Thursday, May 28, 2020

Not Long Now

Sarah Maria Griffin is a Dublin based writer and all round pretty sound human. She's over on Twitter and Instagram and if you aren't already, you should treat yourself and follow her.
Her latest zine, Not Long Now, came in the post the other day. It unlocked a fountain of feelings inside me I think I must have buried long before all this business started. It is beautiful and provoking, but was causing me slight anxiety too - of course, is there anything that isn't at the moment!? I couldn’t pick just one person to send this little treasure to, so I’m sending it out to all of you. Maybe you’ll recognise yourself in places, but even if you don’t, know that if you are reading this, this is for you.

I miss you. Mostly your energy. Your noise, smile, and the sound of your laugh. The way you say my name or the pet name you have for me. I miss the easy way you hold and carry yourself. The way you inhabit your body and occupy space. I miss the way you tell stories and fill me in on all that’s happening with you, around you. I miss reminiscing about the times we were together. And the things we did while we were apart from each other. I miss our separate, full, different lives, and sharing those secrets when we’d meet. Talk over all our plans. Our projects. I miss our late into the night conversations about - whatever - it doesn’t matter. I just miss you talking excitedly about life and the things that you love.
I miss sharing space and not speaking at all. Just being together holding that comfortable silence. I miss your support - you still support me of course, that goes without saying - but that assumed energy is very rightly being redirected to support yourself now and I’m cool with that. I’m ok now at the moment anyway and I know you’ll be when I’m not. 
I miss doing things with you and going places. I miss dancing with you SO much, even if we are both kind of terribly awkward and probably not technically good at it.
But mostly, I just miss you. And everything you are that makes you you. 
There really isn’t anyone quite like you, ya know, and I miss you and love you for that.

Beautiful music. Movies and Musicals on Lyric Saturday lunchtime is my weekly touchstone and I would be lost without it. All of Lyric is superb because there is hardly any news, any news that is on is to the point, and the presenters don’t talk about this terrible thing we are all going through. You’d *almost* forget.
Unchallenging telly in the form of Gogglebox, which is just about as much reality as I can handle at the moment. Killing Eve is beautifully stylish, dark and funny. Midsommer Murders is comforting because they always get the bad guy in the end. Poirot, the same.
The weather is playing a blinder. It’s out of my control, but it is so helping. Spring waits for no one and I’m lucky enough to be able to be out in it without interfering with anyone or ever possibly getting bored. Seeds need to be planted, things need to be weeded. Doing this very practical, yearly ritual is without doubt helping me. Plus, I get lettuce and grapes and onions and garlic in return. It keeps me grounded and thankful when I could so easily spin myself out.
I’ve been taking photos and making videos. I will always document my life, this time is no different.
The flowers all around, the smell of turk’s cap lilies, carnations and lilacs would almost make you forget that there’s anything wrong at all.
I’ve learned how to make vegan doughnuts and sushi, I’m writing and crocheting, sending letters and making zines. I cannot draw though - it’s just not coming but I won’t force it, it’ll come back eventually.
I’m reaching out in all directions, txting people and trying to really connect with my internet friends. Who knows when this will really be fully over, so I want to at least be linked up remotely with as many people as possible until such a time as it’s safe to see people again. 
Staying as much in the moment as possible, a lifelong learning.
Willow is, of course, helping greatly. I can’t stop. She needs me.

I’d like so much to go for a picnic with you. It doesn’t have to be far or fancy even. But I can make doughnuts and sushi now since this all kicked off. I’m sure I saw you making sourdough the first week or two. And pretzels! Very fancy. 
We can load up a basket with nibbles and nice drinks, hummus and crusty bread, olives and vegan feta. Stop, of course you can bring all the non vegan stuff too. I don’t mind one bit, as long as there’s plenty of nice food and things to share. Maybe we’ll go to the beach, or off to Connemara. Or I can throw a blanket on the grass behind my house and you can visit for a long weekend. Or stay for a week and we can have 3 meals a day, with proper coffee. We’ll talk about everything, just like we always do. The kettle will never be long off the boil. We can make mojitos with the forest of mint growing amongst the flowers.
How bout we meet in a city we’ve never been, I’ll find you at the airport and we can spend a few days discovering the place and each others secrets all over again.
Are music festivals fancy? Can we go camping and ambling around fields of unknown music for awhile. Drive home then hoarse, with the windows down, body sore from the revelry.
I miss marching. I know it’s not fancy but they are a big deal to me. I’d love to be purposefully walking a few kilometres with you shouting about something terrible happening that needs fixing. And all that comes afterwards. I miss feeling like we are changing the world for the better, together.

