Andrew spent the day of March 8th 2017 recording #Strike4Repeal and has edited this 20 minute video account of how the day went down in Dublin. Below you will also find a text transcript of his account.
I headed into Dublin early on #Strike4Repeal day because a little birds had told me of the plan to cover up and alter some of Dublin’s statues in the early morning.
While at the Molly Malone statue I explained to a couple of American tourists what was happening.
Tourist: Theres something on her..
Me: Do you know what it means?
So you know the way abortion is illegal in Ireland?
Yes illegal, so today there is a thing called strike for repeal which is basically protesting that and you'll see a lot of people wearing black, thats why but also a load of the statues around town have had lightning bolts put on them or have been covered
To try to make it legal or..?
Yes, Yes there has basically been a long running demand for a constitutional referendum but the government keep delaying it.
Yes thats whats going on, there will be protests around the city from 10.30 and probably around one o'clock it is going to get a bit jammed up because there will be a big protest on O'Connell street bridge
I didn’t suspect how successful the day was going to prove, yes there had been a fair social media buzz but the national media had completely blanked it. I’d heard that all the colleges were going to have walkouts but would that translate into only half a dozen activists from each or more meaningful numbers. The plan I knew was to block O’Connell street bridge at 12.30 but would that amount to a hundred people being shoved around by the cops, I’d experience of that at a Reclaim the Streets in the early 2000s. Or would it be enough people that they would shrug their shoulders, back off and wait for everyone to disperse.
As I cycled into town I did notice a lot more people all dressed in black than what I thought was normal but then again I’d never before looked for people all in black so what was normal? The Strike for Repeal organisers had asked people to come all in black, a reference to the Polish women’s strike of a few months previously. A few were carrying placards or wearing Repeal jumpers - they were onside - but were the rest simply on their way to the office?
The idea was ambitious, to try and get a lot of people to take the day off work - it wasn’t intended as an actual labour strike - in order to jam up the city with protests. The public meeting back in the Autumn had been quite well attended, about 100 people, had split up into 5 planning groups at it. But I hadn’t been involved and although the couple of WSM
members who were had been positive it was hard to know if this was simply hopefulness.
The left had also not exactly been enthusiastic, at least one prominent left Facebook page hadn’t advertised the Strike at all and the main left event was a march after work that evening. But there was a lot of chat on Twitter, so much so that the day before #Strike4Repeal was the number 5 trending topic in Ireland. But would that translate into actual feet on the street.
The first statue location, the Mary one on Constitution Hill had already been restored by the time I cycled past. She had been wearing a Strike4Repeal placard around her neck. Such statues are found all over Ireland, and indeed it was in front of one of these that 15 year old pregnant school girl Ann Lovett died while secretly giving birth on the 31st January 1984.
The statue of James Joyce across from the GPO was still covered when I got there, Joyce being one if the writers whose books were banned in Ireland and who ended up in self-imposed exile. Constance Markievicz was likewise still covered up, she had been the most prominent women leader of the 1916 insurrection and over the last couple of years has become somewhat of an icon for the pro-choice movement. Molly Malone had a Strike for Repeal lightening bolt around her neck.
Wolfe Tone on College Green had also been covered in the early hours of the morning but by the time I passed at around 10.15am had been uncovered. Markievicz remained covered into the evening, I locked my bike beside her and picked that up after the protests.
As 10.30 approached I cycled to the Department of Justice on Stephens Green. I really didn’t expect there to be many people at such an early protest. Years before in 2004 I’d been involved in organising a somewhat similar day of protests, on that occasion leading up to a banned march on an EU Summit being held in the Phoenix Park. Very few people were at our first morning protest but by the march that evening there were as many as 5000 on the streets. So as I arrived I was pleased to see there were already about 30 people present
The organisers had arranged the morning to be a set of rolling pickets of government buildings that led up to everyone heading for the bridge. The picket of the Department of Justice grew as it went on, with at one point about 40 people arriving at it from a feeder march, perhaps from one of the colleges? By the time we were marching to Government buildings for the second picket of the morning numbers had grown to 150, and indeed 200 as some more people met us there at 11am.
This was also when the first of the massive Strike4Repeal banners made their appearance, each being as high as a person and about 7 meters long. From here it was on to the final picket at the Department of Health, as we marched from Merrion Square around the back of Trinity College numbers had grown enough to give the march a real atmosphere of ‘something happening’ that built when we reached Pearse street. The crowd of mostly young women were giving it socks, a lot more energy than your standard Dublin march.
The Department of Health was the first time we had anything approaching speeches. Personally I find a lot of Dublin protests to be very speech heavy and all the worse when the speeches are mostly delivered by the same handful of professional left politicians. The pro-choice movement has been quite good in recent years in breaking that mould, particularly the annual March for Choice where there are multiple speakers but their selection is around making sure the full range of people impacted by the abortion ban are represented. As such rather than standing around listening to a string of politicians telling us what we already know ‘with feeling’ they provide an educational opportunity that I find quite welcome.
--- Transcript from Department of Health ---
Speaker (Aoife) - Today there are over 50, over 50 Strike for Repeal actions
From Westport to Aberdeen, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Meath Montreal, Melbourne, Berlin, New York, France, I can't even name them all. These people are out in solidarity with us and for everyone who has to travel or has to have an illegal abortion in this country
We know that we have support and we know that we will win
We stand here for Miss X We stand her for Miss Y
We stand here for the pending cases of the women up the north who are being criminalised [indistinct].. judicial system for trying to have an abortion in Ireland or for healthy people to have an abortion, we stand there in solidarity with those people
You are not alone and we won't stop fighting until we have free, safe legal abortion in Ireland
We will not go quietly!
