty intense at various points during that last week. ’The No side were employing aggressive street tactics, and were getting in peoples faces in the city centre .People held their ground, stayed calm and didn’t go down to that level. When I went back to work, several colleagues commented to me how the upbeat and positive nature of the campaign really struck them, how friendly all the campaigners who they met were, and how reassuring they found it. There were a few evenings during that last week where some of us met up for debrief pints to unload after a few hours of maintaining exhausting levels of positivity and calm in the face of increasingly angry tactics from the No side. 

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GOTV photo call, May 2018 (I’m in the E somewhere)

Polling day aka 24 hours of crying

On May 25th,, I was at Heuston as usual at 7am. We didn’t engage too much with people, just quietly handed out badges and ‘I voted’ stickers. Our regular visitor Cecil came out of the station with his badge, took an “I voted” sticker and made three of us cry. On the walk home from the Luas, a guy stopped me and Katie in what was one of the more memorable exchanges from the whole campaign

Him:  Sorry girls can I ask youse something?

Us: Sure

Him: I just voted, and I voted yes. Was that the right thing to do?

Us: (looking at our Yes tshirts and the giant Yes bubble we were holding) Er….well, yes we think so. It was the right thing to do

Him: But what does yes mean?

Us: Yes is for change

Him: Change! Yes, good, I want change. Ok. But willl there be a big abortion building?

Us: Eh….sorry?

Him: I want change, but I don’t want there to be a big abortion building just down the road there (gesturing back towards Rialto)

Us: Eh…that won’t happen. It’ll be between a woman and her doctor

Him; Doctors! Yes, good, doctors are good. So there won’t be an abortion building?

Us: No, there won’t. Don’t worry. You did the right thing. 

Him: Ok great thanks girls, have a good day!

 

As we got in the door, I got a message from a guy I had gone on one date with some time before Christmas. He said that our chat had motivated him to get involved with canvassing and that he had been really involved with his local group. He said that he was grateful for the motivation I gave him, and that he was hoping for a better future for Ireland. 

 

 Katie came with me to vote. I drove to the polling station, blaring Beyonce and beeping at every group of visibility canvassers I saw along the way. I was shaking head to toe as the officer  handed me my ballot. Katie stayed chatting to the officers as I went to the booth. The ballot swam in front of me and my hand was shaking violently. For a split second, I panicked that I would vote the wrong way. Carefully, deliberately I marked the X, the X that represented so much pain, so much hurt, so much work and so much hope.  I put my ballot in the box, holding back tears. The officer was all chat, telling us ‘let’s hope it all goes the right way, not saying what that is though, eh?!’ while winking very not subtly at us. I burst into tears all over Katie. The moment felt so huge. I was so hopeful but still so scared. The polling station was busy. Older women smiled at me as I wiped my tears. We went for coffee and breakfast. I cried into my eggs. 

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En route home on polling day, May 25th 2018

I was back at Heuston for 3 pm. The sun was shining and glorious. A man explained to me and Katie how we were holding our sign wrong.  I went to Marianne and Damo’s house in Rialto to link in for one of the South Central visibility canvases along the canal. A group of young lads on bikes tried to steal my sign. A man told me I should kill myself by jumping in the canal.  People who were stopped at the traffic lights winked and smiled and said ‘good luck’ out their open windows. There were lots of beeps and thumbs up. I was so very, very tired. 

 

Exit poll

That night we were going to gather in HQ to watch the exit poll and to be together. I hadn’t thought about the exit poll much. I was convinced it would be 52%, and that we would all be mega stressed about the next day, planning for how we would fight for every ballot. A few of us sat on the floor in the hallway, holding hands and crying. There were flowers for the co-directors and campaign manager, who were all amazingly composed.  At this stage, I had basically been crying all day. There was beer and pizza and sunburnt tired faces. At 10.01pm, I heard someone gasp to Deirdre ‘it’s a landslide, a landslide’. I thought I was going to pass out. I heard Gráinne say ‘it’s only an exit poll, it needs a health warning’. Someone handed a phone to Mary Lou. Everyone fell silent, holding onto each other, hope and exhaustion and anxiety on everyone’s faces. Mary Lou said that the exit poll gave a ‘margin of victory for the yes side…’. There was a collective intake of breath.’….of 68%’. The room exploded. Everyone was hugging and bawling. Most of us couldn’t get any words out aside from the occasional spluttered ‘we did it’. Eyes met across the room through teary smiles, hands were clasped, tears wiped away.  There were people in that room who had been working towards this moment for nearly a decade, and some for far longer. It is a moment I will never forget; I still get emotional thinking about it. Someone read out the second exit poll, that glorious 69%. John Mc Guirk conceded, to much cheering. There were many wonderfully juvenile photos taken with the 69% pie chart on the TV. Someone hooked up some speakers and we spent the rest of the night dancing and hugging and letting ourselves feel some relief. Someone turned the music off at 2am reminding us that there was a count starting in a few hours. I walked home bursting with pride. I wrote more a few days after the result about what that time felt like here.

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Tears and hugs after the exit poll results are announced in HQ

Results, crying, relief and dancing

I arrived at the RDS count centre at around 10am.By that stage, it was already clear that we had won.  I walked into Simmonscourt and burst into tears. It felt like history, it felt like hope, it felt like change. I made my way towards a huddle of ARC people and met Ber along the way. I’ll never forget her smile in that moment and the relief that was in our shared hug. I went over to the Dublin South Central tally and couldn’t stop myself crying as I watched the yeses pile up. 

 

There was frantic clamorous cheering when the co-directors, Ailbhe, Orla and Gráinne, arrived. There were so many familiar, happy faces, and an overwhelming sense of love, relief and solidarity. We moved over to the Intercontinental i.e the drinking part of the day. The results came in from across the country, each greeted with a cheer. Sarah and Gráinne arrived from Dublin Castle, greeted with rapturous cheering from the ARC table. I sobbed uncontrollably through both of their speeches. Messages had started to arrive from friends around the world, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years. The impact of this result was reaching far. As we counted down to the final result, I was crying uncontrollably. Sarah’s boyfriend Del put his arm around me and said ‘seriously Mary, I’ve never seen one person cry so much’. He probably wasn’t wrong. The result was announced at 66.4%. There was more crying and hugging and silent teary smiling. A while later someone took what is one of my all time favourite photos. We were all chanting ‘free, safe’ legal’. I was so fucking proud of ARC. I can’t really describe it, but it was pretty much the best moment of my life. We had done it. We had fucking done it, by a two thirds majority. 

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That night we went to the Odeon for a party that Angela had organised. It was packed full of exhausted, relieved and deliriously happy people. There were banging tunes, ecstatic dancing and more sweaty hugs. Everyone was in love with everyone. It genuinely was the best night of my life and up there with the most joy I have ever felt. 

 

That night, I decided, for some unknown reason, to walk home past the Savita mural – coz you know, there hadn’t been enough emotion involved in the day as it was.I had been watching online as the flowers, candles and messages built up over the previous 24 hours but on seeing it in person, I was floored. My knees went weak. We had done it. We had done it for each other, we had done it for her. We couldn’t right the wrong of Savita’s death, but we had helped shine a light into the future. 

 

I bumped into Sarah, Peter and Helen. There was more crying and hugging. A man was acting the eejit, asking over and over ‘what did she die from’ and when we wouldn’t humour him he announced loudly ‘oh she died of pregnancy complications, did she?. We all rounded on him telling him to shut the fuck up. Helen literally turned him around and saw him on his way. ‘Not today, not fucking today’ I yelled at him and then, on catching the eye of another woman at the mural, both of us yelled ‘actually not ever, not fucking ever!’. It was a very cathartic moment, realising we no longer had to bite our tongues and walk away, that we could finally tell obnoxious insensitive men to get fucked. I wrote a message and added it to the wall amidst the hundreds that were already there. I walked home along the canal, crying to myself, garnering smiles and nods from everyone I walked past. 