Or maybe, the places I’ll go? I need to visit you and that new house and new baby of yours before they start school. We can go places people go with babies, or we can just hang out at your house. Whatever is easiest for you, I’m easy. New babies are such a big deal, I can’t believe I haven’t met them yet!
I have to go to Canada and see your house! That is such a big deal too and we should have had a party by now, but well…And I want you to take me all around, to all the places you’ve told me about. I want to see where you live, how you live.
I have to visit you in Paris and stay much longer this time. We don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, just your usual haunts. Just bring me around your dailies. That is extravagant enough for me.
And I have to visit you and your house in France! Oh it’s so exciting and I’m so proud of you. We can just hang out there like we used to do. Not doing anything other than being at the same coordinates on the map. Surely that’s enough after all of this. Really, it’s always been enough.
And I’ll have to visit you, and you, and you and you…in Dublin. But you all know each other too, so maybe we could ALL just meet up, wouldn’t that be nice. Can we go somewhere kind of quiet so we can have a proper chat? And you’ll have to come over from London, obviously. That goes without saying at the stage. Oh! And you’ll have to come up, and over and down and across. Let’s just ALL meet in Dublin, yes?
And you can finally show me the botanic gardens. How I’ve not been yet at this stage is anyone’s guess.
We can meet up the next time your home. I know we always say that, but let’s make it happen next time?
You can come meet me to. We don’t actually have to go anywhere. Just being with you will do.

I hope we get out the other end of this. I hope you or I don’t get sick - I don’t think I have it in me to fight again so soon. Not just now.
I hope you are minding yourself now, whatever that looks like. Please wear a mask - who cares if you think you are getting funny looks - fuck them. I want you around when all of this is through, to do all the fun things I just told you. 
I hope all your ones are ok. That they all make it. That you don’t experience any unnecessary, unexpected heartache.
I hope all these new connections blossom after. That you’ll still write me long letters about the dream you had last night, or that project your really excited about. Text me too, obviously, but you know how much I love surprise post every so often.
I hope you can pick up somewhat where you left off. That that gig you couldn’t perform can be rescheduled, maybe in such a way that I can buy a ticket and watch it remotely? I hope things are more accessible when this is through. That’s one good thing that should be made better and better.
I hope you find A Someone. I hope you find peace. I hope you find closure. I hope you find an answer and some relief from that pain. I would take it from you myself if bodies worked like that.
I hope I find an answer too. Hopefully soon.

I hope we see each other. I really want to give you a hug, so much it makes me teary eyed just visualising it. That first hug - just be prepared for me to cry at some stage.
I just love and miss you so much…please return to the start for the reasons why.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Repeal Memories

I think it’s important to start at the very beginning and give some context to my Repeal story because the surrounds often get forgotten or swept under the rug when we talk about it. We forget how much other stuff was happening in our lives as we were trying to do this big thing. Bare with me, this is a long post.

I’m an activist, I always have been, but it became a huge part of my daily life in 2007 when cryptosporidium came to Galway and poisoned me and countless others when I was in my first year of college. I missed 6 weeks, failed the photography module, had to redo it during the summer on my own and wasn’t totally right again for about a year afterwards. If you want to radicalise someone, poison them with water, steal a year of their life and see what happens. I’ve been at every demo and march since, for everything from Shell2Sea, pylons, Irish Water, unions, college fees, the nurses, Morris McCabe…you get the picture.
Basically if you need a body, and I’m into whatever it is, I’ll be there if I can swing it at all.

