Parenting and Activism

Parenting and Activism
Notes from a discussion at Lady&Trans*fest, Sunday 30th March 2014
by Shonagh.

This meeting took place upstairs in the WSM room in Seomra Spraoi, which was once the kindergarten space. Present were a group of parents, guardians, prospective parents, allies and some children. Shonagh and Marianne facilitated on behalf of RAG.

The meeting began with a round of names and the question, “what do you hope to get from this discussion?” Parents were interested in how to involve themselves and their children, how to maintain their activism in the face of obstacles, and to build connections. Allies were interested in exploring how to make spaces and events more welcoming and inclusive for parents and children, how to support them, and to hear different approaches and perspectives. A couple of people had attended thinking the meeting was on something else, however they stayed, and made valuable contributions!

The rest of the meeting was structured as a facilitated discussion tackling three questions:

1) What has/could becoming a parent brought/bring to your activism?

2) What barriers does/could parenthood present to activism?

3) What would you like to change or see happen? What would inclusive spaces look like?

My notes take the form of a picture on my phone of some whiteboard scribblings! In this report I'll do my best to reform a narrative around these points and try to do the excellent discussion some justice.

The very experience of becoming a parent is a politicising event for many. As a woman, being thrust into the broken healthcare system to birth and being exposed to the abuses within it shocks many into developing their feminist analysis, and practical skills to negotiate their safety while engaging with this system. Likewise, becoming a single parent, or being forced to engage with and negotiate the welfare system, or being exposed to the prejudices in society can be intensely politicising. Queer people become suddenly far more radical and visible by virtue of now existing as queer parents. We are now more subject to societal scrutiny and judgement and the exhausting process of defence/ justification/ existence. As parents we have to become involved with societal systems that we may never have had to think about before and to make choices for ourselves and our children, including healthcare and schooling, and the avoidance of the church. We may find ourselves suddenly making links with other parents in similar circumstances, or creating support networks and groups – such as queer parents groups, local support networks and birth activism. For many, parenthood is a focusing event in their activist life; shifting the focus from the global, the external, to the personal, the body, and our daily lives, our communities.

However it can be noted that, especially in our communities, becoming a parent means becoming invisible. There is the feeling that when activists become parents, they gradually just conform and disappear, leaving activism to the young and the childless. Some manage to engage in campaigns only on “days off” - when the children are being minded elsewhere – this compartmentalisation of family life, while sometimes necessary, is exhausting and unsustainable if it is the expected norm. This separation and disappearance is not the norm in other countries, and certainly not in communities where anarchism took hold and became a viable system. All members of the community have to be valued and involved in order for it to be self sustaining. Activists need to become aware of their own prejudices regarding children and by extension their parents, and to take responsibility to ensure that the spaces they are creating are accessible. More on this later.

Barriers to involvement in activism include times and locations of meetings, the lack of childcare, or tokenistic childcare. Having a child or a baby at a meeting can be looked upon as too distracting for people who are not used to having children around. It is hard to come to events when you know that you will be the only one with a kid there. In some circles, mothers might even feel too uncomfortable to breastfeed. In Ireland, the social aspect of activism means that sometimes the real politics, planning and link-building happens in the pub afterwards, thus excluding kids and their parents. It is also just hard as a parent to get to meetings on time, or to commit to a group knowing that family concerns will come first. Being a working parent, or a working single parent compounds these problems. Time often seems too scarce to be involved in anything.

It was noted that these are self-perpetuating problems; the lack of children and parents around means that children and parents are forgotten about and not provided for, then they are not around. In our absence, there can be a feeling of other people speaking for us, missing our vital experience and perspectives.

There are other serious concerns which parents experience with regard to endangering themselves and their families. Parents may be less likely to put themselves in situations of physical peril, or to risk arrest than they were when they were childless. While children may enjoy some aspects of street protest, poster making and even leafleting, society can be quick to pass judgement on parents for “imposing their beliefs”, and we can't always be certain that our children are safe from police violence. Children are often excluded from squatted spaces due sometimes to the inadequacy of the spaces, but also through parents' fears about inviting police and social services' involvement.

As activists, by our very nature we disagree with the societal institutions and norms that are in place, we feel driven to change things, we want to do things differently and to create alternatives, to challenge injustices. Our children are part of this, they cannot be excluded. We have to keep them safe, but we can't pretend they don't exist or shelve them into childcare while we talk about or work to change the world, because then we are changing nothing. And we shouldn't have to disappear with them to keep them safe. We wish to be authentic for our children; to model engaged lives. Society will always judge us for this, as it judges and attempts to control women from the moment they become pregnant. Solidarity is needed from the rest of the activist community. Parents should feel reassured that their communities will defend their right to be parents, no matter how engaged as activists they are. There are creative ways that communities may be called upon to do this – from legal defense funds to more novel ideas – for example a conceptual religion with a statute was mentioned as a way to protect families from state involvement!

