The 5th annual march for choice took place in Ireland on the 24th of September.
The march was nothing short of an inspiration. More than 20’000 people turned out despite bus strikes and rain, and indeed social media on the morning of the 24th informed me that nobody had even entertained the idea that the rain would act as a deterrent.
There were solidarity marches organized in 24 locations in 13 countries and an outpouring of messages of support. At the garden of remembrance, the chosen point of departure for the march, the amount of people in attendance was demonstrated by the length of time it took for us to get moving. My friends and I hadn’t even taken a step by half two – a full half an hour after the people at the front of the demonstration had started to walk.
Along the way, I got talking to a French woman who had just arrived in Dublin and, having got caught up in the demonstration had decided to stay and protest when she found out what it was for. Then there was the Belgian man sitting beside me on my flight back to Brussels who had gone to Dublin for a weekend of couch-surfing and had also attended the march.
There were a few minor anti-choice demonstrations along the way, such as that of the man who stood to the side waving the flag of Vatican City and brandishing a portrait of the Virgin Mary at the crowd. However, these seemed like minor, near-innocuous blips that were shielded by the overwhelming sense of solidarity that was shared between the thousands of marchers.
Indeed, such micro and macro demonstrations of support for the movement seemed to me indicative of a seismic shift in support for the abortion rights movement in Ireland. I felt like the tide had turned and that the anti-choice side would begin to accept the reality that the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment is supported by the majority of Irish people, as recent polls have demonstrated.
However, my optimism that the anti-choicers would go quietly was, of course, naïve. It was also a violation of my very own mantra as a citizen of twenty-first society. A mantra that cautions to always ‘beware the echo chamber.’ By echo chamber I am referring to the media phenomenon that causes individual belief systems to be reinforced through the creation of an environment, say a social media platform, in which the similar opinions of like-minded people are repeated or ‘echoed.’ In my case, it was my pro-choice twitter feed that lulled me into a false sense of security.
In the two weeks that followed the march, the cozy liberal bubble in which I have stationed myself has been dealt a devastating blow. Only a few days after the march I woke up to a message from my mother with a photo of a newspaper article detailing the vandalism of a pro-choice TD’s office, the words ‘baby killer out’ scrawled across the façade. It was a shocking photo; the message was visceral, and the rendering – crude. My mam followed it with another text that read ‘take it from someone who remembers 1983 – they’re only warming up.’
I had hoped that she was wrong. 1983 was the year that the people of Ireland passed the eighth amendment to the constitution, effectively placing a constitutional ban on abortion and equating the life of a pregnant woman to that of a foetus. I had heard stories of the horrid campaign tactics employed by the anti-choice side in the eighties and I really hoped that things had changed. But the last two weeks have resurrected some of the most ugly and cruel aspects of the anti-choice campaign. – A man spitting at an Abortion Rights Campaign volunteer as she took down some of the posters that had been put up to advertise the march. A plethora of insensitive articles claiming, among other things, that the ‘right to choose reinforces the patriarchy’ or that, ‘the contents of abortion are debris,’ even for those suffering as result of a fatal fetal abnormality diagnosis.
Actions and words such as these highlight the fact that although most anti-choice campaigners will no longer be found in the street clutching framed pictures of the Virgin, there are still a sizeable number of them who continue to sing from Mary’s hymn sheet.
The proliferation of vocal and venomous anti-choice discourse is both maddening and hurtful, but it will not quash the momentum that is now behind the campaign. If anything, the events of the past fortnight have galvanized the pro-choice movement. One ingenious tactic adopted by an enterprising activist on my Twitter feed is to match every hurtful statement made by an anti-choice Irish Senator with a donation to a pro-choice organization. It is this kind of attitude that will sustain the solidarity that was so palpable at the March for Choice. And although we should undoubtedly be mindful of the pitfalls of the ‘echo chamber’ phenomenon, I am also hugely grateful to my Twitter bubble for continuing to present me with the determination of the men and women of Ireland who are tirelessly campaigning to repeal the 8th amendment. Their determination is a constant source of inspiration to me and it has encouraged me to continue campaigning until we arrive at a time when we have repealed the 8th amendment and the women of Ireland have been granted complete bodily autonomy and full access to their fundamental human rights.