I finished college in 2010 and moved back to Mayo, and got stuck in to everything that was going. Even before Yes Equality hit the ground, I was already canvassing family and creating my own online content (I was one of THOSE people…I know, nightmare.) The local YE group actually approached ME because they had seen my videos and were like, girl what are you at, come help us. So I did, and I’m glad I did. I’m still processing ME stuff and I don’t think I’ll ever get to the bottom of it really. Maybe I don’t need to figure it out. Maybe it’s enough that I was there.

ME worked because everyone was fighting for one, very clear thing, Marriage Equality for same sex couples. That was the messaging, and while we were fighting, that’s what we were all agreed on. But once we won and people relaxed and went back to their lives, I very quickly discovered that many of the people I had been fighting alongside were, and I’m not even going to try and dress it up, TERFs. Call me naive, but at the time I thought the LGBT+ community was better than that. I quickly distanced myself from them and started working at a lovely, local art centre. 

About a year and a half later, one person from the ME group contacted me about a new group being set up that I would probably be interested in. She gave me the details of the next meeting, but not what it was about or who was organising it. Remember what I said about, if you need a body I’ll be there? Well off I went, not having a notion what I was walking into. 
There was maybe 6 people sitting around a table in a hotel bar. I recognised a couple but didn’t know the others. They were all talking at the same time and I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what was going on. Not one to waste my own time, I interrupted asking “What’s all this about? Why am I here?”. One of the women I didn’t know said that they had formed the group because there was probably going to be a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment. I had never heard of the 8th amendment and said as much. She mentioned Savita, who I was vaguely aware of at the time but didn’t know what one thing had to do with the other. One of the women I knew said that “the 8th amendment means that you cannot consent during pregnancy or birth” and that was enough for me. I didn’t need anything else. I was outraged. I was furious and ready to march on the Dail and set fire to it. They laughed sweetly at me because I was literally hopping with rage. But the details were sketchy at best and there was no plan. One of them kept saying ARC this ARC that… “What’s ARC?” “Oh it’s who set us up but we aren’t really linked up with them because it’s all online and none of us are that tech savvy…” So I took the details of the regional person who had set up this small Mayo group and phoned her the next day. (Deni, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry for absolutely wrecking your head for the first couple of weeks. Thank you for being so patient with me while I got my head around everything. You are a Star.)

I got stuck in, and because I was the only one linking up with ARC online Deni said to me one day on the phone “Well, your Mayo Convenor now!”…wtf is a convenor…It’s basically the go-to, the go-between and the person who organises things in the area and feeds back to the main ARC collective. It was a baptism by fire but I took it with a little persuasion because there was absolutely no one else to do it. 

ARC is quite literally, magic. They make everything as assessable as possible to anyone who wants to be involved. I’ve never seen anything quite like them.
I will never forget my first remote meeting. I literally had no idea what I was meant to be doing, and my pc camera wouldn’t work. I could hear and see them, but they couldn’t see me. So every so often a disembodied, soft American accent would ring out in the office in Dublin as I butted in. It was awkward, there was “Big Ups and Qualms”, I didn’t know if I had a vote in decisions, because who was I anyway? But getting that fucking amendment out of the constitution was bigger than my shyness, so I just leaned in, I probably asked silly questions, I wrecked Deni’s head for a few weeks until I got my feet. And I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad I’m as stubborn as I am, it carried me through it all.

                                                 Strike for Repeal

The first thing to do was set up the Mayo social media and help facilitate Will St. Ledger’s tour around Ireland for his Out of the Shadows project. That was late 2016 early 2017. These were black silhouettes of women with luggage he was bringing around the country and taking photos of them at bus stops, airports, train stations. ARC asked me if I could look after him in Mayo and I was delighted to be of some use.
He stayed at my house, I fed and watered him and we talked late into the night about Apollo House, Marriage Equality, and Repeal. It was my first introduction into the solidarity and network that came with being involved with ARC. You need a bed? You need a box of leaflets brought from A to Z? Well, there’s a twilight bark of people who can get the seemingly impossible done with minimal fuss. 
Strike for Repeal was next a couple of months later. Strike was national and was a really good way to recruit people and create visibility. We got 3 more members out of it. Our small group was nearing double figures but it was not all plain sailing. After a few of meetings, it became very clear that some of the original members had problems with ARC’s messaging. We spent so much time fighting amongst ourselves about it, in the end I had to put my food down. They were TERFs and had absolutely no business being in an ARC group. Once they realised they weren’t going to be able to walk all over me, they left. It was the only way. 