By facilitating children and their parents, we are facilitating the organic growth of our communities, we are retaining people with years of valuable expertise, we are nurturing the activists of the future, we are continuing, rather than always starting over at adolescence, ending with exclusion. Activists starting out in their teens and twenties are excited at the discovery of activist spaces, they are excited at the existence of community outside of the sometimes dysfunctional family or local communities they have seen before. They may be excited to have escaped from the sight of parents and families that they view as conservative forces. They may be uncomfortable around children and their parents. To which we say, “get over it”. Just as it is your responsibility to ensure that your events and venues are accessible to people of all abilities, genders and backgrounds, it is also your responsibility to ensure they are accessible to people of all ages and parental status.

What does this look like in practice? As with everything, it just requires a little planning and forethought. Social spaces should be generally safe for children to be present – think about hand rails, drains, dangerous areas etc. There should be a quiet all-ages area with interesting games, books (children's literature exists!), building toys and art equipment.

Even where childcare is provided for meetings, expect and accept that some children will prefer or need to be with their parents at meetings. We can still have productive meetings with small disruptions. The birth activist meetings that I attend always have babies and children present. They get handed around, fed, picked up where necessary, saved from hot drinks and sharp corners, cooed at occasionally and taken out often. And the meetings continue.

Children and parents can be invited to participate in social/community spaces by organising specific events for children – be these family film screenings, all-ages gigs or whatever child-focused events you come up with. One attendee at the meeting related his experience where his art space organised an all-day kids' party once a month. Bringing their children, parents built friendships and political links together. On party days some would share the childcare, and the others were free to go and participate in direct action together!

When planning events, thought should be given to the location and the time of the event, and whether parents will be excluded by virtue of these. Outdoor events where possible are much more fun for children. Have one person responsible for coordinating childcare/activities over a long event, that can be a go-to person, and organise a rota where necessary. Consider the sleeping arrangements of kids and parents if there is an event over a few days – e.g. kid houses, family camping spaces, shared childcare. Some of my most frustrating weekends away as a parent at activist events have involved having to leave the evening festivities early to sit in a tent or a room with a sleeping child.

Any childcare is better than none at all, but there are other ways that parents and children can be involved in events. When RAG organised a weekend feminist gathering in 2008 we had an all-ages timetable of workshops and activities running alongside the other workshops. This worked really well and the all-ages activities were well attended and appreciated by all; with children, physicists and architects all trying to figure out the finer points of paper bag kite-making together!

When planning workshops, ask yourself whether this can be an all ages (or nearly all ages) workshop, if so, make it so, and advertise it as such. If it could be, but you would need a little extra help/ adjustment, then do that. If we care about a topic enough to workshop ideas for each other, then surely we can teach the children about it too – if only for 15 minutes of the time. They can also be relied upon for the most honest workshop critiques! Plan and advertise children's/all-ages workshops as far in advance as you would for any other, to allow parents to plan to attend.

Make an effort to engage with the children who populate your spaces and meetings, ask their parents what they need, what you can do to help. Play with the kids, you might like it! I attended a Birth Gathering at a lovely old farm in England a couple of years ago at which, by the nature of the event, there were many children. There was one man who cared for the kids all weekend, with other people helping out. There was a beautiful relaxed kids space, and the children were just helped to explore and play. By the end of the weekend they had created an incredible fortress city of hay bales, with its own agreed constitution and civilisation, learning from each other and including everyone from the youngest to the oldest. It was beautiful, as just as the parents came to the weekend to learn and create, so did the children. Just, sometimes, we learn and create in different ways.

There were other issues discussed in the meeting that I haven't touched upon; chats were had and connections were made. There is a feeling that the parents are hiding, that we need to find each other, to come back. Then maybe those conversations that we need to have as parents together can happen too – about the work and the responsibility of raising children, the struggles we encounter. Parents and kids groups were proposed, and even a family festival! We ended with vegan chocolate brownies for all, and happy mothers' day wishes. Afterwards, we brought a bullet-point list of advice downstairs to be pinned up on the wall of Seomra Spraoi on what can be done to make events more kid/parent friendly. We are hoping that this advice, and some of the thoughts outlined in this meeting report will be taken on board by political and activist groups and spaces.

What can be done to make an event more kid/parent friendly?
  • Engage with the children around you
  • Plan all-ages workshops
  • Consider the time/place your meeting is on
  • Outdoor events
  • It is your responsibility to ensure that your event is inclusive for people of all different abilities/genders/ages/parental status etc.
  • Is your meeting on a topic kids need to be excluded from? If not, do you need to make some extra provisions to involve them?
  • Publicise kid-friendly/inclusive events in advance so parents can plan
  • Have kid-friendly zones/spaces
  • Ask parents what they need

Abortion rights in Spain and Ireland: a continuous struggle

This article was originally published in RAG#6 by Leticia. 