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The Savita mural outside what was then the Bernard Shaw pub

I woke up the next morning having had the best sleep I had had in months. I took myself for breakfast. I read the papers in the cafe and cried quietly all over my avocado toast. The waitress gently patted my shoulder. A group of confused French tourists gave me strange looks. I had a few days before I had to go back to work. Myself and Clare sat in the sun along the canal drinking coffee, then visited the mural where we met more familiar faces. A few of us met for pints. I felt lighter, I genuinely felt 7 foot tall. We were all broken in our own individual ways, but everyone I looked at radiated light, strength and resilience. Someone commented that we had never looked so ridey. Bodily autonomy looked good on us.  Cathie had a packet of After Eights in the pub. The relief and pride and happiness was palpable. I don’t know how many celebratory sessions we had, but there was more than one. There were pints outside the Old Royal Oak where they gave us free prosecco and pizza, a swanky party in Medley, where a gross man tried to chat me up by saying ‘yeah I wasn’t really interested in the campaign. But tell me…..are you a professional dancer?’, dinners and chats with friends who all looked like 10 tonnes had been lifted from their shoulders. The sun was shining every day.

 

Post repeal

About a week after the vote, a group from ARC met to start planning the March for Choice. As we did our regular  big ups and qualms, it was a truly surreal experience to hear everyone say ‘so we repealed the 8th, and that was kinda a highlight’. People like Sarah, Linda, Ber, Caoimhe, Clare, Cathie, who were still beyond wrecked, showed up and pulled together the March for Choice within 3 months. They also coordinated WBC volunteers for gigs in June and July. I honestly didn’t understand how Sarah Mon was still standing.

 

I applied for a promotion  a week after returning to work, interviewed for it two weeks after and started the role 6 weeks after. 

 

There is a whole piece to be written about ARC after the referendum, the work that continued, and the challenges of working within an organisation that was greatly depleted in terms of members. But that is for another day.

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March for Choice, September 2018

When hope and history rhyme….

I don’t know how to wrap any of this up, how to wrap up talking about the most important thing I have ever been a part of. 

 

The world is a dark place. Politically we are seeing the far right rising and inequality growing. We are seeing reproductive rights being rolled back around the globe. What we did was not perfect but it was a positive change, it was some light in dark times. It was a beacon of hope for reproductive rights activists in Poland, Argentina, the Philippines, Malta and beyond. That is a good thing. It was a casting off of the shadows and shroud of the past, a past full of suffering, oppression and shame for women. It was not perfect, it was not without its problems, but it is fundamentally a good thing that the 8th amendment is no longer in the Irish constitution. 

 

Looking back, it is a blur of anxious knots in my tummy, sore feet, pints, tears, gritted teeth, energy, momentum, love, admiration and collective action. My abiding feeling is of love and of pride, things that live under my skin in a body that is now both lighter and stronger.

 

The best way I can wrap it up is with this piece I wrote in late 2018 in celebration of the women of ARC and of each and every person who worked to get us to that 66.4%. I see your courage, your determination, your commitment, your passion, your beauty, your strength, your grit, your emotional, physical and mental strain, your sleepless nights, your skipped meals, your relationships strained or broken, your cuddles missed, your resolve, your frustration, your wounds, your joy, your light. I see you, fierce and free, walking in the tides of history.

 

AN ODE TO ARC

We are the women who get shit done

We are marchers and shouters, demo holders and graphic designers

We are trainers, bucket shakers, merch packers, poster assemblers, placard makers, 

We are live tweeters, minute takers, treasurers, banner stitchers, and spreadsheet keepers

We are the women who get shit done

 

We are the women who would not stay quiet

Who raised our voices over and over 

Until 66.4% joined us in a collective roar

 

We stand on the shoulders of so many others

Who refused to compromise when they were told they were extreme and unreasonable and oh so shrill

Who always kept their eyes on the vision

Repeal the 8th

Free, safe, legal

We are who we are because of the women who met and who rallied and who said the word abortion when no one else thought they should

We are who we are

Because of the women who were the first to wear a repeal badge in their village

Who stood at stalls in the rain with handmade banners and flasks of tea

The women who shared their stories and spoke their truth

We are the women who drove the length and breadth of a county to leave no door unknocked

The kind of women who say ‘I’ll canvas Belmullet on my own if I have to’

 

2018 arrives and there are AGMs and EGMs, discussions and votes

 There are canvas guides, canvas training, there are politicians saying words we NEVER thought they would say. 

There are hundreds of unread whatsapp messages. 

Then there is some snow, and then there is a date in May.

Annual leave and unpaid leave is booked, the rest of life starts of be put on hold, 

 

And there are 67 days….66 days….plenty of time and no time at all. 

Emails and phone calls, press conferences, branding and merch, fundraisers, media plans, countless jumpers, videos, regional launches,  advice from the helpful men, pop up shops, crowd funds and holy fuck we just raised half a million euro and Sarah Mon is the most recognisable face in Ireland, boxes of leaflets waiting in the hallway, photo calls,  Parents for Yes, Farmers for Yes, Grandparents for Yes, Men for Yes, Midwives for Yes, Dogs for Yes…. meetings, and of course…..POSTERS….. a little blue van that visited every county, stickers, ad mobiles, badges flying out in their thousands, speech bubbles, postcards, count centre passes, and so much more that we did not see and will probably never know.

Pavements pounded and doors knocked, enthusiastic yeses, hard nos, difficult conversations, stories shared, knuckles bruised from old letter boxes, anxious tallies and debates ‘was that a silent yes, or a silent no?’

We turn our backs and we hold our heads high

We find a way to smile

And through gritted teeth we say ‘I can understand your concerns’

Though our hearts beat loudly – it’s my body, my choice

24/7 and sure who needs sleep because on the 25th of May we would know

That we could not have done more

And that we all did our best

 Sleep has turned into someone you used to know

Replaced by the bubbling anxiety and the raw unspoken fear

‘What if we lose?’

And we fantasise about what we will do when it’s all over

Cook a meal

Read a book

Get the ride

Go on holidays

Have bodily autonomy

And know that we could not have done more

And that we all did our best

And we hold each other together with coffee and hugs and ‘how are you doing?’ and jellies that burn the surface of your tongue 

With doughnuts and pints and bags of crisps for dinner

With solidarity, love, humour and sheer bloody grit

Standing in that booth, shaking all over

Oh fuck it, what if I vote no by mistake?

Take a deep breath and mark that X 

Mark it for me, for you, for her, for all of us

Take a deep breath and hope it’s all been enough

And know, that we could not have done more

And that we all did our best.

 

And to everyone who asks ‘how do you think it’ll go?’

 ‘Oh it’ll be close, if it goes our way maybe 55%’

And I’m buying my own hype and we’re all buying the hype and the red alert and I think 

I’ll pass out when someone says the words exit poll

And I hold onto whoever is beside me surrounded by anxious, tired, hopeful faces 

Then the words

Margin of victory for the Yes side ….

And the room explodes

With sobs of relief and pride and joy

Tight embraces and beaming smiles on tear stained faces

Hands covering mouths and voices shaking

We did it, we did it

And it was so close…….we nearly had that sex number….