                                                        Baby Willow

A group of four (creative, strong, articulate, passionate women) is better than nothing, but we were drowning in the size of Mayo. I kept reminding them that we months, maybe years, from a date for this referendum. So we wore our t-shirts and badges, had small information stalls once a month, me and my brother went to the 2017 March for Choice where I met so many of the people I had only seen pixelated videos of, my beloved 16 year old dog passed away and 4 months later I got a puppy. I talked to the people I worked with in that lovely Art Centre who were so supportive of everything I was about. We talked to our families and were overly-active on social media trying to unearth more Mayo people so we would have a network ready for when the date was called.
We talked to each other a lot and kept our spirits up. I reassured them that once we had a date people would come out of the woodwork. People need a finish line to aim towards…not many people can work without a deadline. But I knew that they would come. We just had to be ready for them when they did.

In the middle of all this, I was working on my second solo; a series of portraits of my ‘gods’ - people who inspire me. I exhibited it, and gave a talk wearing a Repeal badge. I got a new job closer to home, we had a candlelit vigil for Savita’s 5th anniversary in Market Square in Castlebar.
I remember sitting at my desk at work as my phone blew up with the Belfast rape trial result. Not only were messages flying between me and my local group, but me and the wider ARC circle. We all felt sick. We organised a photo call in no time and I took an extended lunch to be there for it (sometimes it shocks me that I didn’t get fired sooner than I did). Someone suggested that when terrible things like that happen we should all scream so that no matter where you are, you will hear someone screaming along with you too. A collective scream instead of a minuet’s silence. I cried all the way home from the injustice of it all, but somehow more determined than ever that when the date was called, we would kick that amendment into the bin where it belonged. 

                                            My second solo show

                                        My first ARC March for Choice

      Savita's 5th anniversary Market Square, Castlebar

                                          Belfast Rape Trial result day

                                              Ballina coffee morning

We got a date for the referendum and a few days later Mayo had a recruitment coffee morning in Ballina. That was in March 2018. I arrived and there were people. More people than I had expected, and one of our girls, who later became spokesperson, pinched me out of excitement and relief so hard I jumped. A month later, ARC ran canvassing training in Claremorris that 20 people from all over Mayo attended. See, I told you they would come. Ciara came down from Dublin to help me facilitate it because "you canvassed during Marriage Equality" which made me somehow qualified. ARC is great at encouraging you to do things you would never volunteer for yourself. We ran the training and it went so well.
But I was also a little stunned. The whole day I was looking around wondering how many of the 20 would actually stick it. From the 20, we managed to get 4 canvass leads for the four corners of Mayo. They were in charge of training up new volunteers and making sure that their areas actually got canvassed. Mayo is too big for 4 people. But 4 groups of 10ish will just about cover it. 

                                    Canvassing training, Claremorris

I am eternally indebted and grateful to Celene (Castlebar), Louise (Westport), Martina (Claremorris) and Emma (Ballina) for taking on that role. It meant that I could delegate the most important job and know that it was absolutely getting done. 

As the date approached, the virtual meeting ramped up, but I don’t know how I would have coped without them and feeling connected to the wider campaign in the rest of the country. I don’t know how I would have managed without the weekly phone calls from Mary via Together for Yes, who listened to me absolutely melt down about Posters and general giving out about whatever had happened in the media that day (because I was forcing myself to keep it SO together the rest of the time and not let anyone else hear or see me falter at all. Mary, I love you, you helped me keep it together when I was very close to falling apart).
For better or worse, I interpreted being convenor as carrying the rest of the group, checking in and making sure that everyone was ok at all times, that everyone was staying on message. I can only imagine what a nightmare I was at the time, but I absolutely went into full mommy mode. Sorry not sorry, it did the job.