Unlike most of my Irish feminist friends, pro-choice politics were never an important issue I felt women struggled with. don’t get me wrong, I was openly pro choice in the sense I always believed women should not be forced to have an unwanted pregnancy and that they should not have to travel or pay for an abortion, but I always felt it was an issue dealt with in the past, so it didn’t worry me. When I
started to have sex , in the late 90s, I knew abortion was accessible for me in Spain and I never had to worry about facing an unwanted child in my life.

Since I was a kid I always knew I was an “accident”. My mother was 15 years old when she got pregnant. I always remember her telling people how shocking and terrible it was for her to realise she was pregnant just after the firsttime she ever had sex and how she tried to take aspirins to provoke a miscarriage. Then she would add, “Do not ever have kids, it is stupid. I love you and your sisters so much but if I could go back, I would ́t have any children”. My mum and I always had a very close, loving and affectionate relationship but it never occurred to me to ask why she did not have an abortion in the first place.

My mother got pregnant in 1981, only 6 years after the death of Franco. Before that, Spain lived under a strict Catholic conservative fascist dictatorship for 40 years. In 1982, the year I was born, the Partido Socialista Obrero EspaƱol (PSOE) came into power and 3 years later abortion was legislated.

I heard stories of people who had traveled in the 1970s to London to have an abortion. I always assumed those women were very rich and came from an upper class background who could afford a trip to London, so those stories didn’t interest me.

While I was in Spain I had my first abortion. I usually don’t talk about it because I find it insignificant in my life. I remember it as simple as finding out I was pregnant. Yes,it was dramatic, but I was a Spanish teenager so my life was a drama anyway. My mum booked an appointment, we went to the clinic and were back home after 2 hours. It was easier than having the flu for me. Sometimes I forget I had it. Everyone around me was very supportive. It felt natural in all senses: my family, friends, medical staff, my mum ́s friends. It was a simple procedure that it didn’t affect my life.

It was not until I moved to Ireland that I learned about pro-choice politics. I learn about the hypocrisy of this country pretending Ireland is a place without need for abortion, when in reality women had to travel abroad, lonely and scared and stay in an unfamiliar place. I learned about the stigma those women had to face and how taboo abortion is in Ireland. I learned about the 8th amendment, Youth
Defence, “the unborn child”, the X case, 12 women traveling every day. Those things made me angry, and I was shocked how I never linked something as basic as women’s bodily autonomy with feminism. I remember talking to Spanish friends about stories related to abortion in Ireland and they were all horrified and shocked about the situation in this country. We were not aware then how quickly things can change and that we can never take things for granted.

In Summer 2012, Youth Defence created a huge campaign all around the country. A lot of us were very furious and got together to try to organise and do something about it. During this new surge in the pro-choice movement, I became pregnant. I became pregnant and I wanted to have an abortion. I became pregnant and everything around me was related to abortion. It was very hard for me to not tell
everyone about what I was going trough. I think I shared too much with people I didn’t know that well. I was shocked, yes, but I also was surrounded by amazing women who understood perfectly for what I was going trough. Still, it was hard. I was too broke to go to Spain or to the U.K. I was already in too much debt to ask a friend for a loan. I was lucky to be involved in pro-choice activism to know
about Women on Web, so I ordered the abortion pills from the Internet through my friend from Belfast. I had an abortion the day after the March for Choice 2012. I did it at home, scared, in pain and feeling very lost and confused about what was happening. I wouldn’t recommend it to a serious hypochondriac like me.

Weeks after, I traveled to the London Anarchist Bookfair to work at the Workers Solidarity Movement stall. There were two ladies sitting in the stall next to me. Eventually I started to chat with one of them. Her name was Anne Rossister and she mentioned she was involved with the Irish Abortion Support Network. The first thing I told her was that I recently had an abortion. She took my hand, looked at me and told me: “Why did you not contact me? You could had stayed at my house and we could have gone trough this together. I would have paid for you. We always find a way to raise money”. I started crying and I realized then that I was chatting with an absolute living hero. She gave me her book, Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora, and we spent all day chatting away.
This was the first time I heard about the the Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group (SWAS), the sister organization of Irish Women’sAbortion Support Group (IWASG). IWASG and SWASG started in the 1980s, where a brave group of women came together in sisterhood to offer any kind of help and finding their own ways. Those women, during more than 20 years, provided accommodation, information, money, and
transport to women arriving in the capital for abortions in a voluntary basis and with no funding.
Blanca Fernandez, who was involved in 1987, defines those networks as the main idea of grassroots politics. They would help with anything: taking women to the clinic, making posters and banners , meetings and conferences and fundraisers . They would offer their own homes and it was a moving sense of solidarity among each other.