 

The results pour in and the yeses pile higher

And the RDS is a sea of tears and hugs and bursting pride and Gráinne and Sarah being absolutely rockstars and I’m fairly sure I have never cried so much and everyone is in love with everyone else

And there’s beer and dancing and exhausted happy faces and a weight has been lifted and the work is not over but fuck me we did it! And 66.4 is officially the best number ever and my body feels lighter and though we are all broken I don’t think we’ve ever been stronger

 

We are the women this country has always sought to shame and silence

We are the echoes of the Madgdalenes and of Tuam

We are the women whose names you know and whose names you will never know

We are the women who travel

We are the women who bleed

We are the women who will not be quiet

Who will not go away

Who will not apologise

For knowing our worth and knowing our power

 

We are ARC

We are fighters and survivors

We are mothers and we are lovers

We are strong and we are resilient

We are light and we are fire

We are fierce and we are kind

 

We are ARC

We are the change makers

We are the history shapers

We are the women

Who get shit done

 

*******

You can see the video version of the above here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P_i5TgUiyA

 

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A Balkan journey

The Balkans has long held a unique kind of fascination for me. I’d spent some time in Croatia and Slovenia and had read alot about the region during my Masters, aswell as in various novels over the years. The region has a long and fascinating history, is culturally diverse, naturally beautiful, complex and compelling. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia and in particular in Bosnia is one of the first conflicts I remember seeing on TV (aside from Northern Ireland). I have vague memories of footage of people running across streets in Sarajevo, scaling down apartment buildings that were burning, pushing water containers through the snow in wheelbarrows. I remember the name Srebrenica being said over and over. 

 

I know that a country is informed by its past but seldom defined by it, so I was curious to visit Bosnia 25 years after the height of the conflict. I hadn’t done a massive amount of research. I knew I’d find it hard to get vegetarian food. I knew not to make sweeping generalisations, or dish out any hot takes about the conflict  Other than that, I had four books, two bags, and one of myself for company. 

 

Sarajevo sits between towering mountains, with the Miljacka river running through the middle. The city wears its history on its buildings. The Baščaršija is the old Ottoman part of the city and has its own distinct atmosphere. Coffee is served Turkish styles, worshippers and visitors gather around the Gazi Huzr Beg Mosque, and silversmiths still practice their craft down little winding alleys that now house mostly either souvenir shops or places serving cevapi and burek. The Baščaršija is also home to the world’s oldest public toilet – you learn something new every day!

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The Baščaršija in Sarajevo

The buildings from the Habsburg era are ornate and grand; the city hall, library and opera house being notable examples. The streets are wide and open in comparison to the winding maze of the Baščaršija, and feel much like the streets of Vienna or Budapest. As you move further out, the buildings start to feel like those found in many former Eastern Bloc countries; tall, grey, sparse. 

 

If you look in any detail at a building in Sarajevo, you will see signs of the war. In some cases this is bullet holes and visible shell damage. In other cases, it is bombed out buildings that have not been rebuilt, skeletal and eerie. Sarajevo feels like a city full of hope, a city with its face turned firmly to the sun, carrying its wounds proudly into the future. It is unique to walk around a city and feel like you are both fully in the shadows of its past and also looking down the path to its future.

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Bullet holes on an apartment building in Sarajevo

I was only in Sarajevo for two days but I was struck by how much the city has taken on board its traumatic past; there was nothing about Sarajevo that is trying to hide from where it has been. I’ve been to a few places like this – Berlin, Auschwitz, Bayeux, the slave forts in Ghana – but Sarajevo has really stayed with me in this way. It is something we are not good at in Ireland. We brush over enormous wounds from our history, wounds like the civil war, the famine, and the Magdalene laundries. 

 

The siege of Sarajevo lasted for nearly four years. At the start of the siege, there were approximately 435,000 people living in the city. By the end of the siege, over 10,000 civilians had been killed, including 1,601 children, 69 of whom were killed by sniper fire. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that everyone I saw who was my age and older had been teenagers during the siege. In a city that size, everyone must have lost someone. And then of course there was the hunger, the cold, the lack of water, the psychological trauma, the world turning its back. Sarajevo had long prided itself on being a city for everyone. There is a mosque, an Orthodox church, and a catholic cathedral within 500sqm area. 

 

Sarajevo was always a city that didn’t put much emphasis on national labels, where everyone lived alongside everyone else, and it had the highest rate of mixed marriages in the country. The city and her people did not want the war or what it represented. It was brought to them, raining down from the hills. Our guide on a walking tour was at pains to get across that there are no divisions in Sarajevo, that everyone mixes, everyone respects each other, that the city thrives on its unity. It made the loss and trauma of the conflict somehow more poignant, that the city was pulled into a crippling division it did not itself adhere to. 

 

Across the city there are subtle and poignant memorials. Sarajevo Roses are mortar holes that have been filed with red resin, marking a spot where a large number of civilians were killed. The one pictured here marks the place where 22 people were killed while queuing up for bread.  There is a plaque on a nearby wall listing their names – Serb names, Bosnian names, Croat names, side by side. In a park there is a memorial to all of the children killed during the siege, listing out their names and ages. Up a hill in the same park are rows of headstones, like you find all over the city, many of them bearing the same date. 

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Sarajevo roses

Our guide on the walking tour talked about what it is like to be a young person in Sarajevo. Wages are low, rents are high, and emigration is common. The aspiration of many young Sarajevans seems to be moving to Austria or Germany, something I can relate to having grown up in Ireland. Unemployment is rampant. She talked alot about how people with very little disposable income will still find a way to buy coffee, because it is the time when people sit and talk together. She explained the complex web of politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina (there are three prime ministers!). She talked about the nostalgia people have for Tito and for Yugoslavia (there was alot of Tito memorabilia everywhere), a time of prosperity, unity, and freedom of movement. We visited the spot where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, generally seen as the catalyst for the outbreak of World War 1. There is a simple plaque marking the spot just across from the Roman bridge at a junction where there was once a hotel. As she pointed out the route he took that morning and how events unfolded she said ‘Sarajevo, always at the crossroads of history’. 

 

I went to two museums about genocide and war crimes in Sarajevo. There was no attempt to hide the horrors, nor should there be. One of these museums is solely about Srebrenica. There is video testimony, written testimony, photos, personal items recovered from mass graves. There are accounts of the appalling apathy and negligence of the UN forces. In the second museum, there are letters written by people living within the besieged city, clothes that people died in, photo after photo of bodies exhumed from mass graves, photos of people being beaten, starved and killed, photos of people clustered together waiting to cross a road, weighing up the likelihood of sniper fire. In a glass cabinet, items recovered from a mass grave are on display; a watch, a passport, money, a child’s soother, a tiny shoe. The walls are covered with place names where hundreds of people were killed, sometimes burned alive, sometimes shot, place names that never made it into our media. There are endless accounts of rape. Because the war was so recent, there is alot of footage, photos and documented first hand accounts of what happened. There are stories of resilience and resistance, how people held their community together while their city fell around them. Stories of how the world turned its back and wrung its hands while people were starved, raped and systematically wiped out. 

 

It was overwhelming. I was physically shaking all over when I left, and I am in no way squeamish or naive about the suffering and horror of the world. I walked around trying to get a handle on my thoughts. These are times when solo travel is hard, not having someone to sit with, talk to, and remember that the world is not all darkness. I got a cheese and spinach burek and sat on a bench, watching the city come and go and was struck, as I so often am, at the sheer resilience of the human spirit.

 

I left the next day for Mostar. I took one of the old trams accros the city to the bus station (Sarajevo’s tram system is amazing). Buses in BiH are not late, but they’re also not on time. The system for getting tickets favours face to face cash transactions (card payments are generally a rarity) – people who had booked tickets online still had to queue up to pay the additional tax in cash. You pay to put your bag in the hold but there’s no indication of this anywhere; it might depend on how the conductor is feeling. One of the bus drivers was so grumpy it was nearly comical and the guy selling the tickets looked at me like my very existence was a general inconvenience to his life. I don’t subscribe to the idea that everyone needs to be friendly, especially not to tourists coz let’s face it, tourists can be kinda assholes. 

 

I realised that the travelling I have done around Africa and India has made me remarkably calm about journeys. I’ve accepted that it’s hard to tell what’s going on alot of the time, that things don’t always run to your own personal schedule, and that you always get there in the end. Some tourists frantically gesticulated at the driver (who could not have given fewer fucks if he tried) and pointed at their watches or bags or tickets. The bus will leave when it leaves, lads, and I suspect waving your ticket at Grumpy Grumperson won’t make it any other way.