Repeal in general took us out of our comfort zones. Opportunities were presented and we had to grab them and make the most of them. The Journal came on a canvass with us around Kiltimagh. Literally thousands of people watched the video and read the, surprisingly good, article online. I have no memory of talking or what the hell I said, and every time I've tried to watch it, I zone out entirely. It's as if that person is someone else. And in fairness, I was so exhausted at the time, I was basically possessed. I almost didn't make it either, having to sprint from work straight there, in the rain, stuffing a banana into me so I didn't pass out from hunger. But when I arrived there was a beautiful covered stall set up in the centre of the town, decked out with t-shirts and badges, colour and lights. And almost the entire Mayo Together for Yes team. It was raining, but they were there. 
The BBC Radio 3 (I think) came on a canvass with us too in Turlough. This giant estate in the middle of the countryside. There might have been 100 houses, maybe more? There was only a handful of us that could drop everything and canvas at the time...I'm sure I have a picture somewhere in the thousands - I'll save it for next year's rant. But, and I'm not just saying this, EVERY house that opened it's door to us was a Yes. It was the best canvass we had done up to that point, and it was witnessed by the BBC of all people. The story was on the radio later that week, but our whole part including my interview was cut. They decided to give yet more air time to the NO side. The media is like that.

                                                 Momma was there too

Typical stall. Well, typical set up, but this is a stall that sticks in my head particularly because a man who had given me trouble during Marriage Equality came up to us as we were standing behind the stall, sunning ourselves. He stuck his phone in my face, it was playing some video and he was saying something to us that I don't remember and didn't understand at the time. The girls had their kids in buggys, they had just fallen asleep and this asshat man was making such a comotion that the babies were starting to stir. "Think of the children!" he was spitting at us. *You fucking think of the children you ASSHOLE your waking them.* I angrily thought as I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek. I came out from behind the stall and puffed myself up like a rhinoceros and just walked at him until he had to start walking backwards. Honestly, I saw red. But I didn't raise my voice, I just shooed him like he was a bold calf. A man who was walking past intervened, even though I think I was doing a pretty good job on my own.
Afterwards I shook for about an hour. Adrenalin is a hell of a drug and it doesn't agree with me one bit.

The road from Castlebar to Kiltimagh

Our only physical meeting with most of the group before the very end. This was the final push, to touch base, before we would see each other on count day. Repeal was so different to ME where we would meet every few days. Repeal was done so remotely, organised on WhatsApp. A spiderweb of activists meant that whatever was needed would get to wherever it needed to go, but we didn't meet in big groups like this, only once. It still worked. At the time I wished we could meet more, but what would be the point of that really? All we needed was to canvass and get the information out there, as long as that was happening, that was enough.

It felt like not a week went by that our photos weren’t in the paper or there was an article or letter. Our spokesperson was on the local radio at least 3 times - which is good going in a month or there abouts. We organised an open meeting and boosted facebook posts promoting it. These attracted a lot of negative attention. Dozens of people contacted us saying that there would be bussloads coming down from Dublin to protest it. My internal group of 4 started to panic a bit, but I knew there was more chance of me traveling to the moon then these people coming down from Dublin to case trouble. I made a statement to the guards about the incident in Westport and gave them a head's up about the meeting though, just in case. 
I had booked a room that would comfortably seat 40, because I was feeling overly optimistic. Over 70 people crammed into it and I thought I was going to have a conniption. Mairead Enright, Ailbhe Smyth and our spokesperson Christine Greene talked and I MCd. It was streamed on facebook live so I'm sure the next incident has been immortalised forever more.
I had opened the meeting by saying something along the lines of "This is a safe space and we are all hear to listen respectively to our speakers and then there will be Q&A" or something to that effect. I spotted someone in the crowd I 100% knew was going to cause trouble, and he did towards the end so I flew at him and telekinetically threw him out of the room. More about that chap later...

We had a pub quiz fundraiser in Bridge Street and ran out of chairs. If one more person had wanted to get in, we would have had to refuse them because it was jammed. We raised a silly amount of money for the campaign.

The Artists for Repeal had a film screening very moving and the play Maz and Bricks was on in the Linenhall. There was a panel discussion afterwards which was the cherry on top. 

The last Mayo match before the referendum, we had a stall. It also had one of these little trucks doing laps along with a sea of pink and red people handing their leaflets to little kids and trying to stuff them into people's hands. We had a large bin bag people were then throwing them into as they grabbed badges off our table.

