I’m tired. I’m *really* tired. And overwhelmed. I think we’re all tired. I know why I’m tired. We’re over a year into a global pandemic and I have a toddler and brain full of anxiety and ADHD, so I get *why* (my toddler is a joy, my brain I’m 50/50 about tbh). But I’m also tired of remembering things. Remembering to make dinner, to pick up more nappies, to send cards for birthdays and birth days. Remembering where I put that mask I like, or those clothes she’s not grown into yet, or the suncream. And, of course, remembering things that perhaps I’d rather forget.
For the last three years, every April through to late May, my social meejia has been throwing up “memories of this day”. Many of them are from 2018 – somewhat inevitably, as by the end I was posting and sharing constantly. Sometimes I can tell from the list of names in the preview what the memory is, and whether I want to see it or not at. Not often enough though. Sometimes I remember from the date (a good friend’s birthday was the Claire Byrne debacle). Sometimes I am plesantly surprised by a happy memory from *other* years (in May 2012, for example, I bought a wedding dress. And in April 2013, Thatcher died). Mostly though, I get blindsided by things I’d rather forget. Because although I am deeply, profoundly glad that we have repealed the 8th Amendment, I’m still really fucking angry that we had to do it at all. And remembering all the things that happened is just so much for my already tired mind.
I have met some of the best people I will ever meet while helping fight for reproductive justice. They are powerhouses of courage and decency and they’re amazing at all the important things that don’t get enough credit like taking good minutes and knowing how to staple a poster to second-hand corriboard without slicing your hands open. I am so grateful for their friendship and their strength and so bloody proud of them all – and all the wonderful people I’ll never meet – but fucking hell I wish we’d never had to do this. We didn’t have much choice, of course (ha!). Once the 8th was in, the only way to get it out was another referendum. We were dealt a shit hand, and we played it as best we could. Could it have been done better? Possibly. Could it have been done worse? Almost certainly. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know that everyone made the best choice they could with what was in front of them at the time – and often, just like in the case of those who spent most of their reproductive lives under the 8th, there weren’t many good options to choose from. But we kept on marching and door knocking and leafleting and badge wearing and asking. We all did what we could with what we had and hoped it was enough.
It is exhausting to repeatedly knock on doors and ask strangers for the right to your own body. Repeatedly, politely, calmly. “Please trust me to know what’s right for me. Please stop debating our decisions in public. Please just do this one thing, on this one day. Please”. The wonderful Miriam Needham did a truly stunning piece of theatre about that repeated “please”, about the toll it takes, and the aftermath. I wish everyone had seen it, it just blew me away. Referendum campaigning is hard: it can be fun at times, canvassing in the sunshine (!) and the “oh of course I’m voting yes” and the camaraderie and all the badges. But I don’t understand the people who say they loved it – it was deeply traumatic for so many people – and I don’t miss it. I don’t miss seeing people sharing their deeply personal pain in the media and then being torn apart for it, I don’t miss the misogyny broadcast as ‘balance’, with hefty undertones of racism, classism and the odd dash of nationalism added in. I don’t miss seeing good people pushing themselves past breaking point, because sometimes if you don’t share your story/answer these questions/canvass this street then maybe no one else will, and it matters because everything matters because we need every single vote. I don’t miss the fear that we might have done it all for nothing.
Referenda are really fucking terrible ways to make decisions on complex matters that directly affect people’s lives and bodies. Trying to persuade >50% of the electorate to vote your way is just not how we defend and extend human rights – particularly when only citizens can vote. Of course, abortion isn’t the only fun referendum memory – for so many campaigners, they’d already been through this three years ago with marriage equality. I was living in the US in 2015, so I didn’t have to witness the state-sponsored homophobia firsthand (yay, I guess). But as Rita Wild notes here, that particular referendum probably wasn’t even necessary – government could have legislated for equal marriage, but passed the buck and exposed the LGBTQ+ community to public attack. And of course, the 27th Amendment in 2004 removed birthright citizenship, meaning children who were born in Ireland can now face deportation, thanks everyone, that’s fucking terrible.
Referenda on the rights of a marginalised group come with a high cost – personal, financial and emotional – that campaigners end up paying for years to come. And of course, that cost isn’t spread evenly – intersections of class, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and sexuality all affect how hard it is for us to speak up and campaign, and how easily we can put ourselves together again afterwards. I’ve seen calls for a referendum to remove the 27th, or on the right to housing – both of these are SHIT ideas. Our government can legislate to allow those born here – and those who live here – to remain here. And we could maybe, I dunno, build some public houses? If there was any will in government to do these things, they could be done. Referenda mean they can pass the cost and the effort onto the marginalised, forcing us to prostrate ourselves at the feet of the mythical average voter to beg for some common decency. And then pat themselves on the back when it passes and claim the spotlight with a fancy speech, while campaigners slowly piece themselves back together. And then the politicians and media get to forget, and so they let the public forget, because we’ve had our great public catharsis now so it’s sorted. Yes, definitely all sorted, abortion *tick* gay marriage *tick* child deportations *tick*, nothing to see here, move along please. Why are you still marching about this? Didn’t we fix it? What do you mean, no?
I know others find it easier to forget the bad and remember the good (ooof I wish my brain worked that way). I also know that many people try to step back and forget because it’s too hard to keep remembering. A self-preservation thing, after so much trauma. I can’t seem to do that yet either. Those damn “on this day” notifications turn up and I keep clicking through. And sometimes I won’t regret it either. I’ll still always cry at the ‘home to vote’ montages. I’ll still always smile at the memory of the interpretive dance panda thank you card that a kind stranger gave my on referendum eve. And I’ll still always be angry at politicians for jumping on when they could see we were winning and then failing to properly legislate and leaving us three years later with people still getting on the goddamn boat to England in the middle of a pandemic. But this year, I’ll try to remember to forget the things I don’t need to hold onto anymore. I’ll try to forget the faces of the worst doorsteps, and the spittle-specked words of pink-vested fanatics, and the existence of Peadar Tóibín. I’ll remember the free donuts and the badges and the hope. And I’ll never forget all the people who stood up and spoke out and all the work that was done for years beforehand and all the work that’s still being done everyday. Lastly I’ll hold onto the fucking fury for all those who travelled, all those who couldn’t, all those who died and all those who couldn’t get the abortion they needed – hold onto it until I need it, put it together with the hope to push me through when I’m exhausted. Because there is still so much that’s wrong, and we’re so far from justice. But we’re getting closer everyday.
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