Tomás Heneghan, a student from UL and member of Galway Pro-Choice shares his experience of the march on Youth Defence’s office…..originally posted here.

Me decked out in my pro-choice stuff

 

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I’m thinking I’ll take a break from writing about my holiday and instead write a tad about Dublin Pride weekend this year. Details are fairly boring so I’ll just skip to the good stuff…

Arrived on Friday after taking a trip to Limerick from Galway and then from Limerick to Dublin…complicated way of doing things, I know. After much deliberation I ended up going with a group from college, which definitely didn’t go to plan. Located hostel, dumped bags, got the food from Supermacs and then wandered off to an impromptu protest outside the headquarters of the conservative catholic Youth Defence. Listen, I’ll be honest, this post will just focus on the protest side of things really.

Someone from the college crowd I went to Dublin with decided to join me at the protest which was cool, given the fact Youth Defence is a well known homophobic organisation as well as being anti-choice and many many other things. We got there easy enough and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed by the number of protesters at that particular point in time (the number rapidly increased after that though).

I got my posters, t-shirt, general protesting thingys from my bag and took my stance. I soon noticed a group of 3 or 4 people off to one side pointing and laughing at the protesters. Slightly weird, I know, because there was actually nothing particularly funny happening at the time and to be honest they just looked slightly unhinged and hysterical. Info soon came that they were members of Youth Defence and this was how they intimidated pro-choice people usually…all of the lols for them because that just has to be the worst intimidation method I’ve seen in my life. So that clearly didn’t work and in an attempt to be ‘the big man’ one of them soon resorted to pulling out a video camera and walking up and down past the row of pro-choice protesters shoving the camera in our faces…I’m not even sure that the camera was turned on to be honest but I guarantee that if it was it got some great shots of my pores, up my nose and my pupils…I kid you not, it really was in our faces. The weirdo did quit after a bit when he saw that once again intimidation just doesn’t do the trick it used to back in the 80‘s and 90’s when people involved in these groups could beat the crap out of a pro-choice protester simply for taking a stand.

Anyway I stopped paying attention to them, as the pro-choice protesters flowed down Capel Street and to the headquarters of YD (known as Life House, however more appropriately restyled ‘Lie House’ and ‘Death House’). We had the chants…oh the chants, I do so love a good chant. I’ll just throw a couple out there.

“Pro-life thats a lie, you don’t care if women die”
“Youth Defence, scum scum”
“Anti-woman, anti-gay, pro-life bigots go away”

Anyway the chants were pretty much continuous but we did have speeches for a bit. Now, we had the usual ones from Action on X and others, very structured, although brilliant, slightly “heard this a thousand times” already kind of stuff. What was definitely new was when the protesters were invited to speak and, no word of a lie, the first person practically broke my heart. She had had an abortion in the past and had been called a murderer by anti-choice activists, implying YD’s complicity in this. She, of course, was in tears within minutes of starting, who wouldn’t be. There was a rush of people that shuffled around to get to her at that moment, to hold and support her as she laid it all out there, showing exactly one of the ways in which Youth Defence destroys lives and hurts people. I joined early enough simply because I couldn’t just stand there watching and listening to this woman relive the horrific things so-called “pro-life” individuals had done to her. What could I offer but my sympathy, support and a hug and I’m glad she took each…strong and dignified were a complete understatement for how this woman behaved but of course listening was unbelievably heartbreaking. My calls of ‘scum’ aimed at Youth Defence after this were louder and more passionate as my main thought was “these people destroy lives!”

A second woman then followed with a second passionate speech about the hatred spewed by Youth Defence at her and other women who made difficult decisions in seeking abortions and were vilified for doing so. Hearing these two women really brought it back to me that these groups, like Youth Defence, are nothing but hate groups.

We then had a speech about Youth Defence’s homophobia, during which the building across the very narrow street opened a window and flew a rainbow flag and yelled their support for the protest. This was then followed by the same actions from a building nearby. This second one is an LGBT resource centre very close to YD headquarters (I was pretty shocked by the proximity myself). It seemed like the two sides who have suffered, and will continue to suffer, most at the hands of Youth Defence had finally come together to show their disgust at the group’s actions. “Anti-woman, anti-gay” definitely fit the description of Youth Defence that day and still does.

Throughout the protest anti-choice individuals came by to tear down the posters and things stuck to the YD building and generally disrupt the protest. The Gardaí also played their part. One horrible individual refused to leave, deciding instead to sit on the pavement as each pro-choice protester attempted to converse rationally with her…she, of course, was having none of it and would only comment on how “abortion is murder” with no real arguments whatsoever. I eventually pulled out my copy of the Irish Constitution, walked over to her and asked her did she know what the book was. She confirmed that she did. I then asked why she wanted to subvert the right to abortion held within it. She responded by telling me that it didn’t matter and that abortion was murder and had to be stopped regardless. I then spoke about Youth Defence’s anti-gay sentiments and she claimed she had no problem with gay people (I know, I’m confused too) but she asked if I would be pro-choice if you could discover sexual orientation in the foetus during pregnancy (implication being that my mother would’ve aborted me if she had known I would be gay). My response was along the lines of reminding her how ludicrous and hateful she sounded. We ended with my final question of whether I would see her with others from the Youth Defence mob at the Pride parade the following day, showing their support for LGBT people. She said no, she would not be attending. This woman, of course, had no issues with gay people though, found the time to go out to a protest and cause trouble on a Friday evening, yet had no time to attend a parade during the day in the centre of Dublin on Saturday…weird, no?

The building was eventually plastered with posters, stickers and leaflets. Another wonderful part of the protest involved the repurposing of some of Youth Defence’s posters which had been littered throughout Dublin (and other areas of the country), with the usual blatant lies (no exaggeration…there was one stating “abortion doesn’t saves lives…it just kills babies”, which is entirely untrue). Other YD posters were torn up and destroyed, which may sound slightly savage but, trust me, it was much needed. People had had to look at these barely legal, woman-hating lies sprawled across lamp-posts for at least a week or more. And you do have to take into consideration the catalyst to this protest. A day previously a billboard truck with one of these Youth Defence posters had been parked outside the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. An account of the incident can be found here. The poster read “the abortion bill wont make women safer…it will just kill babies”…sick? Yes, truly disgusting behaviour!

The protest ended soon (it lasted a good hour and half) and we dispersed. An emotional, heartfelt and powerful protest for sure. It really felt like Youth Defence’s luck with the Irish public had finally fallen flat on its face. If it wasn’t for Youth Defence’s questionable sources of funding I have no doubt they’d be well out of business by now.

Did I mention YD had actually abandoned their offices long before the protest was even due to start. They didn’t even have the guts to stand their ground. I guess there are some things american dollars can’t buy you.

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