We should have posted the leaflets back to wherever their head office is, but we recycled them instead. At some point I had to attend a Together for Yes zoom meeting in my car. When the meeting was over and I was going back to the stall, this was parked up. I couldn't resist.

                 Donation for the main campaign from a neighbour stuck into my letterbox 

Care package from ARC that made me cry for a solid hour. It had t-shirts socks, and tea in it 

Somehow, I was working full time and canvassing all evening. When I got home, I'd take that puppy who was now a dog, for a 6km walk, which mostly involved me walking with my phone stuck to my face trying to catch up on all the txts and emails I’d missed during the day. I choked down dinner at around 9 before spending most of the night putting out firers on social media or checking in with the rest of the group about how their canvasses had gone (I have a knot in my stomach typing this). When I think about it, I don’t know how I managed it all. When I look at photos I can see how much weight I lost from not eating right and running myself into the ground. I can see on my face how I’m exhausted and stressed to sin. You probably wouldn’t notice it but I can see it in my eyes and it makes me incredibly sad. It makes me angry too, that we had to work ourselves so hard for basic healthcare and that we were abused so badly by so many people along the way

I think the only thing that kept me going were the people I was working alongside. I've never worked with such a lovely group of people - both nationally and locally. We absolutely kept each other going. We talked late into the night, debriefed after every canvass. I encouraged and sickened them with positivity. I had a strict rule in our group WhatsApp that there would be no negative talk whatsoever (this is an ARC policy, you can't qualm yourself - so I just extended it to You can't Qualm Anything). We watched the debates and texted the group whatsapp throughout. We laughed. We gifbombed people giving us shit online. We stood together.

I took the two weeks before the vote off work. I had booked them off as soon as I got the job. Somehow, I threw myself even more into Repeal for those last two weeks. The bus came, the billboard, we had photo ops with 'famous' people who's names escape me now. The photos they used cropped us out of course. Optics. 
A couple days before the vote, Belmullet still hadn't been canvassed. No one could come, so I put a call out saying that there would be a stall and these two showed up and stood with me fore a little while before going back to Dublin to vote. After the stall, I canvassed as much of Belmullet as I could on my own. I knew that word would travel that the area had been canvassed. The doors that opened were positive for the most part, and any other ones were very soft NOs that I managed to comfort into YESs. I was so exhausted on my way home that I got lost and found myself at the end of a pier. I took a nap with the window rolled down listening to the ocean and wishing I didn't have to drive another hour before I got home. I had to stop several times on my way home so I did't crash and kill myself.

Remember Home to Vote for Marriage Equality? Well for ME we were in Knock Airport for a couple of hours with balloons and banners and signs and it was all lovely and colourful and wonderful. So of course I thought we would recreate the same vibe for Repeal. I live 15minuets from the airport so it is not a problem to pop down. Three of us did the day before the vote. We stood at arrivals for maybe 10 minuets before we were asked to get the fuck out, nicely. I explained what we were doing and how it hadn't been a problem for Marriage Equality. They didn't want to hear it. I was sickened. I'm still sickened by it.

Mayo is massive, I don't know if you realise this but it's fecking huge, and that last day it started off sunny at the airport, and quickly went cold and wet. This road was the way I drove to work and on 2 occasions I had to stop, get out of my car, and chastise people for taking down MY posters (I got very protective of them...they were fought bloody hard for and were the bane of my existence from the time the NO ones went up until about a week after the result. I still have a pile of them under my bed.)

My family always go to vote together. Dad had just arrived home from the states that morning, he had missed most of the final weeks where I was on the edge. He didn't see me at my best/worst. He got into the car and said "What way am I voting?" I think mum filled him in because I was too busy praying to Brighid in the back of the car for the complete erradication of this bastarding amendment. My brother was moving to Canada in 5 days time. I'm so glad he was there, especially as he had missed the ME vote. 

After the vote, our group congregated in Market Square again. Final push, last bit of visibility. Encourage people to vote. Listen to them give out to your about the moratorium. Smile sweetly and bite your tongue, just another day and it would ALL be over and done with for now. Just breathe through it. Nearly there.

