An exploration of the crowd count & PR photography of a small anti-choice protest in Dublin

In mid August the story emerged that a suicidal migrant who was pregnant as the result of rape was forced to continue the pregnancy for weeks after requesting an abortion despite both a failed suicide attempt and a hunger and thirst strike. After been forcible rehydrated she 'agreed' to a C-section as an 'alternative' to the abortion she had first requested 8 weeks into the pregnancy. (See for more details).

Thousands of people took part in demonstrations against her terrible treatment across Ireland, treatment that reflected the racist patriarchal authorisation nature of the Irish state. Astonishingly the forced birth brigade rather than maintaining a shamed silence actually protested that the state had not forced her to continue the pregnancy to its conclusion.

 The catholic Bishop of Elphin told the Irish Independent: "The removal of a child from the womb in that kind of context is really unethical and there is no other way of putting it. It was far better that the child was removed from the womb to be saved than to be aborted, but it is not natural."

Earlier in the summer it emerged that thousands of babies confined in catholic run homes for unmarried mothers & babies had simply been dumped into mass graves, including in one case what appeared to be a septic tank. Evidence suggested that a major contributing factor to these deaths was starvation. ( see )

A few hundred forced birthers demonstrated in Dublin on Friday and again on Saturday. WSM sent a photographer (me) along to record this grim event for posterity, these are my pictures and comments on what I saw which were first posted as captions to the WSM Facebook album of this protest

> Ahead of the protest the organisers told people they were not to bring their own signs - that placards (with approved slogans) would be provided.

> The use of expensive pre-printed banners & placards illustrates the very much greater funds at the disposal of the forced birth movement. This is a patten that has ran through all the demonstrations of the last 3-4 years.

Pro-choice protests have hand painted banners and hand produced placards produced by dozens of individuals. They are typically organised with a budget of a couple of hundred euro.

Forced birth protests has mass produced expensive colour banners & placards with PR managed slogans. Some of these protests appear to have budgets running into the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Euro when you factor in the hire of stadium sized giant screens, erection of scaffold stages, hire of cherry pickers to get ideal photo angles and hire of coaches to bring people to protests.

We think a lot of this funding comes from forced birth organisations in the US who see Ireland as a crusade to be fought.

> I was getting a lot of stares as I made my way around the demonstration photographing it - a little unsettling as in the 1990s many people were physically assaulted by forced birthers, including a friend of mine who had a finger broken by a snooker cue.

Such episodes died down in the mid 1990s as it became obvious that the pro-choice movement was not going to be intimidated off the streets and could stand its ground against these attacks. I'm not aware of any happening in the last few years - all we get these days are stares and the odd aggressive comment.

> From photographing previous forced birther events I've learned how they construct PR photos that provide an entirely misleading image of both who and how many took part.

I'd say there were somewhere in the region of 4-500 as this particular event, the organisers were later to claim 2-3000! Such gross exaggerations are typical

>In this photograph we see two standard techniques
1. They have put four young women at the front of the crowd, as can be seen from the remainder of the photos they certainly don't reflect an average composition

2. At this point they were announcing at the PA that there was a crush at the front and that they needed everyone to step back a bit. I've seen that technique used at their other events, the effect is to extend the back of the crown much further back to make it look bigger.

3. The next step is to tell everyone to hold their placards up over their heads. That has the result of hiding the gaps between people from getting everyone to step back and also hiding the faces of the mass of older people behind the raised placards of the atypical young women placed in the front row.

4. Finally the photographers shoot at slightly above head height, this angle further hides the gaps between people as does the use of extreme zoom lenses.

> The next 3 photos were all taken after the 'please step back because of the crush at the front' instruction and illustrate just how much this spaced out the crowd








> This is the back, as you can see the entire demonstration didn't even run the length of the GPO despite getting people to spread out.

Remember the organised claimed there were 2-3000 crammed into that tiny space (it would actually fit about 800 if they were packed in). Yet the very much larger pro-choice demonstration earlier in the week that ran all the way back to the Larkin statue they said only had 300 people on it. Such gross exaggerations made for exactly the same physical space only 4 days apart confirm that this is no accident

A factor of 20 separates the difference between how they count pro-choice and their forced birth demonstration - its worth journalists in particular keeping that in mind when facing future pressure to reported exaggerated attendance figures.




>Bottom left pic - The back of the demonstration, as a marker note the women with red hair and a green coat 2/3s of the way to the right hand side.

As a second marker note the short man in the hat and cream/grey shot coat almost at the right hand end.

> Top pic - The angle this photo is taken at makes people appear closer together then they are but note the women with the red hair and green coat we used as a marker in the last picture and you get an idea of the actual size of the protest.

You can see there are roughly 30-40 rows of protesters and there were 6-9 people per row. There is no way of calculating that out to reach the organisers 2-3000 estimate.

>Bottom right pic -  Remember the short man with the hat and creamish short coat we noted earlier - here he is again confirming that this shot shows the crowd ahead of the red hair / green coat women. You can see how loosely packed it is and that my 6-9 people per row is a generous estimate.

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

--- Embedd of original album on Facebook



Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles