A couch

Rebels4Choice volunteers pictured on the couch of the title holding a green flag
Before it was a bed: the couch in happier times.

Luke Field, Rebels4Choice

Thinking back to the referendum in 2018, the first memory that jumps out at me is not a conversation I had, or a leaflet I handed out, or a badge I wore, or a poster I saw.

It is a couch. A broken-down, falling-apart, cracked-skin couch, upholstered in what at one point may have passed for black or dark brown leatherette, and barely capable of providing a modicum of comfort. This couch was my home for the duration of the referendum campaign.

At the end of 2017, I began the process of moving from Dublin back home to Cork. This had been in the pipeline for some time, but it became accelerated as the likelihood of a referendum on abortion grew. I knew that I would be heavily involved in the campaign (through Labour, not yet being an ARC member) and it was clear to me that I could do more good in Cork than I could in Dublin. (Plus, nobody ever heard a Cork person say it was too soon to leave the Pale.)

Unfortunately, Leeside had by this time become utterly gripped by the housing crisis. With two friends of equally modest means, I embarked on a torturous house-hunt that ultimately ended up with us roosting in the upper floors of a mid-terrace house near UCC.

Time passed, and I took on more formal responsibilities with the Together for Yes campaign. I was also still working three days a week in Dublin: I would rise out of my misshapen mattress on a Monday morning and take the 06:15am express train to Dublin, stay there on Monday and Tuesday nights after work, and return home to Cork after my Wednesday shift. The next few days would pass in a blur of meetings, trainings, plannings, and schemings, with a collapse into the structureless marshmallow of my bed at the end of each weary evening. Then Monday would come and the cycle would resume.

This, until one Saturday came when I could barely move upon waking. Returning home, I couldn’t face the bed again, and collapsed instead onto the living room’s horrific couch. Surprisingly, the next day I woke with less pain. Over the next few days I experimented with this, and the results were the same each time: waking on the couch would present me with some pain but also some mobility, while waking in the bed left me with plenty of the former and none of the latter. Thus, I announced to my housemates that I would be taking up residence on the couch for the duration of the referendum.

And so it went. The campaign gathered pace: we opened an office, increased our training schedule, ran regular events, and began canvassing several times a day. Canvasses would take place in the afternoons and evenings.

Days began and ended for me with that couch: rising at the dawn to get my train on my working days, or throwing out a hand blindly to turn the radio on for Cork’s morning talk shows because we had representatives on, or sleeping as late as I could get away with. Then the canvass duties would come, or a training session. I would return home and collapse onto the couch, and tally up the madness of the day that had passed.

As time went on, the days grew longer. I would spend the days and nights furiously canvassing, or planning canvasses, or providing training, or administrating all of the above. I’m told that the office was a beautifully fun and social space during the day; from my perch in the back office, I saw barely any of it. Then I would trudge back to my couch for a few hours’ sleep before beginning again.

The longest I spent between visits to the couch was 26 May: results day. At dawn I dragged myself upright, bleary-eyed from an exhaustion that had almost rendered me non-verbal the day before, and headed off to co-ordinate the tally. The rest of the day was spent bouncing between Cork’s City Hall, the campaign office, and the various hostelries where we celebrated like nothing on earth, repeatedly falling to pieces and pulling ourselves back together. It wasn’t until the very wee hours that I was reunited with the couch; I’m told that I didn’t fall asleep on the couch that night (preferring instead the stairs of the flat), but I did wake up there the next morning, with a tongue like sandpaper and a head that could sink a battleship.

Plenty would change thereafter. I moved out and found a new flat, with a couch in better condition (though still slightly dodgy), and I no longer have to sleep on it. And of course, with an eye to the work still to be done, I joined the Abortion Rights Campaign.

I’m sure the old couch is still there, right where I left it, and just as it is in my memory: imperfect and far from ideal, but better than the alternative, and enough to see me through to our victory.