 

Mostar is best know for it’s beautiful single arch stone bridge, Stari Most. The bridge was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 and the lead architect Mimar Hayruddin, was apparently threatened with death if construction failed. He was so convinced that the construction would fail that he had planned his own funeral for the day the bridge was unveiled. 

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Stari Most

Hoardes of people descend on Mostar on day trips from Dubrovnik, cram themselves into the narrow streets of the old town, look at the bridge and then feck off back to Dubrovnik. 

Stari Most stood the test of time until it was destroyed through prolonged bombardment by Croat forces in November 1993. It was painstakingly rebuilt between 2001-2004. The single hump of the bridge rises to 24 metres above the river. The stones are worn and slippy from countless feet crossing it over the generations. Young men dive off the highest point, collecting money from tourists before and after – a kind of high-risk adrenaline heavy busking. Only well trained divers, most of whom are from the area, undertake this as it is a LONG way down. 

 

The bridge is impressive and the view from below back up to the old Turkish part of the town is really lovely. I got up early one morning and went to the bridge before the crowds arrived, and also got the full glare of the sunset on it in the evening. It is iconic and majestic, and pretty incredible that it was commissioned and built 500 years ago. But it is just a bridge. And the hoardes of people who only go to look at the bridge before scuttling back to their buses surely miss out on alot of Mostar’s story.

 

Walking from the bus station when I arrived,, I was struck by how many bombed out derelict buildings there were along the main road. There has been no repair other than what is needed to stop them collapsing. I followed google maps to where my apartment was marked, but kept turning back as it felt like there was nothing down that particular street except for bombed out buildings. A guy came out of a café to ask if I needed help (I clearly looked very lost). He escorted me down the road, and through an archway of what was once a fully intact building (see photo). Out the back were a small cluster of apartments. I literally never would have found it without his confidence that there are homes just behind these ruins.

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Entrance to my apartment in Mostar…it was through that archway to the right of the photo

Walking into town later, I passed a large abandoned building just across from my apartment – I’d say it was once apartments or offices. Looking inside, there was rubbish, furniture, rubble, the odd rusty item sticking out of the rubble. Reminders of a life once lived there. It seemed that the rebuilding efforts stopped abruptly at the edges of the touristy old town. That evening I started walking out to the old Partisans memorial, now abandoned and derelict, but it got dark before I made it that far and it didn’t feel wise to continue. Chances are it would be fine, but in a city that I’m not familiar with and that has areas that are so clearly neglected, my cautious side often wins out.Mostar is clearly still very divided. The Croats mainly live on one side of town, and the Bosniaks on another. There is one high school, but the Croat students have a different curriculum and schedule to the Bosniak students (I heard varying accounts of this but it seems there is certainly some sort of systematic segregation within the school). While in Sarajevo, the first thing people talked about was unity; in Mostar talk very quickly turned to division. I heard alot of visitors expressing disbelief at the concept of a segregated school, wondering why mistrust lingers after a conflict has ended; and while the divisions in Mostar were stark, they were not entirely surprising or alien to me. I know what it feels like when history and experience have taught you to fundamentally distrust a particular country or nation. Trust is not so easily won and long standing divisions not so easily overcome.

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I went on a tour that took in an old Ottoman village that is still largely intact and home to an artists collective, the beautiful Kravice waterfall, and Blagaj dervish house. This dervish house is built into the face of a cliff, and as such was the only religious house of any faith not to be damaged or destroyed during the conflict. Our guide was interesting and informative, but things started getting a bit weird when he had a go at two Catalans in the group about the movement for Catalan independence. Someone asked a question about the amount of Nazi grafitii visible, and he responded that all Croats were Nazis. He became increasingly wound up and was, let’s say, clearly not a fan of the Croats. He told us he had been 4 years old during the main bombardment of Mostar. It was hard to judge him for being angry and suspicious, and equally it was hard to see what kind of a pathway might lead beyond this mistrust and suspicion and anger when their roots run so deep on all sides. 

 

Sarajevo felt hopeful. Mostar felt tense.

 

I had got chatting to a Scottish guy on the tour and we had bonded over trying to figure out Brexit  (it was the day BoJo suspended parliament) and an interest in travel, so we went for a beer afterwards to try to unravel the complex web that is involved in any attempt to understand BiH history and politics. All I could think of was how utterly dysfunctional and despairing but wholly straightforward Irish politics is by comparison. 

 

The other notable thing about Mostar was that it was roasting. It was about 40 degrees both days; something to do with the limestone rocks in the cliffs holding the heat.. And I got mauled by mosquitoes while drinking beer by the river, to the point where I still have scars three months later. 

 

I had an experience in Mostar that is unique to solo travellers. It was tricky to find vegetarian food and I passed a place one night that was serving enormous platters of delicious looking vegetarian food. I asked for a table and the one hostess, who was in perpetual motion co-ordinating tables and taking orders, put me sitting on a stool to wait. She then seated 4 couples ahead of me. I started to get a bit uncomfortable, but figured she knew her own system. Eventually she pointed me towards a table….sitting with the most ridiculously good looking couple imaginable. They were very polite and smiley and I smiled back and then hid in my kindle while working my way through the mound of amazing food. When the couple left, the hostess gestured to another couple and said ‘you can sit with this lady here’. The girl in the couple looked at me,  looked at the hostess and shook her head with a look of visible distaste. Now, I’m sure she just wanted an intimate dinner with her boyfriend. But the look she gave me was like she thought she might catch The Single Plague off me. The hostess gave me a free beer and said ‘thank you for everything’. It was a weird walk home. 

 

It can be intimidating walking into a restaurant or bar on your own, especially when you don’t speak the language. Several times over the course of the holiday, I was told ‘you can’t sit there, you need a smaller table’, even though there are literally NEVER tables set for one. Several times I was moved to make space for couples. It generally doesn’t bother me, but every so often it would be nice not to have society be all ‘EWWWW LOOK AT HER ON HER OWN’ just because I want to have dinner. 

 

I went from Mostar to Kotor in Montenegro with the intention of spending time by the sea and not thinking about genocide for a bit. Montenegro is gorgeous, all dramatic cliffs and azure waters.The house I was staying in had its own swimming area outside the front door. I swam every day, drank Aperol spritz, climbed the old city walls, sat in many beautiful squares, read alot, went to the cat museum and avoided the mix of loved up couples and drunkenly over enthusiastic backpackers (Kotor is a bit of a party town) as best I could. Kotor is a stop for many cruise ships, some days there were three of them anchored in the bay. They spew out thousands of people onto the narrow, hot streets of the old town. They disrupt the marine life and they dominate the view of the bay. One evening I walked out of the historical loveliness of the old town to be met with the vista of an enormous cruise ship that had pulled right into the harbour. It dominated my entire line of vision. They blow their horns when they’re leaving, they are unsightly and its hard to see how they are anything other than environmentally disruptive. I may be turning into a grumpy auld wan, but I got increasingly annoyed at them as the days went on. 

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View from the entrance to the gaff in Kotor

The old city walls and fort crawl up above the old town and are generally very spectacular and cool. It costs €8 for entry and the climb is steep and sweaty. I started it at about 9.30am and it was still roasting. I’m not entirely sure what the €8 is for because it definitely wasn’t for bins. Pink plastic bags hung off the walls and were already overflowing with plastic bottles by 10am. As some of you may know, I have limited patience for avoidable single use plastic. There are fountains all over Kotor where you can fill  up your bottle. And there is nothing stopping you putting an empty bottle in your bag and bringing it to a proper bin later on. But people just dumped their empty bottles on the ground for someone else to clean up after them. In some cases, people just skipped the pretence of putting them near the plastic bags and just dropped them where they stood. I wrote previously about my feelings about mass tourism in Santorini, and Kotor definitely brought back those feelings. People can be real fucking entitled assholes (thank you for coming to my TED talk).

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Part of the old city walls and fort in Kotor, minus ten million plastic bottles

I feel like Bosnia and Montenegro taught me alot, about nationalism, trauma, healing, division, unity. Swimming in the sea every day was restorative and calming. Getting some actual sun was energising.  It was lovely to have time to read, to people watch, to drink wine at 3pm, to wander without any real purpose around beautiful old streets. But by day 7, I was getting bored with myself. Solo travel is great, but it can be lonely. I am passed going out of my way to strike up conversations with strangers. Being on my own for a week in Spain in April was glorious; I relished having that time to myself and being able to indulge in whatever I wanted to do in a given day, to do all the nerdy history things I wanted and structure my days around multiple meals and glasses of wine.  But by the end of 2 weeks, I was craving a bit of company. . So I was happy to come home, grateful for yet another opportunity to visit beautiful places, have the privilege of watching life unfold in another city and learn the infinite lessons about myself and the world that travel always provides. 

I am writing this now, months later, because something stopped me writing it at the time. I think that thing was loneliness; I didn’t want to see what might come out onto the page. So every day I would look at my notebook, and every day I would not write in it. And since coming home, every day I would want to write about this and no words would come.  And now the words are coming, as they always eventually do, imperfectly formed but very real and very much my own. 

 

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Leaning

A few months ago I was standing in the kitchen at work during an organisational wide meeting. It had been a hectic few weeks. I had come out of a particularly busy period in work and had been on the road alot. We had been evicted (for the second time in 15 months) and moved house within a 9 day window. A long standing former colleague had passed away tragically, and while I did not know her well, the atmosphere in work was heavy with grief and loss. My Mam had been in hospital for 10 days. 

I was tired, the kind of tired where my skin felt stretched too tight and my legs felt like they had lead weights hanging off them. 

I was overcome by the urge to just lean on someone.My whole body ached to just feel the support of another body. I side-eyed my colleague standing beside me and figured he might think it a bit odd if I just leaned my whole body weight on him..

So I stood there in my too-tight skin, and took the creeping question about when exactly I might have someone to lean on and packed it away in the box of feelings I keep somewhere in my chest.  

I remember walking home some days during the referendum campaign when I would be overwhelmed with exhaustion to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure if my legs would keep going. I’d look down at the footpath and want to lie down on it, to feel its solidity hold me up. More than once, I stopped and leaned against a wall for a few minutes. I don’t think that type of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, laced with stress and fear and a kind of frantic activity was in any way unique to me at that time.It would have been stressful and terrifying and exhausting any which way because it was a version of that for everyone. But I think there were days when coming home to a hug could have eased some of the rigid physical tension out of me. Hugs release endorphins, they are soothing, they tell us we are safe. There’s a reason why tiny babies love cuddles and what are we only grown up versions of our newborn selves. An intimate and trusted physical presence would not have made the campaign, or indeed its aftermath, less awful but it would have eased the weight a little.

Being single is tinged with a lacking in many ways; a lack of someone to wake up with, someone to go for autumn strolls with, someone to cook breakfast with, someone to call with good news or bad news, someone to watch the evening draw in with, someone to bring you tea in bed, someone to argue with over what to have for dinner. Being the only single person at a social event or work meeting or family event, smiling along to other peoples’ big life news, has become pretty normal but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t also become pretty tired. 

The small things all add up. Wanting to be able to put my head on someone’s chest and know that I’m not alone. Having someone put their arm around my shoulders while I talk about whatever happened during my day. A familiar arm around my waist in the early morning. They may not seem like the biggest deal, but I certainly feel their absence.

There is an emotional, mental and practical undertow to an intimate and trusted physical presence.  Knowing that whatever is going on, they will listen and take your side and bring you tea. Knowing that no matter how terrible other people might think you are, there is one person who thinks you’re great. One person who will be your cheerleader and your critic. One person who will look after you if you’re sick. One person saying ‘It’s ok, I’m here’.

I’ve gotten pretty good at locking away the feelings that lurk in the darker, lonelier corners, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping the lid on that box I keep somewhere in my chest. I don’t know if I can ever take those things out of the box. I don’t know if it’ll just be me, every morning, for the rest of my life. I don’t know if all the words and hopes and love I want to share will have to stay locked away. I don’t know if I will ever have someone to lean on when the weight feels heavy. So I make sure the lid stays on tight and try not to think about it too much.

And I’m supposed to ‘be fine’ on my own, embrace my freedom, cherish the little things, appreciate my wonderful pals, practice gratitude, make my own damn tea. And believe me, I do all of these things. But I still want someone to cuddle, I still want someone to share Sunday mornings with, I still want hugs, I still want to wake up with someone I care about, I still want to know I am someone’s priority, I still want a body to lean into when my own strength is failing me. And I want to be those things for someone else. Because I am human and that is how I am designed. 

This is what comes out now when I sit down to write. I guess we write what we know, what is real for us at a given time, we let little bits of ourselves out onto through our words. I can only write what is true for me, in the full knowledge that everyone’s truth is  different.  Owning your truth, whatever that may be, embracing your authenticity and your vulnerability can be a truly powerful and subversive thing. Telling a bunch of people on the internet that I had to convince myself not to randomly lean on a colleague shouldn’t feel hopeful – but it kinda does.

 

1

I know it’s not me. So why isn’t it me?

A friend sent me a piece recently about how single women experience ambiguous grief – grieving the loss of something we do not have. Grieving the fact we will not have the children we hoped we would have, that we may not have the partner we hoped we would have, that, in fact, we may be all there is. It had never occurred to me before that part of what makes being single as I approach 40 more painful is that it involves not only the loss of people and relationships that were significant to me, but it means facing the loss of things I hoped I would have but do not, and may not ever, have. Children. A family. A shared home. Daily intimacy. 

This is alot to process. It is one thing to choose to be single, or to choose to not have children. It is entirely another to have those things happen to you by circumstance, be that biological or the general roulette of life. 

It is hard to be on an endless merrygoround of celebrating other peoples happiness. Engagements, house purchases, baby announcements on social media or over coffee, tea parties for colleagues celebrating one or all of those things. I am genuinely happy for each person individually, I wish only happy things for people in my life. But each one of these announcements is tinged with a ‘when is it my turn?’ voice in the back of my head. I smile and I hug people and I eat the cake and I ask about wedding, house and baby updates, and for the most part I am genuinely invested in these things. But there is an underlying pain of wondering what exactly has happened that means I am always the one doing the celebrating and never the one being celebrated. I know it’s not me. So why isn’t it me?

As single women, we often hear things like ‘but you’ve a great life, you’ve so much going on! You love your job, you’ve great friends! Focus on the positives!’. Yes, all of those things are true. But think for a minute. Maybe I have so much going on because I need to stay busy and occupy myself so I don’t get pulled into a spiral of sadness. Also, loving your job and having great friends are not things solely reserved for single people. You can love your job, have great friends, and still go home to a loving partner or family. And the greatest of jobs, even the greatest of friends, will not keep me company in my old age. 

Matchmaking of token single friends can become an obsessive, and often embarrassing, pursuit. It can feel at times like single lives are treated as some sort of gameshow.There may not be any malintent in this approach, and sure the grass is always greener, but it still stings. Think about it: ‘God I’ve LOVE to be single for a week! I’m so jealous you’re going away on your own, I’d LOVE a week to myself’.. My life is not something to fantasise about trying on and then hanging back up after a week; it’s my reality. The implicit understanding is that you would still go back to your partner or family after that week. We can all crave change and something different when we know it wouldn’t be permanent unless we want it to be. But I don’t get to hang it all back up after a week. I go away on my own, come home on my own and sleep on my own every night. I don’t have an Option B.  My reality, my loneliness, my ambiguous grief, while it may be invisible, is very real and at times very painful. 

