Of Ireland: Feeling Repealing
“Oh no, I don’t like abortion at all. Unless the woman was raped”.
I heard a lot of variations on the above when campaigning to repeal the 8th amendment, as did most canvassers on the door. Hearing peoples’ qualifying statements often made me clench my jaw slightly, when they started implying that “It matters how she got pregnant”. We may be in 2018, but Ireland is stuck in the 50s when it comes to women and sex. If she enjoyed it and meant to do it, she has to live with the consequences of that. If someone did it to her, then maybe that’s ok, but she can’t choose what happens to her body if she had first chosen to “sin”. However, with this vote a ‘yes’ was a ‘yes’, no matter the reason for it or the backwards, misogynistic undertones. So I unclenched my jaw, smiled and thanked them for their support, and saved my arguments and outrage for another day. Those conversations, which so often started with a “no”, were often some of the most productive and rewarding, when I walked away from the door after hearing “Ok, yes”. One of the hardest parts of canvassing was listening to those who supported repealing the amendment, without even realising it and trying to help them clearly see their beliefs.
The unfailing politeness of all of the yes campaigners I worked with astounded me. Each door, each evening, no matter the response, we smiled, said “Thank you for your time”, and moved on. We held ourselves to a high moral standard, even while being called murderers to our faces. I smiled and thanked one man for his time, and turned the corner with tears in my eyes from his comment that I was “A good girl getting hoodwinked by that crowd”. I bit back the lump in my throat from hearing him laugh at me when I asked him why he thought I shouldn’t have control over my own body. I held back the giggle I wanted to let out when I had the following incongruent interaction:
Emily: Hi, I’m canvassing for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, do you have a minute to talk about it?
Woman: When did pregnancy become a disease?
Emily: Oh, sorry, I see we’re not on the same page, have a lovely evening!
Woman: You too love! *under breath* Murderer.
I had been very nervous of getting involved in the campaign to repeal the Eighth. I imagined constant abuse and my five foot two frame being run out of estates by angry dogs. While this happened every so often (maybe the dogs were just making a break for the freedom they were denied?), most of the interactions were civil at worst, and emotional and heart-warming at best. The “No’s” simply closed doors, the “maybes” were very keen to have conversations, and the gratitude from the “Yeses” blew me away. I was hugged by strangers, told stories of personal heartbreak, and given so many bars of chocolate that I became thankful for the amount of walking that canvassing involved.
I also met the most incredible people. I got involved in the campaign through Galway Pro-Choice, one of the longest running pro-choice groups in the country, and when they joined the Together for Yes Campaign, I met people from all political backgrounds who were as passionate as me about creating change. Any time I had a tough experience at a door, someone was there. One time, I even had an actual repeal dog with her own little repeal jumper to cuddle after a particularly upsetting interaction. We looked out for one another, traded stories of the good and bad, and were boosted by each positive canvass. I have never met such a passionate and hardworking group of people – for every one canvass I did, someone else had done seven, the effort that people had made was truly phenomenal.
As the vote approached, the canvasses changed. We had fewer maybes to talk to, as more and more people made up their mind. The later canvasses didn’t seem as rewarding because people were already decided. I didn’t feel like I was making much of a difference. One door brought home to me the importance of still being out there however. A young man opened his door after I rang the bell, and simply said “Savita was our friend. We’re a yes”. This reminder of the very real person that was Savita Halappanavar, and the life that she led in the city that I now live in. The very real person who died in 2012 following complications of a miscarriage after being denied an abortion, was all the encouragement I needed to keep going in the last few days of the campaign. We weren’t doing it to feel good about ourselves, or for the likes on Facebook. We were doing it for all the people that this law had harmed, for their friends, their families, their lives lost. I pasted back on my smile, and knocked on the next door.
The reward came at 10pm on the 25th of May with the first exit poll. A landslide victory, set in motion by footsteps on pavements. The tears came again, of joy this time. We’d done it. Together.