Youth Defense march - Balloons and Bigotry


After spending tens of thousands of euro in promotion, Youth Defence’s anti-choice march finally took place in Dublin on July 2nd last. Despite the free coaches and months of preparation only about 3000 took part, making it a tiny fraction of the Pride Parade of the previous Saturday. In the week before the anti-choice march, three or four people met to initiate a pro-choice counter demonstration. This proved somewhat controversial as many pro-choice activists feel that it is better to simply ignore those who would seek to jail women to prevent them controlling their own bodes. But despite having no resources, and advertising only though a Facebook event, somewhere over 300 people turned up on Saturday to provide a counter point to the bigots parade.

Youth Defence obviously had a large budget to spend on the march itself. Apart from the hire of three open top buses or similar vehicles, there were mass produced full colour signs and stickers distributed to the participants. Bizarrely the main branding they used was the LSD and Acid House associated “Smiley Face”, which was obviously part of an effort to give the demonstration a youthful face for the media. Most of the more youthful participants were packed into the front, carrying the banner. The sight of priests, monks and nuns festooned with Acid House smiley faces made for a somewhat bizarre spectacle. But unless they have suddenly taken on a pro drug legalisation stance, it rather suggests they are considerably more out of touch with actual youth culture than they were seeking to appear, as further evidenced by their sound system blasting out tunes like House of Pain’s “Jump Around”, a band known for “drinking prodigious amounts of beer, and swearing constantly.” A strange choice indeed for a demonstration with such religious and moralistic overtones!
The apparently deliberate modelling of the anti-choice march on Pride was also very curious. Like Pride there were balloon festooned floats blaring out music and participants in weird costumes, although unlike Pride those dressed as priests were probably wearing their work clothes. Also like Pride, there was a giant flag carried horizontally by dozens of people. The Pride flag is a giant rainbow, while The Youth Defence flag was red with ‘Life’ printed on it in white. There was an amusing scramble by the stewards to try and remove the condoms that were tossed onto the flag it as it passed the pro-choice rally.
But behind all the amusing weirdness is a sinister agenda that seeks not only to continue to deny women access to abortion but also to turn back the clock in relation to access to contraception, sex education and Queer rights, as illustrated by the fact that the few hand made placards permitted on the rally had references to ‘sodomy’ and ‘contraception.’
A decade ago in the aftermath of the X-Case when the government tried to intern a 14 year old who had become pregnant as a result of rape to prevent her travelling to Britain, Youth Defence managed to quickly mobilize a 10,000 strong anti-choice demonstration. This was when they had very much more limited resources, before they had captured the mainstream of the Irish anti-choice movement and obtained massive financing from US anti-choice networks.
For many of the younger pro-choice demonstrators it was something of a shock to see the anti-choice parade and to experience the vitriol unleashed at them by its’ participants. However, the fact is that even with flashy branding and a massive professional Facebook campaign the bigots cannot mobilise the numbers they once could.
It does however highlight the need for pro-choice activists to again organise on a mass basis, something that has not happened for some years. If we are to force legislation for the X-Case judgment as a first step to winning free safe abortion on demand then a new movement will need to be built. 

From Workers Solidarity 123 Sept/Oct 2011