The process of maintaining faith and hope, not giving up while also being realistic is very, very tiring. The process of wanting to meet someone you care about and being terrified of caring about someone again is very, very tiring. The knowing that you need to be vulnerable alongside the knowing that you’re not sure if you can take another round of hurt and rejection, is very, very tiring. These are all common things I hear from single friends; suffice to say we are all pretty exhausted!  We are also the targets of alot of ‘advice’ .This advice is often very conflicting: ‘You need to put yourself out there and manifest what you want/It’ll happen as soon as you’re not thinking about it/Once you chill out about it they will appear out of nowhere’. So by the time we have finished manifesting, putting in the leg work on soul destroying dating apps, holding onto our ever dwindling faith, focusing on ourselves, embracing the unknown, and not thinking about any of it we are probably so exhausted that all we want to do is watch Netflix in bed.

I have done alot of work on myself over the years and I am a pretty self aware person. I know my flaws, my triggers and my sore points. I have spent time and money going to therapy and investing in other things so that I can be the most authentic version of myself. As single people, we often hear things like ‘All that work paid off for me when I met so and so/Meeting so and so was my reward for all that work I did’. WOAH THERE!! For starters, relationships are not a reward or a prize. Sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. Setting them up as a reward implies that only the worthy win this prize, and that if we don’t have one, it is really our fault because we must be doing something wrong. Yeah sure we can feel lucky and grateful when we meet someone cool,  but no one person deserves that more than another person. There is not a hierarchy of deserving for love and happiness, especially not one that heaps the blame onto the single person for a perceived failure to ‘win’ a partner. If you’re lucky, you meet someone you love. If you’re really lucky, you meet someone you love who also sticks around so you get a decent shot at building a relationship (as Sharleen Spiterei would say, ‘Love and loving are two different things’). It’ll definitely have its ups and downs and tough spots, but if you’re lucky, you get to give it a try. It’s not a prize. It’s luck and circumstance.

I could also quite happily never again hear the sentiment ‘‘when you learn to love yourself and be happy on your own, that’s when you’ll meet someone’. The implication here being that 1) I don’t love myself and 2) that I am unhappy on my own – again the implication being that I am doing it wrong, and it’s my fault that I’m single as opposed to it being a case of luck (or bad luck). Let’s clear something up; I love and value myself, and so do all of my single friends. We have left people and relationships that weren’t right for us or that were straight up damaging, we have picked ourselves up and dealt with rejection, hurt and heartbreak over and over – we have done this BECAUSE we love ourselves (and because we are strong as fuck). We do not love ourselves any more or any less than someone in a couple just by virtue of being single.

I know what I have to offer, I know I’m a great (if imperfect due to being human and all) partner.  Me loving myself is not the problem. As for being happy on my own, it is quite possible to feel more than one thing at a time, to be happy on my own (something I’ve managed pretty well for several years now) and also to be lonely and sad at times. It is not a zero sum game. I can be content on my own while also wishing I was not on my own.  This ‘advice’ about my levels of happiness places the blame on me, and reinforces the idea that a relationship is a prize I will win when I finally do things right.  I cannot stress enough, no matter how good the intentions,  how corrosive this approach can be to single folk.

Being single is not always easy. Being in a relationship is not always easy. Being a parent is definitely not always easy. Nothing is perfect, nor is it meant to be. We are complex people navigating complex lives, complex feelings and complex situations. One thing I do know is that society is not designed for single people. Housing, socialising, holidays are all designed with two in mind. The more I think about it, the more the discourse directed at single people is laden with blame, with judgement, with criticism and with the ever present message that we are Doing It Wrong; not loving ourselves enough, not putting ourselves out there enough, being too desperate, being too needy, being too picky, being too unsettled on our own, being too comfortable on our own, threatening men with our ambition, threatening men with our feminism, not prioritising finding a partner, prioritising finding a partner too much, expecting too much, not expecting enough. I want to lie down just writing all of that, let alone absorbing it every day.

Thinking about the fact that I may not have children makes me sad so I generally don’t talk about it or think about it. So we’ll leave that one there. I am used to sleeping on my own, but the thoughts of always sleeping on my own is pretty terrifying. The thoughts of never waking up to  a familiar smile and cups of tea in bed is pretty devastating. Those things are my personal ambiguous grief. 

I like travelling on my own, but the idea that travelling on my own is becoming my normal makes me sad. I have amazing friends,  kind, smart, supportive, funny people in my life. I have an activist community that literally changed my life. But not being someone’s number one is hard.  Not having one person who you know is thinking about you and really, really gives a shit about you, who you can call in a crisis or a celebration, who will look after you when you’re sick and cook you dinner after a long day, who will tell you they love you and think you’re amazing – that’s hard.  Not having the big things – kids, a partner, a shared home – is hard, but not having the little things – shared meals, hugs, sleepy weekend mornings, thoughtful messages, someone to chat to about the minutiae of my day – is also really fucking hard. Feeling that I am carrying around all of this love that is going to waste is a very isolating feeling. I like to think I share it as wide as I can, and that I make some sort of positive mark in my communities, but there is a certain type of love that has nowhere to go. There are certain words that have no one to hear them, certain feelings that have no one to carry them. No matter how much I love and value myself, that, right there, is fucking hard. I’m not sure if that sense of lacking will ever get much easier. 

I am quite a physical and tactile person and I find the lack of physical contact that comes with being single very challenging (casual sex does nothing for me in this regard, if anything it makes it worse). When I’m tired or stressed or feeling anxious, I can feel very physically disconnected. In times of heightened anxiety, I feel fragile in my own skin, disembodied. I desperately want to be able to put my head on someone’s shoulder, to physically lean on someone, to hold on to someone else so I can ground myself again. Not having someone reminding me that they see me and all that I am, that they know me and love me, means I can at times lose sight of myself. Not having a constant, anchoring, reassuring presence makes it that bit easier to get lost at sea. I fundamentally know myself and who I am, I know I am kind, strong, interesting, smart and good company but not ever hearing these things said with love by someone else makes it that bit easier to forget them. I support myself and reassure myself over and over, but it’d be nice to have someone else to do it for a change. I am happy and content within myself, but it would be nice to share that happiness with someone for a change.

The feeling of the lack of a physical supportive presence is very profound for me. The best way I can sum it up is hand holding. When someone takes your hand, it doesn’t just say ‘I’m here’, it is also a reminder that you are there too. It is someone saying ‘I see you, you exist, you matter’. Someone taking your hand reminds you that they are there and that you are there too. That can be the most comforting thing in the world.

 

0

What does heartbreak really feel like?

Heartbreak is so damn personal. It feels different for every person, defined by our story, by how exposed our softer places are at a given time, by how it is delivered, by how often we feel it. It is a spectrum of grief, of hurt, of loss, of having to find our way back through the dark.

There is no one experience of heartbreak, but from talking to people who have felt it, the common theme seems to be that when you are in it, it feels like it will never end. It can feel like it is your new permanent state of being.  You know logically that it will get better, but you don’t really believe it.  It does pass, it does fade, it does get better, and you are still you at the end of it all. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt like hell at the time.

It is important to be able to talk about the difficult, complicated, messy, painful stuff. It is important to name it when we are hurt, to name what, or who, is hurting us. It is important that we don’t feel like we have to be all strong, all the time. And  it is so important that all of us, women and men, girls and boys, trans people, non-binary people, queer, straight, bi and gay people, are listened to and heard when we say that we are hurting. It is so important that all of our broken hearts are handled with care.

Being hurt and being vulnerable and being shaken is part of being human. It does not make us weak, it does not make us emotional or sensitive or irrational. It makes us real. It gives us integrity. It gives us strength. It makes us connected to all of our fellow humans who have ever felt the sting of heartbreak. Whoever we are, we all feel our own version of heartbreak.

So I wrote a thing a while ago about heartbreak. It’s not particularly fun. As usual, it doesn’t rhyme or have any structure. But it is real. And I hope that, just maybe,  it eases the weight for someone who is carrying their own heartbreak. Because sometimes knowing that others have felt it too can make that load a little lighter.  We are all strong and delicate in equal measure, and we are all doing great as our perfectly imperfect selves, dented hearts and all.