For Spanish women traveling to London was really hard. Unlike the Irish women, most of them did not speak English so they couldn ́t understand the medical staff . The Spanish Abortion Support network helped to translate and explain the procedures in Spanish. But lack of English language was not the only barrier. Isabel Ros mentioned in Anne’s book how she often had to ask women to speak
up on the phone, but they wouldn’t. They were whispering because they were terrified of being overheard.
Spain’s conservative right wing party, Partido Popular, is taking the opportunity of being in power at a time of economic and financial crisis to suppress women’s reproductive rights, putting the clock back nearly 30 years, to when abortion was first decriminalised. It was very restrictive compared to many other European countries at the time, but a major breakthrough for women in Spain.

Since 1985, (my mum could not choose to have and abortion 4 years before, in 1981) abortion was legal under 3 major conditions: to preserve the physical and mental health of the mother; if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if the foetus was likely to suffer mental or physical abnormalities at birth.
Since 2010, abortion was mainly on demand, safe, and free. However, this government wants to reform the abortion law and is using Ireland as a model to follow their plans. If the government gets its way, Spain will join Ireland to become the only two major European countries that prohibit abortion where the foetus is malformed.

Our situation in both Spain and Ireland is depressing. The more that abortion is restricted, the more desperate women will seek unsafe, backstreet abortions, putting themselves at great risk, especially in this big economic crisis that affects the most disadvantaged women who cannot afford to travel, or migrants who are not allowed to leave their country of residence. But the work that those amazing
women did is too solid and impossible to break. Those women were sick of being scared. Those women are an inspiration for the new generation of pro-choice activists who are not afraid.

Both in Ireland and Spain, pro-choice activism is as big as ever . We do not want anybody to have to whisper on the phone to have an abortion in another country. We want to have all the choices available in our countries. I wish we could build this sisterhood between Irish and Spanish women again . Women still need our support, and together we can send a powerful message. I will never forget those
women, the ones who, like my mother, had to face an unwanted pregnancy because they couldn’t afford to travel– the ones who travelled and the ones who helped them.
They were all so brave. Cowards do not make history.

Since this article, the Spanish Government passed  the abortion ban legislation. 
In opposition to this, many protest again this decision are ongoing in Spain and other European countries.
In Ireland, the Abortion Rights Campaign are organizing a protest outside the Spanish Embassy this Saturday 8th February at 2p.m. More details here:
There is also a banner making event the day before at Jaja  Studios in Stoneybatter from 6pm.
More info contact the Abortion Rights Campaigns

Breaking Ground: The Story of the London Irish Women's Centre

If you're in the Dublin area tomorrow, 10 November at 1pm, check out this film at the IFI in Temple Bar:

Breaking Ground: The Story of the London Irish Women's Centre tells the story of the rise and fall of the London Irish Women's Centre from 1983 to 2012. Through vibrant archive material and interviews with 18 women, the film charts the centre’s social and political campaigning on behalf of Irish women, many of whom were in London in search of an alternative life away from the repressive, predominately Catholic culture of Ireland. The film will be followed by a Q&A with the London-based director Michelle Deignan.

The Rag, Issue #6 is finished! And the London Anarchist Bookfair!

Dear RAG followers,
We are overjoyed to announce that after three long years, the newest edition of The Rag is complete! It was touch and go, and there were a few late nights put in, but everyone rallied together and Rag #6 was born! There are so many great articles in this issue, it would be difficult to only name a few. If you're in London, you can find it for sale in The Feminist Library and Housman's Bookshop. If you're in Ireland, we will be distributing the magazine after our launch, which we are planning in a few weeks time (more on that later!).

RAG members Leticia and Angela (the person writing this blog entry) headed over to London from Dublin on the "Sail and Rail," a journey enjoyable to some but grueling to others, especially when weighed down with piles of heavy magazines! 

But the trip was worth it on Saturday, when folks began to approach our stall to get their hands on the newest edition of The Rag. It was so wonderful to not have to disappoint people looking for the next issue, and to say, "Here it is! The issue you've been waiting for!" And to show that interest in anarcha-feminism is far from waning, we sold a few hefty stacks of back issues as well. 

AK press kindly asked RAG to participate in their anarcha-feminist panel discussion: Unreasonable Demands. The description read, "Gender hierarchy is entrenched in our society – and, unfortunately, is frequently reproduced within anarchist movements, even as we oppose other kinds of hierarchies. Meanwhile, as 'mainstream' feminism becomes increasingly accepted and co-opted by liberals and neoliberal bootstrappers alike, anarchist feminists often find ourselves sidelined." Also on the panel was Zoe Stavri, author of the Another Angry Woman blog. Though I was there on behalf of RAG, I actually spoke about the Abortion Rights Campaign, which I've been heavily involved in, and the challenges faced in creating the campaign goals and strategy. I talked about how the Abortion Rights Campaign settled on "Free, Safe, & Legal" as their ultimate goal, although it's considered an "unreasonable demand," even amongst pro-choice advocates. 

