Monday, May 1, 2017

A response to 'Abortion movement has been hijacked by the middle class'

Hi. You may not know me. In my spare time, I am one of the Co-conveners of the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), which you may have heard of because it's the largest abortion rights campaign in Ireland (we do what it says on the tin). I'm writing this on my own blog because these opinions are my own and do not represent ARC's views.

Today, we woke up to an article in the Irish Times by Kitty Holland, entitled, "Abortion movement has been hijacked by the middle class." I'm not going to attempt to summarise it. So I'm going to pick out specific points.

First off, I commend Kitty for being frank and open about her two abortions. I appreciate everything involved in writing about abortion from a personal perspective so publicly. It takes courage.

However, she says, "In October 2012, Savita Halappanavar’s death awakened a new generation to the abortion wars and in 2015 two brave women, Róisín Ingle and Tara Flynn, received nothing but support for speaking publicly about their abortions." I know this statement to be patently untrue. If I'm not mistaken, there was huge public outcry, including threats to their personal safety, causing much distress and the need to take a step back from social media. It was all there happening on social media in front of our eyes. I can't imagine being one of these two women reading such an inaccurate version of their own personal histories. How this made it to print without being fact checked surprises me.

In the article, she also writes about a once-off event, organised by the Repeal Project, held in the Olympia Theatre, as a fundraiser for the purpose of campaign work toward repealing the 8th Amendment. She says, "Despite three very brief, and very important contributions – from Senator Lynn Ruane and her daughter Jordanne, Traveller activist Eileen Flynn and poet Felicia Olusanyo – women from marginalised communities were, as far as I could see, almost wholly absent from both stage and audience ... Accessible abortion is essential if women are to achieve economic and political equality with men, and it is absolutely essential if the poorest, most marginalised women are to achieve economic and political equality with their middle-class sisters. I have not heard this basic argument articulated by Repeal campaign."

Here's my frustration. What do people think the 'Repeal campaign' is? The 'Repeal campaign' doesn't exist. There's a movement to repeal the 8th, yes. But something called the 'Repeal campaign' just flat out is a made up thing which any amount of journalistic research would have discovered.

Allow me to break down Irish pro-choice politics for you. First, we have The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment. They are a coalition of organisations of all kinds, or a group of groups, who have signed on to support repealing the 8th. They're huge. They have 80-something organisations signed up. They do research, talk to politicians and other movers and shakers, and all in all do great work. They reach out to their member organisations, who in turn reach out to their members. Check out their website to see what they do -- it's inspiring and important. ARC is a proud member of the Coalition.

Then you've got independent projects like Hunreal Issues and the Repeal Project. These are basically run by individual people who dedicate a lot of time toward raising people's awareness and raising money through selling merchandise and holding events. They aren't campaigns. I repeat: they are not campaigns. And no, they aren't accessible to everyone. I myself have talked publicly about the paradox of the repeal jumpers and how they are not accessible, and I stand by that. Not everything pro-choice is going to be accessible if we are to reach the audience we need to, and to be perfectly frank, to raise the money needed to do the work of campaigning.

After independent projects, there are pro-choice groups created by political parties and universities. They reach out to their supporters by doing education, outreach, holding demos and rallies, and fundraising. They also do important work for specific groups of people.

There are also individuals acting as such or in interest groups such as Parents for Choice, who write blogs, articles, and are committed to the cause on social media. They also do important work in making people aware of all kinds of issues and how those issues intersect with reproductive rights.

And finally, we have the Abortion Rights Campaign. We are now an international campaign, with 20 Irish regional groups (north and south), a London group, a Scottish group, and a new group in the US. ARC Dublin has six working groups who meet at least once a month and a monthly Open Meeting that anyone can attend. The regional groups meet at least once a month also. Some working groups have sub-groups working on specific projects which meet regularly. There's also a monthly steering group meeting. So, in any given month, there are at least 35 ARC meetings happening. That's around 420+ meetings per year attended by literally hundreds of people. And that's just the meetings. From the meetings, we all go home and work on the action items decided on the meetings. Many of us are putting in as much or more time on ARC as a full time job.

Why do I mention ARC's work in this way? Because one of our chief concerns for years now has been inclusivity. If you go to, and hover your mouse over "ABOUT ARC," you'll see a drop down menu with one item: 'Values and Inclusivity." That's no mistake. Just two days ago, I was at an event co-hosted by the Anti-Racist Network and the Abortion Rights Campaign, and complained to a full room of people that despite our best efforts, the campaign was predominantly comprised of white middle-class women. Do you know what I was told? Basically, I was told to get over myself. But that's neither here nor there.

When people talk about the 'Repeal campaign,' most of the time they have no clue what that means. There are a LOT of people doing a LOT of things. Some of those people are trying to include marginalised communities. Some are not. But do your research, journalists. Know who you are talking about and know what they're doing before you go to the most widely read news outlets and criticise an entity that doesn't exist.

The Repeal Project, as it currently exists, is essentially a fundraising effort. If it gets middle class people to fork over their extra cash to pro-choice campaigns, then I say GREAT. Thank you for your money, here is an event or a jumper as a bonus/thank you, and we will do good work with it. Again: it isn't a campaign.

For those of us who have been trying to find innovative ways to include marginalised people, such as creating Women's Education Projects, inviting people from other groups such as the Trans Equality Network of Ireland to come speak to us on how to be more inclusive, supporting groups such as Sex-Workers Alliance Ireland or the Anti-Racist Network, translating our materials into foreign languages, it's extremely frustrating to wake up to read that someone we thought was a supportive voice in the media try to publicly take us down without even acknowledging us by name.

I feel sorry for the hundreds of people reading this article who work so hard, not just on reproductive rights, but doing it in such a way that constantly strives to improve and be more inclusive. We had a volunteer survey recently. From that, we've been trying to change the way we run meetings, so that everyone feels welcome. We are trying to partner with groups that involve people from marginalised groups in a way that isn't tokenistic. We invite them to speak at our marches. We try to talk about ways to hold space for them without being defensive about it. We remain open to suggestions.

When you conflate one event with an entire movement comprising thousands of hours of work done by volunteers, you effectively ignore all that work. As someone who spends a lot of time preoccupied with building the strongest grassroots campaign this country has ever known, it honestly just makes me sad. Because while we grow in leaps and bounds, we are watching ourselves being written out of history as it's happening.

You'll never hear me say that the pro-choice movement in Ireland isn't led by white middle class women. It completely is. But the reasons for that are extremely complex. (For one, middle class people have more time and more money.) And as we've found in ARC, simply wanting, no matter how desperately, to include them doesn't make it so. It's our biggest challenge and one we are constantly trying to solve. But we try. Despite being criticised heavily for it, we really, really try. And someday, I'd like to see an article about THAT struggle rather than a highlight of our apparent failure.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Angela. I'm wary of any articles that cause us to bicker amongst ourselves. The anti's have a common goal and appear to accept everyone - even their revolting trolls into their midst. We too are open to everyone but everyone is working flat out with no cash earned at any juncture. We need to stick together and not let others describe the water while we're busy actually swimming in it.