 

What does heartbreak really feel like?

Heartbreak is a cloud that settles around you,

Making hazy all the light

Heartbreak sighs through your bones

Filling all your empty places

Heartbreak is a physical pain,

Bending you to the point of breaking

 

Heartbreak is an empty bed and empty arms

Heartbreak is all the words that have no one to hear them

Heartbreak is all the love with no one to hold it

Heartbreak is all the dreams never shared

Heartbreak is all the hope never felt

Heartbreak is all the truth never spoken

Heartbreak is all the futures never lived

 

Heartbreak hollows you out

Leaves you rattling in your bones

Heartbreak is the biting wind

Carrying its bitter and broken promises

Heartbreak is the weight that drags behind you

 

Heartbreak is the smile you do not see

 

Heartbreak is less sparkle and more shadows

Heartbreak is the heavy weight of grief

Heartbreak sits on your lips

In all the words you cannot say

In all of the memories

That no longer have a place

 

Heartbreak asks over and over in restless sleep

How could you hurt me like this?

How could you leave me

Like it was

The easiest thing in the world

How could you break my heart

Like it was

The most trifling thing

 

Heartbreak is consuming

Heartbreak is exhausting

Heartbreak is cruel

Heartbreak is cold

Heartbreak is smothering

Heartbreak is angry

Heartbreak is desolate

Heartbreak is lonely

Heartbreak is fierce

 

Heartbreak leaves you bruised and leaves you tender

Heartbreak leaves you heavy and leaves you bitter

Heartbreak feels brittle at the edges

And hard at the centre

Heartbreak is most comfortable

In your already broken places

Heartbreaks leaves you begging in breathless gasps

Holding the final delicate threads together

 

Heartbreak makes you softer

Heartbreak makes you stronger

Heartbreak makes you careful

Heartbreak makes you wonder

Why you ever wanted to be the person

Who would show me

What heartbreak really feels like

 

 

 

1

Reflections of a 38 year old single woman

There’s a particular head tilt that single women in their late 30s are offered when we respond to the predictable ‘sooooo….anyone on the scene?’ question. It’s a unique mix of pity, sympathy and judgement. The advice that inevitably follows (‘But have you tried Tinder? Maybe you should take up tag rugby?) is laced with good intentions, no doubt, but also a thinly veiled contempt that you must be doing something wrong; not trying hard enough, not putting yourself ‘out there’, being too picky. You must somehow be dysfunctional to have reached this life stage, when everyone around you is marrying and settling down and starting families, and not have ‘found’ a partner. As if a partner is like a lost set of keys and if you just look a bit harder, you’ll find him/her between the couch cushions.  Maybe they’re secretly afraid you’ll start flinging cats at them, or start having wanton sex with the first man you see, or insist on sitting in the corner in your fluffy PJs eating Branston pickle from the jar. Because let’s face it, society views single women in our late 30s as a bit inconvenient, a bit undesirable, a bit wrong. Society does not like or trust single women, especially those whose fertile eggs are in daily decline. Just to be clear, society says single men in their late 30s are totally grand, they just haven’t been ‘tied down’ yet, and their sperm is still totally viable. Phew.

It’s important to break down the misconceptions and stereotypes around single women, to challenge the notion that singlehood=failure, or that singlehood=constant wild freedom and fulfilment. It’s important to talk about alternative support structures and communities that are not built solely around romantic love and couples. That’s what me and Katie aim to do on our podcast, No Men Live Here.

There are lots of positives to being single. You are the master of your own time, you do not owe anyone else your time, emotions or energy. You can watch what you want on Netflix, eat what you want, have all the bedclothes to yourself. You have more time for your friends, your hobbies, your passions. You can have as much casual sex as you want. But I think it’s also important to say that, from where I’m standing, being single is sometimes really fucking hard and really fucking lonely. It’s important to say that, just like relationships, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard work.  It is sometimes but not always a choice.  Being a single woman is not easy and it only gets harder as you get older, and as with anything where society would love women to stay quiet, it’s important to just fucking say that without shame and without stigma.

I’ve been single for years on end at various points in my life. I don’t have an overly romanticised view of either relationships or singledom. I know that having a partner is no guarantee of support and kindness and excitement, and certainly no guarantee of eternal happiness. I also know that relationships are more often than not a matter of luck. They are not a prize to be won. Wanting a loving, supportive man in my life does not make me weak. It does not make me dependent. It does not make me a bad feminist. In fact, part of my strength and integrity as a single 38 year old women is saying that I believe that, when the pieces are right, life is better with two. So here we go. Baring my single soul.

There were days during the referendum campaign where I would have given anything to have a partner to call after a bad canvas, to have a hug waiting at the end of a stressful emotional day, to have someone to offload to. To have someone cook me dinner and check in about how I was doing. It would have been nice to have someone to share the load with on days when it felt particularly heavy. It would have been nice to be able to borrow someone elses strength sometimes. It would have been nice to have someone to lean on when others were leaning on me. In the days and weeks after the result, it would have been amazing to have a person to share those momentous feelings with. I was lucky enough to be able to share it with a community of activists who I love, admire and respect. But there was a twinge of a lacking that in the sea of hugs and tears, there wasn’t a hug waiting just for me.

Choosing to be single is a totally valid life decision, and one that needs to be valued and acknowledged much more. For me, given the choice, I would not be single at this stage in my life. Being single at 38 is an entirely different experience to being single at 28. Being single by choice and being single by circumstance are two different branches of the same tree.

I am surrounded by wonderful people, I have the most incredible, intelligent, funny, kind, driven, talented, passionate, thoughtful, ambitious, beautiful friends. Single or not, they look out for me and support me in ways I do my best to reciprocate. But it is still hard being single. It’s hard not having someone to message after something exciting happens in work. It’s hard not having someone to bring you Lemsip and tea and sympathy when you’re sick. It’s hard not having a hug waiting for you at the end of a long day. It’s hard not having someone to share photos with when you’re in a beautiful place. It’s hard not having one person who really, really, gives a shit about whether or not you’re ok.

It’s hard not having someone to share meals, holidays and life events with. It’s hard being the only single person at a social event. It’s hard celebrating other peoples’ happiness while ignoring the voice that whispers ‘but when is it my turn?’.

I don’t mind being single. I have everything I need, and most of the time I am quite content. I long ago decided that I would rather be single forever than compromise on what I want and deserve, than shrink and reduce myself to fit someone else’s mold.

I don’t want (or need) someone else to make me feel complete. I don’t want to look at someone and think ‘I couldn’t live without them’. I don’t want or expect a fairytale magical spontaneous self-sustaining happy ever after. I do want someone to value and appreciate me as my perfectly imperfect self, and want to hang out with my perfectly imperfect self every day. I do want to look at someone and think ‘life is better with this person around’ and know they think the same about me. I do want to build a loving, strong, supportive and sustainable partnership with someone who wants to build the same thing with me.

It’s hard coming home at the end of the day with a head full of words and no one to say them to. It’s hard carrying around a heart full of love and having no one to share it with. I think the bit I find hardest is going to sleep and waking up on my own day in, day out. I was going through notebooks a few days ago and found the below piece. I think I wrote it not long after the referendum, possibly after a disappointing online dating interaction. I guess it’s about hope, and faith and nostalgia and sadness and the places your mind sometimes goes when you’re sleeping alone. So I’ll finish by saying that no matter where you are standing right now, your perfectly imperfect self is enough and I hope that life is full and exciting and bright.

It’s ok to be happy and content being single, and it’s ok to be a little bit sad about it sometimes.

