Cardiff, Sunday 13th April, 2014; a little before six a.m. St Mary’s Street seems eerily quiet without the usual throng of ’40 Days for Life’ campaigners (a group of fundamentalist Catholics who are anti contraception, anti abortion, pro death penalty and pro war) outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Elgin House). We set up our banners and anxiously anticipate their arrival.At half past eight the first batch appears, and an argument on the meaning of pro choice quickly ensues. In the midst of the early morning frustration they take control of the bin space. We lament this early loss of battle ground but persevere regardless, and by the crack of noon the protest is in full swing.
There they are, huddled around the bin underneath their ‘pray to end abortion’ banner, which is underneath a ‘let us prey’ sign. They clutch their rosary beads to their chests and pass their psalm book between each other while we dance around them to the songs of Canned Heat and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. They glare at us disapprovingly, continually crossing themselves, perhaps expecting us sinners to disappear in a flash of smoke and fire.
But we will not be got rid of so easily, as they soon discover when they fetch the plastic pigs to remove us. After a quick word, the C3POs seem confused enough by the whole thing to call the actual police. While an officer talks with one of the 40 Day-ers, a couple of kids (who, after arriving in a wheelbarrow, began to make signs such as ‘don’t have children in case they turn out not to be Christian) use a pair of crutches to smash up the dinosaur pinata filled with condoms. The police then decide to leave us to it, and we decide to run around in circles to the Benny Hill theme tune.
By seven o’clock in the evening our energy has flagged considerably. The core crew of pro choice protesters has fallen to a number of four, while the 40 Days group is standing at around fifteen. Despite this, we are determined to see things through to the bitter end. A Catalan man joins us and starts to play a mix of Twist & Shout and La Bamba on guitar.
And then, en mass and out of nowhere, about twenty more Catalans come to join in. They kiss the guitarist on the forehead, and after a jovial false start they burst all together into a loud and tuneful song about Belarus. They are waving our signs, they are dancing with each other, they completely drown out the sound of the hymns emanating from around the bin.
It’s hard to describe to anybody who wasn’t there the true beauty of this moment. I have a distinct memory of myself with my hands clasped together, glow-in-the-dark rosary beads entwined around them, laughing up at the sky with tears of joy streaming down my face. It was magnificent.
As suddenly has they had arrived, the Catalans were gone. Half an hour until the end of the protest and, for the first time, we didn’t even want to sing over the Catholics. We felt there was nothing we could do to match the magic that had just transpired; we were happy enough to revel in the glory of that very special moment.
Enter the Irish. They were loud and enthusiastic, albeit a little drunk, they were screaming chants and brandishing our banners with unpredictable passion. I asked one of the 40 Day-ers how much longer they were going to let this continue, and the reply spat at me was “three hours”. The fundamentalists were fuming – so furious were they that they called the police on us again.
If only they had lived and learned. Two riot vans pulled up and a single officer came over to tell us that, although he had no intention of arresting anybody, he had to ask us to try to calm down.
We explained that, although the levels of rowdiness had indeed increased in the last half hour, it was because the 40 Days group were well overdue their home time. We said we would not leave before them, and told the policeman to tell them that their time was up.
So he did. They packed up their stuff and began to depart in small groups. We were thrilled with this outcome, but not so overcome with emotion that we didn’t notice a few of them cross the road to pray on the steps of Elgin House. Now we were enraged. We ran across with a ‘pro choice’ banner and a ‘harassment is NOT holy’ sign to question their audacity and their malformed morals. They walked away disgruntled for a second time, and that was that.
A great day for pro choice radicals, a great shame we still have to fight against this madness.
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