The packed room listened with great attention, and several people asked questions about the campaign and the history around how Ireland became an "abortion-free" country. Overall, people were curious about the specific strategies needed to make abortion available in Ireland beyond the very restrictive and punitive new legislation. I explained that abortion cannot be legal without appealing the 8th amendment. And to do that, we need a referendum. I was very surprised that many people in the audience did not know what the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution was, though, admittedly I shouldn't have been, as many people living in Ireland don't know either. 

Anarchism is obviously about smashing the state, so I think some people were frustrated in the fact that we are working within the existing political structures. One woman even suggested we get to the streets with our guns! But that wouldn't change the fact that we still need a referendum. We need to repeal the 8th amendment while we're waiting for the Revolution!

People also wanted to know about existing networks in Ireland that support women going through crisis pregnancies, both during and after their terminations. I mentioned the UK organisation Abortion Support Network (ASN), which helps find accommodation and funding for women in Ireland traveling to the UK for abortions. However, as for Irish support, I was at a loss. This question would come up again later in another panel discussion, and it begs discussion.

Another question which has haunted me ever since came from a person wanting to know what people in the UK can do to support us in Ireland in our campaign for free, safe, and legal abortion. I responded that they could spread the word and help us educate people in the situation in Ireland, support ASN of course, and I should have probably stressed more that people can also donate to and follow the Abortion Rights Campaign on facebook, Twitter, and by signing up to receive their electronic newsletter. But I return to this question because there must be more that our throngs of supporters all around the world can do. Hopefully the campaign can have a think about it and come up with a more comprehensive list of actions.

The bulk of the discussion, however definitely went to Zoe, who spoke compellingly about how we should "kill all men." I couldn't possibly sum it up, but let's just say it was entertaining, and many of the attendees described it as "refreshing." 

Many thanks go to RAG friend Criostoir, who manned the stall for us when both Leticia and I were participating in the Bookfair. And to Andrew, Aileen, and Farah from the WSM who arranged for us to share their table.

The second panel I took part in was organised by the WSM, was "about the hidden, yet central role of anarchists in the pro-choice campaign" and "the importance of international solidarity with the abortion rights struggle." To that end, I described the non-hierarchical structure created by the Abortion Rights Campaign and the five working groups, as well as how decisions and strategy are made. Farah spoke about the article she wrote for the most recent Irish Anarchist Review about intersectionality in the pro-choice movement, which led to an interesting discussion. 

We left the Bookfair empty handed, having unloaded all of our Rag #6 issues that we lugged over! Hooray! Thanks to everyone who chatted with us, bought magazines, asked questions at the panels, and who were generally awesome. And thanks to the organisers, who made sure everything ran smoothly.


Documentary filmmaker seeks Irish women with crisis pregnancies

Inbar Livne, student and documentary filmmaker from London, is putting together a documentary based on testimonies from women who have dealt with or are currently dealing with crisis pregnancies. The film will convey their stories from a non-judgmental perspective and will support women, no matter what their decision. She hopes the film will be a resource for other women who have an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, or a pregnancy that becomes a crisis for whatever reason. 

She is looking for women who would be interested in sharing their story to help raise awareness and break the stigma around this issue. 

If you want to hear more about the project or see stories of other women from Ireland and NI who have already shared their experience, please contact her on 

 Your identity will remain confidential if you wish.

For more information about the project, click here, here, and here.

What is Anarcha-Feminism to RAG?

RAG is very pleased to be participating in this year's Dublin Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, the 6th of April in Liberty Hall. (Programme details can be found by clicking on the link). We'll be there with back issues of the Rag, our distro of magazines and books from around the world, and other exciting goodies. Please visit our table and say hello! 

Leading up to the bookfair, we thought we would share an essay by RAG that was recently published in the new expanded edition of Quiet Rumours, an Anarcha-Feminist Reader by Dark Star Collective (published by AK Press). You may have often wondered, "What is Anarcha-Feminism?" and we hope this short essay will give you an idea.

Why Anarcha-feminism?
RAG is a group of anarcha-feminist women in Dublin, Ireland. We are all feminists, united in our recognition that women's subordination exists. Our struggle needs to be fought alongside the struggle against other forms of oppression, not treated as an afterthought or as a distraction. We are all anarchists, united in our belief for the need to create alternatives to this capitalist, patriarchal society wherein all are dominated and exploited. RAG meets weekly as a group to discuss topics which are important to us. We have produced five issues of a magazine, The Rag, and we hold occasional open meetings. The article below was written from notes on an open discussion we held called “Why Anarcha-feminism?” It touches briefly upon a lot of topics in a short article, so to read a more in-depth analysis of the issues raised please refer to the Rag magazine.