The Dark

As you climb into another empty bed,

You hold onto the memory, further away than last night,

Of breath at your neck and an arm around your waist

Of waking in the night, eager for them to come back to bed

Just so that you can be close to them in that space that is only yours

You hold on to the memory of sleepy morning kisses

And making plans for the day

Of hands in your hair and talking for endless hours

You hold on to the memory, blurry as it is,

Of the weight

And the warmth

And words mumbled in the dark

Of fingers interlocking

And cups of tea in bed

You hold onto the knowing

That once someone loved you

Once someone held you

Once someone wanted to start their day with no one but you

Once someone kissed you

And wanted you fiercely

You hold onto the memory, blurry and hazy now,

Of what it was like

To take someone’s hand in a nightmare

To smell them on your pillow

To sleep beside a warm body

And as you drift to sleep

You let go of the memories

And hold onto the knowing

That you will feel all of this again

And that the sun will surely rise again tomorrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

An Ode…..

 

 

IMG_0723-04-10-18-00-59It’s January 1st, 2019.  A whole new year lies ahead, a beautiful blank page waiting to be filled. I tend to wait until Imbolc (St. Brigid’s day) to set intentions for the year, but I find I have been doing alot of reflecting on 2018. For starters, it  was about 50 years long. It contained the highest highs, stress, anxiety, upset, joy, pride, love, new skills, new lessons, new countries, new friendships, new house, new job, new challenges.

This time last year, I set out into 2018 with the intention and commitment to do everything physically, mentally and emotionally possible to repeal the 8th amendment. All over Ireland, people were making similar resolutions. At that stage the outcome felt far from certain. But we did it; we did it through collective action, hard work, hard compromises, exhaustion, friendship, compassion, determination and grit. Getting to 66.4% was gruelling and bruising, but what that result means for the future of Ireland is a truly beautiful legacy.

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago. I wrote it partly as a reaction to frustration at the praising of politicians as the champions of the campaign, and the blanking out of the campaign as a grassroots women led movement. I wrote it partly out of wanting to pay tribute to the women I met and worked with over the past 2 years or so in ARC. As such I wrote it with the women of ARC in mind – yes, there were some brilliant men there aswell, but because they are so brilliant they are comfortable not trying to claim space from women – so yes, I talk about women in this piece because the people I was thinking about when I wrote this are (almost entirely but not exclusively) women.  I also wanted to pay tribute to the quiet, mundane, essential work, to the sheer scale of the work, to the support and solidarity, to the feeling that washed over me on the 25th and 26th of May. I wanted to pay tribute to the fact that so many people in so many ways did their absolute best.

Maybe it will make you think of people you organised with. Maybe your experience of the campaign was different but some of the sentiment may be similar. I wrote it with respect, admiration and love for the women I saw making huge sacrifices and compromises daily, working with skill, drive, commitment and determination, the women who held me together, the women who did their best and so much more. And, in ways, I wrote it for every person in every county who was part of the legacy that we left together in 2018.

I read it at the ARC Choicefest party a few weeks ago. I was a little bit drunk, a little bit emotional and very unsure about interrupting the celebration to read something. But I did. And it was lovely. So here we go.

Apparently and ode is ‘expressive of exalted or enthusiastic emotion’.

So let’s call this….

An Ode to ARC

We are the women who get shit done

We are marchers and shouters, demo holders and graphic designers

We are trainers, bucket shakers, merch packers, poster assemblers, placard makers,

We are live tweeters, minute takers, treasurers, banner stitchers, and spreadsheet keepers

We are the women who get shit done

We are the women who would not stay quiet

Who raised our voices over and over

Until 66.4% joined us in a collective roar

We stand on the shoulders of so many others

Who refused to compromise when they were told they were extreme and unreasonable and oh so shrill

Who always kept their eyes on the vision

Repeal the 8th

Free, safe, legal

We are who we are because of the women who met and who rallied and who said the word abortion when no one else thought they should

We are who we are

Because of the women who were the first to wear a repeal badge in their village

Who stood at stalls in the rain with handmade banners and flasks of tea

The women who shared their stories and spoke their truth

We are the women who drove the length and breadth of a county to leave no door unknocked

The kind of women who say ‘I’ll canvas Belmullet on my own if I have to’

 

2018 arrives and there are AGMs and EGMs, discussions and votes

There are canvas guides, canvas training, there are politicians saying words we NEVER thought they would say.

There are hundreds of unread whatsapp messages.

Then there is some snow, and then there is a date in May……

Annual leave and unpaid leave is booked, the rest of life starts of be put on hold,

And there are 67 days….66 days….plenty of time and no time at all.

Emails and phone calls, press conferences, branding, merch, fundraisers, media plans, countless jumpers, videos, regional launches, advice from the helpful men, pop up shops, crowd funds and holy fuck we just raised half a million euro and Sarah Mon is the most recognisable face in Ireland,

Boxes of leaflets waiting in the hallway, photo calls,  Parents for Yes, Farmers for Yes, Grandparents for Yes, Men for Yes, Midwives for Yes, Dogs for Yes…. meetings, and of course…..POSTERS….. a little blue van that visited every county, stickers, ad mobiles, badges flying out in their thousands, speech bubbles, postcards, count centre passes, and so much more that we did not see and will probably never know.

Pavements pounded and doors knocked, enthusiastic yeses, hard nos, difficult conversations, stories shared, knuckles bruised from old letter boxes, anxious tallies and debates ‘was that a silent yes, or a silent no?’

We turn our backs and we hold our heads high

We find a way to smile

And through gritted teeth we say ‘I can understand your concerns’

Though our hearts beat loudly – it’s my body, my choice

24/7 and sure who needs sleep because on the 25th of May we would know

That we could not have done more

And that we all did our best

 

Sleep has turned into someone you used to know

Replaced by the bubbling anxiety and the raw unspoken fear

‘What if we lose?’

And we fantasise about what we will do when it’s all over

Cook a meal

Read a book

Get the ride

Go on holidays

Have bodily autonomy

And know that we could not have done more

And that we all did our best

 

And we hold each other together with coffee and hugs and ‘how are you doing?’ and jellies that burn the surface of your tongue

With doughnuts and pints and bags of crisps for dinner

With solidarity, love, humour and sheer bloody grit

 

Standing in that booth, shaking all over

Oh fuck it, what if I vote no by mistake?

Take a deep breath and mark that X

Mark it for me, for you, for her, for all of us

Take a deep breath and hope it’s all been enough

And know, that we could not have done more

And that we all did our best

 

And to everyone who asks ‘how do you think it’ll go?’

‘Oh it’ll be close, if it goes our way maybe 55%’

And I’m buying my own hype and we’re all buying the hype and the red alert and I think

I’ll pass out when someone says the words exit poll

And I hold onto whoever is beside me surrounded by anxious, tired, hopeful faces

Then the words

Margin of victory for the Yes side ….

And the room explodes

With sobs of relief and pride and joy

Tight embraces and beaming smiles on tear stained faces

Hands covering mouths and voices shaking

We did it, we did it

And it was so close…….we nearly had that sex number….

 

The results pour in and the yeses pile higher

And the RDS is a sea of tears and hugs and bursting pride and Gráinne and Sarah being absolute rockstars and I’m fairly sure I have never cried so much and everyone is in love with everyone else

And there’s beer and dancing and exhausted happy faces and a weight has been lifted and the work is not over but fuck me we did it! And 66.4 is officially the best number ever and my body feels lighter

And though we are all broken I don’t think we’ve ever been stronger

 

We are the women this country has always sought to shame and silence

We are the echoes of the Madgdalenes and of Tuam

We are the women whose names you know and whose names you will never know

We are the women who travel

We are the women who bleed

We are the women who will not be quiet

And will not go away

Who will not apologise

For knowing our worth and knowing our power

 

We are fighters and survivors

We are mothers and we are lovers

We are strong and we are resilient

We are light and we are fire

We are fierce and we are kind

 

We are the change makers

We are the history shapers

We are the women

Who get shit done

 

 

You can hear this piece being read over footage of different marches and campaign activities at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P_i5TgUiyA&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2k09GCRe7Td01e2CKBndDfVCsHYRm5iqdS29wwGQrP7PymmhpaxiGHIsM