Laura Harmon led the Mobilisation Team in Together for Yes. She was also the president of the Union of Students in Ireland during the marriage equality referendum. She is an LGBT+ rights campaigner.
A year ago today, I walked into the Together for Yes building at 14 Upper Mount Street to pack up my things from the shared desk in what we referred to as ‘the mobilisation room’. I was still zombie-dazed and a ball of emotion from the landslide referendum result and this building had been home to so many of us for the last few months. I collected my stuff and walked out into the sunshine, not quite sure where to go or what to do with myself.
— Gay Community News (@GCNmag) May 23, 2019
I have never been back in that room again and for me, it will always be a special place where new friends were made, where magic happened and where a hell of a lot of work got done – one of those special locations that you can’t really bear to revisit because you don’t know what emotions it will bring up for you and because you know it will never be the same as it was in that moment.
Led by women, Together for Yes was a well-oiled machine of passionate, hard-working people who showed up every day and gave their best and everything they could give to bring about change in Ireland.
Everyone who worked in the Together for Yes HQ and anyone who worked on the campaign as part of a local group or in another organisation will have their own personal experience of the campaign; their own individual journeys that brought them to that point or motivated them to get involved. This was a long campaign, spanning decades – some campaigners had been involved for years and others were new to the campaign – but everyone played their own part. Led by women, Together for Yes was a well-oiled machine of passionate, hard-working people who showed up every day and gave their best and everything they could give to bring about change in Ireland.
Our motley Mobilisation Team organised a national tour of the country that passed through every county in the space of two weeks, a number of regional launches, voter registration activities, the Get Out the Vote campaign for the last week, canvasses and acted as a contact point for the local Together for Yes groups. During that time, we got to see the determination and sheer graft that campaigners in every corner of the country were responsible for. Together for Yes was grassroots campaigning at its finest with strategic vision and leadership to boot.
Looking back a year later – I remember the kindness of people, the late evenings, the endless emails; the sheer work ethic of everyone. I remember the laughter, stress, white-board writing, Excel files, badges, voter registration, fizzy sweets, good phone-calls, bad phone-calls, counting down the days. I remember launches, tears, visibility canvassing, posters, long hours, (did we mention posters), personal stories, fundraising, meetings, new volunteers and sandwich boards.
I’ll never forget walking in to the regional launch in Cork’s Metropole Hotel less than a week after the Dublin launch and we had 200 people show up for a room that held 100; I’ll never forget hearing the personal stories of so many who had been affected by the Eighth Amendment and seeing them bravely and selflessly putting themselves out there; the encouraging feeling of seeing the huge surge in voter registration numbers (much to the credit of youth organisations like USI) and the reassurance I felt to see my home constituency of Cork North West vote Yes (an area that had one of the highest votes in favour of the Eighth Amendment in 1983).
I first began campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment in 2012 when I began working for the Union of Students in Ireland and even since then we have seen many changes in our society. Many young people today are highly politicised having been involved in the referendum on marriage equality in 2015 and the referendum to repeal the Eighth in 2018. These people know that change is possible when people work together to achieve it.
Referendum campaigning is not for the faint-hearted and I know so many campaigners are still carrying their battle scars (many of them wearing them proudly as tattoos they got after the vote!). Campaigners are no strangers to burn-out and while it’s not a badge of honour, it’s certainly not anything to be ashamed about either. There are limits to the pressure that people can endure and I know many of us felt a little bit broken after the campaign. There was a lot to process and a lot to take in afterwards but we did it.
66.4% of people voted Yes. Every ballot box that was opened on May 26 2018 held the keys to a better Ireland – one that is more compassionate and more caring. There is still so much work to do to make abortion access more accessible but we have turned a corner in this country and we are never going back.
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