What is Anarchism?
Sometimes defined as libertarian socialism, the ultimate aim of anarchism is total democracy – for each person to have a direct say in issues that affect their lives, not rely on government to represent them. This requires the destruction of state, hierarchy and class society, and the construction of non-hierarchical bottom-up systems of organisations such as local councils and unions to replace these. There is the need for strong grassroots action and organisation in to prepare for radical change. As many people as possible need to be personally invested in organising to take control of our own resources and interests and to defend our right to do so.

Class and Feminism
Anarcha-feminists have tried to develop an understanding of class, race, ability and LGBTQ issues, paying attention to the fact that all women do not have the same experiences in their oppression as women. We try to be aware of privilege and to make ourselves aware of and learn from women’s struggles globally.

From an anarchist perspective, some anarchists see feminism as a divisive issue, distracting from the 'real' issue of class struggle. Thanks to anarcha-feminism, the anarchist approach increasingly accepts that sexism does exist, and is not just a minor side issue which will fade away with the end of capitalism. When anarchists constantly stress that all experience of patriarchy is linked to class, they can gloss over another truth: the experience of class is differentiated by gender.

In traditional anarchist dialogue the site for revolution has been the workplace; from a feminist perspective the family and the body are additional sites of conflict. This is our literal “means of production” which we should be determined to seize.

Anarcha-feminist Identity
Anarcha-feminists often find it easier to publicly label themselves as feminist than as anarchist. This is because many people who have not considered either concept are more willing to accept the premise that women and men should have equality than to question the core of the current economic and political systems. Many people who profess to believe in equality have not even considered life without capitalism, or that economic systems affect equality. Anarchism also suffers from negative connotations, for example the misassociation with chaos and violence. Ironically, some anarchists are unwilling to identify as feminist due to the negative connotations associated with the feminist label. The capitalist system is very effective in muddying the meaning of concepts which pose a clear threat to that system. It is important to us to be clear that we are feminists and anarchists, and that we see this as a pathway to freedom.

Equality not Sameness
We believe that true equality can never be achieved within any capitalist system. Capitalism will only concede enough to give a convincing illusion of equality. The ideals that early feminists courageously fought for have now been entirely diluted and sold back to us as pink and sterile girl power. We can be whatever we want to be as long as it’s sexy - politician, athlete, scientist or ‘housewife’. We need to be clear that when feminist gains are won, it is in the name of true equality for all people, not as a concession or privilege. Real feminism requires complete social restructuring which can essentially be equated with true anarchism.

One of the misconceptions of the feminist movement has been that for women to be equal to men, we have to be the same. Women joined the rush into the modern workplace to have equal access to exploitation. Many women find they experience a double shift of work – both outside and inside the home. Capitalism has made effective use of patriarchy and in many ways is reliant on it – for example on the nuclear family as the unit of effective consumption and control. The work that women do in producing and caring for children, in keeping the home and in caring for the sick and the old is not valued under capitalism. The value system of capitalism is profit-driven; only that which produces profit is seen as productive.

Queer Feminism
There are overlaps between feminism and queer theory (queerness might be roughly defined as gender or sexuality non-conformism). Anarcha-feminism recognises the fluidity of gender and its construction from birth as a way of acting/talking/thinking. While recognising gender binaries as socially constructed, anarcha-feminism sees that society divides people into ‘male’ and ‘female’, oppressing women and those that don’t fit into strict gender roles.

Although there is some acceptance by wealthy capitalist countries of difference with regard to gender and sexuality, ultimately it is acceptable only as a lifestyle choice, not as a revolutionary force, which it should ultimately be. The destruction of the systems of capitalism, state and patriarchy would lead to an explosion in different ways of being – sexualities, gender identities, family, structures etc.

Patriarchy and Men
The fight for women’s equality has been framed as a “battle of the sexes”. However, feminism has led to a growing consciousness of male oppression under patriarchy, such as strict adherence to masculine gender roles, duty to “provide” in the realm of work and lack of equal rights to active parenthood. Male oppression has been misconstrued as either a product of the feminist movement, or an oversight of it. Yet it is often through feminist dialogue that a space has opened up for discussing these aspects of men’s lives and experiences. Pro-feminist solidarity between men and women can make meaningful inroads into these issues.

Meaningful reform
Many very real changes have been made in women’s lives due to feminist efforts. These include suffrage, the right to work outside the home, equal pay legislation, anti-domestic violence legislation etc. Unlike anarchism, feminist ideology can and has been accepted into capitalist reform. Yet it is socialists and anarchists who have mainly been behind meaningful reform – through the trade union movements, anti-racism work, community work and women’s liberation movements. Unfortunately, many of the ultimate aims of those who struggled to create these reforms have now been lost. Their achievements have been co-opted into seeming like the achievements of “democracy” when in fact they were concessions hard won by activists condemned as radicals of their time.

While continuing to fight for meaningful reform (for example, abortion rights and free childcare), we also want to remain completely clear about what we are fighting for: not just women’s equality, but absolute equality. The ultimate endpoint of feminism is anarchism.  

