The tweet below is one of my favourite ever and as it happens to relate to the referendum, it seems like a good starting point. It really nails just how far we’ve come in a relatively short space of time. Phones that are really tiny computers and cameras. Gerry Adams as a party leader in the Dail. Drag Queens as national heroes. Who could have imagined?
Certainly not my younger self. It got me thinking about what I’d say to that younger self if I was able to chat to her from Dublin Castle on 23rd May 2015. I’m not sure that I’d be able to explain (or even want to) the complexities of changing the Constitution and the time it took to get there; the political ramifications; how each of the campaigns was run; the debates about our right to equality and our worthiness as parents, as families.
I don’t think that I’d tell her that all those feelings of being different, being ‘less than’ and being an outsider would come back when they were least expected or that the journey to the result day on May 23rd was a long and at times incredibly emotional one that I can liken to my teenage years, except the question of “what will people think?” was replaced with “what do people think?”
I wouldn’t tell her these things because they will all be forgotten. These things will not endure. All she needs to know is that everything works out beautifully.
I would like her to know that that the Ireland of her childhood no longer existed. That the Ireland of the 1986 Divorce referendum, when fear of change ruled the country and there were very limited versions of “family” was of another time that seems longer that 30 years ago. I’d let her know that more has changed in Ireland and in the world in the last 5 years than in the previous 25 – a level of change that is almost unimaginable.
I’d talk to her about all the things, some momentous (like Panti’s Noble Call) and some small (like people reaching out to give lifts to the local polling station because every vote would count), that made this outcome possible. I’d tell her about the people of Ireland who over the years became unafraid to live their lives in quiet, ordinary ways and who gave a human face to the cause.
And what retelling of this period of history would be complete without the impact of social media and how the “yes” campaign used everything at their disposal so beautifully, not just in communicating the messages of the campaign but in getting people to act by motivating them to make their vote and their voice count? How it truly was a grass roots campaign that could not have reached as many as it did without the advent of twitter, of Facebook, of YouTube. Social media kept people connected for the duration of the campaign, right from registering all the way to voting on 22nd May. Like the quick and agile David versus the slow Goliath, social media allowed the “Yes” campaign to react and move as needed, to time messages, responses and calls for action.
Social media helped those who believed in a “Yes” find their tribe and it gave everyone a platform to share their stories, their realities and their thoughts in the hope of swaying the soft no votes and the undecided and in the drive for equality. The new Ireland was totally enabled by its great hunger for change and was facilitated by its appetite for new media.
The impact of this referendum, of the 62% who said “Yes”, will continue for years, both in Ireland and beyond. It is a stat that won’t change. It is there forever. The people have spoken. They have told our children, and our children’s children — you are accepted, you are valued, you are seen and you are an equal part of this society that we have all built together. It has demonstrated how democracy can bring about greater good and how social media has become an incredibly important tool, across all generations, in changing our world.
Mary Saunders is Account Director
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