Campaigners are urging Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities to head to the polls on 12 December. But the fight to make their voices heard will continue whatever happens, write Christina Kerrigan and Chelsea McDonagh of the Traveller Movement.
We remember when we first learned about the Suffragette movement at the age of 13 and 14. We didn’t really get it at the time in all honesty. It took us another ten years to really understand the significance that women were imprisoned, went on hunger strike, and even died while fighting for the voting rights of middle-class women and women who owned property.
Yes, you read correctly: middle class women and women who owned property. This wouldn’t have included many – or indeed any – Traveller women.
I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system
– former Irish President Mary Robinson
We realised that the majority of the public would not always stand up for the rights of Travellers. We realised that if we didn’t stand up for ourselves and demand to be heard, we would continue to be failed by the system and those who uphold it.
There is a wonderful quote by the former Irish President Mary Robinson, who was the first woman to hold that office, which highlights the role women played in electing her to power in 1990.
Robinson said: “I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”
This quote draws attention to the role that women have to play in changing the system. The role that Traveller women have to play in changing things. Throughout history, women have often been at the forefront of change, not only for their families and communities, but for their countries.
Through our work at the Traveller Movement, we have gone from having very little knowledge or interest in politics, having internalised the idea that politics wasn’t “for people like us”, to becoming invested in, and key promoters of, the #OperationTravellerVote campaign.
Growing up, neither of us remember our families ever talking about politics, or even voting in elections. The topic seemed so boring because we didn’t understand how it worked or how it affected our community.
Since then we have attended numerous events in Parliament, and have played leading roles in advocating for educational rights of Traveller children, to making recommendations on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, through participation in the ‘Women on the Law in the Making’ campaign.
Community empowerment started much closer to home. It started with reluctant conversations over the dinner table with family members, who initially could not see the relevance or point, to Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages.
We have spoken to our families and explained the importance of why their vote matters, and how we, as Travellers, have a right to have our voices listened to. It has only been a few months, but we’ve had siblings, cousins, aunts and grandparents registering to vote, and keenly awaiting their day at the polls.
There’s growing change and many Travellers are beginning to see the necessity of voting and having our voices heard.
– The Traveller Movement
But these conversations do not and will not end at the polls. It is about empowering Travellers to engage with politics and to develop political literacy – Christina’s mother, who lives in Ireland, shows a keen interest in not only Brexit, but in the general affairs of our current government. She sees how the histories of the two countries are intertwined, and how politics affects our lives.
There is growing change and many Travellers are beginning to see the necessity of voting and having our voices heard. For far too long, like many other working class and black and minority ethnicity (BME) communities, we have found ourselves falling victim to successive government policies which only serve to further marginalise us and push people further into poverty.
#OperationTravellerVote is about more than this election, and in many ways is also about more than a single party. It is a movement. It’s about mobilising Traveller votes, and we hope it ends with Travellers taking up their seats in parliament.
Featured Image: 2019 General Election Pparty leaders. Credit: YouTube.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EachOther.