Growing Farmers for Yes - getting a Yes vote over the line in rural Ireland

A few of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign parade participants, March 2018 (photo by Georgina Willis)

A few of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign parade participants, March 2018 (photo by Georgina Willis)

This blog is one of a series of perspectives written by members of London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign to mark the first anniversary of the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Read the rest here.

During an icy sequel to the “Beast from the East” at the London St Patrick’s Day parade in 2018, I found myself hectically cheerleading a crowd of participants in the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign parade entry. The entry was called Behind Every County and it used wooden cut-outs of each county in Ireland to highlight the need for free, safe, legal abortion healthcare across the island.  

To build support for repealing the Eighth Amendment, I had decided to help get this brilliantly vivid message clearly heard in rural Ireland. Having grown up in the Irish countryside and drawing on my previous activism, I knew that many people pay more attention to their local newspapers than to national ones. On visits to my parents in Ireland in December 2017 and February 2018, I had been concerned by the overwhelmingly anti-choice coverage in one of the local papers. In the name of taking positive action to improve this situation, my partner and I volunteered to carry out a local media campaign, to send press releases and photos of the London parade entry to newspapers in all 32 counties in Ireland.

So that’s how we found ourselves in icy winds on St Patrick’s Day, surrounded by dedicated volunteers, dashing to individually photograph all 32 counties in a very tight window of time. It was incredibly heartening to see the patience and determination of the hundreds of marchers, who cheered as enthusiastically for Offaly and Monaghan as they did for Dublin.

There had been no shortage of volunteers either, when we sent out a call for people from each county to put their names and photos forward to accompany our press releases. Each person who consented to being named in their local paper encouraged the curious attention of their former school teachers and neighbours, as they publicly declared their support for the campaign. In doing so, these volunteers were helping Ireland to grow beyond past decades of trauma, secrecy and shame, including the 1980s when pro-choice activists were subject to physical violence while campaigning.

In an example of how just getting involved enables future actions to develop in previously unimagined ways, my partner and I subsequently spotted a way to further grow support in rural Ireland, by coordinating a Farmers for Yes media campaign. Building on the local knowledge and confidence we had gained from the London St Patrick’s Day action and checking in with the originators of @FarmersR8th, we used a photography road trip around Ireland to build a network of farmers ready for media appearances and to help get our #farmers4yes hashtag trending.

On our Farmers for Yes road trip, this farming family wanted to show their support across 3 generations (photo by Georgina Willis)

On our Farmers for Yes road trip, this farming family wanted to show their support across 3 generations (photo by Georgina Willis)

On this road trip, the farmer-activists we met were extremely diverse in age, backgrounds and political leanings, and yet they were unquestionably united in that last month – with all of us devoting our energies towards getting a Yes vote over the line.

This amazing solidarity in spring 2018 between Repeal campaigners in Ireland and abroad didn’t just suddenly manifest, nor was it ‘a quiet revolution’ (credit for that particular under-statement goes to Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar). Repeal was a busy, bold grassroots movement, built up, sometimes in hostile circumstances, by thousands of activists over many years.  And this long history of commitment means that the solidarity didn’t disappear after Repeal was won. One year on from the successful referendum to repeal the Eighth, there is plenty more to do in building the momentum for securing, and equalising, free, safe, legal and local abortion healthcare in the north of Ireland and worldwide. My activist adventures have shown me that by simply getting involved, even if you live away from your home country, you can contribute in all sorts of wonderful and unpredictable ways to future waves of positive change.

Sarah Cantwell is a member of London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign

We’ll be gathering to mark the first year since we Repealed the Eighth Amendment on Saturday May 25th. Join us.

Hannah Little