After spending tens of thousands of euro in promotion Youth Defense's anti-choice march finally took place in Dublin. Despite the free coaches and months of preparation even RTE admitted that only 2-5,000 took part, making it a tiny fraction of the Pride Parade of the previous Saturday. And from observation a large part of that crowd was composed of unhappy looking young children dragged along by relatives, priests, monks, nuns and the very elderly.
In the week before the anti-choice march, three or four people met to initate a pro-choice counter demonstration. This was a somewhat controversial thing to organize as many pro-choice people feel it is better to simply ignore those who would seek to jail women to prevent them controlling their own bodes. But despite having no resources, and advertising only though a Facebook event, somewhere over 300 people turned up on Saturday to provide a counter point to the bigots parade.
Youth Defense obviously had a large budget to spend on the march itself. Apart from the hire of at least three open top buses and similar vehicles, there were mass produced full colour signs and stickers distributed to the participants. Bizarrely the main branding they used was the LSD associated 'Acid House' smily face. This was obviously part of an effort to give the demonstration a youthful face for the media, most of the more youthful participants were packed into the front, carrying the banner. But unless they have suddenly taken on a pro drug legalization stance, it rather suggests they are considerably more out of touch with actual youth culture than they were seeking to appear. The sight of priests, monks and nuns festooned with Acid House smiley faces is not something I've seen before or suspect I will see again!
The apparently deliberate modeling of the anti-choice march on Pride was also very curious. Like Pride there were balloon festooned floats blaring out music and participants in weird costumes (unlike Pride those dressed as priest were probably wearing their work clothes). Like Pride there was a giant flag carried horizontally by dozens of people. The Pride flag is a giant rainbow. The Youth Defense flag was red with 'Life' printed on it in white. There was an amusing scramble by the stewards to try and remove the condoms that were tossed onto it as it passed the pro-choice rally.
But behind all the amusing weirdness is a sinister agenda that seeks not only to continue to deny women access to abortion but also to turn back the clock in relation to access to contraception, sex education and Queer rights. An agenda illustrated by the fact that the few hand made placards permitted on the rally had references to 'sodomy' and 'contraception.'
A decade ago in the aftermath of the X-Case when the government tried to intern a 14 year who had become pregnant as a result of rape to prevent her travelling to Britain, Youth Defense managed to quickly mobilize a 10,000 strong anti-choice demonstration. This was when they had very much more limited resources. It was before they had captured the mainstream of the irish anti-choice movement. It was before massive financing from US anti-choice networks had been obtained.
For many of the younger pro-choice demonstrators yesterday it was something of a shock to see the 2-5000 strong anti-choice parade, and to experience the vitriol unleashed at them from the participants. But the fact is in numbers terms alone, yesterday demonstrated that even with flashy branding and a massive professional Facebook campaign the bigots cannot mobilize the numbers they once had access to.
It does however highlight the need for pro-choice activists to again organize on a mass basis, something that has not happened for some years. If we are to force legislation for the X-Case judgment as a first step to wining free safe abortion on demand then a new movement will need to be built.
WORDS: Andrew Flood IMAGES: Andrew Flood & Aileen O'Carroll
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