After I took this photo, Louise handed me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and I burst into tears. Just look at them all there. These are the people who canvassed all of Mayo. There's a few people missing, but basically, that's it. That's all we had, and it was enough. Many of them had never done anything like it before, but they did it week after week, day after day. They knocked on doors, got their fingers caught in letterboxes, got chased out of gardens and were called every name under the sun. When I saw them all standing there, I knew we had done it. Two years of constant work and we were looking at the finish line. And I've never been so proud.

The morning of the result we gathered at 8 outside the TF in Castlebar. I did a quick Don't Fuck Around PLEASE peptalk and then broke the group into 3 so I could show them how to tally - with boxes, not strokes. Boxes are better, fight me.

We almost weren't going to be allowed in the count centre at all. They had booked the big room where the count usually is, and were using a much smaller room instead. The cynical side of me wondered if this was done on purpose for the drama. I was told over the phone if there was so much as a whisper of messing, everyone would be kicked out. We had been warned. I warned the others. I love tallying, but I really had to wonder about the thinking behind cramming us all into this tiny room. It was like a tinderbox and I was so scared that it would all kick off.

I scurried around to make sure that everyone knew what they were at, reminded them all know to engage. Prayed that we would get something like a full tally, then skipped off to do the postal votes. I had obviously never done the postal votes before and it was so interesting (I am a huge nerd ok). There are really strict rules in the count centre, you can't just walk around wherever you like, but the NO side didn't get that memo and were trying to barge in to the postal vote room even though they had their quota of witnesses already in there. 
There was also two women from either the States or Canada in there to watch proceedings. They travel all over the world watching elections. I wish I could remember what group they were from. They were so nice and when they saw what side I was on, they were very encouraging and telling me how exciting it was for them to be there to see the result. The woman from the NO side who was there with me was standing so close, and smiling and I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WOULD DO THAT WHEN YOU THINK I'M A BABY MURDERER. Back off.

MidWest Radio interviewed us live. I have the recording in my ITunes. It pops up every so often when my music is on shuffle and I get a little jolt.

At some point I went to the toilet and met Lisa Chambers in the hall and we were talking for a couple of minuets. In fairness, she was very good to us. She was very good to the campaign afterward too. Anyway.
When I went back into the small, crowded room, the atmosphere had totally changed and there was a garda. It transpired in the 5 minuets I was out of the room, your man on the left in the red, the same dude from our open meeting, had taken offence to what one of our girls had said, and exploded. Everything had to be stopped, everyone was warned by the dude in charge to cop on or get out, and about half an hour later there was a small write up in The Journal about it. I was mortified and I went around everyone again and begged them to either play nice or just ignore. We were SO close to the end and really needed that full tally.

I also got to look at the spoiled votes. Every group can put forward a representative for that job. Again, that was a first for me and I was, honoured, in a way to get to see that side of things. Your spoiled votes with "None of these pricks should get elected" or penis drawings get seen by the person counting, the person tallying, and then the main dude who decides if they are spoiled or not. That's it. No one of any importance sees them, so stop doing it. Your wasting your own time.
But when I went over to the side where it was being done, again the NO side thought the rules didn't apply to them, and I had one of their girls physically leaning on me with her arm to get a better view. I turned around and said very sweetly, please can you get off me. What I would like to say now for the record is GET THE FUCK OFF ME OR I'LL SNAP YOUR ARM IN TWO. 

When the tally was done, we waited for the main, official result. Our tally had Mayo as a YES but I still needed the official result before I would even begin to consider breathing a sigh of relief. We went outside for a group photo and on our way back in to the hotel, one of our lads Whooped too close to Red Vest man (they know each other well and used to be friends) who took offense and squared up to him. One of our girls got between them and got her arm twisted by RVM then I barrelled in to the middle of all of them, much like what happened on the stall weeks earlier, and told the lads with my wagging finger to cop the fuck on to all of themselves. I was furious and stressed and exhausted and close to the brink. I am trembling typing this 2 years later and I know what happens at the end of the story for fucks sake.

We won. We won and I went into a euphoric state of shock which meant that I couldn't cry, and no matter how much I drank I didn't even manage to get tipsy nevermind twisted, which is what I was aiming for. I had stopped drinking about a year previous to the vote. I just went off it and forgot to go back on it again I guess?
Some of us went for an Indian. Some went off and watched the Rugby I think? We went for drinks and chats and dancing. It was a fun night of exhausted dancing, smiling and laughing.
The next day we went for breakfast and me and Martina listened to our spokesperson on the local radio through my phone sitting in the sun in the grass behind Dunnes. Well I was laying in the grass because I was fit to collapse. I don't think I've ever been so tired but I don't think I've ever felt so internally light in my life. Like, if I wasn't wearing shoes, I might have just floated up into outer space. Weightless. Free.

But it didn't end. Even after the last poster was taken down, I wasn't finished. We weren't done. We still had several months of legislation, live tweeting Dail debates and watching the Seanad like a hawk.
We had a post Repeal ARC meeting in Dublin. I went up the night before straight after work and stayed with an ARC member who I had only ever heard of but never had any dealings with. I felt instantly at ease and we stayed up late talking about everything. The next day I met so many people who I had only ever talked to on the phone or saw online. Mary sent a virtual hug through Niamh which nearly ended me it was so thoughtful. Everyone went for drinks and a BBQ afterward where I spent the evening reading everyone's tarot cards in the beer garden and just sharing space with these gorgeous, remarkable humans I had spent the last two years fighting alongside. 
In August, the pope visited. I went up to Dublin with Celene and Sonya. Wild horses could not have stopped us from going up to the protest. Of course ARC was going to be there, so I put a call out for a place to lay my head. Mary, darling Mary, let me stay with her and I will never forget meeting her that first time. My taxi couldn't find her house and I ended up walking and phoning her like a lost country mouse. She came out to meet me and walk me the rest of the way. Because it was our first meeting, we stayed up drinking tea and talking for probably too long. The next morning we walked into town, stopping for coffee along the way and talking about totally non Repeal related things. Because there is more to all of us that just Repeal (believe it or not) and it's just as important to put the work into the multiple sides of these friendships in order to make them stronger and work. 
Like magnets, we all found each other in this huge crowd on O'Connell street. I met Clare, another little pixelated face made flesh. Ciara who had come down to do our canvassing training was there too. And so many others.
The speeches and music went on, but the atmosphere was different than any gathering I've ever been at. When all the talking was over, the MC said that we would all walk to the nearest Magdalene Laundry in silence. I remember thinking that he must be joking. There was no way a crowd this big were going to be quiet for any length of time.
How wrong was I.
As we walked, the only thing I could hear was our shoes on the street, and the sound of children. Little babies cooing and wimpering, toddlers babbelling, little kiddies talking and laughing. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. As we made our way to this place that had tortured women, separated mothers from their children, allowed children to die from neglect, all because Catholic Ireland would rather lock up it's fallen women than have any shred of compassion for them.
And these babies in the crowd were free from that. These children would hopefully never know such barbaric treatment. Because the vast majority of that crowd had repealed the 8th amendment and lifted the stigma and changed Ireland for good, forever. 

I spoke on a motion at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. In front of many many people, and along with a que of probably 50. Mum recorded it. Public speaking is not my thing, but you would not have been able to stop me, even though most of us in the que were saying the exact same thing.

I wasn't able to write this this time last year. It felt too close. It still feels very close. And again, I'm sure there isn't a whole lot in this that hasn't been said before, but I had to say it too. 
If I can be proud for taking part in a campaign that nearly broke me, than I am proud. I'm proud of the work I did locally. I'm proud of the role I took on for ARC. I'm happy that I met so many very wonderful people along the way and that I've made real friends as a result who I am still in regular contact with. I wish I saw them more and I miss them desperately. I'm deeply grateful for my ARC family who I love the bones of. They were so good to me in the lead up to the referendum, but they have been genuinely wonderful since. As is the ARC way, there are too many of them to name individually, but I love you all truly. 

I don't think there will ever be a time that I don't want to talk about Repeal, or that talking about it won't make me cry. When the official result did come in, the first thing I thought of was all the baby girls that would be born in Ireland on the 26th of May, 2018. Into this new world that was giving them just a little bit more equality. And that we had done that. Together. 

If that's the best thing I'll ever do it my life, then that is enough.