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Clinic Violence, A Personal Account

The following is an article from the Rag issue #4, which was published three years ago in October 2009. It's a personal account of working in an abortion clinic, and its dangers. While we launch campaigns to achieve the right to choose abortion in Ireland, it should always be in the back of our mind that this will never be a cause completely won, because threats (legislative, violent, societal) will always remain.

It seemed like any other Friday morning at work on 30 December 1994. The cold New England winter was in full effect as I scurried into the warmth of the abortion clinic, where I worked as a receptionist and telephone counsellor. I greeted Stan, the armed security guard at the door, and clocked in. Stan was a somewhat eccentric guy who had been in the US Army for many years. He had the affect of someone who had been in combat and never quite got over it, but would never admit it. His modus operandi seemed to be “tough guy with a soft side,” but on duty he was all tough guy. I was on phones that day, which I was thankful for because it was a busy Friday, and I didn’t feel like dealing with all the patients in the waiting room downstairs. So I sat down, coffee in hand, shut the answering machine off, and started to answer the ringing phones.

When I told my parents I would be working at an abortion clinic on Beacon Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, my mother said, “I don’t suppose I can talk you out of that, can I?” She knew the answer. I had been adamantly pro-choice for years, and despite the dangers of working in a clinic, I jumped at the chance. Massachusetts had a “buffer zone” law designed to protect patients and staff that prevented protesters from picketing closer than 18 feet from the building. Sadly, this was mostly not enforced, and clinics didn’t have a method of screening who got into the building. Anyone could simply walk right in. 

Later in the morning, I received a phone call from Stan’s wife, wanting to know if he was OK. “Um..I think so?” I answered tentatively. Why would he not be? I peeked downstairs and saw him standing, like always, at his post. After she called, a couple of other people called, friends and family of some of the medical staff, wanting to know if they were OK too. I told them that everything was just fine here. But by then I was really starting to wonder what was going on.

That’s when my boyfriend called. “Thank God,” he said, when I answered the phone, “I nearly had a heart attack. Is everything OK?” He had been driving to work, listening to the radio, when a breaking news bulletin came on the air to say that two clinics on Beacon Street in Brookline had been attacked by a gunman. Several people, including each of their receptionists, had been shot.  He heard the report on the radio and thought I might be dead. He nearly crashed the car pulling over to call me from a payphone. I insisted that I was fine, although inside I had started to panic a little.

It seemed as though the moment I knew why everyone was calling the clinic, the phone lines truly started to light up. Bits of information poured in about the clinic shootings. But one thing was on my mind and the minds of everyone I worked with: Lee Ann. 

Lee Ann Nichols, our former co-worker, the woman who trained me to do my job, and though it sounds trite to say so, one of the most unique and fantastic people I’d ever met, had just left us to work at a neighbouring clinic only three months prior. So quiet and sweet, you would never expect her to be wry and hilarious at the same time. And I remember the day she told me she was 38. I couldn’t stop staring at her. She looked all of 24. We were sorry to see her go because she felt like the light of our office. But frustration at our overbearing boss forced her to find work elsewhere. She had been hired as a receptionist at Preterm, a clinic only a few blocks away. It had just been attacked. We hoped and prayed that she had had the morning off. I wish I could say that she did. But word quickly spread that Lee Ann had been shot. The gunman had walked into each of the clinics, verified with each receptionist that he was in the right place, and then pulled his rifle out of a gym bag and started shooting, starting with her. People ran for cover and out any door they could. Then he walked out. Neither of the clinics had armed security, so no one could stop him.

The two clinics that were hit each sat a few blocks on either side of the clinic where I worked. We wondered why he skipped over us. The only thing we could figure was that our armed guard, surveillance cameras, and the awkward layout of our clinic deterred him from hitting us. You had to walk through two heavy glass doors and down the stairs to get to reception. He could have gotten in, but he never would have gotten out alive. Supposedly, our security cameras showed him walking around the building several days before the attack. But knowing that he literally hit one clinic, drove by ours, and then hit the other was truly sickening.

We managed to finish out the workday in tears of sadness and fear. It may seem incredible that we saw all of our patients that day, and the only explanation I can come up with is that this clinic was a for-profit business. Lost patients meant lost revenue. But this for-profit status was also the reason why we had an armed guard, while the other two clinics, both non-profits, did not. My co-workers and I didn’t put up a fuss about continuing to work, but the perpetrator still had not been caught, and we felt like sitting ducks, as if a bomb could go off any second.

When my shift was done, I went home and turned on the news. One man, who had been sitting in one of the waiting rooms talked about what happened. He said that as he sat in the waiting room, he was thinking to himself about the receptionists’ voice, and how it was the most soothing, beautiful voice he’d ever heard. I started to cry because I knew he was speaking of Lee Ann. Her voice was pure music, and I’d remarked on it myself. But the man on TV continued to say that his reverie was broken by the gunman coming in and shouting at her “This is what you get! You should pray the rosary!” while he shot ten bullets into the woman the stunned witness had only, seconds before, been lulled by. “How could anyone shoot this innocent woman?” he asked. Lee Ann and Shannon Lowney, Planned Parenthood’s receptionist, were pronounced dead. I turned off the television. 

