“It’s always too soon to go home.” -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Yesterday, on September 30th, the streets of Dublin saw marchers. They were demonstrating as part of the ‘March for Choice’, a pro-choice campaign aiming to change Ireland’s abortion laws, specifically a campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Republic’s constitution. This movement hopes to give pregnant women and unborn babies an equal right to life. There is to be a referendum on the matter in 2018, but this Saturday saw anger, as well as inspiration and hope, marching in the capital. I was lucky enough to march with them.
During my first week at Trinity College, Dublin I talked to a girl who informed me about the march. I had seen signs advertising it around the city, but there was a sense of urgency about the issue when it came from a person, not a poster. No slogan or statistic can be quite so effective as speech from a human face who cares about an issue. She told me that it was common for girls in Ireland to have money saved away in case they ever got pregnant and needed to travel to Britain in order to have the procedure. She informed me that this was normal, and something girls did from adolescence.
This was naturally shocking for me, and something I could hardly fathom. Coming from a position of privilege in both time and space (as well as evident ignorance), it seemed incomprehensible that teenagers had to set up secret funds due to the political climate of their home state. That’s something people in history did, or the habits of those that live far, far way. Not people younger than me, living just a half hour flight away from my childhood bedroom.
Of course, I’m being facetious, but not as much as I’d like to claim.
At first, this may not seem like the sort of march someone like me would attend: an English male marching for the rights of women in Ireland. Of course, this is the wrong way to think about it. For one thing, the whole issue concerns not just women, but families and doctors and loved ones who are inevitably brought into the sphere of the debate, such is its scale and importance. Secondly, no matter what the issue may be, a problem must be addressed by those beyond its immediate victims. We send money to aid relief across the globe, knowing that we have no family there. We sign petitions and raise awareness for persecuted minorities, knowing full well that we have the privilege of never having to fear that particular repressive government. We march for causes that don’t immediately affect us because we have a feeling that it’s the right thing to do and that the weight of morality and justice lies with us in doing so.
Of course, most of the people marching need not think like this. Whilst there was a clear diversity of demonstrators, the majority of people around me were Irish women and men, banners in hand, adorning badges on their lapels, shouting slogans that were both funny and sad. They had an immediacy in their words and, presumably, money set aside in their bank accounts. They did not need to contemplate their position on the issue. There was a diversity of groups: some marched in the name of socialism, others as representatives of the Union of Students in Ireland. Some, like myself, were marching of their own volition. However, we were united by the same goal: to repeal an obtuse, vile, and dangerous constitutional amendment. Or, to rework one of the more commonly used phrases amongst the marchers, to keep the rosaries off the ovaries.
The whole thing was a reminder of power and of hope. People’s power exists because of historical precedent. Not because it has worked every time, but because it has failed time and time again in face of a stronger, more established adversary. Yet, there still survived a glimmer of hope that inspired some to keep on fighting until, eventually, the people won. I feel that will be so here. Whatever the result of the referendum, this march was a success. It was a success simply because it happened. It was a success because it continued the legacy of all those protests in the past, and will inspire future fights towards justice and a better world. Hope is valuable not because it pays off every time, but because when it does, it pays out big.
In the same text I quoted at the beginning, Solnit also writes: “We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision.” The story didn’t end with this march, and it certainly won’t end after the referendum next year, whatever its result. A new sentence has been added to the story, and with every courageous step taken Saturday, every slogan written and rhyme shouted, Ireland was moved a step closer to a brighter chapter.