Kathy D’Arcy – Chair, Cork Together for Yes
This is an Op Ed I wrote for the local Cork paper The Echo, as Chair of Cork Together for Yes. It was published in the days after the referendum. Our big, colourful office was still open, and I was still confident that I could continue fighting with all the energy I had used for the previous months. In fact, I’m still coming back to myself, as are so many comrades. Just a wee footnote: the song I refer to at the end is by Rammstein, not George Harrison… 🙂
I spent the last mornings before the referendum on a bridge with my father, holding a banner that said ‘Vote Yes!’ and waving and smiling at the traffic. In the midst of a constant barrage of stigmatising, shaming posters everywhere it felt healing when cars flashed their lights or beeped to show that their support. It was even more moving that I was doing it with my father. It’s beautiful to start the day that way.
But reflecting now, I realise that what I was doing, what so many of us have been doing for so many years now, was standing in public, waving at strangers, asking them to please see me. That’s Notting Hill funny maybe, but I have felt afraid. I have felt unsafe. I have been telling strangers that, on the bridge, on the streets, in letters to this paper. I have been asking people to hear what I’m saying and to help me. I have been smiling while I asked, so that nobody thinks I am angry; apparently that’s inappropriate. But I have been asking for help.
On the bridge, some people would flash their lights and smile; truckers, families on their way to school, farmers in tractors, older people, so many. Some people stand up for women, and do not turn away. Some people voted Yes, and made this country kinder for us all.
Some people didn’t react. Some people are maybe scared to think about the reality that though nobody ever wants to have an abortion, some women need to. Some people have had their own difficulties, and found this whole debate too uncomfortable to engage with. I hope that these people can now find the strength to face up the realities of life for so many women, and open their hearts.
The odd person made an obscene gesture. It’s disappointing, but I suppose some people still feel that women should do what they are told and stay quiet. But the world has moved on, so much. I hope that these people can now start to come to a more peaceful, compassionate place in their lives, a place where they don’t need to feel threatened by the happiness and wellbeing of others. I hope that these people can start to think more clearly about the women they love and about themselves.
It was only on Saturday that I discovered that it was actually most people who were flashing their lights.
I think that people who look back on this movement in the future will remember most of all the love and positivity that shone out from it. This was all about love. There’s always a feeling around something like this that we need to revert to trusted norms – hierarchy, patriarchy, polemic – in order to get the job done, because that’s what the other side are doing. I think we moved sideways into a more women-led, non-hierarchical, friendship-based space, and I think that we have shown incontrovertibly that there is more power in these feminist spaces than in the traditional, top-down systems that we thought we had to use.
This was a grassroots, people-powered movement. We literally only had ourselves – and I will forever be grateful beyond words to everyone who stood with us and suspended their lives to get this done. In Cork, a huge number of campaign volunteers had never campaigned before. We supported each other to learn together, and we had the guidance of so many of the leaders of the Marriage Equality movement every step of the way. What I learned was that our selves were enough. More than enough. The network we’ve built over the last few months is so strong and powerful now, and we have an unmistakeable mandate from the people to keep working.
Today, women are leaving Ireland to seek necessary abortion care abroad, and that is not acceptable. It was never acceptable, but now the constitutional barrier that has caused so much pain and suffering for thirty-five years is finally gone, and we need to immediately enact legislation to allow for that care to be provided to women and pregnant people here, at home, in Ireland. The people – who voted in full knowledge of the proposed legislation – have said they want it, a huge number of our doctors have said they want to deliver it, and the leaders we elected have said that they want to bring it into being as quickly as possible.
Our work is actually only starting now. We need to work with our public representatives to support them to enact legislation that is fair, inclusive, and workable. We need to make sure that conscientious objection doesn’t in any way interfere with pregnant people’s right to access timely abortion care close to home. We need to think about what exactly is achieved by a wait period, and whether this in combination with problematic conscientious objection could lead to quite serious potential problems for women in crisis. We need to communicate our concerns and our expectations to the people who must enact the legislation that we need to bring this compassionate new Ireland into being. We need to provide guidance to each other so we can work together again to get this done, and I for one am more than ready.
When the exit polls came in late on the evening of the 24th, I was numb. I wasn’t able to allow myself to believe it. I went home feeling frozen, and woke frozen. It was like a dream. As I walked to the count centre in the early morning sunlight I was listening to loud music in order to wake up, as I’ve done for the last few weeks now after three or four hours’ sleep, and when I rounded the corner and faced the door through which I would go to tally the votes, the chorus began. ‘Here comes the sun.’ I thought suddenly of thousands of women standing in the dark for years, silent, ashamed, abandoned. I thought of the sun slowly dawning on their faces, of them slowly turning their eyes up. I was finally able to cry.