My boyfriend came home early from work with instructions and cash from his boss who commanded him to take me out for dinner. We went to our favourite Thai place. But everyone at all the tables around us were talking loudly about the clinic shootings. I wanted to stand up and scream at everyone that they didn’t know the half of how horrible it was. It wasn’t just a news story! People, really lovely people with lilting voices and hilarious senses of humour, who were loved and cared for by friends and family were dead. And here we all were having dinner talking about it like it was a soundbite. But of course I didn’t. Instead we took home what was left of our food.

The next day, the front page of The Boston Herald featured a huge photo of Lee Ann being wheeled out to an ambulance, smeared all over in blood. She had no shirt on, a cloth haphazardly thrown on top of her, but you could clearly see the side of her breast. It was a disgusting last image of a friend, put there to sensationalise and sell papers.

A candlelight vigil was held in front of the statehouse as a reaction to the shootings. I went with a friend and co-worker. As we held little candles in our cold, chapped hands, we felt completely alienated by the chants and speeches given that night. Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney had become martyrs for the Pro-Choice cause. The occasion was not to remember who these two women were, but to declare what they would now represent. My companion and I couldn’t see beyond our grief to grapple with the big picture just then.

On Sunday, I had to work again --my regular Sunday shift. I usually enjoyed Sundays because I was the only one in the building, so I had free reign to do whatever I wanted. Sometimes I even brought my guitar. But when I showed up less than 48 hours after the shootings, I found a cop car stationed out front guarding the building. The city provided this round-the-clock security to all of the clinics in case the suspect or anyone else wanted to have another go. At first, I thought I’d be brave and go in alone, disabling the security system in the dark interior of the clinic. But once I was inside, I went back out again and asked one of the policemen to come in with me and have a look around. I thanked the policeman, and he went back to drinking coffee in his car while I turned the answering machine off and started my work. It was New Year’s Day.

The news that John Salvi, the killer, had been caught in Norfolk, Virginia, shooting at a clinic there from outside, wouldn’t be out until that day’s paper. (Luckily no one was injured.) He  pled insanity, saying he was schizophrenic, but was convicted of murder on March 19, 1996. Ironically, that same day, the Supreme Court agreed to review the constitutionality of abortion clinic “buffer zones.” Salvi was found dead eight months later in his prison cell. When I saw his photo on the front page of the newspaper with the headline, I felt numb with hatred and anger: he’d never get to be punished for what he did. And since he died before his appeal could be processed, a judge overturned his conviction, essentially exonerating him after death. That’s justice for you, I guess.

And clinic violence rages on. In May of this year, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, was shot dead in his own church after repeated threats had been made to his life. In today’s world of anti-terrorism campaigns, I wonder if those committing abortion clinic violence will ever be seen as the true terrorists that they are. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

Since Roe vs. Wade made abortions legal in the US in 1973, protests against clinics have become progressively more violent. Arson, gun fire, bombings, and chemical warfare are just some of the more alarming tactics. However, anti-choice protesters also use cameras to intimidate clinic patients, regularly blockade entrances, try to stop patients and their escorts from getting out of their cars and stand outside of clinics with posters featuring mutilated babies. Their terrifying tactics are designed to instill fear in both the providers of abortion and anyone seeking their services.

The fight for choice doesn't end with making abortion legal. The battle against anti-choice terrorism is a fight for all time. Since 1993, their violent, murderous tactics have failed to get the media coverage and outrage they deserve. The list of extremely violent acts, compiled by the National Abortion Federation is truly impressive, and not in a good way. 

In the US, while law-abiding anarchists as well as activists taking part in direct actions to protect animals and the environment are being jailed without due process and convicted as terrorists, abortion clinic violence is not considered a terrorist act under the law, despite the fact that clinic staff are confronted with threats of violence every single day. Letters claiming to contain anthrax. Acid attacks. Arson. Stabbings. Shootings. Bombings. These are real threats, real dangers that people must face when going to work each day, not to mention the patients. 

It's pretty grim, to be honest. But that's why we must persevere. It's why it's our job to educate people on why abortion safety is important, why it's essential to de-stigmatise abortion, why it's ok to admit that we're afraid, but why we must soldier on with making our pro-choice voices heard, even after we win the right to choose.

For an idea of the frustrations, fears, and dangers faced by patients and pro-choice volunteer escorts (and to learn more about escorting) at an abortion clinic in Kentucky, USA, check out the blog "Every Saturday Morning" at

The Rag, Issues 1 to 6

The Rag, Issues 1 to 6