Anarchism in Interesting Times
It’s Mayday, the traditional holiday for workers – though our actual holiday here in Ireland is not until Monday, but there’ll be no holiday this year. I haven’t written in a while because as you may have noticed, everyone is a wee bit busy with the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.
For those of you reading this from abroad who don’t know, the 8th amendment, voted into the constitution of the Irish state in 1983, gives a foetus equal rights with the person that is carrying it through pregnancy. This means that not only is abortion outlawed, but hospitals and doctors are terrified of harming the foetus and thus will force pregnant people to undergo medical procedures against their will, obtaining court orders to restrain them if necessary. The amendment also prevents them from ending a pregnancy where the foetus has no prospect of surviving outside the womb if there is still a beating heart. Against this situation, rose one of few truly grassroots movements of resistance in Ireland in decades.
1991 was the year I first became politically active, going to meetings and protests about the gulf war. I was 15 years old and hadn’t much of a clue what I was doing, just that I knew what was going on in Iraq went against everything I felt was right. The first protest I was at was at the town square in Navan. I still have no idea who organised it but it was an anti-war protest. There were more people at the bus stop across the road.
Over the years I took part in multiple campaigns – going to water charges protests in Dublin in the mid 90’s, anti-war again when NATO dropped bombs on Yugoslavia, then when Bush and Blair invaded Iraq, Bin Charges, anti-deportations, anti-racism, strikes, occupy, Campaign against Home and Water Taxes (CAHWT), Unlock NAMA. But these last two mass movements, the water charges and repeal are really the first time I’ve got a real sense of ‘ordinary’ (extraordinary more like) people organising themselves, building campaigns out of nothing, fighting back and winning (we’re not there yet on this one, but it’s so bloody close. The fact that repeal is an option on the ballot paper in the first place is in itself a victory).
A decade ago you could not have predicted what is happening now. Activists who spent most of their time campaigning for full reproductive rights were few in number. Small organisations like Choice Ireland stood out when most were looking for more ‘realistic’ changes to the 8th, like allowing abortions in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. But in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar, anger that was hiding under the surface about how Ireland treats pregnant people boiled over and a small activist milieu became a movement of thousands, and now we are set to topple one of our metaphorical statues, a clause in the constitution that was the brainchild of religious extremists in a state that from its inception was dominated by the theology of the catholic bishops.
I think that’s why some sections of the media frame the pro-choice movement as being somehow extreme. Because they want politics off the streets, away from everyday life and back to the polite environment where people wear suits and don’t have any skin in the game. They want easily identifiable leaders, debates in one arena, and more than anything, to maintain their own influence and credibility that has been ebbing away to the public forum of social media.
They prefer leaders of barely existent organisations that are really just think tanks, than tens of thousands of people on the streets and in communities and workplaces organising themselves to change society, because this society is theirs and the coming one is not.
We face lots of obstacles when we try to fight back against the wealthy and powerful, against oppressive hierarchical social relations and economic exploitation, but it feels a lot like the tide is turning. Things are different now. I’m not an activist anymore, I’m not apart from society, I’m part of a society that is fighting back. We’re getting taste for winning and we’re not going to stop until we remake society.
Looking forward to that new society and celebrating all who have fought for it is what Mayday means to me, and though this year many of us won’t be marching or partying, we will be doing something far more useful, working to win the coming constitutional referendum to repeal the 8th. That is a step to putting the old world behind us, of banishing fear and those who have fought for this have learned the skills to organise and they will not be held back anymore, like those who became politically active in CAHWT learned the skills they needed to organise themselves against the water charges, without leaders.
This society we’re making is not necessarily for me, a slightly eccentric, sometimes cranky middle aged man. It is for everyone who is oppressed. It is for everyone this society smothers beneath it’s white male besuited facade. It is for women, trans and non-binary gendered people, sex workers, every race that has been colonised by the white man, for the neuro-atypical (in which sense it is for me), for the poor, for the youth and for our eco-system. It will be the most complete transformation of society that has ever been. It may not be for me, but it is the new world I have always held in my heart and it is the only world I want to be a part of, and the kind of society I want to leave behind for future generations.
As I said, I’m not writing much these days but until normal service resumes you can find me on twitter. Sure give us an aul follow.