LAUREN WALKER: ANATOMY OF AN ACTIVIST
Irish activist Lauren shares her thoughts on the last years repeal campaign, and the place for grassroots activism in the community.
What message would you like to give to other people trying to make a change through activism?
Activism comes in all forms but whatever you are doing make sure you really care about it! Passion is necessary because it drives you to go to meetings after work when you’re exhausted and devote your Saturdays to fundraisers when you could be at home watching Netflix. Get involved in projects in your community – the problems you see in the world can seem overwhelming and abstract but making connections with local groups that are already working on the issues you care about is the best motivator and a great way to meet amazing people. If there are no groups that exist then start one! You can always link with similar organisations working the same field. So for example when SIARC (Scottish-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign) started we spoke to Abortion Rights Camp and London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Truly, chill out and don’t be so hard on yourself (also the advice I give to my current self cos some struggles are forever).
What changes would you like to see in your community?
Communities need more power to enact change. There is a problem with local governance in Scotland, where I live – there is only one local representative for every 4,270 people which makes it the least democratic country in the EU in terms of local democracy. There are so many amazing organisations working on issues like poverty, homelessness, asylum seeker and refugee rights, disability, mental health and many more important things but there is a distance from this. Communities and councils need to be brought closer together. We need power to be held in local government not centralised.
(More information here)
What does the word community mean to you?
A network of people who support each other.
What does the repeal campaign mean to you?
It was the best thing I had ever done – the journey that we went on with SIARC over the last couple of years when we were standing on the other side of the referendum felt momentous and beautiful. I’ve made amazing friendships that sit on a foundation of fighting for equality. The referendum signified a new Ireland, a more caring and supportive nation. I always loved my country and after the referendum I felt like my country loved me too.
Following the 2018 campaign, how do you think we can continue to tackle abortion rights across other countries?
Unity on abortion rights from cross-party and organisation support will be key in campaigning on abortion rights.
How do you deal with negative reactions/disagreements with friends/family regarding your work in the repeal campaign?
I find this a particularly hard thing to navigate. Although I love my family, we had very different opinions on the issue and it really broke my heart. It is still something I struggle with and post- referendum it is just not discussed. I’m aware this is not the best thing to do but I’m also extremely exhausted!!
What did travelling home to vote for repeal mean to you?
It was the single best thing I have done in my life! To exercise my democratic right on an issue I felt so passionate about and one that we all worked so hard on was so powerful.
What do you think is the next step for abortion reform in Northern Ireland?
For me I am listening intently to what those on the ground are advocating for and taking direction for them. They know the complexities of the situation better than anyone and we want to support the movement and not co-opt it.
How can others get involved?
Find local community groups working on this issue and support them whichever way you can. You can do that by giving them your time or making a donation big or small – both are amazing. Even just online support through sharing events and posts can make a difference. These fights are won through collective effort and we all need to do the work.
Here are some groups you can follow campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland: