Every month we invite our readers to pitch us articles on a theme revealed in our regular newsletter. Find out what our next theme is by subscribing to our newsletter below. This month our theme was ‘protest’ and comedian Kathryn Higgins shared her experience as part of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign as well as her thoughts on why comedy needs some protest…
Protest. It’s one of the first things we do. That cry all newborns make when they’re born? That’s them protesting being pulled from the lovely warm womb and out into this cruel harsh world. In fairness, I’d be livid too; I hear it’s nice in there. We’re born protesting and I think it’s one of the things that makes us human.
The dictionary definition of protest is “an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent.” An ‘expression’ or ‘declaration’ are both vague terms. We know what a protest looks like, right? A crowd with banners and signs, often chanting something catchy in order to get their point across. I’m familiar with this type of protest; as a founding member of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign I have attended, organised, and led many of them and personally, I’m a big fan.
Our first protest was held in 2016 outside the Irish Embassy as a solidarity event with March for Choice in Dublin. I turned up on my own having seen the event on Facebook and was nervous and awkward. I wondered what the value was of us standing outside essentially someone’s house, yelling about something that they didn’t have the ability to change.
But it was powerful. Seeing all these people come together to express the anger we felt having been denied the right to own our own bodies was empowering. That day the campaign formed and what followed was years of protest that took many different forms; meetings, rallies, emails, fundraisers, so many spreadsheets, meetings with MPs, and even an invitation into the very embassy we had stood outside. (The Ambassador mentioned that the shouting had been a bit annoying). I realised the definition of protest is vague because it comes in many forms, all of these were small acts of protest.
May 2018 the referendum came, and we ran a campaign to get over 20,000 people to fly home to vote and managed against all odds to change the Constitution of Ireland. I know you don’t have a written constitution in the UK, but you guys know that referendums are hard to get, right? (wink wink).
We kept working to try and get the same done in Northern Ireland. Cue more spreadsheets, emails, marches, and fundraising. We got MPs to table private members bills and amendments which again seemed fruitless but, in the end, resulted in abortion being decriminalised in Northern Ireland. It’s hard to convey what an incredible feat it was and how unlikely it had seemed on that day outside the embassy but somehow, we managed it. Laws and lives change through the power of protest.
The comedy industry has a lot of things that need changing. It’s too white, too male, and has played host to some horrible behaviour for far too long. It’s hard to imagine it changing, but I think the best way to do it is protest, and that can take many forms. Mo Gilligan’s Black British Takeover, The LOL Word, Get Off Comedy and Funny Women are all acts of protest. They’re an effort to try to move things forward and make the industry a better place for everyone. We can all protest in our own way big or small, but I implore you to try. Like I said, I’m a big fan.