Debrief: International Women’s Day 2017

This year’s International Women’s Day was marked differently to anything we’ve seen before in Ireland.  Pressure is mounting for our government to call a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment to our constitution, which outlaws abortion and creates barriers to healthcare for pregnant people.  The 8th of March was marked by Strike4Repeal, a nationwide women’s strike demanding that a referendum is called.

strike

Since this is a subject I’m very emotionally invested in, I had taken a day off work as a holiday, as suggested by Strike4Repeal, a symbolic strike in solidarity with the people who are forced to take time off work to travel abroad for abortion services.  The day began at 10.30am with a picket in front of the Department of Justice in Dublin.  From there, our group of protestors dressed in black moved to the Department of the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), and eventually onward to the Department of Health.  At each location we gained members who joined in chanting.  My personal favourite chant was “Enda, Enda, we want a referenda!”, directed at our ineffective, bumbling Taoiseach Enda Kenny.  Drums, basins and pots and pans were being beaten in rhythm and already the atmostphere was one of revolution.

When we left the Department of Health around 12.10pm and turned onto the south quays, I looked backward over the crowd that had gathered, and was stunned at how we had grown from 50 or 60 people at 10.30am to well over a thousand.  As we approached O’Connell Bridge, the centrepoint of Dublin City and planned meeting point of the Strike Assembly, many more people awaited us, dressed in black and waving to welcome us as we marched along the quay.

The protest quickly took over the bridge, with traffic being stalled on both sides and on all four quays.  Within minutes, the bridge that forms Dublin’s main connection between the two sides of the city was completely shut down, and it remained that way for over two hours.  At one point protestors sat down in the road, and the atmosphere on the bridge was immense.  This differed from any other pro-choice protest Dublin has seen, including our annual March For Choice in September, which was attended by 30,000 people last year.  This is the first time that anything of this size has been undertaken on a weekday afternoon and shut the city down in such a dramatic way.  The final numbers estimated by Gardai were 4500 to 5000 people on the bridge at lunchtime.  Enormous banners reading ‘Strike4Repeal’ stretched across the road at both ends of the bridge, ensuring that it remained closed to traffic from any direction.  When the chant “This is what democracy looks like!” went up it felt like the most appropriate thing that could have been cried out, and being in the middle of it I knew I was witnessing history.

I had to leave before the crowd dispersed because there was another part to my day: I was to perform my Repeal the 8th aerial silks act later that evening as part of No Assembly Required, a show of solidarity raising funds for the Abortion Rights Campaign.  While I rested and showered at home, the even bigger March4Repeal kicked off from Parnell Square, and Gardai estimated that by the time it had reached government buildings there were between 10,000 and 12,000 participants.

If the afternoon was a pro-choice dream, my evening was a performer’s dream.  Backstage at the Sugar Club, I was surrounded by wonderful musicians, dancers, comedians, a burlesque artist and a drag group, all of whom wanted to repeal the 8th.  The venue was packed to capacity with an audience of over 300 people.  My act went superbly well and I was happy with most aspects of it.  Never, in any performer’s life, will there be a performance that the performer is completely happy with, but this was close.  Aerial makes me feel like I have a superpower, something that only a small group of people can do.  When things are hard in life, I just remember that I can fly, and nothing ever seems as bad.

Afterward, I was approached by two of the women who I idolise and asked to be part of a much bigger pro-choice performance project.  These amazing women are true leaders in the campaign for reproductive rights, and I was over the moon.  I completely fangirled over them, and I’m so excited and thrilled that they were as moved as they say by my act. Other audience members kept coming up to me and telling me that I was things like breathtaking, heartbreaking and stunning, and I can’t remember which other words.  I was blown away by the other acts that I got to see, in particular the Voices for Choice choir.  I got to share a stage with the wonderful Maria Doyle Kennedy other incredibly talented people, and was introduced on stage by Tara Flynn, who is basically the pro-choice feminist queen.

Every part of the day was immensely successful, overwhelming and wonderful.  I won’t forget this year’s International Women’s Day in a hurry.  The government can’t keep ignoring us. We’ll keep shouting, making art and shutting down streets. The 8th amendment’s days are numbered, it’s just a case of how long now.

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