Our photographer threatened & assaulted at Rally for Life as an angry No campaign steps up hateful rhetoric

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On Saturday one of our photographers was assaulted and threatened at the ‘No’ campaigns’ anti-choice Rally for Life.  He wasn’t injured and although his camera was punched (see video) no damage was done but this is yet another example of how the No campaign, having failed to make any impact in the polls, are becoming nastier in their desperation.

The ‘Love Both’ anti-choice rally itself was very poorly attended, attracting around 1500 people.  The feeling in the crowd was one of tiredness and demoralisation with a few people even admitting out loud that the turnout was miserable.  Radical Queers Resist were holding a small silent counter protest opposite the entrance to the rally so after counting the crowd we headed over to this.

We arrived after most of the hassle they received had ended ( we reproduce a bit recorded by Newsworthy in this video, see their full video ).  Shortly after we arrived a group of pink t-shirt clad anti-choice Americans arrived over, followed by a Buzzfeed camera crew . Because of the presence of this camera crew a couple of people on the counter protest were willing to talk with the Americans.  We’d have to say this group of anti-choice American’s were well trained, not at all aggressive and unlike most other anti-choice activists we saw they maintained a reasonable body distance rather than getting in peoples faces and lecturing them.  The one off putting thing about them was that the two men were wearing Go-Pro body cameras that were obviously recording all their interactions.  Other anti-choice groups like IBCR with their gory giant banners outside hospitals wear these and then try and provoke responses that they can capture for ‘Gotcha videos’ to push at people through paid advertising on Facebook but to be fair we detected no such intention of that in this case.

The presence of this group did however mean that other anti-choice activists also started to cross the road and some of these were more in your face aggressive.  And all were there to deliver patronising lectures rather than to listen and engage in discussion.  One particular guy was getting in the face of two of the younger, smaller people at the counter protest and they looked uncomfortable so another guy inserted himself between them to get this anti-choice man to back off.  What is obvious when we play our video back is that he spotted our photographer and moved into his blindspot but at the time the photographer was unaware of this. 

Our photographers camera remained pointed at the counter protest but if you listen to the audio you will hear the mans voice suddenly demand from close up ‘Who are you for’ to which the photographer replies “Who are you?”

The man gets closer, and says “Why are you” twice and our photograoher again asks “Who are you” and brings the camera around.

At that point, without warning, the man says ‘Don’t photgraph me mate” and punches the camera.  Fortunately our photographer hangs onto it (it’s worth 1,100 euro) and rather than being provoked to retaliate asks “Why not, who are you, what have you got to hide”

The man says “You don’t photograph me” and swings a low punch just visible briefly in the bottom right of the screen as our photographer moves to avoid it.

Still keeping his cool our photographer asks “Why not, what have you got to hide” before asking “Are you threatening me”

The man replies “I am threatening you” to which the photographer replies in some bewilderment “You’re threatening me!”  before adding “On camera.. That’s a video by the way”.

At that point the man, who had clearly presumed that still photographs rather than video were being taken, turns around and walks rapidly back across the road to the anti-choice rally without saying another word.

Our photographer recalls “The whole experience was pretty weird, the aggression really came out of nowhere, without warning. I kept my cool because I’ve some experience of this but it’s mostly from contexts where you expect this to happen because you’re recording a counter protest to a far-right event or other confrontational protest.  In this case I’d no interaction at all with the man in the video and have no idea who he was.  As you can see from the video I wasn’t even paying any real attention to him until he was suddenly in my face, right beside me. He looks to be about a decade older than me, not really an age group you expect to get physical.   However a lot of the abusive behaviour I’ve heard about, mostly directed at young women, seems to come from men in that 60+ age group.  I’m just grateful none of my equipment got damaged.”

“I think what happened is in part a reflection of the desperation of the increasingly angry ‘No’ campaign.  That anger and intolerance is being transmitted every day by the leadership and is affecting the way ‘No’ activists behave on the streets.  At some levels this is quite cynical. As a photographer it’s obvious to me, for instance that the ICBR displaying gory banners outside hospitals, while wearing body cameras, is all about trying to provoke and then record people being angry with them.  And then in the last week of the campaign these videos will be pushed at all of us via paid advertising on Facebook in the hope of reducing the numbers voting. I don’t think they are even trying to win people to No, just to reduce the vote so they can question the legitimacy of the result even though in 1983 only 53% voted.

It’s become clear to me that this referendum is also about what sort of Ireland we want to live in after May 25th.  Do we want this angry, hateful Ireland of their past with its industrial schools, Magdalene laundries and the mass grave at Tuam? Or do we want a more hopeful, positive vision of an Ireland that takes the healthcare needs, including abortion, of women seriously.  I’ll be voting Yes on May 25th, the only thing this experience changed is I’ll now put even more time into convincing others to do likewise because I don’t want to live in that man’s Ireland.

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