And now it was time for the main event. The crowd at this point was a few hundred strong and it was directed down the narrow lane that opens onto the Quays with the Strike4Repeal banner in the lead. The banner had to double back on itself as it was about twice the width of the lane. As we reached the Quays other people in position at the junction stepped into the road to direct traffic away so cars would not be trapped by the action.
There was a little bit of controversy about this ‘policy’ in the aftermath with a few people thinking the purpose should have included trapping cars in order to make things more difficult for the cops. Having previously been involved in Reclaim the Street actions I reckon this isn’t a well thought out idea. It has two major problems. Firstly the individual drivers may well be very pissed off, a parent on their way to pick up kids from school for instance is not going to be happy at all if they are stuck for a couple of hours. And secondly our experience was that some drivers in such situations go full road rage and try and force their way through, creating a real danger to participants and an opportunity for the cops to wade in on ‘health and safety’ grounds. In particular for blockades involving a lot of people who don’t know each other the organisers having an overall agreed plan is pretty important.
In any case the #Strike4Repeal slowly made its way up the quays and as we approached the bridge I could hear cheers from what was a fairly large crowd waiting there for us. Pretty quickly the march poured onto then eastern side of the bridge blocking it. Feeder marches started to arrive from the college walk outs and quite quickly these blocked the western side of the bridge, the southern quays and then most of the northern quays. Enough space was left to allow cars to escape by turning left onto O’Connell street itself, its my understanding that it was leaving this escape route this that later caused some controversy.
However on the southern side there was a bit of road rage with a van driving into the crowd and nearly hitting someone. An angry women hit the side of the van with a pan, it screeched to a halt and the driver got out all ready for some aggro until he was convinced it was smarter to get on his way. A taxi also tried to drive through the crowd and ended up stuck in the middle of the bridge for some time as a result.
I spent most of the next 30 minutes up a traffic light videoing the growing numbers. More feeder marches arrived but it was also clear as lunchtime started that a very large number of city centre workers had popped down. By 1.30 the bridge and the quays was jammed up pretty solid. I’ve a reputation for doing actual counts on demonstrations so I’d a string of people finding me and asking me how many where present. I couldn’t do any sort of a count so all I could say at the time was that at a wild estimate it was between 3,000 and 10,000. Later on that evening I did use an App to calculate the maximum possible number that would have fitted into the space occupied and that turned out to be 8,000. It’s probable the actual number was lower than that maximum but certainly we were talking of something like 5,000 people at peak which is a hell of a lunchtime turnout.
If there were any speeches on the bridge I missed them, you’d have need a hell of a PA so if the megaphone was used it was in another corner. People filled the time with a lot of hyper energetic chanting and dancing. Aided on the eastern side of the bridge by half a dozen drummers and the western side by a small PA in a shopping trolley blasting out tunes. As the crowds started to thin at the end of the lunch break the (mostly student) core of the demonstration started to march in a big circle around the roads works that blocked off the centre of the bridge. Around this point I headed off to get some lunch and to edit and post a quick video report in the hope of encouraging people to come down for the march that evening.
While doing this report I missed the standoff with the small mob of anti - choices who turned up at the Central Bank plaza with a van mounted ad (money to burn as usual) and giant printed Apparently one of the huge #Strike4Appeal banners was While doing this I missed the stand off with a small mob of anti-choices who turned up walked over to their small bloc and used to obscure it and after a while they slink off as the crowd sung ‘We are the Champions’. I very much regret not getting that on video!
There same small group turned up at the Dail later where Ferdia reported that banners from Non-Binary Ireland were rapidly used to screen them off.
At 17.00 I headed up to Parnell square where the more traditional wing of the pro-choice movement had called an after work speeches and march event. This had been timetabled for International Women’s Day without realising the massive mobilising effect #Strike4Repeal would play as they clearly had expected a very much smaller crowd than what they got. The PA was one suitable for a demonstration of a thousand or so at best, probably in the region of 11,000 people showed up with the result that there was a lot of standing around as the scheduled speeches were made in a corner to the small segment of the crowd able to a hear the PA. Fortunately the weather was good so everyone else was happy enough to stand a around and chat while the speeches were completed.
I spent some time photographing and video recording the march before finally being able to fall in with the sizeable anarchist bloc as it reached the GPO. The post dusk light at this moment was great for atmospheric photography, further aided by the triggering of some purple smoke flares as we made out way across O’Connell bridge and then past the front gates of TCD.
The anarchist bloc was at the start of the last 1/4 of the march and by the time we were making our way down Nassau street we were passing and being greeted by people who had The march filled Kildare street all the way from the Dail back down to the intersection with Nassau street and people were pretty tightly packed in. I calculated afterwards that the maximum capacity of that area was 11,000 people, the actual attendance was probably a bit higher than this as some people wouldn’t have completed the route and as above some people were leaving while we were still a few minutes from the end point.
Overall Strike4Repeal day can be called a huge success in particular given the very limited resources available to build it. How limited those were and indeed how asymmetrical the struggle is on those terms is illustrated by the fact that the cost of that anti-choice ad mounted on the van was almost certainly greater than the entire Strike4Repeal budget.
The largest negative, but not an unexpected one, was the way the national media decided to refuse to cover the event, both in the days beforehand and really on the day itself as well. RTE was left scrambling for footage and reduced to broadcasting some from CCTV cameras, the Irish Times was forced to admit its initial claim that only a few hundred was rubbish and update that to 1000s. All the more reason to put together our footage and our account of what happened to refer back to in future.
Words & Video Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter)